Van den Hul Crimson XGW Stradivarius and Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius

Two High-Flying Birds

Equipment report
Van den Hul Crimson XGW Stradivarius and Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius

Diana Krall’s new album titled Turn Up The Quiet is put together rather well. The performers are all first-class musicians, and Ms. Krall herself has matured on this compilation. Her poise, combined with less “engineering” of her voice, make this album one of my favorites of her work—right up there with Live in Paris. The song “Sway” is a good example. Played back on the Crimson XGW Stradivarius, cymbal brush strokes are sweet and smooth, and there is a bit of dynamic zest to the musical flow. Krall’s voice is more whole sounding with a bit more chest added to mouth and throat. There is a sense of more felt from the hammer strikes of the piano, while the accompanying strings are set back a bit more in the soundstage with greater proportion and body. Finally, the bass is bigger with that same sense of added body. With the Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius, the cymbals move forward in the mix while remaining smooth. The guitar becomes more delicate, while Krall’s voice purifies and grows cleaner with a slight increase in sibilance. The piano and strings gain more initial attack and come forward in the mix a bit more. The bass still has body, but the instrument isn’t as big sounding.

One of a group of albums auditioned was a 1993 Analogue Productions test pressing of Chet Baker’s self-titled LP Chet [AAPJ-016]. On the opening track “Alone Together” played back via the Crimson XGW Stradivarius, Chet’s horn was smooth and dynamic with a short echo in the opposite speaker. Bass, drums, and piano were set back in the mix, while sax and flute were present and enjoyable. With the Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius, Chet’s horn became smoother, airier, and more dynamic on crescendos with a much greater (and more expansive) echo in the opposite speaker that filled the right half of the soundstage. In this configuration, one could hear cleaner valve changes on the notes with more musical bloom around the performance. The bass became more lithe in sound, the piano gained subtlety, and drums stayed back in the mix while cymbals moved forward producing additional shimmer.

With the Crimson XGW Stradivarius, “Festivals” from Debussy’s Nocturnes for Orchestra on the famous Mercury Living Presence LP [SR90281 RFR-1] had a fuller sound with more energy. The hall felt less airy but more clearly proportioned, and instruments blended together more naturally. The horns, when announcing their presence, were further back in the stage. Overall instrumental interplay and the occasional pizzicatos were clearly apparent. The lower frequencies had added weight and solidity. Switching to the Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius opened things up a bit. That hall ambiance and air became more noticeable, so expansive echoes off the walls were more apparent. The entire performance became more energetic and less homogenized. The sense of instrumental interplay was more prominent during complex crescendos.

Given the unique personality and addictive character of the Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius, some of the pop music played with an abundance of energy can result in a bit too much of a good thing. An original pressing of Sade’s Diamond Life, while sounding very good, was very energetic in the upper midrange through lower treble (where vocal sibilance tends to show), as was Simply Red’s Picture Book album. While this isn’t necessarily the fault of the cartridge, it is something to be mindful of when choosing a very high-resolution and high-energy transducer with this sound character for some types of music in certain playback system combinations. With the Crimson XGW Stradivarius, most music played as I described in the contrasts above. There were a few times where I felt the cartridge could have used a bit more leading edge on guitar transients, like those played by Earl Klugh on the Mobile Fidelity reissue of Finger Paintings on songs such as “Catherine” and “Jolanta.” Overall the playback of the album was still very satisfying.

While both cartridges can produce enjoyable sound, there are other matters to consider. Both need a well-made tonearm. Anything that isn’t fitted with good bearings and isn’t a low-resonance design will impart its signature—rickety, loose-bearing ’arms are not a good idea for these high-performance cartridges. Careful attention to additional set-up parameters is always helpful for bringing out the best in cartridges of this caliber (or any cartridges). When in doubt, an experienced professional, a dealer, a distributor, or the manufacturer can be a valuable resource.

A.J. van den Hul has created two very good, high-performance cartridges in the Crimson XGW Stradivarius and Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius. They both produce an expansive (in all directions) soundstage—partially due to excellent channel separation. Both cartridges will play back instruments with vigor and near-maximal dynamics. They both have the ability to draw the listener into the music. While the sonic characteristics have been described, the difference comes down to cost and personal preference. Both handmade creations by this master cartridge designer deserve an audition because one of them may speak to you.

Specs & Pricing

Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius
Type: Moving-coil
Output voltage at 5.6cm/sec.: 0.75mV
Stylus type: VDH Type 1s on solid boron cantilever
Stylus tip radius: r/R 2/85µm
Tracking force range: 1.35–1.5 grams
Optimal load impedance: 50–600 ohms
Load impedance: 50–47k ohms
Cartridge body material: Koa Wood with Stradivarius-type lacquer
Price: $11,995

Crimson XGW Stradivarius
Type: Moving-coil
Output voltage at 5.6cm/sec.: 1.0mV
Stylus type: VDH Type 1s on solid boron cantilever
Stylus tip radius: r/R 2/85µm
Tracking force range: 1.35–1.5 grams
Optimal load impedance: 20–500 ohms
Load impedance: 20–47k ohms
Cartridge body material: Koa Wood with Stradivarius-type lacquer
Price: $5495


FINEST FIDELITY (U.S. Distributor)
3 Sagebrook Drive
Bluffton, SC 29910
(386) 341-9103

Associated Equipment
Analog vinyl: Basis Audio Debut Vacuum, Basis Audio 2800 Vacuum ’tables; Basis Audio Basis Audio SuperArm 9, Basis Audio Vector IV (x2), Graham Phantom III, Klaudio 12" tangential tonearm; Lyra Titan i, Lyra Etna, Lyra Etna SL, Van den Hul Colibri XGP, Hana SL
Analog tape: Otari MTR-10 studio mastering tape deck (¼" 2-track) with custom Flux Magnetic Mastering Series repro head and secondary custom tube output stage
Phonostage: The Raptor (custom), Lamm LP2 Deluxe, Ayre P-5xe, Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+
Preamplifier: Dual Placette Audio active linestage; Lamm L1.1 Signature; Lamm L2 Reference
Amplifier: Custom/modified solid-state monoblocks
Speaker: Vandersteen Model 3a Signature with dual 2Wq subwoofers using M5-HPB high-pass filter
Cables: Assortment of AudioQuest, Shunyata Research, Tara Labs, Acoustic Research, and some custom cables
Racks/Accessories: Minus-K BM-1, Neuance shelf, Maple wood shelf, Symposium Ultra, Aurios Pro, Walker Audio, Klaudio RCM, VPI RCM

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