Lyra or ZYX ?

I am on a look out for an upgrade to my Denon 103pro. Primary requirement is Drive, pace and timing along with natural flow. I know both Lyra and ZYX cartridges are known for good pace and timing but which of them sounds more natural ? I listen to both Patricia Barber and Beatles alike so I want a cartridge which has that natural flow to music not just emphasizing shortcomings.

The reason I chose ZYX and Lyra and not a warm Benz or Grado is because I am also looking for a detailed cartridge. Within my budget I can look at with ZYX R100 Yatra or Lyra Delos.

Please share your experiences.
I own and use a Lyra Delos and for me, is the most natural sounding cartridge I have owned. I would rate it better than my Monster Cable cartridges, which are now ZYX. Just more open and detailed without any strain or emphasis on any one part of the music.
Well I would recommend the ZYX, but the best fit for you could depend on the rest of your system. True, the ZYX and Lyra are very agile, detailed and lively, but in my system, with my ears I preferred the ZYX Airy 3 over the Lyra Helikon. I wound up getting a UNIverse later, but that's another story.

Now if your system is a bit too ripe and you are looking for serious speed and resolution, the Lyra just may be for you. I have not heard a faster, more transparent cartridge than the Helikon, but what it reveals may not please you. I find the Lyra works better on warmer tables like VPI, Nottingham, etc. The ZYX will not give you that last ounce of detail, but will sound more natural. That's just my $0.02, take it for what it's worth.
This is not easy I suppose. Helikon is traditionally known to be fast and lean and I am not really looking for that kind of sound. I am looking for something that is naturally detailed. I read some good things about Delos so considering it.

I also remember reading somewhere that ZYX cant do rock and pop well. How far is that true ? 30-40% of my consumption is classic rock and blues.
The Zyx R100 is indeed a good deal. Good sound, uncritical to Arms, makes life easy. The Delos is a cartridge which is probably one of the best ever made. It has enormous reserves and the better the System gets, the Delos will go with it. Some "upgrade" to Kleos because they think, spending more money atomically will give better results. The typical audiophile mistake in analog. Delos is in a way a perfect balanced cartridge, through the whole Frequency area. But it NEEDS a good Hardware to shine.

When discussing cartridges it's critical to know which tonearm will be used. No one can give reliable information about a cartridge without knowing that. It wouldn't hurt to mention the phono stage either.

Take those statements about how ZYX's don't rock with a grain of salt. Anyone who makes such simplistic claims without providing their system context lacks a certain breadth of experience. How well a Yatra or most other ZYX's rock depends to a great extent on the tonearm, particularly its effective mass. On an arm with an effective mass of 18g or a little above, a Yatra will rock the house while also providing natural detail and tonality. On lighter arms the singing detail will still be there but you will indeed get less rockin'. My guess is that those who claim ZYX's don't rock have only used tonearms of 15g effective mass or below, perhaps much below. The devil is in the details.

The best ZYX for rock/pop is the 4D, which rocks as well as any cartridge I've heard, even on an 11g TriPlanar. That's a different design from the R100 series and well beyond your price point, but it heartily disproves any foolish notion that "ZYX's don't rock". Read our review of the 4D (Atmos) beneath my signature for a discussion of why/how some ZYX's rock better than others.

I defer to Syntax on the Delos, which I'm unfamiliar with. He seems to know what he's talking about there, as usual.
Hi Doug and Syntax,
My TT is a Nouvelle Platine Verdier, Tonearm is SME 3012 S2. While current phonostage is a Auditorium23 SUT + Leben RS-30EQ I am planning to change it to an RCM Sensor Prelude or 47 labs, still not decided. Naim Superline is also under consideration.

While the Platine is a very solid table it is actually a bit warm and relaxed sonically, at least that is what I feel with the SME and EMT tonearm I have heard them with. I need a cartridge which can liven up the sound in a natural way and do some nice rhythm and timing. Am I on the right path looking on the ZYX and Lyra ?
Dear Pani: I agree with Dougdeacon: tonearm is critical to judge any cartridge and not only about its effective mass but its kind of signature resonances/distortions and damping on it.

In the other side as Doug posted the phono stage is way important too, as better PS as better cartridge quality performance level. I prefer high gain active PS over SUTs but has the " disadvantage " that a a good active high gain PS are expensive.

I never heard a ZYX through a SME but I heard Lyras and I think works really fine with.

Regards and enjoy the music,
It all depends on withc tonearm you are using. With Lyra you need a arm withs can take "heaviere" cart`s.

But with that said, i will recomend Lyra Delos over any ZYX cart ;-)
The few times I've heard an SME (V) with ZYX (UNIverse) were not impressive. That arm seemed to smother most of what that cartridge can do.

How much that would apply to a 312 S2/Yatra combination is very debatable of course. Wildly different price and performance points.

With respect, Pierre1976's blanket recommendation would only be useful if he's actually heard every ZYX cartridge. I've probably heard more ZYX models than anyone save nakatsuka-san himself, but I'd never make a blanket statement like that. For one thing, several models are VERY different from the "typical" ZYX house souond. Love the enthusiasm though. ;)
Doug, mine is the older generation SME 3012 Series2, not the new gen SME 312. You mention that with a heavy tonearm the ZYX yatra can rock. Do you think my tonearm fulfils that criteria ? It will be interesting to hear from you what you think about Lyra, just in case you have heard one.

Sometimes I wonder how difficult is it for a dealer to allow a home demo of a cartridge if not the top end at least the mid level ones. He can even charge a sum for doing it but how easy the life of the buyer becomes !!
Pani...LOL!!! Phono cartridges are absolutely the LAST item that you will ever get a home demo from a dealer on. I suppose there is no harm in dreaming though. :-)

Doug, I'm sure Pierre1976 has never even heard "any ZYX cart", which is why his reco makes him.
According to various posts on the internet, the 3012 S2 had an eff. mass of 14g. From that perspective it's just massive enough to be viable, though ~18g would be better. Experience from someone who'd actually heard the combination would be better of course.

Mehran might surprise you about demoing. He's a very customer-friendly guy. Couldn't hurt to ask, he might have a used one lying about. Who knows?
Doug, what is your opinion about Lyra vs ZYX ? Since you are so exhaustively into analog I would guess you have heard some Lyras also ?
Pani - if it were me, I'd look at updating the tonearm first. I own a 3012 and it is really of collectors interest only. If you want more detail start with the tonearm. If you can afford a Graham Phantom or similar performance even at the cost of not doing the cartridge or phono stage now I think you will be much better off in the long term.

The only Lyra I've heard extensively enough to have a firm impression is the Olympos, a ~$10K model that's no longer made new. I've heard multiple samples of that cartridge in friends' systems and my own.

I could blab on but it wouldn't be very pertinent to your decision. Not only was the Olympos at very different price point from yours, every report I've heard (including from JCarr of Lyra himself) is that Lyra's new cartridges do not sound like the Olympos.

By reputation the new ones are fast and dynamic, perhaps on the cool and detailed side of neutral. But all that's just repeating what I've read, not anything I've heard. Barely worth even one grain of salt. I'd defer to Lyra owners for impressions of the Delos or any other current model.
I agree with Dover. His advice is a good one and his comment about the 3012 is also spot on.
I haven't heard a 3012 S2 (or any SME except the IV and V) but IF Dover's assessment is correct then I'd second his advice. In the whole scheme of things, a quality TT and tonearm are much more significant than a cartridge.

I can put many $100-200 MMs on my $10K rig and they sing like little angels. If I put costly LOMC's on my vintage rig they typically shriek like little devils.

Good reality check.
Dover, what is it about 3012 that you dont like ? Or say what can I expect the Phantom to do more ?
Doug, you say that my 14g effective mass tonearm is just about okay but 18g should have been better for ZYX yatra. Can I choose the ZYX with their additional silver headshell weight to increase the effective mass ?

That is indeed the purpose of the SB option. My suggestion as to tonearm weights assumed that your cartridge would have one. To my knowledge (and on my advice) the US distributor doesn't stock any ZYX cartridges without it (except perhaps the entry level Bloom). A ZYX without the SB would want an even heavier arm, like 22g+. Such arms are not common, and are almost unknown among today's designs.

In principle, I agree with Syntax agreeing with Dover. ;)

A tonearm faces a fearfully complex array of challenges and tasks.

The challenges include very precise motion management in an ever-changing and largely unpredictable, 3-D environment plus the management of randomly induced vibrations across the entire frequency spectrum.

Using only those highly chaotic inputs for guidance, the tonearm is tasked with holding the centerline of the cartridge precisely above the center of the groove (wherever it might be at any given moment) while maintaining a constant downward pressure. Good luck with that. It's like a 3-D tightrope walk on a constantly moving and jiggling rope. Oh, did I mention? The tightrope walker must keep his balance bar precisely perpendicular to the rope at every moment, even though the angle of the rope keeps changing... randomly!

Got all that? Now, whilst doing all the above the tonearm must also transmit the most delicate, low voltage signal your system ever sees, with no distortions, inaccuracies or induced changes of any kind. Good luck with that too.

A tonearm is the most difficult-to-engineer device in audio, which means it's the component best suited to screwing things up.

Put a great cartridge on a crap tonearm and you'll get crap, because most of the great things the cartridge drags out of the LP grooves will be damaged before they even reach your phono stage, if they reach it at all. Put an average cartridge on a great tonearm and you'll get fine music, because more of whatever the cartridge is capable of will reach the phono stage undamaged. This isn't empty theory. It's the explanation of what I've actually heard, many times. I've owned several crap tonearms, one decent tonearm and one really good tonearm and a bunch of cartridges. In every case, a good arm/cheap cartridge combo has stomped all over a cheap arm/good cartridge combo.

Among my analog toys I've got a $100 MM, a $100 vintage arm, a $4K LOMC and a $4K arm. Put the $100MM on the $4K arm and it sings and dances. It's a decent little cartridge and the arm lets it play its stuff. OTOH, put the $4K LOMC on the $100 arm and it shrieks and howls. The crappy arm just can't handle the tons of information from the highly revealing cartridge, so it produces disortions. Of course the best combo is the LOMC on the snazzy arm, obviously, but if I could only have one of those $4K components there's no question which I'd keep. The arm would stay.
Doug and Syntax, I like your suggestions and can see very reasonable logic behind. But, are we not taking extreme cases into this equation. $100 tonearm with $4k cartridge is good for illustration but am I in that situation ? My tonearm is an SME 3012 Series2 with ATA (analog tube audio) modification. It may not be a top notch tonearm but it is still well respected, isnt it ? I paid $1.5k for it, the latest variant of this is SME M2-12R costing $2k. However there are lot of articles on the vinyl forums where people feel the older model was better. I do not know which is better but I would like to safely believe that they must be close enough hence the comparison. Mine is further modified by ATA (please read about them).

So, are we saying that a decent $2k tonearm is not worthy of a $1.5k cartridge (Delos or Yatra) ?

Or, am I being suggested that I should sell this arm, use my cartridge budget to top up and buy a modern arm like SME 309 and continue using my Denon 103pro ? And that will give me a better sound ?
Pani - the SME has double knife edge bearings, that is the arm just sits on a knife edge ( but with 2 lines of contact ). A low compliance cartridge or cartridge that puts a lot of energy into the arm can "rattle" the arm in the bearings which leads to a smearing of the sound. Furthermore the SME armtube is quite resonant and again resonant colourations mask detail. Finally the detachable headshell lacks rigidity, again smearing the sound.
Typically well designed gimbal bearings will have significantly less rattle if correctly designed, and are in general much more suitable for low compliance or cartridges that impart lots of energy into the arm.
The most rigid bearing, ironically, is in a fact a unipivot, the stylus drag pulling on the arm imparts a rigid coupling between the unipivot bearing point and cup. A correctly designed self centering unipivot bearing will maintain this rigidity even as the bearing wears whereas in a gimbal or captured bearing, wear will result in loose bearings and chatter.
I would expect the Graham unipivot for example to give a far more precise sound from the Denon than the SME. In general I have found unipivots to impart more fluidity to the sound compared to a gimbal bearing arms.
There are always exceptions but I would not run knife edge bearing type arms ever unless I was using a very compliant cartridge that does not put energy into the arm.
Very reasonable question, Pani. Having no familiarity with any SME arms except the VI and V, I defer to those who have.
Pani - to answer your question, I have had the SME V and can tell you the 3012 is not even close. The 3012 has an old fashioned charm, read coloured, to the sound and lacks resolution. The SME V has a very organic sound, its a big sound. Some people complain that it is a bit fat and loose in the bass/midbass but in my experience this is turntable/cartridge dependent. My pick of the 9" SME's is the SME IVi sold by Sumiko as the SME IV now has the same bearings as the V but omits the damping and other stuff you dont need. The IVi is an American version that has been rewired with Magnan ultrathin ribbon that is very good. You might also want to check reviews of the SME 312S that Albert Porter regards quite highly.
Thank you guys. Thats a lot of useful information to chew upon. Could I ask what would be a good compliance number to be considered "high" ?
The SME 3012 is more or less made for super soft compliance carts (For example Shure Systems at its time). The bearing of that Arm can't handle cartridges which moves energy into it. The Armbearing starts to "vibrate) and the result will be a smearing in the details. No audible dynamic stops-and go...but mainly you hear that with classical Ballet music....The Phantom Arm is ultrarigd for a Unipivot and one of those, where you can close a chapter.
Syntax, I was looking at a 47 Labs RS-A1 arm. It is affordable and quite well appreciated. Do you have any opinions about it ?
Syntax, you say that the SME 3012 was made for super soft carts but it has a effective mass of 14 grams, will that accomodate a high compliance cartridge like the Shure or Empire (compliance above 25) ?
Hi Pani,
I have no experience with 47lab Arm. I always was on the way for serious solutions :-)
Well, one of my buddies owned such a 3012 Arm, he was total fanatic about it.
Until I loaned him a FR-64s. Then it was done for him, he sold his beloved 3012 immediately and got a good price (whatever this means), there is a big Fangroup for them.
My opinion? Don't waste your time with compromises...
Interesting reply :-). So you found the 47 labs tonearm too funny to try !

Anyway, Syntax, frankly I dont have the bandwidth to spend $5k on a tonearm. I suppose the kind of serious tonearms you are talking about are all $4k+, correct me if I am wrong. My maximum stretch budget will not exceed $2.5k, that too I am hoping I get a good price for my 3012. 47 labs is well within my budget and has got some nice user opinions. Then there are Jelcos but I am not sure if it is an upgrade over my existing arm. The point is, I do not know what to look for under $2.5k . FR64 is very well regarded I know, it could be an option. What else ?
Hi Pani,

Internet decisions can be very problematic. It is no guarantee for that kind of satisfaction one hopes for. Don't you have a chance to visit a dealer? I made a lot of dealer visits when I was interested in a product (The Internet offers enthusiastic/positive/recommended/both thumbs up comments for even the worst sounding products..).I offered them money to rent their room for a Demo and we always had a good relationship. It was a win/win situation for both.
Syntax, FR64 has an effective mass of 35g. Will it work with cartridge like ZYX and Lyra ?
Hello Pani,
yes, the FR-64s will work with them on a top level (and with a lot more, too).
When you find one, turn the VTF knob, when you hear some clics, the grease inside is in good condition (there is a spring inside). When you need some force to turn and can't hear any clics while turning, the grease inside is stiff. They are from sound quality not comparable.
The FR-64s is truly a great arm suitable for low compliance MC cartridges and.......surprisingly.......high compliance MMs.
It can be found for $1500-$2000 on the Internet.
As Syntax can then "close the book" :^)
Pani - one other suggestion to check out. On the Platine Verdier you can put a steel or ceramic ball bearing into a cavity on top of the bearing axis. The bearing can be adjusted so that just a little weight, not more than a few hundred grams is handled by this ball bearing, assisted by the magnets. This gives vibrations from the platter an additional path for getting away from the record and out of the platter. If you can do this on your Nouvelle it will improve the focus on your existing set up.
Doug, there is a ZYX RS30-02 on sale for $500. This is a mouth watering price provided this cartridge is as good as current ZYX cartridges are. Do you have any idea about them ?
I own both an RS-A1 and an FR64S. The RS-A1 is really excellent, but it is also a bit crazy in terms of its ergonomics. (You need a steady hand or a shot of cognac.) The FR64S is probably superior for a low compliance cartridge, in terms of both performance and usability. You should be able to buy an FR64S in excellent condition for well less than $2000. If possible, find one with silver internal wiring. (The arm tube will have a label: "Silver wire inside", or similar.) Most have copper internal wire, which is probably OK too.
If cost is a major barrier, then you might consider the RS-A1, or one of many other good vintage Japanese tonearms that can be had for $1000 or less.
As an update, I bought the ZYX rs30-02 cartridge. Much much better than Denon 103pro. For the tonearm, I have an option of buying Graham 1 tonearm for about $1.2k and a Graham 2.2 for $2k. Not sure if the additional $800 is worth the investment!!

Has anyone tried Graham and ZYX combination. Is it worth pursuing ?
When I owned Graham 2.2 I used Zyx with it. Top combination. The Zyx are in
general not critical to Tonearm matching.
In my opinion the higher you go with Graham Arms, the better is the result. This
design became always more and more heavy (see the different weights or
differences in the weight of the housing), the Phantom for example became
MUCH more heavy. All this supports an improved resonance control with a
wide(r) range of carts.