Should I buy a VDH Colibri or Black Beauty?

I've heards from one source that the BB sounds better, despite being cheaper. Also seen a lot of used Colibris around, not many BBs. Any comments will be very welcome.
vdH cartridges can be extremely finicky. Additionally wide variations between cartridges, even the same model, are not unusual.

That being said, if you happen to find a good one and set it up properly both Colibri and Black Beauty can be breathtaking cartridges. Spectacular dynamics and detail.

Disclaimer- I purchased a Condor from the North American distributor last year as a precursor to picking up the line. I mounted it in 4 different tonearms (high quality products by most standards) and couldn't get it to track properly. The distributor, Bluebird Audio, insisted the cartridge was not installed properly and offered to have their 29 year old tech guy pay me a visit. I laughed and told them a cartridge exchange would be more appropriate.

Anyway, I sent the cartridge back and 10 weeks later (that's right 10 weeks) my money was refunded. A few weeks after they told their US representative, not me directly, that the cartridge was indeed defective.

So, if your purchase in any way, shape, or form may involve Bluebird Audio, I suggest re-thinking your current strategy.

Good luck.
From my experiences (I've owned or used 5 vDh cartridges - a Grasshopper, a Black Beauty and 3 Colibris), I can tell you Audiofeil is right on the money. My Grasshopper and Black Beauty were great (it may be that I had them back in 2001-2003 when quality control was better).

The three Colibris I had afterwards completely turned me off the van Den hul line forever. I had the same experience with them - they were either defective from the get go or they had crooked cantilevers (seen with a naked eye no doubt) and/or they had the worst tracking I've ever experienced. These Colibris were from a different distributor than the one Audiofeil mentions.

IMHO, this is sad because it appears to me that either these VDH "distributors" were selling defective units (maybe B-stock or seconds) or the quality control at VDH is horrible.

As Audiofeil said, when you get a good one and set it up right, they can be breathtaking. The problem is, I don't have the patience or disposable income (or, at the rate these things come defective, enough days on earth) to screw around and try to go through the frogs (no pun intended) to get to the princes.
Thanks for your interesting responses. I live in the UK, and both of the cartridges I'm looking at - BB & Colibri - are previously used, the BB having been sent back to VDH for a check-up, and returned with a clean bill of health. The Colibri has low hours, and is vgc indeed!

I am building a system on a limited budget, and want one cartridge that will sound heavenly - I cannot afford to buy several to play with. I use heavily modified Quad 63 speakers and valve (tube to you lot over the pond!) amplification.

I had heard that the Colibri had some characteristics of a thoroughbred - fantastic, unbeatable performance, but always a danger of being a bit twitchy, unpredictable sharp. The BB, on the other hand. as being a fantastic all-rounder. Any truth in this?

Any more comments? I want to get this one right!

All the best

In my similar inquiry a few months ago, I found that many of the guys who post here and who have the most experience with a wide variety of high end cartridges were in awe of the Colibri, but all said that it was a cartridge that will reveal the "truth", good or bad, of the quality of the recording. The essence of their collective opinions was that if the LP is well recorded, the Colibri will give a uniquely thrilling experience. I bought a used one but have not had a chance to listen yet. However, I am rather surprised that so far none of the Colibri admirers have responded to your question. I have no feel for the sound of the Black Beauty, sorry to say.
I meant to add that if you are looking at a used Colibri, especially one that has recently been "readjusted" by van den Hul, then any fears of manufacturing defects should be ameliorated. Someone else has done the beta testing for you. Therefore the putative problems cited by Audiofeil and Fmpmd, whether they were the fault of the distributor or of van den Hul, would not apply.
Dear Lutenist: I have a little different experiences with Van denHul cartridges. These kind of inconsistencies talk very bad of this cartridge manufacturer.

I ownowned: a Grasshopper III, BB, Frog and Colibri, I have to say that I don't have any trouble with any one of these cartridges and IMHO the Colibri ( low output version: 0.25mv. ) is the best quality performer.

Van denHul has different versions in the same model due to differnt output level, coil build materials, body build material, etc, etc and the different cartridges in the same model catalog performs a little different too.

My experiences with the Van den Hu cartridges and especially with the Colibri tell me that has long breaking time ( over 100 hours. ) and a little " hard " to set-up: tiny changes make a difference on uts quality performance. Normally the Colibri after 300 hours you can send to Van den Hul to a " last " fine tunning with out charge and I can say that when the cartridge return is a winner at the top cartridge level.

Regards and enjoy the music,
I'm a little concerned that the Colibri only sounds good with excellent recordings. Many of my records are not, but the music still shines through. I don't want something that makes more of the faults than the beauty of the music.

I guess after all is said and done, all I can do is decide by listening myself and making my own mind up.

Thanks for your interest, people, more contributions very welcome - any other suggestions?
Lutenist and Lewm,

Lewm, I too am a bit disappointed when someone doesn't respond to the original poster's actual question and certainly that wasn't my intention. Let me explain a few things further and maybe this will help Lutenist.

First, I am that dreaded life form, a reviewer, so I choose, for reasons that aren't important here, not to list my system on Audiogon. That said, I had my BB mounted a VPI TNT V with a JMW 12 arm at that time. The BB was, as has been pointed out, an overall fine performer. On that table, it had great speed and resolution and yet was still balanced with excellent midrange and bass extension.

My first Colibri was mounted on my current SME 30 (with an SME arm) and the table is on the massive and overbuilt Silent Running Audio CRAZ Rack which sits on a concrete slab (I mention this for the tracking description below). I've set up many cartridges and I set this one up using a full compliment of Wally tools custom made for the arm and using his Analog Shop. On certain LPs the Colibri was breathtaking. I doubt you'll find a faster cartridge on the planet. Yet as good as it was at times, it also diappointed even more because it was sibilant on many LPs and a HORRIBLE tracker! Since VDH's usually track at very low VTF's I tried every adjustment I could all to no avail.

I sent it back to the distributor who claimed it was defective and he allegedly sent me a new one. Same result. Then, I tried another one and this one was the same.

You can blame it my table or my set-up, but you you'd be hard pressed to explain why I haven't had any tracking or sibilance problems with any other cartridges - and this includes a Grasshopper, a Lyra Titan and my current Dynavector XV-1s.

Sure, I have no doubt that others have had no problems with a Colbri due to the differences Raul points out. However, if I am about to spend that much money on a cartridge, I'd hope others who have had issues or encountered tracking or sibilance problems would at least let me know. Then, I can make my own decision based on all of the information gathered and the apparent credibility of the sources.

Finally, I WISH I didn't have this bad experience with the VDH Colibri as I liked the Grasshopper and BB so much when I had them. Unfortunately, I either had horrible luck with my 3 Colibris or it is just a very finicky performer.
Dear Fmpnd: I agree with you on the sibilance " trouble " that I'm nt really sure if it is a real " trouble " due to the extremely Colibri very high resolution on the high frequency range.

Certainly the Colibri is not a " user friendly " cartridge and we have to match in the right tonearm. I never experienced that " HORRIBLE tracker " you mentioned but maybe your recordings area little different from mine and we have to take in count the non-standard cartridge build quality.

Now that you mentioned IMHO I think that Lutenist could be better serve by the XV-1s.

Lutenist, take a look here:

Regards and enjoy the music,
Fmpnd, Sounds like your (negative) experience was pretty convincing to you. The only explanation that might exonerate the Colibri is that there was some suboptimal interaction between your tonearm and the cartridge, a la Raul's point. My Colibri is supposed to work best with tonearms of 8 to 14gm effective mass. Since my Triplanar is 11gm eff mass, the match should be a good one. Lets hope that I have a better experience than you did. I do know that I don't have to worry about having a bad sample, because I bought my Colibri from an honorable member of A'gon who had used it in his superb system and found no fault.

Re the sibilance question, besides playing with VTF, did you also vary VTA and the load resistor in your phono stage? Either of those settings can also exaggerate any tendency toward sibilance that often is intrinsic to the LP per se.
What is "effective mass"? I use an Adanalog Airbearing arm, the sliding armtube is described as being 25g without weight or cartridge. Would that be a match for the Colibri? (I am particularly interested in this cart in particular owing to an extremely keenly priced example being available. I must say, though, I'm worried by the bad reports it seems to be attracting.

Any more comments on the BB?
Let me post my two cents...

I have experience with many of today's finest cartridges...

Dynavector XV-1s
Lyra Titan I
Air Tight PC-1
Benz Ruby 3
ZYX Universe
Koetsu Onyx Sig
Shelter 90x
VDH Colibri

This list is not for bragging rights. I am only trying to convey my experience. I have owned all of these and have bought and sold many of them on this site. I have had some twice and 3 times. Along with other lower end models in the 2000 dollar range. such as the Frogs, Rosewoods, helicons, airy, ah hell Ive bought everything I could get my hands on at one time or another. If the price is right and I can resell it if its not my cup of tea without loosing money, why not?

I find the Colibri to be with out a doubt one of the finest cartridges available today. I also find VDH to offer the best customer support by charging very little to maintenance your cartridge. Whether its a tune up or a complete rebuild, AJ is the most reasonable manufacture in the business.

Now all that being said, I can not recommend the Colibri for a one and only cartridge. This cartridge is not the same as say a Dynavector XV-1s or a ZYX Universe. Those cartridges I can recommend absolutely to someone who is looking for one cartridge only, a well rounded top of the line cartridge. I can also recommend Universe and XV-1s to a novice who has the money and simply wants one of the best. Cartridges like the PC-1, XV-1s, and Universe are user, recording, and equipment friendly. They are well rounded performers and its really tough to make them sound bad. They might not be sounding their best, it does take experience to get the most out of any cartridge. But most will be happy with them even if not set up properly.

The Colibri is for the connoisseur. He is so involved in analog and his system that, 1) he wants to hears everything, {to make sure he isn’t missing something} 2) He already owns a few very good cartridges 3) He probably has more than one tone arm mounted on his table. {because he already realized that tone arms are just as important as the cartridge and the matching or mating of the two is a ceremony in itself.}

What the Colibri offers is......(drum roll)....something completely different from the herd. The Colibri is so fast, so neutral, so extended it is in a league of its own. It has tremendous separation. It never gets homogenized. It never breaks up or falls apart, it will consume anything you throw at it. It does not sound like analog or digital, its something in between or to the left or right. I cant put my finger on it. It presents the music like no other device in audio does. Its clear, without any grain, its high’s are so surreal and elegant, it has enormous air as if it creates an entire atmosphere around the instruments and voices. And its color? It is the most colorful presenter. Meaning it sheds no shade or hue of its own. I can visualize a color or shade with other cartridges where all the different colors in a recording are slightly affected by it. The colibri has its own presentation but it doesn’t have to do with color. It has more to do with speed, thickness, density, air, space and such. This allows for the color and texture of instruments and voices to shine through…. Its really hard to describe.

When I first listened to a colibri, I was like, what the f-ck is this? At first I sat there with my mouth I continued to try different recordings I was like, I don’t think I like this. Where’s the bloom? Where’s the warmth? Where are the thick solid images? Where’s that mid bass analog bump and jump? Where’s the beeeeeeeef! I ended up taking it out and left it off to the side for a few months. As I continued with my analog journey, trying different tone arms, phono stages, cartridges, turntables, phono cables, I just left the colibri in its box. One day I pulled it out again to listen to it, right before I send it to VDH to see what the hell is wrong with it? This time, I was absolutely amazed by it, as if my ears were more trained, that I could now appreciate the Colibri. Its like a thing that requires developing a taste for, like fine cheese, Beer and Wine.

To try and end this, since I am dragging on a bit and making very little sense, I would have to say that I recommend the Colibri for your second cartridge. Meaning if you already own one of the other top of the line cartridges in the world and you want to own another one, you must buy a Colibri. The Colibri is another view, something different from the rest, a different take. And yes it can be brutal on lesser material, painstakingly revealing of mediocre recordings. The colibri can be unlistenable with recordings that sound ok or even nice with the other cartridges mentioned. The Colibri can also take a recording that is not believable with the other cartridges and make it believable. It can make sense of recording that didnt make sense before. And it also can take a recording that was a bit boring with the other cartridges mentioned, and turn it into something so exciting, that the hair on the back of your neck stands up and your stomach and chest swell with blood.


Also that talk about miss-tracking and quality control with VDH, I have never experienced. I have had two Colibri’s and both were the finest trackers. More quiet in the grooves then all the rest. And by a large margin.
Lutenist, The tonearm "effective mass" is a mathematical entity that describes the average of the mass in relation to the square of its distance from the stylus tip. (I am writing this without access to the actual formula, so I may be leaving out some parameter.) In other words, if you put a weight right on top of the headshell, pretty much that weight will add arithmetically to the effective mass. On the other hand, if you put a weight back at the pivot point, the change in effective mass will be reduced by a quantity related to the square of the length of your tonearm from pivot to stylus. Ask the maker of your tonearm for its effective mass spec. Especially for an air bearing tonearm, the effective mass will be very different for the vertical and lateral planes. Mostly, you want to worry about the effective mass in the vertical plane as regards cartridge matching. If I have misspoken here in any important way, please anyone do not hesitate to correct me, but I think this is correct.
I will add my very small head to head comparison in a friends system, (I have MM at the moment) the system is very well set up and extremely transparent, needless to say he has several arms and cartridges, we listened for a long while the XV-1 and it was wonderful, I noticed he had the Colibri in another arm and asked him to play that one...
We played the same Ellis Regina record and it was completely out of this world, we had just played that record on the XV-1 and it seemed like the musicians have moved from the next room into ours! amazing!
Then we played another record we used as a reference in several occasions and that sounds wonderful with the XV-1, it was absolutely horrible with the Colibri, everything was out of place, I cant explain it.

So I would agree with Rudolffzigray, he couldnt have explained it better.
Lewm, here's hoping you have great luck with your Colibri. I agree that my tonearm's effective mass may have contributed to the sibilance but was not the root cause. I tried adjusting everything with it, VTF, VTA, antiskate, damping, loading, you name it. When it was tracking well, it sounded exactly like Rudy and others have described it - amazing, breathtaking, incredible etc. Like Rudy and Jsadurni point out though, I wouldn't want it for my only cartridge as my XV-1s gives me more overall good sound on many more LPs.

Unfortunately, I guess I must NOT be a "connoisseur" as I do not have the ability to mount more than one tonearm on my SME 30. I'd love to have the ability to have say a TW Acustic with three tonearms or, better yet, a Rockport Sirius V. However, with the economy the way it is and my 410(k) now reduced to a 101(k), I'm lucky I don't have a Mattell "Close & Play" (crap, I think I just dated myself)!
Fmpnd, After I posted about VTA, etc, I felt silly, because it is obvious that someone as knowledgable as yourself would know enough to play with all the variables. I guess the only point of contention is that you seem to attribute your dissatisfaction to mistracking, whereas Rudy and I think others say that mistracking did not occur in their rigs, even though their experiences in terms of listening were not far different from yours. I am away from home at a scientific meeting, so I can do nothing for a few more days to test my own sample. But I am anxious to do so, once I solve the problem with fitting it into the Triplanar headshell. It seems I may have a shim that will permit it.

It's hard at times to post on A-Gon and be thorough yet brief or concise enough to keep a reader involved. I should have been more specific and mentioned that the sibilance problem (which both Raul and Rudy have addressed) was separate and distinct from the mistracking that I experienced. Could the mistracking have caused the sibilance? Possibly, but I don't think so as the Colibri is so fast and transients so razor sharp that some sibilance is a probably just a by-product of that characteristic.

My Colibri(s) actually mistracked badly. What shocked me about this was that my Grasshopper and BB were excellent trackers notwithstanding the very low recommended VTF of the van Den Hul designs. I ran the Colbris up and down the VTF scale from .6 gms all the way to 2.6 gms in .02 gm increments all to no avail. I guess it's also possible that the cartridges the distributor sent me were never actually adjusted by VDH or were not actual replacements. Maybe the distributor simply kept sending me the same defective cartridge I originally bought. Either way, I ran out of patience (this took over a year to conclude) and went to the XV-1s and never looked back.
I'm a little concerned that the Colibri only sounds good with excellent recordings
No, no, it's just that excellent recordings can sound unexpectedly "excellent" when you use a Colibri... A few quick notes fm me too:
I too found that the Colibri outperformed BB.
VdH products, when in good condition, are pretty good for the asking price; a few yrs ago, when I used them the value was great!
The Colibri is an annoyingly unfriendly product & I used a slightly/ minuscule negative vta to keep hi frequencies on par with upper bass.
Sibilance (pronounced 6-8kHz): I never got completely ride of it EXCEPT by varying the speed of the record -- and then, only on certain records.
Clearly, if your azimuth is off, you WILL have hi frequency anomalies;

My suggestion:
1) If your phono is "good" (i.e. not outstanding), buy the BB and, perhaps, invest in an even better phono.
2) Breathe down the seller's/ dealer's... etc neck to set the cartridge up perfectly. Including the loading.
Dear Fmpnd, No idea about the dimensions of your SME-30
but for my Kuzma Stabi Reference I solved the problem by
ordering from 'Reed L' ( special 'torret' (aka 'base') with one 12" tonearm.
This combo is made after consultation about the relevant
dimensions . So I put this combo next to my TT and enjoy
the luxury of two tonearms. BTW the phono is Basis exclusive with 2 inputs and the tonearms are: Triplanar VII
with Ruby 3 and Reed L 2 A (29 gr.eff.mass) with Phase Tech
I am surprised that no one has pointed out that there really is NO one Colibri. Each one seems to have been custom made with variations in cartridge body construction, wire used for windings, voltage output, internal impedance, etc, etc. So none of us is talking about the same product. Also, Gregm, did you really mean to say "azimuth"? Azimuth should have zero effect on hf response, let alone to cure "anomalies", such as sibilance.
I think, vdH was the only one who made custom orders (I guess "Colibri"), he had some from his own idea or the customer said (even what kind of "sound" is preferred), what he wanted and vdH tried to do it. But I heard, based on his age, he gave all to Lukaschek (Benz)...
Question regarding loading: I believe the Colibris are 47k. Is your experience that they work best with a phono stage that is also at 47k?
Dear Jimjoyce: The manufacturer spec on my LOMC Van den Hul cartridges states: 500 Ohms and Iwas/am satisfied at: 100 Ohms.

Regards and enjoy the music,
They vary from unit to unit in internal resistance. Therefore, a 47K ohm load would be good for some and not for others. Mine has a relatively high internal resistance. (Cannot recall the number.) vdH recommends "200 ohms to 47K ohms" for the load resistance. JimJoyce, any MC or MM cartridge will have an internal resistance or impedance way below 47K, so I was not sure exactly what you were getting at.