Review: ZYX R100 Cartridge

Category: Analog

My main listening is to female vocals, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Sara Vaughn, etc., male jazz singers, piano performances, jazz combos, classical quartets and concertos, occasional symphonies, Leonard Cohen, Nico, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and most of the sixties stuff.

The most important aspect of musical reproduction for me is neutrality of sound.

I prefer the New York Sound. I find systems that project too much to be very fatiguing.

The cartridge is a recent up-grade from an Audio Technica 109, which I found tonally neutral but colored in the upper midrange and unable to reproduce massed violins clearly, a good cartridge for the money, but limited in detail retrieval. An excellent cartridge on jazz and string quartets but impossible with full symphonies.

My initial listening with the ZYX was with the Quicksilver Monos. There was an immediate, noticable change in my "test" recording, the opening track on Joni Mitchell's "Clouds." I have heard this recording on a super system, and was, at the time, astounded to hear the back wall of the recording studio, and, moreso, to hear Joni's throat for the first time. With the addition of the ZYX I once again heard Joni's throat. Her Canadian accent became clear and her conversational phrasing was much more evident. Each and every singer became more of a person, rather than a recording voice. On each and every record I played, much more detail was evident. The music seemed to slow down. On David Crosby's "If only I could remember my name", the individual singers became much clear. David's phrasing also became much clearer. I went through many records and each and every one was clearer and more relaxed. I had never heard such open bloom with the QS monos as I heard with the ZYX. Surprisingly the bass was stronger and tighter, something I wasn't anticipating.

I changed over to the more powerful PA 90Ds, which I just received via an Audiogon purchase. They are fresh from the VAC factory. The power rating of the 90Ds is actually 120 plus watts, I believe a better match for the Sequerras.

There is somewhat more air and depth than with the Quicksilvers, but not as much as I had anticipated. The greatest surprise with the ZYX/ PA90D combination, though, came when I put on Bartoks' "Concerto for orchestra", by Boulez, Colunbia, and even moreso, when I put on Gershwin's "Rhapsody" by Berstein, Columbia. For the first time the music became seamless. During the crescendos in the Rhapsody, my instinct to cringe at the inability of my sytenm to present the music without screeching under the strain of the heavy passages became unnecessary. As I sat and listened, I became part of the music and found myself totally absorbed in the preformance. The cartridge gave and gave and gave. It was relentless in throwing out a liquid wall of sound. The PA90Ds, of cousre, did their part in passing the sound through, but they were being fed gold. Only with some analytical listening was I able to sense some shortcomings in soundstaging, but I believe this might be due to a limitation with the pre-amp or a need to move my speaketrs farther apart, which I will soon do.

In the short time I have owned this cartridge I have been spoiled. Until a few more upgrades are made to my system, I won't know if this is the ultimate cartridge for me. At the moment, though, I don't see any room for improvement. At two grand, this is not a cheap cartridge, but I have no complaints about having spent the money.

Overall, my system is now responsive, neutral and musical.
Each compnent seems to have been improved, and the PA90Ds seem to able to strut their stuff with no mis-steps because of what they are being given.

Associated gear
ET 2.5 Tonearm, VPI Mark 4 components on a Hollywood Sound custom Corian Plynth, modified with aditional stiffeners. Wisa Pump, AirTech Surge Tank. Quicksilver Pre-amp, Quicksilver M-80 Monos / VAC PA90Ds, Hovland shiny black interconnects, StraightWire Maestro interconnects, Sequerra Met 7,8,9 Mk 2 speakers with additional T-1 ribbon Tweeter. Straightwire original Maestro speaker cables, 1 meter.

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Benz, Koetsu,
Scato, I have been posting the ZYX cartridges here on the Audiogon sporadically over the last few months, but it seems that nobody was interested in hearing about this very nice cartridge. I'm glad that you took the plunge, and got a real good cartridge that may better the more popular "big names" out there. Maybe some others will be prompted to try these carts out, due to your review here, which I found very informative.