ZYX Airy 3 or Atmos

The heading says it all. I am trying to decide if I should go for the Airy 3 or Atmos. I wonder what would be a good match for my TT and arm.

My TT is Michell Gyrodeck with its own arm. I want to improve upon my Audio Technica cartridge. I listened to all kinds of music. Thank you for your feedback
Read the reviews beneath my name (if you haven't already). That'll give you a sense of their sonic differences, which are considerable.

Do not waste your money on the high output (.48mv) version of any ZYX. I've A/B'd three models against the low output version (.24mv). In all cases the LO model was decidedly superior, perfectly consistent with the theory of minimizing mass on the armature.

You must decide between copper, silver or gold coils. When Mehran/Sorasound had the line, there was no cost difference. The new dealer charges substantially more for silver or (especially) gold. That's okay, because the copper coils are the most dynamic and neutral. The silver coils are a bit smoothed, relaxed and Koetsu-ish. The gold coils are just sleepy. Again, perfectly consistent with the theory of minimizing armature mass.

The Michell arm is a Rega clone with an eff. mass of ~11g (from memory, correct me if wrong). Whichever of these two carts you choose, get the optional SB weight. It's beneficial on any arm with an eff. mass of < 18g or so. Bass and dynamics suffer without it.

In theory, the 3-4g heavier Airy 3-SB is a better arm match for an 11g arm. In practice, on my 11g TriPlanar, the Atmos easily outperformed in every sonic parameter. See those reviews. The Airy 3 also sends more energy back into a tonearm, it needs a well controlled arm (or a laid back system) to avoid a trace of edginess when new.

I assume your custom X-2 preamp includes sufficient phono gain and appropriate impededance, or you can modify if necessary. (It sounds interesting and you're right on the money that power supply desing and execution is key. I've no doubt it stomped your L*** model L*, which isn't hard to do IME. One of the most overpriced, underperforming lines I've heard.)

The Atmos/4D is definitely worth the price differential in my system/to my ears. Whether you'd enjoy it enough more is anyone's guess, but I don't think arm compatibility is going to be a significant factor. Concentrate on sonics and budget.
If the Atmos is still available from Mehran at Sorasound, then I would act quickly for a purchase, as he won't be carrying them forever. It will be a one time opportunity to get this cartridge at such a low price.

There's much written about the Atmos/4D, in that they are said to be one in the same.

Nor could you do wrong with the Airy 3, I own one.
Doug is correct about the Airy 3 being a bit "wooly", and evidently a bit hard to control upon first acquisition, and I called it a bit of a "mechanical sound" at first. This goes away, and can probably be attested to the suspension needing break in.

As for the Silver Base added weight, Mehran offered this option free on the better ZYX.

Doug is probably correct about the HO versus LO models. He's probably sampled more ZYX than anyone I know, to know, and hear the differences. If you should find by happenstance, not enough gain, either cartridge I'm sure is definitely worth hanging onto, until you can acquire a suitable phono stage. Hope this helps.

I've had the Airy-3 and the 4D. Both will match your arm well.

As other mentioned, get the SB version with the .24mv output irregardless of which cartridge you get.

The Airy-3 is an excellent cartridge. The sound is balanced and the high are very open and extended.

The 4D has more bass and it is better defined. In addition, the soundstage is a bit wider and deeper. Overall, the 4D is a little better in all ways.

The Airy-3 is a terrific cartridge. If you can afford the 4D, it is even better.
Doug, Mark and Dmcoombs: Thank you for yoru insight. I did search for threads for ZYX and read some but I did not see Dough's useful review. Doug is right on and answers several of my questions.

The thing is that my TT is pretty modest, at least compared to the rest of my system., and now I am trying to improve it. During my "audio depression time" (the primary reason being the Sony SACD XA777 player which sounded so horribly digital), that even my present TT sounded much better. My music collection is pretty enormous, consisting of over 2000 CDs, and about 200 LPs. Being a very happy listener with my TRL moded CD player (which replaced the Meridian Reference player), my focus had been on Digital. But now I am pursuing vinyl seriously and the problem is I set very high standards and I am not easily satisfied. The table I heard was a friend's loan, with the same Gyro Table that I have but with a Moerch arm and ZYX Airy 3. I liked its sound. I want to do better but in steps.

Cartridge improvement would be the first step. Most of my questions have been answered by you guys except I wonder if Atmos would fall short in treble and sound too bass-heavy. Rock music is fine for me but I also listen to a lot of vocals which must carry enough top and not dry. While other areas of sound are also important to me, I fell human voice is the ultimate test of s stereo system. Doug’s review says that the Atmos eclipses the Airy 3 in all areas and yet it is more rock oriented and somewhat shy in the highs. Dough, did I interpret you right? If so, I rather go for the Universe.
Put it anther way, if I purchase the Atmos, will I be missing anything that the Airy 3 offers?

Another question that comes to my mind is whether the Atmos (or the Airy 3 or Universe) would be good match with the Michell arm? Or should I at this stage also purchase a Moerch. By the way, how does the Michell Gyro rank with other mid-level tables? I might eventually upgrade these components but will prefer to purchase the cartridge at this stage as a long-term investment.

I appreciate your comments on the extra weight option and copper/silver/gold selection.

Doug: I have the Musical Fidelity Phono Stage but am working on developing a new stage on the principles of my X-2 pre-amp.

By the way, I still plan to go with Mehran, if I am make up my mind to go for the Atmos or Airy 3 (or even Universe).
Doug's review is here.

The list of all of his reviews is here.
Thank you. I meant to say I had not seen his reviewes prior to this.
First things first. Why would a Gallant Diva even need a stereo? Couldn't you just sing for us, please? Of course if you're a male diva, and gallant, you should be asking me for a date!

FWIW, I'd rarely agree that upgrading to a high level cartridge should be the first step. A revealing cartridge can easily expose flaws in table, arm or phono stage. OTOH, the very attractive prices of Mehran's remaining inventory do argue for taking a chance, especially if you're prepared to upgrade other components in a reasonable time frame.

BTW, tables, arms and phono stages may be long term investments. Cartridges? Not necessarily. It depends on the longevity of the elastomers and whether you can get it properly retipped when needed. It's unknown whether the elastomers in this generation of ZYX's will hold up for the long haul. Retipping with a ZYX stylus does not seem to be available, and ZYX's stylus is key to its performance. Not trying to discourage, but make sure you understand this may not be a "long term investment".

... wonder if Atmos would fall short in treble and sound too bass-heavy.
Not a chance of the former. The Atmos's HF's are better than the Airy 3's, much better. It's every bit as extended, it adds less overhang to each note, it's faster and it's clearer. Among ZYX's, only the UNIverse does HF's better.

I hope we didn't imply the Atmos was shy in the highs. It's not. No ZYX is shy in the highs. Due to its stylus, every ZYX above the Bloom has arguably more extended and clearer highs than any other brand. Remember our perspective: UNIverse owners reviewing a lower model. The Atmos did not quite match the UNIverse for HF's. Neither does any other cartridge (in our experience). That wasn't a criticism of the Atmos, just a comparison with a cartridge that's in another league in this parameter.

Whether you'd find an Atmos too bass heavy is hard for anyone else to say I guess. It didn't sound so to us. We enjoyed its heft but we prefer the greater transparency, speed, resolution, immediacy and bottomless sound floor of the UNIverse; and the Atmos does all of those things better than the Airy 3.

Regarding vocals, we agree and enjoy them daily. A little jazz but mostly tons of classical: opera, lieder, cantatas, madrigals, etc. (Most pop vocalists annoy us because they rarely know where the notes are, unless they're named Ella.) Currently we're playing through our 70 LP set of Harnoncourt's Bach cantatas, which typically feature four soloists, chorus and a small chamber orchestra. Harnoncourt's recordings were marvelously intimate, clear, present and lifelike - and they're terribly challenging to reproduce well in a home system. If you want to hear what a system can't do, these LP's will tell you.

The Atmos is superior to the Airy 3 no matter what type or aspect of vocals you enjoy. Again, it doesn't quite match the UNIverse's shocking "OMG, s/he's standing RIGHT THERE, alive in front of me!" experience, but it gets as close as all but a tiny number of cartridges. I've personally heard only one cartridge almost match the UNIverse in this respect, plus another that might have if we'd had time to optimize it. I've never heard any cartridge do it better. The Atmos certainly comes closer than the Airy 3. As we said, it's better in EVERY way...

Any ZYX (with the SB weight) will match your arm fine. If you go for Atmos or UNIverse I wouldn't bother upgrading to a Moerch. That would be a baby step, and those two carts need giant steps to display all they can do. Your table, arm and phono stage would all need major upgrades to come anywhere near their level. Be careful of what you're getting into, like me it won't be cheap!
Dear Gallant_diva: As you say your analog rig is a modest one ( especially your phono stage that's critical. ) and other than that IMHO I think that you can do better to stay in the MM/MI alternative than to migrate at the LOMC alternative.

There are several advantages ( real ones ) on the MM/MI alternative against the MC ones ( this is not your thread subject and I don't want to start any controversy here, only an opinion. ).

Despite what pro-reviewers and the whole high end audio industry already made that almost all think that the " right and only " road is the MC one: IMHO a corrupted customer manipulation over the last 25 years.

There are many choices over your 150MLX like these ones:




B&O MMC-2.

but as I told you there exists many more where its quality performance not only even the best MC samples but in some ways outperform it.

I think that the " humble " MM/MI cartridge is the best " kept secret ever ".

Anyway, great system you own!

Regards and enjoy the music,
Hello Doug, Thank you again. Now, you have put me in trouble. I am thinking if going for the Atmos is a good idea at all.... why not go for the Universe. The only problem is I must listen before I buy. My ultimate test for anything in audio is my own ears.....mmmm.......

You did answer my additional questions.

Regarding your first question, why gallant_diva needs a stereo. Well, that is like aksing why we need oxygen.

Regarding a date, invite me to your place for a listening sessions. Where do you live? The moniker "diva' was chosen to intrigue people, males and females alike, and motivating them to reply to me. ....seem it works. And after people see me with my long white beard with dracula style yellow teeth, it all starts making sense.

Thank you for the compliments and the suggestion. I do not care if the cartridge is MM or MC or any other kind. It all depends on the synergy between the components and what sound you like. I listened to the Airy 3 myself and hence am interested. Did you compare your suggested cartidges with the Airy 3? And how can I audition them?
Dear Gallant_diva: Against the Universe, all the LOMC I own and several other that borrowed by audio friends including: Ortofon A-90, Koetsu Coral, Air Tight PC-1 Supreme, etc, etc..

+++++ " And how can I audition them? " +++++

the only way is that you buy it, but you can do it and you can buy all of them for less money than one ZYX. Don't be affraid/worry because the very low price of these humble cartridges IMHO all of them are a " little gem ", IMHO it is worth to try it.

Regards and enjoy the music,

I do not understand you really. Currently, I have Audio Technica, which is MM. I heard the ZYX Airy 3, which is MC, and I realy like it, and much better than what I have. Are you syaing I stay with what I have or try other MM cartidges that I have not listened to?
Dear Gallant_diva: That try other MM/MI cartridges that you have no listen to, like the ones in the links.

Regards and enjoy the music,

Remember, I cautioned even about going so high as Atmos with your current gear. I wouldn't consider UNIverse unless you're committed to upgrading table, arm and phono stage. It wouldn't sound "bad", probably, but you wouldn't begin to get your money's worth either. The magic I seductively described requires investments of both money and time.

Regarding Raul's MM campaign, I bought an Ortofon on his recommendation but haven't had time yet to mount it up. Another project...

I agree the ultimate test is what our own ears tell us. Reading what others have heard can only guide us so far.

I find it helps if strangers explain their perspectives, just as you asked about vocals. That's why I blah, blah on so. Paul and I have learned that our perceptions and tastes differ markedly from many other audiophiles, so others need to know where we're coming from. Likewise, Paul and I have developed fairly reliable filters for assessing reports from audiophiles who's systems we've personally heard. When A'gon member XXXX tells us something sounds "cleaner and more detailed", we may understand it's been stripped of natural harmonics and sounds barren and artificial. But we would only know this if we've heard his system or the component he's describing. Reports from strangers are harder to assess.

Dracula teeth? Yum... do you sparkle in sunlight?

Seriously, we live in central CT and have hosted enjoyable music/audio visits from quite a few Audiogoners over the years. Some of them are now poorer in the bank but richer in the music. You'd be welcome if that would help.
Hi Ish, I'm glad you liked what you heard from my setup.
I'm the fellow that loaned Gallant Diva the Gyro/Morch/Airy 3 combo. Diva does have very high standards and his system is among the best I've listened to.

You're getting great recommendations on this post, I don't think you can go wrong with either Airy 3, Atmos, or Universe.

I do recommend upgrading your tonearm to at least the Technoarm or even better.

Hell Raul: many thanks for your suggestions. Just a quick question: Did you listen to the Airy 3 or atmos?
Doug: I am inclined to go for one of these ZYX cartridges even though I am pretty cool (in fact more it would be more appropriate to say that I am learned through hard way) when it comes to audio purchases. As you said it is our own listening that is the final test. I am through the stages of making mistakes based on recommendations made by people. On top of that my system is so ruthlessly and shamelessly revealing that it drops the pants all the way to the ground with no thread left to conceal anything. So I must listen to something in my system before I buy. On the one hand, every high-end audio equipment is great (because it makes someone happy). On the other hand, every audio equipment is junk (because it may not make me happy). So what matters is what is junk and not junk *for me*. So it is is all relative.

For the very same reason I am only considering the UNIVERSE not really deciding (because I have no listened to it). I listened to the Airy 3 and hence it is on the top of my list. I did not listen to the Atmos but it is still on the top as well because of its similarity with the Airy 3 and with knowledgeable people like yourself giving detailed comparisons (that part I take very well). You are right about others providing only guidance. And I would be curious aout Raul’s recommendations, especially the Ortofon. But I must listen to something before I buy. By the way I stopped reading magazines 4-5 years ago and I look for a review only for some reference now because I think I know my own taste more than a reviewer does.

I will be glad to stop by if I am in CT area. Yes, I am committed to improving my vinyl but slowly and only if I can listen to something first. One of the best sounds I heard have been with the Rockport Sirius TT, one was at Mike Levine’s place. So vinyl is under consideration but I am also looking at tape decks.
Hey Anthony: Good to hear from you here also. yeap, you loan was very useful and it is good. Are you not gonna trying some MM cartridges?

By the way, on many occasions you said the sound you hear was the best you everr heard. Now is it only one of the best? hmmmm :):)

just kidding with you!
ok, ok it's the best I've heard.
I have setup tools you can use when you're ready. It's exciting to know a few of my audio friends are getting into analog.
Doug, you say the Moerch would be a baby step in upgrading for an atmos or universe. What tonearm would you suggest?.

In my experience, TriPlanar VII and Schroeder Reference (my preference being for the former).

Also Graham Phantom, by reports of several owners who've compared with one or both of the above arms and found it at least their equal for a top ZYX (and other carts).

I expect there are others...

The DP-6 is brilliant at its price point, but the Atmos and UNIverse were not designed for price points. Each was the ultimate expression of Nakatsuka-san's ideas and craft at the time he designed it. The UNIverse in particular repays every improvement in a system by providing more of the music. Shortchanging it by using a second tier arm just wouldn't make sense (just my opinion of course). FWIW, I know two UNIverse/DP-6 owners who upgraded to TriPlanar and were stunned by the improvement.
Thanks for the advice Doug. I think I'll try the phantom.

I chickened out from Atmos for now. Instead I bought a Denon DL103R.
Is anyone hear going to CES 2010
CSE? I am contemplating but not sure.
Now that I have the Micro Seiki, RX-1500 (with gun metal platter), the thread has a new context. The tonearm is SME 3009R. I am thinking of the UNIVERSE.

Sorry for not responding to your email, I plead holiday madness. Now I'm back at work with more free time!

First, congrats on your new rig. Great way to start a new year.

Regarding cartridges, I haven't heard a 3009R in ages, and never with a ZYX, so take the following FWIW.

I've heard UNIverses on SME IV and V arms in several systems, though not in my own. There was never anything objectionable - the sound was solid and coherent - the owners were happy. Yet those familiar with the UNIverse on Schroeder or TriPlanar arms realized that the cartridge’s full palette was missing. Those SME models lacked transparency to low level details and harmonics. In Arthur Salvatore’s terminology, they had a higher sound floor.

A full palette of harmonics and details is largely what distinguishes a UNIverse from an Atmos/4D. If one is committed to an arm that masks the palette then the costlier cartridge might prove unproductive. IF my experiences with the IV and V translate to a 3009R, I’d expect an Atmos/4D to realize more of its potential, yielding more value for your investment.

Not trying to rain on the parade, just data points for your consideration.

I ended up with neither. My final selection is Ortofon A-90 which will go on the Micro Seiki RX-1500. Initially I will install it using the MSE 3009R but I am thinking of the Graham Phantom II.