VPI Classic and ZYX Airy 3 X SB...good match?

Hello everybody,

I have decided to purchase a VPI classic with sds, peripheral ring and HRX clamp after collecting many opinions.
Music I like to listen to is prevalent acoustic, vocal, classic music and jazz (NO Rock).
I like neutral sound, precise tracking, no coloration, but still full body/harmonic sound.
I know I am asking for a bit too much perhaps but by reading on the forum and elsewhere the cartridge that would better match all these specs would be the ZYX Airy 3 X with the Silver base option to overcome the light tonearm's issue.
Now it is time to purchase the pick up...but since it is not so cheap I want to make sure I am doing the right thing and that is why I am addressing a new post here hoping to collect some more useful thoughts in this regard.

Thank you very much for your attention.

I love mine with my Scoutmaster JMW9 Sig combo. Tons of detail and great bass. I listen for hours at a time. Even my wife loves its sound. I HIGHLY recommend getting a Mint LP protractor to set up you cartridge optimally.
I am very happy w/my 3XSB on a 12.7 arm & TNT6HR. The SB is required!

The other cart line that should be on your list is Dynavector. Very good matches across the board w/the JMW arms. Cheers,
I had an Airy 3 on my scout. It was a great cartridge for sure. I also ran it for a short time on my HRX. It has been a while since I listened, but as I recall the HRX combo is what made me get rid of my digital all together. It is a sweet cartridge that I don't think can be beat at the price.

It is also a great time to get a ZYX. These prices are going to do nothing but go up. I for one was very disappointed in what ZYX pulled with their line up. Making tiny changes and tripling prices in these economic times. Get it, you won't be sorry. If you are you will get most of your money back. Not many new cartridges you can say that about.
Thank you all.

Do you guys use damping fluid on your tonearm?

So Airy 3 is not a pick up for rock music?

Speaking of Dynavector I was told that the XX-2 MKII would be a good match also for the tonearm.
Has anybody ever run any comparison between the XX2 and the Airy 3?
I know the bigger one XV 1s is better but also costs much more and I wouldn't like to spend more thatn $1900 on the pick up.
If u be getting the sds let VPI know so they will put in a new cap that match the sds. I will also upgrade with the vta on the fly arm.
So Airy 3 is not a pick up for rock music?
Who said that? If you want to be rocked by whatever's in the grooves, and not by some coloration added by a pick up, I haven't heard anything that rocks better in its price range. I've heard quite a few that rock less, including some that cost many times more.

Paul and I are not frequent rock listeners, but in our experience the Airy 3-X-SB (low output version) is a very good rock cartridge. I'd have said "great" but there are better (Dynavector XV-1S, Transfiguration Orpheus, ZYX Atmos/4D for example, though they all cost ~$1K more).

Even the UNIverse, not widely renowned for rock, can literally tear the house down. But it needs utterly neutral and dynamically unlimited components through an entire system to fully show its stuff. Like some rock stars, it plays its best when surrounded by very expensive toys. ;-)

wait a second... I said I DO NOT listen to rock music ONLY vocal, classical, jazz. :)) but it sounds like the zyx is a good choice on its price range.
I wish I could find a used universe or atmos because I ca't efford one new not even at this price....but in case I don't I am sure I will be pleased by the Airy 3 X SB I suppose.
I'll concur, that my Airy 3X SB does rock very very nicely, as it also does with other genre's of music.

While I can assume there is better out there to be had, the Airy 3X never gives you any impression that something is missing, or not being done right.

Music is tight, fast, clean, neutral, well defined, Bass is full, clean, and the Cartridge displays-maintains a very even balance throughout the frequency spectrum.

I'm sure there are other world class cartridges that possess the ZYX's finer traits, but one thing one will immediately notice with the Airy 3, is music coming from a jet black background. Silence in the groove is one of this Cartridge's fortes.

I was in for a quite pleasant surprise, when 35-40 year old run of the mill vinyl was sounding like great, brand new 180-200g virgin vinyl pressings. When a new component in a system makes one wish to pull out every record and hear it, that's telling me something good!

For the price, I think one would be very hard pressed finding a better Cartridge than the Airy 3X SB.

Classical is our primary genre also, see our reviews. The Airy 3 is indeeed very good for this, though it's true the Atmos and UNIverse are even better. :-(

I wasn't sure why you asked about rock but your question implied something untrue IME, so I judged a response would be useful. Post the questions you don't need answered in a smaller font and we'll know to ignore them. ;-)


I was wondering based on Doug post (sorry by re-reading my post, I realized my question about Rock was a bit misleading) about the Atmos.
I mean what if I would step up to the ZYX 4D?
How would the 4D relate to the Atmos or Universe?
I heard that the Atmos and Universe are discontinued.

Would the 4D better match the VPI tonearm? or would it be pretty much the same of the Airy3?
Is the 4D really that better than the A3? Worth to buy that instead of the Airy 3?
Ah, we've reached the dithering stage. Good! ;-)

Read the reviews beneath my signature. The models you're asking about are all covered.

The UNIverse is discontinued. The worldwide distributor, SORAsound, still has remaining new stock. The only other source would be a used one (don't hold your breath).

The Atmos designation was discontinued but it's the same cartridge as the 4D, which is still a current model. SORAsound has remaining Atmos's. Any ZYX dealer can sell a 4D.

Your tonearm will match any of these models provided you get the SB option (integrated additional weight). Tonearm matching should not factor into this decision at all IMO.

Choose between Airy 3, 4D/Atmos or UNIverse based on your budget. The improvements from one to the next are clear and audibly significant. Whether they're worth the additional cost is a decision only you can make.

You haven't said a word about needing "smoothness" or "magic" or "musicality", so I assume you're not attracted to/fooled by sonic treacle. Neither am I. Our listening priorities seem similar.

Therefore, whichever model you choose, get the copper coils, SB weight and low output version (assuming an appropriate LOMC phono stage). Everything you've posted about your priorities leads toward these choices.
i can not comment on how the zyx cartridges match up with the vpi tonearm but i have the airy 3 and UNIverse and have run with them for several years. The airy replaced a VDH frog then i got the opportunity to snag a UNIverse. I use them with my Maplenoll tables which has a airbearing linear tracking tonearm. I am currently using the UNIverse on my apollo and the airy 3 on my ariadne signature(both silver version vs copper windings). I run both through my zyx artisan phono. I agree with doug pretty closely about the neutral nature of these cartridges. I have not tried a copper coil but if i get the change, i will try to snag one of the UNIverse that Sorasound still has. I will say the airy is very good but the UNIverse is better especially on jazz. The new Bright Mississippi album by touissant will get you looking for the guys in the room. I can not comment much on classical because i just do not listen to much classical. The airy 3 does need to be tune in with the correct vta and vtf but once tuned, will do a great job for you. The one thing i will warn you about the zyx cartridges (at least the two i am using)is they have small stylus and will find every clump of dirt on your records so be prepared to clean your records if you have never used this type of stylus(i think its called a microridge type of cut). Hope this helps you in your decision
Thank you.
unfortunately I can't go for the Universe as it is too expensive at the moment and that is why I was deciding between A3 and D4/Atmos.

If the Atmos has the same family sound of the A3 and the Universe, but it is an half way between the A3 and Universe, than it might be a good compromise for the price and an excellent choice for a little more money.

Unfortunately I have read some posts on the net that weresaying that the Atmos has a different sound from the other ZYX which makes it work better with Electronic/Rock music and that will be more generous with not good recordings which is a characteristic of a low level pick up IMHO.
While the A3 and the Universe will tell you more about the record and the system and that is basically what I am looking for.
But the I read that the Atmos will outperform the A3 on all the aspects so I get confused.
If anybody could give more thoughts in this regard....maybe it will help...perhaps people who switched from the A3 to the D4 and mostly listens to acoustic/vocal music.
Just one update:

I spoke with a dealer and he told me that the 4D is a better cartirdge than the Atmos saying that it is based on the same design but the magnets were upgraded.
I also said that the 4D supposedly performs better than the Atmos which I believe was already plenty as it was the Airy 3.... :)

Wherever I have read everybody states that the Atmos and the 4D are the same pick up...so I don't know.
another cart you can consider which i have heard for a length of time w/ the Classic TT is the Shelter 501, Shelter 5000.
Both are great !!
Good luck.
thanks for the advice. I know they are good carts but they belong to a different league of the 4D or Airy 3 I suppose.

Speaking of Atmos and 4D there is a webpage that explaines differences between the two models


section 4D & ATMOS FACTS

From what they describe the 2 pick ups seem to be different and seems like since they discontinued the Universe as well, the new 4D might be really close to the Universe.

Unless somebody runs a comparison between the 4D and the Atmos and Universe....I haven't find any information in this regard.
The information that seems to be provided, is full of holes.
Firstly, the 4D was not the first ZYX Cartridge that was de-nuded, it was the Atmos.

Whether you wish to believe these statments made, is up to you, to buy the 4D at almost twice the price of the Atmos.

Sadly, I have to admit, ZYX has corn-holed themselves, and after Mehran sells out, I cannot see ZYX even being sold in america anymore. Sibatech has screwed themselves loyally, and the american consumers will probably never nuy ZYX again. Not unless, or till Sibatech instructs their current dealer network to ever assume that us americans in this market are a unch of fools with money to throw away.

Otherwise, buying from Mehran is a safe bet. The only other problem I forsee, is what happens when that cartridge you buy from him needs a repair, or re-tip?
Does one wish to patronize Sibatech? That is the question? Mark
Sorry but I don't se any hole actually.
The information was given says that 4D from 2008 onwards got a new magnetic circuit and new generator derivation from the Omega series which sounds great to me as the omega series is the higher level.
This modifications weren't made available on the Atmos as it was discountinued and thus replaced by the 4D along with the universe (discontinued too).
It would be very interesting to compare the Atmos Universe and 4D.

Prices are really high now but it looks like it was Mehran to offer such a good discount.
Retail prices has always been pretty much the same.
Now I do not know the policy of the company but if they do think they make really high end stuff, they probably don't like to see their stuff sold for much less than what they think they are worth it.
As customer I wish everybody would be as nice and as generous as Merhan!!!! that's all!!!

Speaking of the 4D I personally think it is very close if not better than the Universe accordingly to the description.
If the Atmos was already better than the A3 and half way between that and the Universe, if the 4D is even a bit improved my guess is that it steps on the Univers's toes!! I wish I would have them both (or all 3) at my beside and have fun trying to swap them!! :((
I'm sort of sorry for my last post, because it wasn't a productive one. Most of this has been debated quite at length ad nauseum in the past, and it actually does little good to rehash this topic again.

The info we have from Mehran, of course differs, and who was a dealer, and the main USA Distributor at the time the 4D was "supposedly" improved (2008).

I end with agreement with what Doug Deacon has said, and concur, that the Airy 3, Atmos, or UNIverse are all going to immensely please you, and to pick what fits your budget. Yes, if you pick the Airy 3 like I have, you may then regret not going even further up the ZYX line. Not that the Airy 3 lacks. But once you would live with a cartridge such as the Airy 3, you'll begin to wonder how can it get even better than this!?

I like the Airy 3 so much, trust me when I say I often think of ways how I can buy another one of these wonderful cartridges, and as well own the Atmos, or UNIverse before the opportunity of such good prices is gone. Mark
yeah I know what you mean!
I wish I could get the Universe....but I can't! :((

Speaking of the Atmos and 4D I don't see where the debate is.
If you read Sorasound's website, you will find that they say 4D is an improved model and they ask you to purchase the Atmos indipendently from the 4D whether it will sound better or worse.
It looks pretty coherent to me!

If you want to buy the new model you will have to spend more because unfortunately Mehran doesn't carry it otherwise you get along and you save some money and you buy the older Armos and/or Universe.

It would be very interesting to compare the 3 models.

Has anybody purchased the 4D after Summer 2008?
I add also my opinions to the debate.
I had in my system three different kind of Airy3 (copper-silver-gold coils all high output and no one with silverbase).
Since it's not possible in Italy to look to a Universe, the highest model available is the 4D that I have not (still) tried with my Sirynx PU3 tonearm but I have already auditioned carefully many times in the listening room of the Italian distributor (playing with a Graham B44-II tonearm). Match was appearently very very good, great details and fluently sound.
I'm not sure that VPI tonearms are in the same league, I'm convicted that in order to have the best from these cartridges it will be necessary to go to more expensive tonearms.
Ciao Marco...Di dove sei? I am fromPerugia but I am residing on the US now.
Unfortunately you should have gotten the lower output.
If you read some review they tell you that the higher output are not worth the money.
Benz are the same though.
I tried the Glider H and it was horrible compared to my Denon.
Then talking to a store he told me there is a consistent difference form the H2 and the L2.
Same thing here with the ZYX.

Best choices are the copper coild low output.

I am sure that the Graham tonearms are better than the VPI...although I think the JMW 10.5SE is good enough for the pick up or at least to obtain an high league kind of sound.
There also triplanar which are excellent tonearms.

Sorry one question: can you tell me who is the imported/dealer of ZYX in Italy? For some reasons I can't find any info on that.
Dear/caro Stefano
in the forum I think will be better to write in English than Italian.
I'm located in Torino, that is also the town of the italian importer (Hi-fi Center.it, also located in the small town of Pinerolo).
Yes I know... the high output has less reputation than Lower out versions. Since my prephono gain is fixed (56 db) and usually I put volume knob during playing from 10 a.m. to 13, I suppose that lower versions are not so good for me, maybe I'm wrong.
I'll ask after spring time to the italian importer to try a lower out demo, since I purchased many items in the past from them I hope that they don't refuse to give me a chance of listening a 4D in my system.
My next tonearms choice will be within Graham B44 or Triplanar VII to find in the used market. I'm still more curious about linear tracking Analog Advanced MG1, appearently a great bargain, but I still find tedious to have one more ac connection and a (probably noisy) external pump.. so... I'll remain in a classic configuration...
a presto / cheers

for the low output you definitely need a 61-62dB of gain.

It looks like your preamplifier doesn't put any extra game so for a fair comparison High out vs. Low out, I'd suggest borrowing a different phono section.

BTW what is your phono stage?
My phono stage is a custom modified unit from Counterpoint.
Mike Elliott personally modify old SA-5 preamp in a full phono stage that can compete (in sound quality) with legendary two chassis SA-9 introduced in 1986 .
It's named SA9 junior; In his website (see altavistaaudio) he describes extensively components, trasformers and features. I had it since may 2007 and I'm satisfied for now. I forgot to mention that load of this unit was measured and is 295 ohms.
P.S. My linestage now is an ARIA WV11XL.
Thank you Stefano!
nice stuff!! good for you.

Just one question: Do you or any other ZYX user here have the pick up set without anti-skating force?

I have read around that the 4D/Atmos as any other or at least most of the new high end pick up (including therefore the Airy 3) will run better with little or zero antiskating....is that true?
Won't this cause the cantilever to bend to one side?

I am really concerned to not ruin the 4D as it is a very expensive pick up and I would like to keep the cantilever as straight as possible for as long as the pick up goes :))
Yes Stefano, I used sometimes with antiskating removed from my Sirynx arm. Also the Italian importer suggested to me to try without AS, but recently I goes back with re-using it because cantilever was evidently not so straight during playing.
Sonic performance was excellent without AS, but for safety of the cartridge I prefer to have AS, also if it's not easy to set on my tonearm.
My experience with UNIverse is that *some* A/S is needed when the cartridge is new, though nowhere near the amount recommended by some tonearm dials. Does your VPI tonearm have the optional A/S device? If so, I'd recommend NOT using any of the supplied weights after the first 100 hours or so. Get some little O-rings that fit the rod and use as many or as few as you need to track difficult passages without R channel distortion/mistracking.

As the cart wears in you'll be able to decrease A/S steadily. If it acts like mine (and the suspensions are very similar, so it should) by the time you reach 4-500 hours it won't need any. At that point you can try removing the A/S device altogether. Most A/S devices are like any other doohickey hanging off the arm: an unnecessary resonance trap that raises the arm's sound floor.

I've personally seen more cantilevers canted from excessive A/S than from too little. I don't believe that's a significant risk. I've been running my UNIverse with zero A/S for two years and there's no sign of any cant.

It will vary from cartridge to cartridge though, so you'll have to watch, listen and decide for yourself.
I haven't received my VPI yet.
I have ordered it and I should receive it in the next couple of weeks, thus I don't know how the AS mechanism works yet but I know it is a supplied (It looks like it is made up with fishing line and little weights).
Now I am relly afraid of running the cartridge with no antiskating, I wouldn't like to bend the cantilever and I have actually read some odd experience from VPI and ZYX's users.
However speaking with Mike at VPI he told me that they have a ZYX on their tables too and it runs without AS and that I shouldn't be worried about it.

I usually set the antiskating/weight combo using the Hi-fi test record along with my oscilloscope to obtain maximum tracking with minumu skating force.
I assume that regulating AS with this method will guarantee the best alignment for the cantilever.
I would assume that if the system sounds better without AS it should also measure better as well.

Has anybody ever measured the antiskating along with a scope?

I also assume that good catridge set up allignment will allow less antiskating without damaging/bending the cantilever, my two cents.
That's why I am ordering a Mint LP with the 10X magnifier glass for the VPI because I assume it is the best tractor around.
Congratulations on ordering a Mint. Best product of its kind IME.

You learned how to use a scope, that's clever. Now learn when not to use it, that's wisdom.

Why assume the optimal setup for tracking a high amplitude, single frequency tone would also be optimal for tracking lower amplitude, multiple frequency music? That assumption is naive. It ignores the many obvious differences between the two conditions.

Any cartridge worth more than $50 will differentiate between such varying conditions, so it needs to be optimized for the condition you'll actually be playing. Certainly a top performer like the 4D does.

Your method will result in excessive VTF and A/S for real records, and that will shorten the life of your 4D's suspension. These excessive forces will also smother dynamics, reduce transient speed and limit high frequency extension. A 4D played with this setup will sound comparatively dull, slow and lifeless - but if it wears out sooner you won't suffer as long! ;-)
I don't understand what you are trying to say.

Lets say you decide not to use AS and then you try to scope how the cartridge is tracking and you find out there is some distortion on one chanell.
Now you increase your AS and now both chanell are properly tracking.
Why would you say that by doing this the pick up should sound worse and have a shorter life?
If there's mistracking in the R channel on REAL records then of course you should add some A/S. I never said to accept mistracking.

But the HFN record is not a real record. To track it cleanly requires more VTF and A/S than you need for real records. Playing real records with excessive VTF and A/S dulls the sound and softens a suspension faster.

Scope if you must, but use real records. Test records are too different to provide meaningful results. I own several, including the HFN record, and none of them is of any use for adjusting VTF or A/S to play real music.

The HFN record is a test record and as far as my understanding is concerned it is equally recorded on both sides of the groove.
Which means that you will have both channell perfeclty tracking only if the cantilever is perfectly laid and force-balanced in the groove.

What you are saying is interesting and all in all you set using the finest instrument you have i.e. your ear!!!

I don't see though how scoping a real record would be of any help in terms of A/S, VTA, VTF, Azimuth regulation.
One thing that concerns me about test records, is whether they can be relied upon? What if on test tracks, groove damage is eventually created? Then, is it an accurate means to judge?

Akin to the old saying (or something like it) "If a Bear farts in the Woods, and no one hears it, did it happen"?

Meaning, if you're not hearing distortion on the records you play, is one then trying to fix something that isn't broken?

I know many of us don't have the discerning ear that our friend Doug D. possesses, so we perhaps need the aid of certain tools to assist us.

I reckon in this case, it is not about the journey, and how you get there, but that you do get there some way, and somehow, to extracting the best sound your vinyl rig has to offer. Mark
Hi Mark,

I agree with you in a certain way.
Fine tune has to be done by listening, but certain things need to rely on precise measurements to maximaze the result.

An example:

How would you set the azimuth of your cart?

You first regulate it with a mirror and then, you can either trying to audition few known recordings or you can do it with a DMM and a special track.
While the first is more subjected to personal preference and can lead to a non-optimum result (i.e. you might prefere the sound on that vinyl a certain way and second you do not know how the recording was done) the other is more scientifical way.

I think same thing applies to AS regulation and VTF.

Sometime distortion, limited distortion, might be perceived as something "different".
There are interest studies in this sense.

IMHO It is very important to find scientific and especially repeatable measurements that can easily give you reading of distortion and other parameters.

It is the first time I am trying to set the cart as precise as possible, maybe because this is my first very high end cartridge.
The VPI tonearm lets me regulate the azimuth easily VTF and all the other parameters and that makes things easier.
I'm looking at buying an Airy 3 as well, and getting a Prime. I would like to know if the SB , which adds several hundred dollars to the cartridge, is necessary, or could I use the addon weight I currently have on my VPI JMW10. In other words, does the silver make a difference? I see they also sell a Copper weight as well.

The purpose of the SB option is to get the effective mass of the cartridge/tonearm combo high enough to get into the range where a ZYX performs best. From my experience with many ZYX models and reports of others, that range is somewhere around 15-20gm or so.

So, total up the effective mass of your tonearm, the weight of the cartridge and mounting screws. Then add whatever additional weight you need (at the headshell end) to reach 15-20gm.

Whether you add the weight with ZYX's SB option, VPI's headshell weights or otherwise won't matter insofar as effective mass is concerned. Of course the fact that ZYZ's SB weight is glued to the cartridge probably effects the propagation of stray energies differently than a VPI weight, but I can't say which would be better as I haven't compared. All my ZYXs have been with the SB.

P.S. ZYX doesn't sell a copper weight as far as I know. The only weight option is the "SB" option. What ZYX offers in copper, silver or gold are different material options for the coils.
The silver base on ZYX cartridges is not the same as adding a flat head shell weight, like the VPI weight.

The silver base is not flat on the bottom, but contoured to fit "up to" and contact, the moving coil "engine", and damp vibrations throughout the cartridge body, in addition to, adding effective mass.
Thanks for the insights.Is the SB sold separate from the Airy 3 if it is not needed? and if so, what is the difference?

Ah, for the days we taped a penny to the tonearm to get better tracking!!..
I'm interested in the cartridge, and having a JMW 10 need the extra weight.
Just trying to get the best use of my money.

Would any of you have any opinion of how the Airy 3 would compare with a Soundsmith Zephyr, perchance? See a lot of good comments about it. Is it in the same league?
I think it would be a good match....we're talking about 3000 dollars. I think you can get an Ortofon Windfield for about that much....and to MY Ears is a better cartridge.

The SB option is factory-installed by ZYX before the cartridge is shipped. You can't field retrofit one and it's not sold separately.