van den Hul Grasshopper IV phono cartridge Page 3

The UK re-release of Island Records' Limited Edition Resurrection Series on 160gm virgin vinyl of Marianne Faithfull's Broken English (M1) finally brings the recording quality this favored artist of ours deserves. We own all her albums, including a desirable Quiex II of Strange Weather, but they all suffer from a blistering, grainy presence region, murky soundstage, and woolly bass. The re-release was extremely well-mastered, Marianne's voice breaking free of the recording to take shape before me. (Watch for other Island re-releases of the B-52's, Free, Cat Stevens, and Tom Waits—if they sound as good as this baby, they'll be worth finding.)

Wondering if things were a little too much Peaches and Herb with the Grasshopper IV, I dropped a Shaded Dog of Jascha Heifetz playing Sibelius's Violin Concerto (LSC-2435) onto the Forsell. Jascha's performance, backed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was as aggressive and fiery as always, no element of his magnificent presentation slowed, blunted, or over-sweetened. As usual, listening to his expressive and powerful bowing in the last hair-raising movement was like taking a chemical peel! Detail, ambience galore, and a sizzling-fast yet sweet string tone marked a totally satisfying traversal of the work.

Flipping to the Two-Eye Columbia Criss-Cross (CS 8838), by Thelonious Monk, again highlighted the enormous ability of the Grasshopper IV to soundstage in a thoroughly captivating manner. The big Avalons disappeared, Monk's piano wrapped around way off to the right, and Charlie Rouse's tenor sax sounded transcendent in the super-ambience of the recording. Once again I found myself totally involved and absorbed in the music—a hallmark of the Grasshopper IV experience.

The shocking dynamics and heaving bass transients, surround-sound soundscape, focus, and layering on Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (4AD DAD 3013) were all intact, accompanied by a welcome warmth to the vocals.

Switching to big-dynamics classical, Massenet's Le Cid, "Scenes Pittoresque," and "The Last Sleep of the Virgin" (UK EMI/HMV Greensleeve ESD 7040 SQ Quad), with Louis Fremaux and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, provided a fabulous auditory experience, exploding with tonal color, dynamics, and touching nuance within an enormous acoustic.

Spinning Poulenc's Gloria (EMI ASD 2835), with Georges Prêtre and the French National Radio Orchestra and Chorus, bore out the Grasshopper IV's ability to unravel the many separate voices, both human and orchestral, of this magnificent work. In the same fashion, Saint-Saëns' Symphony 3, with Zubin Mehta and the LA Philharmonic, proved too beautiful to lift the stylus until LP's end. The IV's presentation never changed or became confused under max spls.

No matter how I try to write around it, the Symphonic Line RG-8 was faster, more detailed, and more open on top than the van den Hul Grasshopper IV, if more unkind to poorly recorded LPs. The IV, for its part, was sweeter and easier to live with on every level than the RG-8. It delivered the music at all times so willingly, with such richness and quality of sound, with such a wide and layered soundstage, that in my opinion, it rates right up there at the top of the heap. Really, it's all a matter of taste. Record after record, the Grasshopper IV proved a musical and happy partner in the audio game. No one element of its approachable, sophisticated, and wonderfully expressive presentation popped out at me—it just always left me with the music.

Ultimately I preferred the RG-8. But let me also state for the record that 90% of absolutely fabulous is still fabulous! Get the drift? I'm not equivocating—this is the high-end cartridge for the rest of us. I can hear you saying, "Look who's talking..." Yeah yeah, that's why I'm not junking the RG-8. But if I wasn't a reviewer always going for the high-end ultimate, and if I didn't care to fiddle overmuch, the Grasshopper IV would be my choice for king of the hill. Add to this the liberal rebuild policy (roughly 10% of original purchase price) and A.J.'s many years in the cartridge business (likely to continue), and you're looking at a safe longterm investment.

The Symphonic Line RG-8 is like a Formula 1—a Williams, perchance. You need a close-precision pit-crew mentality to service the device and keep it running up to snuff. A touch out of alignment, a change in temperature or humidity, and poof! There goes the magic. It can sound different record to record, day to day...even hour to hour!

The Grasshopper IV is more a gentleman's supercoupe—more like a big Mercedes. You bring it in for service, but it's Steady Eddie as she goes. And she goes just fine!

J-10 Compared the 'Hopper with the Black Beauty in May 1999 (Vol.22 No.5):
Of course, life is all about compromise. There's no question that the Grasshopper IV is faster on the leading-edge transient, more "see-through" transparent and dynamic than the van den Hul Black Beauty. The IV has more Startle Factor, and that I really love. The faster leading edge seems to pull the music along with a touch more verve and snap than the Black Beauty managed—the IV is a bit more on the pace. The BB wasn't slow by any standard, however. Along with its snappier transients, the IV is also more macrodynamic than the Beauty—partly due, I'd say, to the overall gestalt of the new cartridge, partly because of its slightly lower output. Don't scoff; that extra 1.5mV made for a perceptible boost in ballage, as it were, especially with the all-tube Balanced Audio Technology VK-P10 phono preamp.

Balancing that was the Beauty's superb ability with microdynamics, aiding and abetting the all-encompassing sense of air. Listening to the awesome bass on Dead Can Dance's Spiritchaser (4AD 46230-2) left me in no doubt that both cartridges handled the nether regions with power and aplomb. The BB was a little less quick and transparent down there, but actually dug deeper than the IV, and with slightly more heft and power.

In the highs, the Beauty proved alluring, sweet, and attractive, if a tad less incisive than the IV. The 'Hopper sounds more dynamic and extended, perhaps even a touch more linear, but the Black Beauty also embodied these same characteristics, if not quite so well as the IV does in some ways, and better than it in others. One is not less for being different from the other.

Then, too, I'm really splitting hairs. Believe me, these are two great cartridges; matched with the right system, they're both as good as it seems to get around here.—Jonathan Scull

Bluebird Music Ltd.
620 Wilson Avenue, Suite 360
Toronto, Ontario M3K 1Z3
(416) 638-8207