One of the most popular tonearms that most audiophiles have never heard of, many hundreds of thousands of Hadcocks have been sold since its inception over half a century ago, in over one hundred countries. It is a classic unipivot design – indeed for its admirers it is the classic unipivot – and long predates more fashionable versions like the Naim ARO. Designed by George Hadcock in the late nineteen sixties, this is the epitome of no-nonsense British hi-fi, sitting in a niche that Quad used to reside before it went mainstream. It’s still a family business that hand-assembles its products; even current managing director Charles Hadcock used to earn his pocket money as a child from putting the arm together.
There’s not actually very much to this tonearm – and for its devotees that’s the beauty of it. The bearing cup sits on the pin; there’s a polished stainless steel arm tube that’s detachable to make changing cartridges easy, and this comes with an integrated headshell and of course wiring. At the other end of the tonearm is the counterweight which is a stainless steel disc with a hole at the top; bias comes via the tried-and-test string and weight method. A hexagonal screw allows the headshell to move forward and back. If you’ve never set one up before, it’s a bit of a pig – but it gets easier with practice and still isn’t as daunting as some people suggest. You have to be methodical and patient and you’ll get there in the end – just don’t expect to do it in the commercial break between the two halves of your favourite nightly soap opera!
These days, Hadcock offers two basic models – the GH 228 and GH 242. These differ mainly on their effective length. The GH 228 Export 9″ is now the only version of a tonearm which has been in production for the best part of half a century; it is better looking than it ever was – when Charles Hadcock took over from his father a decade or so ago, the quality of finish went way up – and the headshell has been redesigned. The effective length is 228.6mm, compared to 243.8mm for the latter arm – this promises better tracking thanks to improved geometry but won’t of course fit some turntables. The basic version of this with oxygen free copper wiring is the £786.38 GH 242 Export, but it also comes in GH 242 Export Cryo, GH 242 Cryo, GH 242 Integra and GH 242 Super silver; the last of these costs £1,526.81 at the time of writing. All models are the same mechanically, differing only in the choice of internal wiring.
At this point, it’s important to remember that unipivots tend to work best with low mass, high compliance cartridges, so this must be foremost in your thoughts when selecting a partnering pick-up. The arm will track cartridges from 3 to 12 grams in weight. Installation in a turntable isn’t too tricky, given its modest dimensions. Overall arm tube length is 304.8 mm, and it sits between 43 and 90 mm above its mount. Pivot to platter centre is 226 mm and rear overhang is 62 mm. The Hadcock uses a 15.87mm mounting hole; many turntable manufacturers such as Michell supply pre-cut armplates.
Sonically the Hadcock is a quintessential unipivot, which is to say that it sounds really good in its way – but won’t please everybody. There’s a wonderful fluidity to the way it plays music, especially in the midband – things just ebb and flow in the most organic way imaginable. There’s a decent degree of detail, and a wide soundstage too, but here’s when things start to take a downward turn. Location of individual instruments isn’t as good as many conventional designs – it all sounds a little diffuse and opaque – and the frequency extremes aren’t brilliant. By this, I mean that bass lacks the grip and outright extension of a similarly priced conventional tonearm, and this makes for a slightly flabbier sound especially with beat-driven rock music. At the other end of the frequency spectrum, there’s less air and space than there really should be, but it’s still nice enough.
All the same, considering that the entry-level Hadcock costs just £786.38, it’s great value for money. What it does, it does extremely well – making it a short-cut to a seriously exotic sounding vinyl front end, if you can live with its foibles. This is a great product in its way, and it always amazes me that people don’t shout about it louder. Properly matched to the right cartridge and carefully set-up, you get a lot of bang for your buck.