Which would you choose- Lyra, Zyx or Benz for VPI

Hello. I am looking to buy a brand new cartridge in the $2000 range. The contenders are a Zyx Airey 3 with silver bottom and copper wires ($2300), a Lyra Skala ($2200 using my Helikon tradein), or a Benz LP ($2000 using my Ruby trade in). My system is a VPI Aries with JMW 10 arm, BAT P-10 phono, BAT 5SE Pre, BAT VK-60 amp, Quad 988's all tied together with Silver Audio Appasionata's.

I listen to mostly live acoustic performances of small rock bands (think Jay Farrar and Son Volt or Wilco) or jazz groups (most of the Groove Note line). I like to hear the transients of the kick of a drum and the strum of a Martin Guitar.

I was using a Helikon until my housekeeper damaged the stylus. I always thought it was too thin in the mids and bass but it had nice air around it. I then shifted across the board to the Ruby 2H. I've been using it for a year and satified but part of the reason for all the silver cabling is that I missed the detail and air of the Helikon.

I know there are many wisdom and experience beyond me soplease help me out. Which would work best based on your experience.

Thanks, Jeff
The ZYX will precisely split the difference between the slightly warm or thick sound of Benz and the slightly cool or thin sound of your Lyra. You've already heard both sides of neutral (not the extremes, by any means). That should give you some idea of where neutral lies.

The Airy 3-X-SB will give you all the detail and speed of a Helikon, maybe more, with slightly more weight in the mids and upper bass. It won't have the upper bass/lower mid heft and thickness of a Benz, but it will have more extended and cleaner upper mids and highs. It will give plenty of "kick". The Airy 3-X-SB is a lively cartridge.

The Airy 3-S-SB will round off or gentle leading edges a bit, bringing it a trace closer to the Benz side.
Dear Jeff: The ones that you named are very good cartridges and different each to other. For what are your music kind priorities and your analog rig my vote is for the Skala, no doubt about.

Now, IMHO, before you go for either you can invert $95.00 for a Empire 750 LTD or $165.00 for a Empire EDR.9 ( both MM cartridges ) and you will be surprised about its quality performance that in many ways you don't have it today.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Re: your foray into silver cables, no cable can recover information the cartridge failed to pick up in the first place. Benz styli have larger contact radii than Lyra or ZYX styli. This is especially true of the basic Ruby. It will literally slide right past small, HF modulations that smaller styli can trace.

No disrespect intended, just a point of info. It's easy to spend time and money on attempted fixes which don't address the root cause of a problem. We've all done it.
Thanks guys for the responses so far.

Doug, do you have any thoughts or experience on the Airy with the JMW arm. Also, your comments lead me to believe that the Airy, although in between the Helikon and Ruby, is actually more similar to the Helikon.

Raul, can you provide me some more information on your Skala recommendation. One concern that I have about another Lyra is tracking, my Helikon was not a good tracker and I don't know if the Skala is similar to the Helikon in that regard.

The Skala should be a great match for your arm from what I have been told by friends as well. Great for the money. You can spend more but the improvement will be very small.

I have not heard a JMW arm (with any cartridge). I'm sure somebody has used this combo. Maybe they'll chime in, or you could search for JMW +ZYX here or on VA.

I suppose a ZYX might be a *little* closer to Helikon than Ruby. But be aware that I don't favor warm-ish cartridges (or tubes, or wire, or speakers, or anything). Anything on that side of neutral gets a bum rap when I attempt to discuss it, since that type of coloration really annoys me. You should see my descriptions of Koetsu or Grado, but I can't publish them in polite company. ;-)


P.S. Lyra's are generally good trackers. Better than average among MC's certainly. What makes you say your Helikon wasn't?
I've been running the ZYX Airy 3X with silver base on a JMW9 signature arm/scout combo for well over a year. It's fantastic. Tremendously neutral and a fantastic tracker. I don't have any experience with the Lyras or Benz.
I have experience with Benz and Lyra, I even have the Helikon and Skala both. I would suggest that you get the Skala, as far as the trackign is concerned The Skala is a complete redesign and is much more close to the Titan.

I did not have a good experience with the the Benz.

I would suggest get the Skala that I saw on audiogon just recently and try it out.

I love the Skala so far and will say that do not flush your hard earned money towards the BENZ. But this is just my openion and others will be different, and I do not intend to offend any one with my previous statement.

I hope this will help
Thanks for the continued responses. I hope more people will chime in.

Doug, I just could not get the Helikon dialed in. Maybe it was the funky JMW antiskate wire wound too tight, or loose.

So I'm still undecided between the Airy 3 and Skala.

Count me as another JMW/Airy 3 advocate. I've got it on a JMW Sig 9" arm. Absolutely great combo and couldn't be happier.
A Sumiko Celebration at $1500 is a better choice for your tonearm than the other three $2000+ cartridges you are considering IMO.

$500+ savings will buy a lot of vinyl.

wouldn't the Celebration be on the warm side of his preferences?

Fwiw. Same arm/table and phono pre (except SE version). Had the helikon sl and seemed to have the same opinion of it as you do of the non sl, have not heard the other carts you mentioned. Found that the shelter 90x was what rang my chimes (even though the compliance match will make people look at you with that constipated expression). Good luck!
Dear Jspownell: For what was my experience the Skala is a good tracker on your tonearm.

It happen that I have the opportunity to heard the Airy 3 and the Skala in the same VPI tonearm and IMHO the Skala is a better overall performer than the ZYX, specially with your kind of music and whole audio system. No, the Celebration is no contender with that tonearm.

Jeff, I urge you to try the Empire 750 LTD for $95.00. I could understand that you could think that a " rudiculous price " cartridge like this is impossible that could have a great quality performance, well it has it!!!!, lets try it.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Had airy three xsb with my vpi 10.5i aries three combo until i went with universe, both track and sound fabulous.
Raul - You've tweaked my interest, I love to find low priced stuff that works well. Which of the two empires mentioned would you most highly reccomend?
Dear Jeff: Both are very good choice ( hard call ) and due to its inexpensive price, IMHO, I think that the best is buy both and be the judge by your self.

Anyway, here are some opinions about:


Regards and enjoy the music.
Thanks for everyone's help so far.

Raul, I purchased a EDR9 yesterday form the France seller so I'm willing to try any kind of low cost alternative. If it doesn't work on my VPI, I'll move it to my other table.

It seems that its about 50/50 Zyx Airy 3 vs. Skala. I would still like to hear from more JMW arm users about their specific experience with either or both.

Doug, I've read some of your previous posts on the Zxy and on one you commented that the Airy 3 may be lively on a unipivot arm. Do you have any concern about that.

Curious on people's opinions on this... I have seen comments that the VPI Aries turntable is "dark". Could this be why I'm not satisfied with the Ruby.

Thanks again. Jeff
Can you share the reference to the French source of the Empire EDR.9?
jspownell i am having no problems at all with what you describe a dark with my Aries three, i had a ZYX airy three xsbl and now a universe xsbl and i love it, if anything i am as close to live as i have ever been, my speakers are large and they are invisible, full sound stage nice and ariy with speed and transparency. Yes the airy three is not universe but when it was in my system dark was not a issue.
Doug, I've read some of your previous posts on the Zxy and on one you commented that the Airy 3 may be lively on a unipivot arm. Do you have any concern about that.
That was based on hearing it on Graham 2.2, and we did speculate it might be because of the unipivot design. Since people are reporting good results with their JMW/Airy 3 combos, I'm inclined to think it was some other factor about that Graham/Airy 3 combo that caused the excessive liveliness. That 2.2 just couldn't tame certain upper mid frequency energies. I gather from the posts above that JMW users aren't having that problem.

If in fact your table is inherently "dark", a warmish cartridge like a Benz might reinforce that. A lively, energetic cartridge like a Helikon or Airy 3 might help illuminate things a bit. The ideal solution is perfectly neutral components from top to bottom of course. Easier said than done.
Another ZYX/JMW user here. My Airy 3S-SB rides on a TNT6 w/12.6 arm. I went w/the silver version based on Mehran's recommendation relative to my system, and am very happy with it. I also considered both the Benz LP and the Cardas Heart(i.e. modified Benz), but thought that the Benz might lean a bit too far towards warmth at the expense of transparency. The ZYX silver versions are a bit warmer than the more neutral copper, but IMHO it is still more neutral sounding than most other carts I've heard.
Haven't heard the Skala, no opinion there.
One aspect of the ZYX that I find exceptional is its ability to play less than pristine LPs without surface noise. No other cartridges I've heard do as well on a mediocre record of letting the music through without annoying surface noise. If you're a used LP hunter, this is a worthwhile bonus and another factor in my overall satisfaction w/my ZYX.

Stltrains, FYI from what I've heard from VPI, the newer tables such as your Aries 3 are more neutral, (less dark) than the older VPIs. Many of their more recent design improvements such as the dual motor flywheel assembly and the HRX plinth layering are moving the VPI house sound away from dark-with-big-bass to a more balanced presentation. I agree w/your conclusion that the poster would risk too warm a presentation putting the Benz w/the older VPI. Cheers,
I have the ZYX universe and it is perfectly resolving and tonally balanced on acoustic instruments

what is groove note jazz? were you refering to BLue NOte?
I'm a big fan of those and they sound spendid on a ZYX