Review: ZYX UNIverse II Cartridge

Category: Analog

Less Is More

The innovative and creative genius at ZYX has married two great achievements into a single cartridge. The inner workings of the UNIverse have been re-housed in the semi-nude body of the 4D to create the UNIverse II. It is a match made in heaven.

On hearing the UNIverse II for the first time we noticed a nice incremental increase in speed and resolution, resulting in a little more articulation, weight, detail and space around the instruments, compared to the original UNIverse. A pleasant improvement that wasn’t entirely unexpected from the change of the cartridge body. As a few more LP’s were played we noticed that the exceptional air and separation around the violins and woodwinds that we had always enjoyed now extended to the tubas and double basses. Pulling out records with rich, densely scored bass lines was an eye-opener. All the bass instruments were in their own individual space with surprisingly greater resolution of textural detail. Yet despite this avalanche of additional information, what really came through was the rhythmic punch and drive of the music. There is an added unification of the whole sound space that came with the additional spacial focussing of all the orchestral instruments. The UNIverse lifted the veil between the listener and the sound space. The UNIverse II completely immerses the listener in the sound space of the recording.

With the original UNIverse it was often possible to get lost in the admiration of the instrumental detail that was revealed in the mid range and highs to infinity. Despite extending this level of resolution well into the bass, it is the music and the emotional intent of the composer that comes through with the UNIverse II. Our best efforts to assess the clinical advantages of the UNIverse II were often cut short as we were pulled back into the music. It is not easy to evaluate the increased width and depth of the sound stage with involuntary head and shoulder sways induced by the beat of the music. For those that subscribe that music is built from the bass up, the UNIVerse II provides a strong, immensely satisfying and solid foundation.

The last thing I want to do is give the impression of detail, upon detail – but where’s the music? The music is there, first and foremost, the added detail enhances the listening experience. Those familiar with the extraordinary openness of the UNIverse know how revealing the sound can be for instruments like violin and acoustic guitar. They sound like real instruments and it is easy to visualize the sound box behind the strings. The UNIverse II extends this level of realism to the lower registers. There is a far greater clarification of the individual voices of each organ pipe. It is not just a low “C”; the individual pipe is now easily recognized. As the size and shape of the body of a harpsichord can be so easily constructed from all the sonic information generated by the UNIverse, the same is now true for kettle drums with the UNIverse II. Everything can now be heard, from the striking of the taut skin and the reflections and resonances within the body of the drum to the subtle differences between two adjacent drums. The open body of the 4 D frees the UNIverse II to generate added weight, solidity and impact of every drum beat. The redesign has eliminated any perceived bass constraint of the original UNIverse.

The 4D body also brings the set up advantages of the 4D to the UNIvese II. As with any cartridge, the more time and care spent on alignment, tracking force and VTA optimization the better the results. This was especially true for the UNIverse; once the alignment and tracking force had been set properly then the VTA needed to be adjusted for each LP to get the very best sound. As with the Atmos/4D the UNIverse II has significantly broader tolerance for less than absolutely perfect arm height. We swapped records without adjusting the arm height for each LP and felt no overwhelming need to make any change. We have bemused many audiophile friends by our constant adjustment of arm height to get the very best out of the UNIverse. This is due to the drop in performance when the VTA isn’t exactly right. The arm height does need to be keyed in for the UNIverse II, but there is no need to make constant adjustments. Optimal sound requires optimal set-up, but the performance drop off due to the slight variations in arm height from one LP to the next are not significant.

The UNIverse II delivers all of the phenomenal air, detail and clarity of the original UNIverse and extends those qualities to the bass. The 4D body enhances all of the strengths of the UNIverse with better imaging, resulting in wider and deeper sound stages. With more percussive impact and rhythmic drive the UNIverse II easily out performs both the UNIverse I and the 4D. Our previous review of the Atmos (4D) left options as to which cartridge was better suited to any particular type of music. With the UNIverse II outperforming both predecessors there is no question about which top performing ZYX cartridge to invest in.

Less is more - so very much more.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
All the cartridges listed in my UNIverse I review plus Ortofon A90
How much did you actually pay for the ZYX cartridges that you "review" hear on Audiogon?

Are you a "professional" reviewer or a shill for SORAsound and their "special" ZYX cartridges that are not available anywhere else?

What exactly are the physical differences between the Airy 3 vs UNiverse and the 4D vs UNIverse II?

You also influence Salvatore on his choice of what ZYZ's to review.

You are too connected to have an "independent" view!

I see you are not new here, so you should know that Dougdeacon does not march to anyone's drum, he makes up his own mind and speaks from his heart.

If you wish to disagree with him that's fine and encouraged. That's what these forums are for, but you are mistaken that Doug did this for any reason other than it's the truth from his perspective.

Deacon is the Valin of ZYX!

Glory of extreme bass performance, on his system, that he has said in past reviews does not go below 40 HZ.

$8500 is absurd for the UNIverse II.

Don't get me wrong, I dislike ZYX cartridges. I've had three different ones in my system and returned them all. Still, I think Doug is being honest and that's why I defended him.

I have equipment in my system I love but I'm sure there are others at Audiogon that would hate it. That's the nature of high end gear and for that matter, the music we choose to listen to.
Thank you, Albert. Our sonic tastes do inded differ, but in audio as in politics, that needn't preclude friendship or gentlemanly conduct.


To address your one substantive question, we described the physical differences between UNI2, UNI1 and Atmos/4D as clearly as we know how. Please re-read the review if that's of interest. I don't have any inside info, just what can be learned by looking at the cartridges.

You didn't say whether you've ever heard a ZYX cartridge or what your impressions were if you had. That would be of interest.

The limits of our system are what they are. As with any review those must be taken into account. That's why we post them.

Opinions about me are a subject of very little interest, even to me.

Thanks Doug for your review... I too traded up to the new universe 11 after having aries-atmos-universe-universe 11.
I found that I missed some of the atmos sonic traits when moving to the universe and totally enjoy the marriage of both as found in the universe 11, I do not have the experence of having been able to demo all of the best carts out there... but this is by far the best cart that I have had in my system

You summed up in one sentence what we tried to say in several paragraphs: the UNIverse II combines the best sonic traits of the Atmos and UNIverse I into a single cartridge without diminishing any of them. Glad you have a chance to enjoy.
"You (Doug Deacon) also influence Salvatore on his choice of what ZYZ's to review."

If this is some sort of charge, I can confirm it, and/or plead "guilty".

I consider Doug Deacon to be one of the most honest, thorough, meticulous and competent audio writers, either on the Internet or in print. From me, this is extremely rare praise.

His speciality is phono sources, and phono cartridges and tonearms in particular. This includes optimizing their set-up (including "loading"), which is critical to say the least.

You would do much better to read his numerous posts on tonearm/cartridge set-up, which he has, out of pure generosity of spirit, provided free to the readers of this website, rather than attack him out of ignorance or some other negative emotions you are presently harboring.

As for the UNIverse II, if Doug prefers it the original UNIverse, that's enough for me to take a leap of faith and try it out for myself, sooner rather than later.
+1 Arthursalvatore

What Arthur does not say is that he's a hell of a nice guy, too!
What "print" or internet magazine is Doug part of?

He only shows up on Internet forums and the SORAsound site. His opinion is no better than many others on these forums.

His system is inadequate to have a valid opinion on bass performance.

He gets free ZYX cartridges to review .

I have the Airy 3 X SB and agree wit Doug there. I also have the Airy 3 S SB and know it is not slow or worse than the X just slightly warmer!

I question his system as a very good reference.

I have used MC cartridges since the 70's and set them at SRA of 92 degrees since the article in Audio magazine from the early 80's. I knew Dr. Shrieve personally, and his arm setups from the 70's, that started the whole VGA/SRA thing that today's reviewers like Fremer and Salvatore are just now learning. Doug's arm/cartridge setup and loading info is nothing new!

Valin is to Audio Research like Doug is to ZYX!

Freebies for consistent glowing reviews, and, more freebies!

Disagreement is what keeps audio interesting.

I have no more to say.
"I have no more to say. Don_c55"

I'll drink to that.
It doesn't matter what someone pays for something or what price is relevant or
not. A review should give an impression what a unit is able to do.

$8500 is absurd for the UNIverse II.

Maybe, but I am sure that you wrote that also about Lyra,
MySonic, Koetsu, Clearaudio, Allaerts ...carts :-)

His opinion is no better than many others on these forums.

I think, but this is my personal opinion, his opinion is much better than others,
he has knowledge, is brain works very well and he is able to see behind the

.. glowing reviews

Indeed a problem. But wherever you look, you will always find glowing reviews from owners who are so happy with their decision and no matter how bad it is in reality, the review ends always in a recommendation. There is no way out, all we can do is to read it and when interest is growing to find out what is really going on. Probably all is really fact, the product meets all hopes, our time is not wasted then and we can say 'Thank you for sharing;.'

.. he's a hell of a nice guy

I don't know him personally but even when he would be the opposite, the review
counts, is it true or not? So, even when he would be the devil, when the review
is spot on and true, it is ok. I don't buy a product because I want to hold hands
with a Manufacturer, I buy it because it has some abilities I am looking for.

I dislike ZYX cartridges

Yes, that is an opinion like we all have about something. But when we go down
to the core, then we have to say, an "opinion" is an opinion and a"ability" is something totally different. And a review should go for the abilities.
When a product review is wrong, when dirt is written to Gold, then we have a problem but interestingly, no one complains about that.

Judgement with 2 faces?
Doug, thank you for your review.
I have learned much from you on this forum and am even more appreciative of your polite and respectful demeanor.
The way you and Paul approach the playing of music epitomizes for me this best about this hobby.
Thanks all for your thoughtful words. They are appreciated.

Disagreement is what keeps audio interesting.
Audio is not especially interesting. Music is. Audio is merely a poor means to a rich end.
Hi everybody:
I wonder any of us has an A and B comparision between Zyx Universe II and Air Tight Supreme PC1
Thanks all audiophiles...
I'm about to trade up to the new UNIverse. Had a quick glance at your system Doug - see you're probably one of the few out there who owns Doshi stuff - heard his stuff at RMAF and it's killer - clearly you hear things similarly to the way I do! I've always been a bit disappointed hearing Wilson speakers - other than in Doshi's RMAF rooms!
Just glanced at your system and - surprise! - you've got speakers I've always wanted to hear... Coincidents. After hearing our B&W diamonds it's hard to listen to most dynamic cone tweeters. They're just too sludgy. The idea of having a ceramic tweeter and matching midrange driver in a design that's easily driven is very appealing. I've a hankering for one of the larger models (to get more of that low bass that Don_c55 rightly notes we're missing) but times and budgets won't permit... for now anyway.

I've never heard Wilsons but Nick was impressed with how the new ones worked with his amps so that's a good start.

Haven't heard an Air Tight. Perhaps someone will chime in.
10-28-12: Raythai
Hi everybody:
I wonder any of us has an A and B comparison between ZYX Universe II and Air Tight Supreme PC1

I've had them both in my system. I'm a fan of Air Tight and the Lyra Atlas so that's my vote.

These two (ZYX and Air Tight) are so different I don't think anyone would prefer them equally.

If you are currently a ZYX fan you should stick with what you like. If you've not heard either cartridge, you should make that a priority before spending that much cash.

I know you had some time with the original UNIverse (Cello's, I think). You've also had the UNIverse II in house?

Good input in any event and good advice on auditioning both (preferably in the same system). This is indeed expensive territory for guesswork.

There was a time when SORAsound lost representation of the ZYX line and the new importer (or whatever title) sent me multiple ZYX cartridges on three different occasions.

It's possible they were not the latest version as all things in high end audio seem to acquire additional numerals and letters representing changes. However, there is house sound for ZYX and it does not work for me.

It can also be said there is a house sound for all cartridges regardless of their brand. Transducers always play a huge role in system personality.

It's quite possible Raythai would prefer ZYX over Air Tight, so agreed at least that he should try for an audition regardless.
Having recently and repeatedly listened to a ZYX UNIverse (the original) in a system using a tonearm, turntable, and phono stage (Doshi) nearly identical to Doug's, I can say that his verbal description of the sound of that cartridge is near perfect. I would not change one word. He hears it the way I hear it. So, does it matter whether Doug has an "in" with Sorasound, or not? I am sure he must have a friendship with Mehran, since he is at least a very good customer, and it is not beyond my imagination to think that Doug might get a discount on an $8500 cartridge, perhaps the same discount that anyone else can also hope for. Yes, this relationship may make it difficult for Doug to be objective. �So what? I am totally convinced that he is "telling it like it is" (as Howard Cosell would have said) or as he truly believes "it" to be. That's all one can ask of another person's opinion.

What I don't understand, Don, is why you are so pissed off. Albert disagrees with Doug (about the superiority of ZYX vs others) in a civil manner; so could you. But one doesn't really know what you think about ZYX cartridges, beyond the fact that the cost of the UNI II is exorbitant. I agree with you on that score, at least.
It's all about money. Years ago I had a conversation with Mehran where
he told me, what kind of guys demand special pricing from him for
whatever reason. Reviewers wanted cartridges, tonearms for
"reviewer pricing" and he refused to deliver. Theses
'reviewers' are the real cheaters in our time, a printed magazine has
some rules, but these internet magazine guys serve the impression to be
independent but they are only interested to make money. Like most out
there. Mehran said a few times a friendly 'Hasta la vista Baby' and some
couldn't accept that. Same with regular customers who are a pain in
Person, audiophile living has many faces...
11-02-12: Lewm
Having recently and repeatedly listened to a ZYX UNIverse (the original) in a system using a tonearm, turntable, and phono stage (Doshi) nearly identical to Doug's, I can say that his verbal description of the sound of that cartridge is near perfect. I would not change one word. He hears it the way I hear it. So, does it matter whether Doug has an "in" with Sorasound, or not? I am sure he must have a friendship with Mehran, since he is at least a very good customer, and it is not beyond my imagination to think that Doug might get a discount on an $8500 cartridge, perhaps the same discount that anyone else can also hope for. Yes, this relationship may make it difficult for Doug to be objective. �So what? I am totally convinced that he is "telling it like it is"


I know Doug is speaking from the heart and truthful when he says he prefers a given product. I also seriously a special deal would change his mind.

We all have our favorites. I believe each decision is arrived at by a combination of personal preference and interaction with all the other components and the room.
I have owned the Universe and upgraded to the Universe Ii

I have a Galibier Gavia with all the upgrades, triplanar tonearm and Doshi electronics

The Universe II took things to another level which Doug so aptly described.

The house sound characteristic of the ZYX - ultra resolution and tonality is brought forward with even more prat and slam. Phenominal.
Doug and others what you can say about new ZYX Premium line of cartridges ? Unfortunately No reviews online. I'm curious to read other users opinion about Zyx Premium 4D X SB2 and suitable tonearm effective mass for these cartridges. If i'm correct ZYX copliance @ 10Hz would be 24 or 30 x 10-6 since their compliance @ 100Hz is just 12/15uN ?
I recently upgraded to premium. It is better in every way over the Uni II. I loved the Uni II but its true, the premium is faster, more detailed, effortless mids, bass, stage is wider, deeper. I'm a fan.