ZYX Omega or UNIverse?

These are available for the same price. What are the differences in sonic character? I'd be running with Phantom II or Clearaudio Universal arm, on an Innovation Wood table, with a Steelhead II. All thoughts welcome.
I've just traded in my Omega on the Ayame (naked Universe). The Omega is bass enriched in comparison to the Universe. So if your system needs a boost in the bottom end, then the Omega is luscious in that region.

If you like your music more neutral, then the universe is worth the extra money.

If you buy new, the Omega needs a good 200 hours of run-in and is sometimes outright bad for short periods during the initial 200 hours. Once broken in, it was spectacularly stable and revealing, albeit with the enhanced bass response. The Ayame at least, not sure about the Universe, is de-magentized after manufacture so requires very little to no run-in period (manual says this and this is my experience with the Ayame).
Oh, I forgot to mention that I run the Ayame on an SME 20/12A ztt with the STeelhead II as my phone pre-amp. 200ohms seems about right for resistance and 0 capacitance loading.
UNIverse is one of the great cartridges. Sounds very close to the real thing, no coloration, great headroom and from voicing as natural as breathing. I would prefer this one.
Universe is a terrific cartridge.

Omega has nothing in common with it.

I appreciate the responses. Is the UNIverse much different in character from the Airy 3xSB? I owned the Airy for a few months but felt it too lean in my system at the time. Of course, I've changed just about everything since so that experience of the Airy might no longer apply but it always sounded a little glassy to me.

At the same price-point is the Benz LP-S. Any thoughts on it v. the UNIverse?
Well, when the airy 3 sounds 'glassy' to you, I think, you have a serious problem with proper reproduction. There you need a compensation, not a cartridge which sounds right. How about Koetsu?
If the Airy3 is too lean in your system, don't expect the Universe to be much different. It is brutally resolving and unforgiving. Airy3 on steroids.

Both cartridges need a kick a** phono preamp to show their best.

Personal tastes are everything but IMO the LP-S or any Benz for that matter gets buried by the Universe.

No financial interest.
Thanks again, I get the picture. Like I said, I *have* changed everything for the better (yes, actually everything) so the UNIverse would likely be a better fit than the Airy was.

The chain is now Phantom II/Clearaudio Innovation Wood/Steelhead II (as a linestage until a VAC Phi Beta arrives)/Bryston 28B-SST2/PMC IB2i. It is far more balanced sonically than the earlier system, which tilted toward the glassy itself.

Any thoughts on how the UNI compares to the A90, which I own and like?
The UNIverse does some details different. Did you read in the review section here the one from Dougdeacon about the UNI? It is pretty good writing, not the usual "I-have-it-and-I am-so-happy-and-it-is-so-good-and-it-is-a-bargain-and-the-MkV version-is-much-better-now. ... :-)
Possible it is one which can show you some new chapters in reproduction but it will depend on your expectation what you want from your Components.
Syntax: thanks for pointing out the review. I just read it. Seems like a very impressive cartridge, indeed. In know you're a fan of the Phantom II. Do you find the UNI t mates well with it?

I might have to take the plunge while it's still available.
Dear WRM57, the Phantom II is a excellent match with the Zyx.

click me softly
Syntax: Glad to hear about its synergy with the Phantom II.

Perhaps part of my issue with the Airy 3xSB had to do with the Graham 2.2 I was using at the time. I just read dougdeacon's review of the Airy 3 and 2, in which he concludes:

"The Airy3 is more energetic.... It was too much for the Graham 2.2, however. Despite all efforts at damping the sound was a bit edgy. As usual, itÂ’s all about synergy."

"Edgy" is perhaps a better adjective than "glassy" for what I experienced. In any event, I'm in a different sonic reality now, one that's likely better fitted to a ZYX.
One of the huge advantages of the Phantom Design is its Magneglide System which stabilizes the main bloc in a very genius way. The increase in weight is another step ahead compared to the 2.0 series. This Arm has a very solid low end with impressive non-smeared details. But you know that based on your experience with your A90, but stay tuned.

Paul and I assessed the Omega in our system shortly after it was introduced. We declined to publish a review.

As others have suggested, if you want an accurate, neutral, lifelike cartridge to form the basis for building a reference class system, the UNIverse is one of the two or three finest we've heard, perhaps the finest to our ears. It's well ahead of any other ZYX (We haven't heard Sutherk's nuded version, which should be fantastic. I urged Mehran to have Nakatsuka-san make that several times over the years, seems like he finally has!). The ZYX which comes closest to the UNIverse is the 4D/Atmos, see our review of that if you wish. The Omega is another animal entirely, and not one we would recommend.

Entirely concur with the comments by Audiofeil and Syntax. The point about needing a superlative phono stage was spot-on, though I'd go further. The UNIverse takes no prisoners with the rest of a system. That doesn't mean it's harsh, of itself it never is. But it delivers everything that's in those grooves (more than you probably know). Any component that can't handle unlimited bandwidth and bottomless information depth at ridiculous speeds will be driven into distortions. Top performing gear from power sources to wire to components to speakers will pay rich dividends.

The good news is, the better your other gear gets the better the UNIverse gets too. Every component upgrade we've done has revealed that the UNIverse is even more capable than we knew. We've owned one or more copies since serial no. 1 and while they're pretty nearly all the same, they keep getting better. :)

The Steelhead is a decent phono stage. The VAC will be better, at least with a UNIverse. We've had both brands in our system. Neither was quite a match for our Doshi Alaap but the VAC Renaissance was very credible and the Phi should outdo that. Enjoy!


P.S. With regard to Sutherk's speculation about break-in, our experience with 8 or 10 UNIverses is that they settle in very quickly. Even brand new they're never ugly, maybe just a bit tame. That starts to change within 20 hours or less. By 50 hours at most the cartridge has reached pretty much its full dynamic potential.
Regarding the A90, based on one evening's hearing in an unfamiliar system I'd at least consider putting it on a similar plane to the UNIverse. It's one of only a few cartridges that Paul can listen to for any length of time. It's one we would have considered had we needed to switch.

From Paul, just staying to listen is high praise. 80-90% of audio components of any kind cause him to leave a room in pain, disgust or amusement. He'll virtually never say a component is good, unless it's a live Stradivarius, well-played. His tolerance for some audio system distortions is lower than anyone I know, most people can't even hear certain problems that cause him severe, physical pain. For him to listen to a component for hours without grimacing constitutes a strong recommendation. ;)
Doug: many thanks for your reflections. I just spoke with Mehran and I'm close to pulling the trigger on a UNIverse. They seem to be back in limited production, which is good for all.

I had the VAC in house briefly before some noise revealed itself in one channel of the phono stage--a capacitor jarred loose in shipping, apparently. It's now being repaired by VAC. My first impression, gleaned from merely two sides of an LP, was that I preferred it to the Steelhead but I'll need extended time to tell for sure. As a line stage the VAC is stunning. I finally understand what it means for the soundstage to be illuminated from within.

Glad to hear it (not about the capacitor of course!).

The downside is that to get all the way there, the UNIverse is hyper-critical about setup. You can get 70% of its capabilities very easily, it will never sound ugly. You can get 90% with a fair bit of work. To get the last 10%, the real magic, requires attentive listening and a willingness to work with it. Nor will yesterday's final tweak necessarily be optimal tomorrow. We've even tweaked from LP to LP and back, with audible improvements. It's rather like playing a fussy, acoustic instrument (or so I imagine, since I can't play anything fussier than a kazoo).

I'm used to finicky. The Replicant stylus on the A90 is something of a spoiled cat, demanding and imperious but worth the effort to win over. As a general rule, where have you settled for VTF and VTA (relative to level) for your UNIverses?
I am using a VAC Sig 2 Preamp with an IO Signature phono with dual power supplies. The Universe sounds fantastic with this combo. I run it at 47K and weight about 1.95 grams.
This varies by sample so my exact number or anyone else's is irrelevant. I've had UNIverses happiest at 2.00g, others happiest at 1.40g and everywhere in between. In addition, every sample changes its optimal VTF frequently due to aging, weather conditions and even the LP you're playing.

You must learn to adjust VTF by ear, certainly every day, sometimes for every LP. If you don't do this you aren't listening attentively or hearing all the cartridge can do.

I've posted my VTF methodology many times. Very briefly:
a) find the mistracking point
b) play .01-.03g above that
The window of optimal VTF is no more than .01g wide. Listen and learn how to find it. Too light and bass suffers/highs go fuzzy (just before actual mistracking occurs). Too heavy and highs suffer/microdynamics are muffled/slowed.

VTA (more correctly, SRA)
The ZYX stylus is similar to the A90's in terms of finickiness. In general I found the A90 a bit easier to tune, even though I was less familiar with it.

For a starting point, just level the ridge near the bottom of the ZYX body by eyeballing vs. the record surface. Don't spend more than 30 seconds doing this, since it's only a place to start. Fine tune by listening.
Gotcha. Thanks.
How do you compare the universe to the ortofon?
The UNIverse is one of the very few real outstanding cartridges. It is sounding very close to the real thing. When you listen to demanding music (orchestras, pressings from the 60's) you get a view into the performance. It is also a silent tracker and able to transform even the most dynamic swings.
No Ortofon I ever listened to, comes close.
The Omega is a total different cartridge. Hard to describe, maybe when the UNIverse is absolutely not your cup of tea (for whatever reason), maybe the Omega is.
Agree with Syntax. No Ortofon, even the overrated A90, stands toe to toe with the Universe.

No financial interest.

I would then get the universe.
Unfportunately I am experiencing for some strange reasons tracking is a problem on my linear (ZYX 4D on Terminator T3 by Vic and it was even worse on the VPI 10.5i), so I am afrid that with another ZYX I will be at square one in trying to solve this issue...so I am truing to discern what I should do.
Hi Stefanoo,
unfortunately I can't help you much, I have no experience with Zyx4D or Terminator Arm. I had a few Zyx in my System running, with various Arms and all were good. Also with Test records or different turntables. Zyx carts are in general easy to go, there are other carts which are more critical to Arms. But a distortion is mostly based on wrong Arm-Design or Geometry.
I know, Tonarms have a lot of influence and not every Design is really so good like fan groups or marketing suggest but unfortunately this is a endless chapter.
interesting. we can rile out geometry as I have set it up with a microscope and on the linear tonearm is preatty easy to verify as the cart will have to be parallel everywhere.
I was able to get an "idea" set up.
Distortion wise it is much better, but there is still a tad little on few audiophile vinyl that I don't know if any other system woul dbe able to track.
This is my doubt since I haven't had a chance to do 1:1 on the same critical vinyl.
As for the arm, I don't know. All I can say is that I find it to be way better than the well known VPI 10.5i.
Is the design wrong? I Wouldn't think so as it can extract a ton of micro info that I was unable to hear before.
The armwan is so short that talking about resonances of the card on the arm wouldn't make so much sense to me.
I am not an expert on tonearm's desing but my feeling is that the arm is doing a good job.

So my question for you is: do you EVER hear any sort of distortion on the high frequencies when the recording level go up substantially?
Maybe we have a common vinyl ;) and if we don't could oyu list the hardest one you have I will make sure to buy it to make a comparison?

If you are interested go to my other threads for Zyx and leave some comment
Just to lend another view to this topic...my borther is running an Oracle Delphi mk VI with a Phantom II tonearm, and has 2 carts: Ortofon A90 and Zyx Universe. He prefers the A90 for its stronger dynamics and balanced tonality, as well as for its better tracking.

I have actually heard both of these carts in my own system, but way too much time and too many system changes happened between hearing the Universe and A90 in my system for me to judge which one I preferred - suffice it to say, I enjoy both of them immensely.
interesting. Thanks for your thoughts! I have read great things about A90 and its big syster Anna.
To add to the chorus, my neighbor has a UNI in a Talea tonearm feeding a very good downstream system, which I have heard many times driven by other sources. I have only had a brief listen, but I must say that there is either an incredible synergy between UNI and Talea or the UNI is one fantastic cartridge, "one of the best I have heard", if you can pardon the terrible over-ripe cliche', or both are true. What I heard is a holographic sensation, unusual separation of instruments and creation of a sense of real space between them, and the rather eery feeling that I could walk among the musicians, should I choose to do so. Again, let me emphasize, this was just one LP. As with any cartridge, synergy with the tonearm and a phono stage that is unfazed by the cartridge's output are essential for best results.
Interesting. I know Universe is one of the finest carts out there.
If you happen to listen to it again, let me know if you have more thoughts.
It would be interesting to try it with different gender of music and especially recordings you know might help.
Two weeks ago I traded into a brand new factory sealed Ortofon A90. I have had several Zyx cartridges in my system, Airy 3 SB, 4D-G/SB, and a Atmos, I have also owned several Koetsus (BLACK, Rosewood Signature & Urushi) and a Sumiko Celebration Pear wood. All these cartridges are excellent and have a specific sound as intended by their perspective manufactures but the Ortofon A90 has caught my ear. It is the craziest thing I cannot stop listening to music. I am using a highly modified Zyx Artisan phono amp. Do not get me wrong all the other cartridges I have listed in this post which are the most memorable out of all the cartridges I have had in my systems over the years this Ortofon A90 goes right up to the top. I am not saying it is the best what I am saying is the most fun I have had in a long time listening to my record collection.
It is an excellent cartridge. Glad you found one and you're enjoying it so!
I'd put the A90 ahead of those other cartridges too. As I posted back on 10/01/11, "...I'd at least consider putting it on a similar plane to the UNIverse."

Any cartridge that comes close to a UNIverse will outplay lower range ZYX's (including the Omega, which is a lower range cartridge regardless of what it costs). As to outplaying those Koetsus, this isn't so difficult.

The A90's among the best 5 or 6 cartridges I've heard. Glad you're enjoying!
One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor

Syntax, you are incorrigible.
Syntax, you should talk to Mehran about ceilings becoming floors.

Tell him I sent you, he'll tell you why. ;)