There’s something highly personal about moving coil cartridges, and they lie very deep in an analogue addict’s affections. When they wear out, they’re not easy to replace. There are some excellent modern designs from a number of manufacturers, but sometimes people don’t want a new cartridge, they just want their old one back and working better than ever. This has created a space for devoted specialists who can refurbish ailing moving coils (and indeed moving magnets, if you so wish) such as North West Analogue.
No aspect of the cartridge is left unturned – if you so wish. Usually it’s the diamond stylus tip that needs replacing, but cartridges come in for complete rebuilds, or specific repairs. He has a passion for analogue that is up there with anyone else in the industry. He trained as a tool room machinist when he left school and went on to work as technician testing “all manner of things to British standards”, he tells me. Dominic has been playing vinyl for as long as he can remember, and says he, “can’t quite accept digital, no matter how it’s done”. Twenty years ago he became especially interested in cartridges, and then “started messing around” with them six years ago…
Actually, this man’s “messing” isn’t like yours or mine; he has the steady hand of a neurosurgeon and the eyesight of a hawk. Plus a well equipped lab and all manner of equipment, and a huge amount of knowledge of virtually every cartridge ever made. Indeed, he can quickly tell you who makes which cartridges for what brands, being seemingly able to spot the build signatures of any number of individuals or companies that you might not necessarily expect. Dominic is now a cartridge builder as well as a rebuilder, and when the general public gets to hear his first product then he may well become as famous as any of the folk whose products he currently fixes.
His cartridge service ranges from a simple retip to extensive surgery. “It dawned on me that many cartridges could be modified, sometimes dramatically quite simply, with just cantilever upgrades. Since then I have taken things further and continue to do so”, he says. This work includes coil changes, damper changes and magnetic circuit changes, plus of course body material experiments – there’s little this man cannot do.
One popular option is on his rebuild menu is a new cantilever, and Dominic can supply all sorts from Boron to Sapphire (he’s not a fan of aluminium though). Fascinatingly though he has developed his own material called DHC; beyond describing it as “a solid rod of various metals”, he is keeping quiet about what the material is, for understandable commercial reasons. He now hand makes his own dampers and can supply and fit these, but often says that all that is needed is realignment. Then there’s the stylus tip of course; he mainly uses Fritz Gyger FG II and FG S, which “are the best available”. The latter he says is the more resolving of the two, but requires “intense alignment and will not suit some cartridges”. A typical rebuild includes a checkover, alignment, new DHC cantilever and new FG stylus – for this he charges £600.
Northwest Analogue performed this on my expired Supex SD900, and it made a dramatic difference. I remember when this cartridge was new, many years ago, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it so good as Dominic’s rebuild. Wonderfully open, fast, delicate, tight and detailed, it seemed possessed of much the lovely definition and delicacy of the latest Lyras, but still had just a touch of that legendary, warm and romantic Supex sound. Dominic has created the best of both worlds; my original Supex was slower and more lethargic, and a little lacking in get-up-and-go. By contrast the NWA rebuild sounds so much more powerful and articulate – yet with no loss of subtlety or finesse. Overall it’s a great upgrade, and inexpensive too considering the end result. Even if you just want the basic retip at £275, you shouldn’t overlook this very special service.