I run an Aesthetix Rhea with stellar results. Sorry, you didn't have it listed ........
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We've been using the ZYX Universe with our preamps (MP-3 and MP-1) for the last two years. The cartridge has proven to be one of the best tracking cartridges we've heard- on the Triplanar I've yet to encounter an LP that will produce even the slightest strain- the image is as stable as tape (you will only know what I mean by this if you have heard a good analog tape system) never with even a hint of strain.
The MP-1 plays the cartridge easily, with the phono noise well below the noise of the best LP surfaces, the MP-3 definitely has a noticeable hiss, although it too is below the surface noise of the LP, but only by about 6 db. We rate that phono stage at 0.3mV and the ZYX is actually at 0.24mV, so that's not so bad.
In either case, the sound is very relaxed and detailed, but we find that the Triplanar is essential as the VTA adjustment yields big results.
We've had customers that have ZYX cartridges that have had gret success with Audia Flight Phono which is made in Italy. You can read more about this phonostage at this link: http://www.musicalsounds.us/rss.php?id=9
this is an incredible and very flexible phonostage and you can use it with ANY phono cartridge.
It has 74dB gain and impedance can be set for any cartridge without a problem.
Having not tried the Alaap, I cannot say, but with the Artisan the Universe makes beautiful music. Occasionally the Artisan can be found used and at that price it is a bargain. Beware to those who only want to own equipment which weighs a short ton because that proves it is well-built - the Artisan does not weigh much at all. At the same time, it "weighs" nothing in the music either.
Its a whos who of phono amps above and i am not surprised. ZYXs UNIverse is so good that it makes the PA i believe. Any way i'm using Tom Evens Groove Plus SRX and could not be musically happier. And as Atmasphere has described above using a Triplanar with UNIverse is analog heaven. The combo is distortion free for the ultimate in sound.
I have a ZYX Universe and an Ortofon PW Windfeld and I must say the Whest PS.30R or 30RDT is the best I have heard from both of them. The Universe (4D) is a great cartridge but requires a very special stage. I managed to borrow quite a few units, from Manley, Ayre..you know the usual suspects, but the 30R did it for me, until I upgraded it to the PS.30RDT. I use the Universe on a HRX/Kuzma Air Line and it is superb.
Another vote from me for the Aesthetix IO Sig - my current rig. Although the IO can be relatively noisy (tube rush) with low output mc carts, the UNIverse is just on the right side of the noise level and therfore it is not at all obvious or disatracting. I do use a combination of the latest Sovtek LP low noise tubes and a couple of NOS tubes in the final gain stages. I have it either direct with 100pf capacitance or thru a transformer (loaded at 30ohm thru Altec 4722's is best for me) and 4 tubes removed from the IO first gain stages to cut back on the tube rush. Loaded thru a step up transformer I find the ZYX to be a bit more dynamic and punchy; direct into the IO it is a bit more transparent and accurate perhaps. Frankly at normal playback levels, background noise level is not a factor.
I did try the ZYX Artisan for several months before the IO and it did not have the dimensionality and depth of the IO. Interestingly I found the Artisan to have some background noise as well, which surprised me for a battery stage. I guess it does not have the high gain capability of the IO.
I have also used a Sonic Frontiers Phono 1 with NOS tubes and that was in between the other two. If i was doing it again I would go for the latest version of the Aesthetix Rhea, as I am sure it is very close to the IO for much less cost.
I moved from a Triplanar to either an Audiocraft AC-4400 with the medium mass arm or my Dynavector 507 Mk2 and both these arms were better than the Triplanar for me on various tables, belt, Direct and rim driven. Subjectively the Triplanar came as across as "drier" all arms being equivalent in detail and dynamics.
I'm using a Supratek Syrah with my my Universe. I had assumed the Syrah was a weak link and I bought a Musical Fidelity KW phono for about a month and did some a/b comparisons. I found the Syrah more engaging and 'alive' although they were generally close in most areas. Anyway, I sold the MF phono. I'd love to try an expensive killer phono, but not sure if a $3k phono will be better than my Syrah.
I just managed to borrow an Aesthetix IO Sig to see how it compares to the Whest PS.30RDT with my Universe (4D). Interesting really. The Whest is MUCH quieter and allows much more inner detail to come through. The IO is pretty noisy in comparison BUT if you don't compare the IO to anything else the noise levels aren't an issue. For me as well as the dealer the PS.30RDT was the clear winner on soundstage, speed, micro detail and musicality. The IO os nice without a doubt, a lot warmer for sure (if you like that) but lacked the sense that you were getting the most of your cartridge.