ZYX Optimum phono cartridge - a defining statement


ZYX Optimum phono cartridge


Following is a review of the latest ZYX cartridge the Universe Optimum.

Without further ado I would like to thank Mehran of SORAsound who goes so far above and beyond in realizing this audio quest for his ZYX family.

I have owned all the ZYX Universe models since 2006. All have the characteristic ZYX warm, natural and detailed sound. Each was the low output 0.24mV design. The original Universe was solid is resolving difficult passages especially in chamber and jazz music. Moving forward to the Universe II the cartridge took on a lot of low end energy and prat. Rock music was more dynamic, the transients enhanced and it had that extra body in the lower register.

My system started with the Galibier Gavia turntable, triplanar arm and Doshi Aalap full function preamp. During the time I had my Universe II, I upgraded the tonearm to a Durand Talea, Daedalus Ulysses speakers and a KL Audio LP 200 electrostatic cleaner. All significantly enhanced my system.

Fast forward to stepping up to the Universe Premium. This was a very apparent jump in sonic realism. The sound opened up in a tangible and natural way. The instruments just hung there in space. The tonal qualities resolved further and separation was enhanced. Overtones, details, things like really picking out a buried bass drum or percussive elements.

Moving forward to the present - the Universe Optimum is just as much a quantium leap as the Universe II to the Universe Premium was. Everything snapped into place. Micro and macro dynamics fully rendered. Incredible detail and imaging. The presentation just occupies a space completely natural and open.

Instruments are even more defined, the sound converges around the source. The bass is so taunt that even the most subtle bass line is drawn out distinctly but in no way bloated.

Reggie Workman at times plays very subtle and his upright bass is buried in the mix in active portions of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Not so with the ZYX Optimum - the bass line is crystal clear and lower in volume. Toms, snare and bass drums were felt in a three dimension sense - the tautness, size and velocity and tone on the heads, particularly the bass drum are very apparent and accurately rendered. Cymbals, brushes or resonating piano keys have a distinct pulse and luscious decay when approprate. Stringed instruments have a warm bodied resonance. You are in the room for Bill Evans, Paul Motian and Scott Lafaro during Sunday at the Village Vanguard.

I was overwhelmed hearing my standard go by - Steely Dan’s Aja side 1. This album and all it’s nuances is in my DNA. Everything was rendered with such realism. This fully suspended the thought that I was listening to an audio system.I was floored with glee.

Vocals have such body and emotion whether it be Ella and Louis, James Taylor, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Rebecca Pigeon, Norah Jones, Sufjan Stevens, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, etc.. Vocal harmonies from CSN, The Beatles, Yes, Ray Charles, and Gillian Welch/Dave Rawlings are very well defined and engaging.

Acoustic instruments are rendered organically with warm overtones. Electric guitars and synths cut through strongly when intended.

It’s been a true joy replaying familiar records and introducing new ones. It is interesting that lesser songs seem to grab me more and I appreciate what the artist had intended.

Jaqueline Dupre’s Elgar Cello Concerto has the most delicate then dynamic elements. The detail of the ensemble playing in Yes’ Fragile is magical - doubling of parts standing out like never before. Bob Dylan’s More Blood recording is an "in room" experience. The Living Stereo Charles Munch / Boston Symphony recordings - Ravel Daphne and Chloe and Fritz and the Fritz Reiner Chicago Symphony Bartok Symphonie Fantastic are explosive with quick and composed dynamics and subtle in the quieter nuanced sections. The drone of Chris Wood’s saxophone as it builds up in Traffic’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys gave me goosebumps.

My whole system has been elevated in a major way.

The ZYX Optimum is one of those mind boggling components that dramatically converges on realism. The Optimum brings out the passion in reproduced music in ways I have never fully experienced before. The "you are there" essence is palpatible and so engaging.



Tom

890ff440 37ba 4aeb 80d8 e92e22ee1575audiotomb
You forgot to mention it cost 17 large:) It will give Clearaudio an excuse to boost the price of the Goldfinger another grand. 
Use it in good health! 
And in this ring we have the new contender - the Grado Epoch MI. Weighing in at a hefty $16K! How many rounds can it go against the ZYX Optimum? 
Audiotomb, I respect your effort both to purchase all those great ZYX cartridges and to report your long term experiences. I am and have been a big fan of the original Universe, and I have no doubt that some of its progeny may be even better.  However on or about the second or third generation of universe cartridges, I began to sense a disturbing trend that I think may be motivated by marketing techniques, rather than by technological advances. Which is to say that by changing the name of the cartridge and making a few physical changes to its construction that may or may not be beneficial to sound, ZYX has managed to just about double the price each time it upgrades the universe. I remain skeptical that slight differences are always for the better. If you examine your own writing in your post above, you could see that you are using the same descriptive terms over and over again to describe each new model, only with the inference that the newest one does all those good things even better. Maybe that is so. But I remain skeptical.However, we agree that the universe line of cartridges are unique and excellent in the ways you describe.
Lewm

thank you for your insightful response

I wouldn't have written an indepth review if I wasn't hearing very tangible differences that I wanted to share.  I used the same descriptive elements from one model to the next because each showed an audible refinement and convergence in that very critical area.  Replicating music.

i lived with each previous cartridge over a long time and experienced many albums become  further resolved.

this isn't a small improvement - my experience with the Optimum  was jaw dropping.

there has been a strong if disturbing trend in high end cartridges where the price has skyrocketed.  For something prone to breakage this is more critical. Speakers and amplifiers started this trend a long time ago. ZYX was a follower in the mega priced cartridge trend. Can this be justified in every case?

I just know how much impact the ZYX Optimum has on my system and I would be hard pressed spending that money elsewhere.

Remove the Optimum and I would be seriously longing for that magic.
Audiotomb, I am glad that you are happy with your cartridge but whenever I read these floral descriptions on how great a new piece of equipment is I think first that the person is trying to sell me something, or the reviewer is trying to get his own equipment cheap or even free and finally that the person is a head case. I think you would do yourself a service if you can be more measured in your comments especially when describing stuff that very few of us can afford. 
I am sorry but I need to dwell on language in order to express
my thoughts. In linguistic and philosophy of language there is
consensus about ''generative capability'' of languages. This 
capability is ascribed to the possibility to generate ''new meanings''
by endless (?) combination of  morphems. So I was very critical
about people who argued as ''I lack the words to describe X''.
My added argument I borrowed from Frege: ''if a thought is clear
then it can be expressed'' in ordinary language. But I changed my
mind because of simplicity of our grammar.  Hegel, Kant and
even Wittgenstein used one single sentence form ''S is P'' 
(subject is predicate) construction  to express their thoughts.
Aka attributing some property to whatever object. 
We are of course interested in the properties of objects but there
are also RELATIONS in which we should be interested. 
But comparisons ''allowed'' by grammar are also very ''poor''.
For our cartridges we have no better than '' a is better than b'',
or ''Peter is bigger than John''. However we also have scientific
vocabulary which is much richer and much more precise than
ordinary language provide. Musicology is a science and has
an much richer VOCABULARY than ordinary language.
On can ''see'' this by our member frogman. He is able to 
describe his experience much better than the rest because,
so to say, his language or, better, his musical vocabulary is
much richer. 



the person is trying to sell me something
  • I am in no way that persuasive
or the reviewer is trying to get his own equipment cheap or even free
  • wrong
  • I do not work for an audio magazine or have a high profile website

finally that the person is a head case
  • Not with regard to audio

more measured in your comments
  • I was being objective using common descriptive terms
  • I use live acoustic music as the standard to aspire to
  • perhaps if you read the professional review posts I provided in the "members reviews" duplicate thread you would see I am not alone.
https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/zyx-optimum-photo-cartridge-a-defining-statement#1758127

  • several of my audiophile friends had the same experience
  • there was no "A is better than B" other than in a specific line of cartridge upgrades with detailed tangible benefits
  • I am a scientist and my son is a classical musician

especially when describing stuff that very few of us can afford.
  • you are more than welcome to write comments on your expensive trip to visit the Taj Mahal. Many potential travelers would encourage you and get insight from this, even if they never go.
  • wouldn’t it be more important when a larger outlay is involved?
  • One might focus on which rooms to visit at a major audio show
  • The benefits of trickle down design



@audiotomb , Oratio pro domo is well known but not very
convincing argument. Lewm, our most eloquent member 
noticed the following: ''If you examine your own writing in your
post, you could see that you are using the same description 
terms over and over again to describe each new model''.
To me this means the limitations of the ordinary language 
for specific purpose. Each science has its own elaborated
terminology which make it possible that, say, Lewm can
talk about his own science with colleague from different
countries with poor knowledge of English. This is only possible
among people involved in the same science and thanks to
their own elaborated terminology. This, say, language is
different from the ordinary language used for all purposes.
I ever started a thread about ''irreparable  carts'' naming Sony
XL and ZYX as such. Their glued together acrylic body does
not allow acces to the inside of the cart. My own ZYX needed
new suspension and my friend Axel Schurholz needed to
drill hols and cut some parts to get acces to those crews on
the generator to fasten, among other , also the tension wire.
I then decided to never again buy any ZYX. Consider whomever
who spend such amount of money for the newest ''Optimum''
in need for an new suspension. 

I concur with @audiotomb that something special is going on with this cartridge. I acquired one just last week after owning the UNI Premium and the UNIverse II before that. I've only put 6 or 7 hours on the cartridge so far, but already its strengths are apparent.  It does not sound new and stiff to me at all - no need to make excuses about how it sounds during the break-in period. I will simply say that it sounds natural and real in a way that I haven't heard before, and that throws an interesting light on the high end Zyx carts that came before (the ones that I've heard). I liked and admired the UNI Premium but in hindsight I see that I never quite fell in love with it. While it sounded fuller in the midrange and deeper in the bass, and is probably the objectively better cartridge (IMHO), I didn't feel compelled by it in the way I did with the UNI II. I'm not sure what precise terms to put to that experience (@nandric I hear you) but perhaps it was a sense of clarity and liveliness that I missed after giving up the UNI II.

This is the kind of thing that we tend to fall back on the word "magic" for (a magical word). I think it's a kind of realism that's present in any good design or artistic performance.  A good sports car feels like it isn't there, even though of course you're flying down the highway. The design allows the car to get out of its own way. A great musician can seem to be channeling the music rather than producing it. Sometimes a good song appears to write itself, choosing it's author rather than the other way around. The Zyx UNI Optimum (what on Earth will he name the next one?) appears to have that same quality. All of a sudden the music just feels right, or real, or present, or however you want to say it.  

so to break it down more tightly, I'd just say there's a sense of greater detail in this cartridge, but without seeming exaggerated ('analytical'). The bass and midrange both have a resonant quality that I haven't heard before. You not only hear the front edge of the notes and all of its "slam" but also the resonance that comes afterwards. It's convincing and something new in my audio journey. Full midrange glory without skimping on the ends of the spectrum either. That is perhaps the most apparent and important quality of the sound that I've heard so far (not even 15 LPs yet!). Here's one more thing. This cartridge separates the instruments in a way that is profound but also natural. I've owned another popular one (I won't name names but its initials are AT ART9) that does separation so well that it seems forced, as if the musicians are playing on different stages. not so here.  

I'll stop there. I think the OP did a very good job of describing this cartridge and its strengths, and he braved the inevitable blowback to anyone extolling the virtues of a mega-costly and exclusive piece of audio gear. I understand the criticism and I wrestled with the issue quite a bit before deciding to make the move up the Zyx chain (and yes I do think it goes in that direction). I felt skeptical that any great stride could be made at this level, and for once I began to think that I was acting like an addict or a fool and not a rational consumer. (Well I guess that ship probably sailed a long time ago, but still). It's obviously reasonable to question the validity of these kinds of prices for a piece of gear, especially when it's the most delicate and potentially short-lived item that you'll buy. Most people would reasonably want to avoid spending that much on an entire audio system. And no question that the markup in high-end audio is sometimes (often?) exorbitant and even exploitive. But on the other hand there are intangibles in a product like this that are very difficult to tag with a monetary value. What price the work of a craftsman at the top of his game, honing the craft in a way that few people can?  

Jeez, I had no intention of going on like this but it's an interesting thread. I agree with you @nandric that our language can be imprecise and that comparisons are a bit of a crutch. But conversely, academic training can just as well produce rigidity and tunnel vision so I applaud the efforts here, even if they're imperfect. (my own comments are limited by the relatively small sample size of cartridges that I've heard in my own system).  And yes, @lewm makes a good point about the terms used by the OP (that the same descriptors are used repetitively and imprecisely in successive reviews.) But surely that same point applies to the entire output of Stereophile and Absolute Sound magazines, no? 


@jollytinker , The problem of the grammar of comparison is
its limited range. We are forced in some curious move from
''the Universe is the best'' but ''Optimum is even better''. This
is like ''Peter is the longest guy in our group but John is even
longer''. The thing is that we are forced to exaggerate to make
our point. What about general statement that some MC carts
 are marginal  better than other? This is the opposite side of
exaggeration. We are making subjectieve value judgments
while value judgment are not truth functional. Not a question
about truth or falsity. So we try to get consensus in valuation
in order to get some ''objectivity''.  I agree with chakster about
his valuation of the FR-7fz. So FR-7fz is objective an fantastic
cart? But truth and falsity are not an question of consensus.



Whoever said "the Universe is best"?


I’ve listened to plenty top flight cartridges that have impressed me.

This is my first step into the upper echelon. Like many, I was reluctant to dip my toe in the water. I have friends who have acquired very musically engaging (and as usual expensive) cartridges, Members of the local audiophile club have aspired in that direction as well.


Best? Of course not. What I can comment on is a progression within a single reputable cartridge line where their known strengths have become more refined. I sincerely apologize for my exuberance and lack of time to formulate a more formal review. I didn’t choose to come up with more elaborate words when describing improvement in the same area, hence the same general observations. I gave plenty of specific examples of artists / recordings that I found more impactful. It may be difficult to say one is exaggerating when one hasn’t had personal first hand experience. For some strange reason I didn’t have to utilize Latin to do so.


Thank you Jollytinker for your enthusiastic comments on your Optimum experiences and keen insights.

Enjoy

I'm curious, if i could afford to buy and to test all the multi-thousand dollar cartridges in the world from those modern designers like Nakatsuka-San and others (there are many), what would be my statement regarding my rare vintage gems designed, made and voiced by legends like Takeda-San, Isamu Ikeda and others ?   

What if the legends like Ikeda-San (RIP) could live forever and making new cartridges every year? 

What is the giants of the industry could still make a fantastic MM or MC cartridges and people who designed them could teach new generation? 

And finally what if the market demand for the phono cartridges could be much higher today (like it was in the 70's) ? 

I can also think about the price for today's best cartridges in 30 years perspective, i will be like 73 y.o. and it would be nice to see a NOS top of the line ZYX from 2019 still sealed in 2049 :) 

But at the moment we have some fantastic cartridges made in the 70's, 80's and even in the early 90's by world best cartridge designers. 

Each time i read a comments or review from the owner of the phono cartridge with a price tag over $5 i wish to ask for his background, especially if the current favorite cart of such person is something over $15k.

Each of us is pretty sure that no single cartridge can't cost that much, no matter what materials used.  

Dealers who can sell "the dream" for that much are genius !

They are along with the cartridge designers are very well informed of the main syndrome of the "audiophilia". 

And Mehran is one of them, i've bought my $3-5k ZYX from him two times, great service. The only problem is that i couldn't get any technical information from him personally when i had some technical questions (even some basic stuff about the gear he is selling, really).

No more ZYX in my life, no more overpriced "esoteric" cartridges, only top quality vintage high-end from the golden age of analog (in pristine condition) from all the best cartridge designers. And you know what ? I like it much better than those ZYX Airy III Silver Coil and copper Premium 4D SB2 i had in my life. 

I was wrong at that time, i should learn the basics first, discover some killer vintage cartridges first and only then thinking about something new, but i was brainwashed by the industry with all their classic tools such as reviews, marketing etc. My mistake. I paid for my experience, but learned some. 

It's funny to watch the sequel, a better cartridge every year for "better" price, always more and more expensive ignoring the fact that even $5k is insane for any cartridge. This is my vision of the modern high-end. Interesting that they can't design even a good box for their cartridges, because in the 70's and in the 80's each cartridge box was so much better and properly designed individually, no to mention a booklet. Now they use cheap digital prints and plain boxes even for $5k cartridges.   

 
My Universe failed due to a crack that made its way from the front of the cantilever back the stylus. When the crack arrived at the stylus, it simply let go. The cantilever was otherwise undamaged.

This was shown to me in a photo taken by the manufacturer, relayed to me by the US dealer. It was clearly a materials defect, but ZYX was unwilling to do anything about it. On an $8000.00 cartridge, this seemed to me like I was getting taken- I liked the cartridge, but won't be buying another.
Audiotomb, i was not convicting you of any of those traits. Your way of describing your cartridge made me think of those things. I'm sure the cartridge is great but a more measured and scientific approach would go down better politically. For instance I know you are happy with the cartridge but you did not tell me how it tracked a test record or what the separation was like. Was the azimuth easy to adjust (stylus in alignment with coils and cartridge body? Many of us want to know if ZYX pays attention to detail. Is this cartridge worth the money or is it another luxury Hi Fi scam. What are we getting for our $17K? 
Atmasphere, that is most unfortunate but not unusual with these small cartridge companies. If you want service stick with Ortofon, Clearaudio, and Grado. I'm sure there are others. People speak highly of Soundsmith. But, these three I have personal experience with. People should shout out now about the companies they have dealt with both good and bad! 
Nandric, your point about the difficulty in repairing the original Uni is well taken, but I believe that all the later versions from Uni II on to the Optimum are “open” designs and can be repaired by any of the usual suspects, including the factory. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

chakster, by all accounts the universe line in general is superior to other ZYXs. So you haven’t sampled the best of them. The original Uni is probably my favorite LOMC, among ones I’ve owned.
Dear chakster, curious that you don't know how new Russian
rich spend their money. The first capitalist copied the (English)
aristocracy with their ''exclusive taste'' but in Russia you eliminated 
your aristocracy so the new rich have no idea what to buy and
use only prices to compete with each other. Next to watches
and (old) cars ($ 15 million for second hand  Ferrary) there are
not many ''objects of desire'' to show off. So $17 K for a cart
is the so called ''peanuts'' for them . Considering the fact that
there are more and more rich people no wonder the prices go
up. 

the cartridge tracked very well.

flying colors on the shure test record

our local turntable expert had it up on the scope and channel separation was superb.


He was very pleased at how quickly he was able to dial everything in.

A Durand tone arm is part of that set up equation



@lewm the new Zyx Optimum has a closed body. It's gone back to the clear acrylic used in the UNI II, not the coated material used for the Premium. I wonder how much that contributes to the changes in the sound.

I'd like to amend one point in my comments above: I said that the OP was imprecise in his description of the sound of the UNI Optimum. I'm not sure that's true. I was trying to address @lewm's criticism but I was being a bit sloppy. On second look I think @audiotomb is perfectly clear and I don't see where he's any less precise than a typical magazine review. Also his plentiful references to specific recordings are helpful. I put Steely Dan's Aja on after reading the OP's review and I also found that I heard new details - the bass lines for instance became much more 'musical'.  That's a welcome change with that LP in particular. it's one of the most emotionally fraught and saturated albums I can think of (just for me personally) so it's nice to hear it with 'new ears' so to speak. 

@chakster  I see your point and personally I would love to sample older MM carts from the so-called "golden age" but I've found that my efforts haven't been too fruitful (haven't seen the magic yet). The carts that interest me - a Grace Level II for instance - are pretty old at this point.  its like a car.  air cooled porsches are wonderful and superior in some respects to a more modern car (tank like build quality; seat of the pants thrill). but they're old and you need to know a thing or two (or spend a bunch of money) to get them fully "sorted."  On the other hand you can buy an artisanal car that takes the best of vintage technology and mates it with modern design and materials, like the Singer Porsche. But of course you'll have to pay a lot for the service. I would love to drive a Singer 911 but it's out of my range.
OK jollytinker since we are daydreaming, what would you rather have the Singer 911 or a Mclaren 720s Spider. The Mclaren is about $100,000 cheaper. 
If value judgment are not truth functional or , to put it otherwise, 
don't satisfy truth criterions, how are we assumed to judge?
That is to say what kind of criterions are applicable? 
I think the same we use for valuations of literary works and
works of arts. The so called ''price quality relationship'' would
apply for person with the same income but we all know that
individual incomes are very different while this also apply
for personal preferences. So there is no easy way out. We
need to agree that we can't agree. But we can search for the
''soul kindred'' and share with them our hobby or passion. 


@jollytinker

I see your point and personally I would love to sample older MM carts from the so-called "golden age" but I’ve found that my efforts haven’t been too fruitful (haven’t seen the magic yet). The carts that interest me - a Grace Level II for instance - are pretty old at this point. its like a car. air cooled porsches are wonderful and superior in some respects to a more modern car (tank like build quality; seat of the pants thrill). but they’re old and you need to know a thing or two (or spend a bunch of money) to get them fully "sorted." On the other hand you can buy an artisanal car that takes the best of vintage technology and mates it with modern design and materials, like the Singer Porsche. But of course you’ll have to pay a lot for the service. I would love to drive a Singer 911 but it’s out of my range.

All vintage carts in my collection are old, but NEW, some of the even sealed (NOS), you have mentioned the Grace, i have nearly all Grace LEVEL II and F14 top models with all the exotic cantilevers. These are fantastic cartridges. An opened item does not require any service at all, i don’t service an old cartridges. I have no idea what do you mean by servicing an MM cartridge ? All you need is a brand new stylus wich you can change by yourself, and we don’t need a service for this operation. I am buyin spare styli too. I have NOS factory sealed styli that i will open myself when needed. A fear of dried up or softened suspension is a myth for most for the well know top of the line vintage MM/MI and MC, except for some notorious models that must be avoided.

I do not miss my two ZYX at all, because some MC cartridges like Fidelity-Research FR-7fz, Grace ASAKURA ONE, Miyabi MCA ... had a much bigger impact. I even bought Ikeda 9 III and Miyabi Standard ... and even if i will add many more rare vintage MM/MI in this list the total in USD will be lower than retail price for one ZYX cartridge. But the experience with so many cartridges is far more important than a wish to own something very expensive and pretended to be the best ever.

For this reason i’m asking for the background of a person who’s buyin the most expensive cartridges in the world. If this person have a decades of personal experience with many top of the line LOMC or MM made before ZYX brand was registered, and the ZYX is a result of his personal research i can understand it.

But if a person comparing one ZYX to another ZYX and dealing with all these cartridges for years i just don’t understand the hype. I’ve been there with two ZYX models that was extremely expensive for me (personally) and Premium 4D SBII was better than Airy III with silver coil. Dealers always pushing a new models and ready to offer "special prices" or exchange/upgrade. They can do all that tricks and you’re hooked. One day it’s time to say "ok that’s enough, i’m quit" (imo).

There are many cartridges that sounded so much better/different than any ZYX i have tried in my system (and all of them are much more reasonably priced for a "normal" person). The same dealers in the US can offer Miyajima for example.

Anyway, it’s all about personal preferences in sound.



Chakster, are you listening? The ZYX models you’ve owned are not in the same league with the UNIverse series. Therefore your opinion of ZYX is at best incomplete. Also, you consistently act as if anyone can just go out and buy NOS vintage cartridges that you love, and I do too. But in fact they are very very hard to find. You are giving advice about them that usually cannot be followed.

Finally, in my opinion the Universe series would blow away the particular vintage LOMCs you just named.
Dear Lew, Your last sentence ruined the whole ''introduction''.
Chakster can't say much about Universe series because he never
heard one but Lew is sure that the whole Universe series ''would
blow away the particular vintage LOMC's'' which he has never
heard. I own this ''particular'' FR-7fz which Dertonarm used his
whole life and lately some Aussie was jubilant about.
BTW I have the impression that you can't decide between your 
own Urushi, Ortofon MC 2000, Universe and some MM kinds.
@nandric I think he's referring to the consensus you described so acutely in a prior post. Not provable but not unfounded either. 

@mijostyn I had to think hard about your question but in the end I'd go with the McLaren, even though the extra weight of the cabriolet brings your specified top speed down from 212 to a pokey 202.  
@jollytinker , What you think that Lew is referring to and what
he really referred to don't need to be the same. He was referring
to the lack of knowledge about the Universe while he himself has
no knowledge about those LOMC' to which Chakster referred.
This is called ''contradiction'' . But I can't compete alas (price wise)
with someone whom  dilemma  is between Singer 911 and Mclaren
720s Spider (grin).
@lewm

Chakster, are you listening? The ZYX models you’ve owned are not in the same league with the UNIverse series.

True, but do you know what is Zyx Premium 4D with Silver Base II ?
That was another premium model at the time, not so long ago actually.
And that model was not damn cheap at all, actually $5K cartridge (must be a great cartridge at that price). But it was enough for me to understand that the price means nothing. They can make $50k cartridge in the next 10 years, but i don’t care anymore, because the improvement does not cost that much and not so big, well, at least to my ears. I just don’t want to play these games anymore. Got enough vintage LOMC (very rare) to say that some of them are absolutely amazing, we have some rave reviews (for those who care) about Miyabi Standard for example.

I have my advocate Nanric who 
Dear chakster, ''Advocate'' in USA is called ''attorney''. For the
poor people there are ''no cure no pay'' kinds but even the rich
people fear the bills from the other kind.
We also have different kinds of members. There are those who ignore the post from some other members. Our most competent member Dover even recommend whom  post should be ignored.
 But Lew is different in the sense that he ignore  the post he does
 not like. 
So if you are wondering why he react to some of your post and
not the other you should not think that he does not like you.
He also ignore questions he does not like. I asked why he owns
as many TT's as carts but , as one should expect, he ignored
the question. But he does participate in any discussion about 
any TT''s and any carts always referring to his own ''collections''.
That is how we know which one of both kinds he owns. 
I agree with atmasphere, zyz are poorly built. On pinkfishmedia the English importer recognised that suspension failed down before the stylus. Many people have got reliability problem with zyx For me they are very good cartridge but badly built and I prefer to keep with other builders..
On whatbest forum a man received a 10 K zyx, first one box empty, second one doesn't work...no control when going out of factory.
My Benz LPS came with it's own response curb.
Factory? How many of these things do you think they make and manage to sell? Even the most respected and well known high end MC cartridge manufacturers are one man operations, at least the more exotic kind.

Whatever is the case with ZYX, sending empty cases or non working samples speaks volumes about their (his?) attitude towards the customers. Unless of course the delivery guy made it fall off the truck without the box (!) or likes to throw things around to practice his curve ball.

So Zyx carts are "poorly built" says a poster because of ... pure hearsay. My concrete experience has been very good. I've used Zyxes for about five years without any issues. Just one actually - a split stylus that was resolved to my satisfaction through the importer. I did once buy an expensive japanese cartridge and received an empty box.  It was a Miyajima. If you actually read what Atmasphere said it didn't allege that Zyx are badly built. 
I thought the empty box is a signature of grey market import.

You can't receive an empty box from Mehran at SoraSound.
His service is top notch, no doubt.

The only problem is marketing strategy. The gap between $5k and $17k is huge, but it's not necessary to pay the difference to buy a better cartridge. A better cartridge (this is subjective) can be found for les than $5k for sure.   
A few people in the cartridge industry told me they were built by subcontractor. I know three people that got a defective zyx from official importer in Europe.
My airy 3 suspension failed between 800 and 1000 hours, the stylus was good.

I would take issue with some of nandric’s analyses of my character traits, but I do want to point out that I agree with Chakster’s basic thesis that the recent versions of the universe are overpriced. I’m only pointing out that most of us can’t solve the dilemma of cost effectiveness by finding super rare vintage cartridges in NOS condition, in lieu of a UNIverse, or an Ikeda for that matter, which also isn’t cheap. My first edition uni retailed for $5k from Merhan whom I believe was and is the only source for new  Universe cartridges up to the current $17K revision. Anyway, I have learned a lot from Chakster about great vintage cartridges that I can’t have, and no offense was intended. I’d love to audition some of his great collection.

So Nandric, forgive me for appearing to have ignored your question about turntables vs cartridges. In fact I own far more cartridges than turntables, probably a 4 or 5 to 1 ratio. But why do I own 5 turntables? There’s no good reason except my innate interest in well realized machinery. (And my decided preference for direct drive.) I own a nice Leica M3 camera that I seldom use, just because it still to this day represents a kind of perfection in camera design.
Why is the ZYX UNIverse line exclusive to SoraSound?

Why are the UNIverse ZYX cartridges never listed on the official ZYX website?

The original UNIverse looks exactly like a standard ZYX AIRY. Why no explanation on the "secret" differences in design of the various UNIverse's and their standard ZYX counterparts?

Is the perceived improvement in sound quality real, or conformation bias?

I like the Airy ZYX line and feel they are very well made, but would not go higher because I believe "PROPER SET UP" trumps super high price (greater than $4K).

@don_c55

Why is the ZYX UNIverse line exclusive to SoraSound?

Because he’s the one and only US distributor of ZYX, the rest of the dealers are official re-sellers.

Why are the UNIverse ZYX cartridges never listed on the official ZYX website?

Some models made exclussively for US distributor. There was Omega and Atmos before. Can't remember which one was made only for UK market via SoraSound. 

The original UNIverse looks exactly like a standard ZYX AIRY. Why no explanation on the "secret" differences in design of the various UNIverse’s and their standard ZYX counterparts?

Only first version of the UNIverse looks like Airy, but the UNIverse II looks like Zyx Premium 4D or Ultimate 4D

P.S. Here is my ex Premium 4D SBII and my Airy III
What could possibly go into a phono cartridge which would make it cost $17K? No, really, I'd like to know.
analogvm, With respect to your question, my response is, "You and me both".  There is a story about Abraham Lincoln, who was a surveyor before he went into politics.  He billed one of his customers the sum of $300 for surveying a property.  The customer asked Abe how a few sticks placed in the ground could possibly cost so much.  To which Abe is said to have responded, "Two dollars for markers; $298 for knowing where to place markers."  (I probably have the numbers wrong, because $300 does sound like a lot of money for the cost of surveying a property in the mid-1800s.)

The point is that the buyer has to believe the designer put some "secret sauce" into his most expensive cartridges that is omitted from the lesser models in the line.  You are paying that invisible but hopefully audible difference. If you notice, often the most expensive models are a different color from the lesser ones, and usually they sport exotic cantilevers and styli.  Inside, there may be a more exotic magnet or more magnets or silver coil vs copper, etc. (By the way, all reviewers of the UNIverse line early on said that the low output models with copper coils were the best sounding, better than the silver coiled versions.  So of course I bought a low output/copper. But my original UNI "only" cost $5K when new.) We all know that the most expensive cartridges are built from parts purchased from a supplier and that the cost of a tiny piece of machined boron cannot be much more than the cost of a tiny piece of machined aluminum, etc. Certainly the cost of all these tweaks taken together is not 5-10 times more than the basic parts cost, which is typically the multiplier to use when comparing the cost of the bottom of any makers line of cartridges to the top of that line.  But that takes us back to the story about Abe Lincoln; the designer's brainpower is on sale.
@lewm Thank you. I would have thought that cartridge design and build had been settled science long ago minus the exotic materials. MM, MI, LOMC, HOMC. Not much new under the sun.
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Yes, but any good piece of audio gear is part Newton and part Dostoyevsky. There’s the rub.
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@jollytinker, I assume that you mean with Dostojevski ''art'' as
part of the combination with ,say, ''mechanics''. I do believe
that this is the case by the so called ''tuning'' by the master. All the
mechanical parts look nearly the same but ,say, J. Carr, Ikeda-san, 
Allaerts , Takeda san and Van den Hul ''create'' , so to speak,
works of art. 
When you read Lew's explanation of his choices then ''love'' or
''passion'' are the leading forces for his motivation. To me those
are ''the same'' mental states. 
Dear Lew, I am sorry to see how you interpret my writing. You can read my writing but not my mind. I am the biggest admirer of
you in this forum. You are my ''English teacher'' because I learn
English by reading your, say, prose. However ''critical remarks''
are not the same as '' hostile remarks''. I am not aware of any
and you was not ''precise'' because there was no any reference
to ''any of those''. My objections are about your ''custom'' to
participate in discussions  about items you have no experience 
at all with. Like philosopher who discuss some possible 
worlds  for the sake of argument. As scientist you should be more
''resistant'' to critical remarks. I am not ''hostile'' to you on the
contrary . Read my last post to see what I really meant. 
There’s no way to go back to the "golden age" in my opinion. those old MM cartridges really are old, hard to get, hard to trust, and anyway life moves on. As with cars, designers and engineers are now revisiting old products and updating them with modern ideas. Like the Fuuga Cartridges I believe, Shindo electronics, or the new direct drive turntables from makers like Technics and VPI. Or the whole analog/vinyl resurgence for that matter.

Yes new top end carts are stupidly expensive but then one has to come to terms with the role of money and upward social aspirations in the HiFi industry from the beginning. Hi End gear has always been unattainable for most people. I remember the Bang and Olufsen showroom in the 1980s and the storefront of Lyric HiFi in NYC, and feeling that they were places where ’regular folks’ simply didn’t belong. unfortunately that sense of exclusivity has been a driver for the industry and a source of funding for cutting edge innovations. (If i’m wrong on that I’d love to hear from someone who knows more about the history of the audio biz).

By the same token you can’t just draw an arbitrary line above which carts are hyped up and overpriced. @don_c55 puts it at $4k. @chakster puts it at $5k. If the $17k cartridge is overpriced then so is the $4k one. It’s like claiming that CEOs are overpaid, so let’s reduce their $40 million salary to $4 million and we can all feel better. It’s silly because there’s market juju involved at both levels that has little to do with simple rationality and it was ever thus. (btw I'm not arguing against reducing CEO salaries, just pointing out the numbers problem). 

For a concrete example, I do have a Zyx 4D that I can compare to the Zyx Optimum, and I will say that there is a hard, qualitative difference between the two. Now there are caveats: my Zyx 4D is not the Ultimate that chakster has, it has no metal base plate, and it’s also a mono with a higher output (1mv) so theoretically it’s a heavier winding with less responsiveness. Surely it doesn’t sound quite as good as Chakster’s. But in my experience it’s a wonderful cartridge that I use all the time without thinking about its supposed defects or about how I got conned into buying it. on the contrary, I love the sense of life and ’presence’ that it brings to older mono LPs. But still, the jump from that cartridge to the Zyx Optimum is profound. It isn’t just hype. And no amount of setup is going to bridge the gap between those two carts.
It's interesting, i've been looking for the highest resolution cartridge when i've been using tube (triode) amplification. ZYX was good for my needs. 

Now when i'm using ultra high resolution current source amplification from Nelson Pass, i can enjoy warmer souding cartridges like my Miyabi MCA (finally mounted) with the best midrange ever. 

So everything is system dependant, i believe my system always was extremely dynamic, because of the super high efficient full range drivers.

I have to admit that Miyabi MCA does not sound like many other LOMC cartridges from my arsenal. Vintage cartridge, again.