Jan Allaerts MC1 reborn

I have had one of Jan’s MC1 cartridges for, well, ages. At least 20 years. Since we first knew one another. It has been a mainstay in both my developmental research and private listening for most of that time. Yes, of course, I have used many different cartridges over the years, for a variety of reasons, but when it comes to sitting down with a glass of wine for a well-earned music-listening session at the end of the day, Jan’s MC1 invariably rules the roost. At least, that was the case until recently.

This year, imprisoned in my house by feckless bureaucrats desperate to be seen to be ‘doing something’ (even though it was the wrong thing) I rather fancied that my MC1 was worn out, or at the very least lacklustre. It just didn’t have the same gusto and panache as before. It seemed tired and disinterested, unable to buoy my own sense of fatigue, my craving to be uplifted by the joys of music.

So, I installed something else and, for a while, I was content. It was something new and different, a-change-is-as-good-as-a-rest kind of thing. But it lacked the balance and maturity of the MC1. It offered excitement, yes, but at the expense of the MC1’s quiet sophistication. You know when you experience something that is ‘just right’? There is no need to analyse it, to ask why. You simply acknowledge that it has an equilibrium well-matched to the universe and leave it at that.

I was thus a troubled man. A man whose musical partner (in this case a cartridge) was out of sorts. I needed assistance, and Jan came to the rescue: “Just send it to me” he said, “and I’ll see what I can do.”

I packaged my beloved MC1 with great care and, despite being prohibited from buying shoes, walked to my local shipping agent, who assured me it would journey its way back to its maker in Belgium promptly. They were true to their word: Jan confirmed receipt of it a few days later (relief touched my brow) and assured me he would attend to it as soon as time and silly rules permitted. Both persisted unreasonably.

Belgium came to occupy the headlines with harrowing tales of death, and fear of death. Death: the ultimate statistic. I feared for the well-being of my cartridge, and the man responsible for its birth, and now its resurrection. Emails went unanswered. Oh god.

And then, out of the blue, I received advice that my MC1 was reborn, sporting a new stylus and cleansed of a decade or two of dust, dog hair and other detritus. Better still, it was on its way back to me. It arrived in a surprisingly large box which I opened immediately. And there it was, that familiar golden cube of greatness, my old friend, that trusted stalwart of my private and professional life, ready and waiting for its rightful place in my music machine.

It didn’t take me long to set it up again (I’m a dab hand at this malarkey by now) and press it into action. The MC1 sports big, bold sides – very helpful in the alignment process – and a wonderful nipple on its underside to protect the stylus from careless handling. Jan said it would need 10 hours to run in. I managed that in two listening sessions. Apparently, it has a new, expensive, FGS (Fucking Good Stylus?) diamond tip, perched on a boron cantilever (handy if your nuclear reactor needs subduing) and it glided through my vinyl grooves with panache and alacrity, as though they were lubricated. Boy, does this thing track seamlessly: zero fuss, zero drama. A pleasure to behold.

Actually, I think it really came to life after 20 hours in the saddle of my ancient S9. Feeding it with old Blue Note, Riverside, Columbia and Prestige discs from the 1950s, jazz came alive in my room once more, sensual and salubrious, calm and collected, effortless alliteration. God, how I missed this magic. Could it be possible that it was better than ever? Yes, I think so. A new diamond for old ears, almost biblical.

The sound is rich and mature, but not so much as to promote gout. It is masculine (am I even permitted to use such a word these days?), confident and bold, yet capable of great nuance. It does exactly what it is supposed to do, without melodrama or exaggeration. Like good, wholesome food, there is no need for a drizzle of brightly coloured sauce splashed around the edge of the plate – just give me straight up, honest fare to nourish myself. In this respect, the MC1 delivers unfailingly. It lets me know when the disc in play is of inferior quality, and yet delivers the music uncritically. Digitally mastered discs sound digitally mastered, original analogue discs sound like original analogue discs. It even sailed through a nastily warped Prince record without skipping a beat (no other cartridge I have tried has managed this feat).

It doesn’t discriminate either (another accusation avoided), presenting rock as rock, jazz as jazz and classical as, well, classical. Pink Floyd’s analogue recordings sound just as they did when I was a spotty teenager. Sonny Rollins’ tenor sax blows bold and vociferously. Debussy’s scented panorama floats effortlessly in the evening air. Electronic music from the 1990s makes me want to dance, nineties-style. In short, the MC1 does exactly what it says on the tin: it gives out precisely what the groove contains, without bullshit, exaggeration, or annoyance. It doesn’t keep you on the edge of your chair, ready to leap up and make audiophilic adjustments every few minutes. Rather, it encourages you to just listen and enjoy. What more could one possibly ask of a cartridge?

This is highly competent, skilful engineering. Jan should be proud of his work. First-rate musical work.

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