ZYX Ultimate with carbon fiber cantilevers -- listener reviews?


Dear listeners,
Any "early adopters"/owners of the new ZYX cartridges that now use carbon fiber (instead of boron) for their cantilevers? If yes, would you please share your impressions and/or comparisons?
Thanks and happy listening,
Harvey
unchilled
Post removed 
The premium series has been out since 2012, and there is also no user reviews also.

My guess is little change from the boron cantilever, or they no longer sell many.

ZYX has lost customers over the last several years.
@don_c55 

ZYX has lost customers over the last several years.

Why do you think so? 
Yes, Don.  Why do you say that?  ZYX is extremely popular outside of the US, particularly in Asia, especially in Japan.  If I would fault them it would be to say that they have far too many models with too many variations on the same theme, such that choosing among ZYX cartridges becomes a bit bewildering.  Could be a turn-off for some buyers. It's particularly weird that the Universe line can only be purchased in the US, or at least it cannot be purchased in Tokyo. (I know this; I tried. A reputable high end dealer in Akihibara, who once sold me my Koetsu Urushi, did not even know there was a "Universe" line. This was last October, in the presence of my son to act as interpreter.)  Whereas every other ZYX variant is also available in Tokyo, including I think the Ultimate series with the carbon fiber cantilever. 

Which brings us to the CF cantilever.  I don't see how it could sound "just like" the boron cantilever.  Historically, I have not liked the interaction of CF with audio reproduction. It often to my ears sounds like CF parts overdamp the system; the sound seems a bit muffled, even. Whereas the typical ZYX cartridge is anything but overdamped.

I have a ZYX UNIverse, the original model with 0.24mV output and copper coils; I think it's absolutely a great cartridge, perhaps my favorite. This makes me lust a bit for the UNI II, but I remain a skeptic as regards the models with CF cantilevers.
Where are the user reviews of the premium series in the USA?

It has been out since 2012.

I do not know about the Asia market. I live in the USA.

The standard (old) ZYX Universe is long in the tooth, although was exclusive in USA. Why that was the case, I do not know.

Just recently Sora Sound was still dumping the old (5 yr+) cartridges.

Why did they have new leftovers, 5 years later, if they sold so well?
I like, and use ZYX also.
Mehran at Sora sound once explained to me why there were few reviews of the Universe premium. Unfortunately I forget what he said! But point is, it wasn't for lack of sales or interest. And there IS a review of the Zyx Universe premium in Tone Audio by Richard Mak. He liked it, a lot. I can't find a link but it's out there. What gets 'long in the tooth' on Sora's web site btw is the listing of used products available. Best to call. One other thing to consider: as I understand it Zyx is essentially Mr. Nakatsuka, so he may have all the business he needs. 

@lewm I couldn't agree more about carbon fiber in audio sounding overdamped. I've had more experience with it in musical instruments, where I find the same thing. 
I found the review, it is a PDF on Sorasound's website.
Here is a copy/paste version:

The UNIverse Premium, the latest masterpiece of ZYX’s chief designer Hisayoshi Nakatsuka, is a statement product culminating from 50 years of experience in cartridge design, representing his best cartridge ever. Nakatsuka, is a rather private individual, avoiding the spotlight as much as possible. As far as we know, TONEAudio is the only North American publication to which he has ever granted an interview (issue 63). He remains as tight lipped as ever with his latest creation, divulging very little information other than telling me to “go with the sound, and you will see. Forget everything else.” I felt like I was talking to Yoda.

The UNIverse Premium is a model exclusive to SORAsound and is uniquely different from all other ZYX models. The design of the UNIverse Premium follows Nakatsuka’s lifelong philosophy of strongly emphasizing accurate signal retrieval with no added sonic subjectivity. The specification of the UNIverse Premium follows that of the UNIverse II, with the same choice of the use of copper or silver coils, at 0.24mV or 0.48mV output, with an internal impedance of 4 and 8 ohms respectively. These are efficient electrical generators with very few windings within the internal coils. 

The UNIverse II has changed from transparent acrylic to a pearl white colored material, about which Nakatsuka also remains coy. All three Universe cartridges carry almost identical specifications, meaning sonic differences must stem from something other than pure technical data. The biggest difference is the price: MSRP has gone from $8,500 to a steep $15,000, which makes the UNIverse Premium to be the only cartridge, together with the Clearaudio Goldfinger ($15,000), the LYRA Olympos ($10,000), LYRA Atlas ($ 11,995), and the newly released Air-Tight Opus-1 ($15,000) to cross the $10,000 mark.

Getting down to business Our review sample is the low-output copper-coiled version. As with all ZYX cartridges, setup is a breeze as the cantilever is clearly visible and unobstructed by the body. Torque on the mount - ing screws is set at 0.65 in./ lbs., and tracking force is optimized at 1.932g. The tracking force number should never be taken as gospel, as all cartridges are handmade and each will require a slight variation, but should you pur - chase one for your analog front end, this is an excellent starting point.

Fear not, there is a dramatic difference between the Universe II and the Premium, and within a few LP sides, it is clear that the new model reveals much more music. The difference is not so much a change in tonality, but a further improvement of the qualities making the Universe line of cartridges unique. Where the original UNIverse II lacks a bit of body and weight in the mid to low frequencies, the UNIverse Premium retains the near limitless top end extension and airiness of the Universe II, further adding definition, richness and body to the mid to low frequencies in a manner similar to the difference between the UNIverse I and II, but by a far greater degree of contrast. Also improved is the ability to retrieve minute details and definition down to the lowest level, delivering them with a lighting fast transient response in a polite, silky, and elegant fashion. The Premium may very well be the most tonally balanced cartridge I have experienced.

 The superiority of the UNIverse Premium is well demonstrated on Saint-Saens’ “Dance Macabre” in RCA Living Stereo’s infamous Witches’ Brew album (LSC-2225). Mastered by the legendary recording engineer Kenneth Wilkinson, the performance is nothing short of a dynamic orchestral tour de force. On the first listen, the high frequencies appear relatively less extended versus the Universe II. But upon heightened scrutiny, the top end extension and sonic ambience are actually all there, offering the same well-defined spatial extension and instrument separation as the Universe II. The added richness to the mid to low frequencies renders the upper notes less prominent – not missing, but better balanced in their rightful place, resulting in tonality with near-perfect balance.

LF definition is better when rendered by the UNIverse Premium: from the plucking of double bass strings, to the decay on powerful bass drums, the UNIverse Premium simply delivers an incredibly balanced combination of extension combined with an astonishing level of texture and definition. This becomes even clearer listening to Wong Ka Wai’s movie soundtrack The Grandmaster: its mix of piano, chamber music, and electronic instruments in the thunderous opening track fully demonstrates the super wide dynamic range and contrast this model is capable of portraying. It is at a level simply unattainable by all previous models of ZYX cartridges.

Equally remarkable is the holographic image projected in acoustical space – the sound-stage is deep, wide, and well-layered with proper instrument separation and sharpness, all of which is presented with just the right amount of sharpness and contrast.

Some quick comparisons To fully appreciate the UNIverse Premium, two other big guns were brought to the table: the Goldfinger Statement and the Lyra Olympos. Favorites that I am well familiar with, all three were mounted on the same turn - table with the same phonostage to keep the playing field level. Spinning “Dog Days Are Over” from Florence and the Machine’s LUNGS album, the UNIverse Premium renders the most minute details on the plucking of harp strings in the beginning of the track with ease. The ambience gives the impression that Florence is performing in a church setting reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions. Switching to the Gold - finger Statement, the venue be - comes more like a jazz lounge, with less hall ambience and airiness, but at the same time the strings are plucked with a more commanding sense of weight and control. The Lyra Olympos offers the least amount of ambience and top-end extension, but it is rendered with a greater sense of realism, as if a thin veil has been lifted from the picture. Florence Welch’s voice is the most polite, carrying a more feminine tone on the UNIverse Premium, while the other two cartridges project more assertiveness to her voice, with the whole presentation via the ZYX darker and weightier. Volume also appears to be higher on the other two cartridges versus the Universe Premium despite the fact that it has been care - fully matched with a decibel meter. Soundstage is the most forward with the Goldfinger and the furthest back with the Universe Premium, but all are equally deep, wide, and well-layered. Tough choices!

Further listening One must be grateful to Analogphonic of Germany for re-releasing the next recording, because the original Deutsch Grammaphone album is fetching over a thousand dollars on eBay. With Enrico Mainardi’s Violoncello album featuring Schumann, Gluck, Schubert and Chopin (DGG LPEM 19054), the UNIverse Premium displays the lightest touch on the bow as the strings glide across Mainardi’s cello. The accompanying piano feels lighter, but with more finesse and agility. The Goldfinger and the Olympos feel slightly weightier with a bit higher contrast, making the piano stand out more, where the reverse is true with the ZYX, as the cello stands out more than the piano. It also renders the highest amount of low level information embedded in the tracks, allowing the listener to decipher every minute detail down to the nuances of background noise or imperfections of the track. These same qualities are displayed in Arthur Grmiaux’s To My Friends, BestLoved Encores album, with the Goldfinger and Olympos projecting more weight on the violin bow, and heavier strokes on the piano. The Universe Premium offers a lighter presentation, more clarity and faster transient response on the violin strings, as well as the fragmentation of the tone emanating from tone with each strike of the velvet hammer on the wires of the piano. When each of these cartridges is played individually, one would be hard pressed to find fault with any of them. They differ only in sonic characters, and not in strength or weakness over one another. Although the UNIverse Premium may be the most reserved and polite sounding of the three, it is only polite on a relative basis. Do not for a second mistake the UNIverse Premium to be bland sounding or lacking in dynamic contrast.

This is best demonstrated on the newly released Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack (which if you haven’t already owned, buy it quickly on Amazon before the limited run is gone). Think Metallica’s Master of Puppets, add onto it Hans Zimmer’s Superman soundtrack, and perhaps a bit of Dvorak’s From The New World mixed all together, and the result will resemble Junkie XL’s intense and gripping show of force. This is one of only a handful of albums which I’m reluctant to play with a lesser cartridge, which will render it into a two-hour ordeal of trashy, chest-pounding aggressive noise. Not so with the UNIverse Premium, the composition becomes a carefully orchestrated show of elegant dynamism. Even with the volume blasting in excess of 100 decibels, every instrument which would otherwise be jammed together can be identified and discernible in the complex acoustic space. The Universe Premium does what few cartridges can: it maintains control in the most complex of passages without the slightest hint of congestion, losing focus or distorting the acoustic image. No matter how loud and ferocious the performance becomes, the sound coming out of the UNIverse Premium is never aggressive, hard, or abrasive, making it my favorite cartridge for this dynamically charged and yet difficult recording.

As with ZYX’s predecessors, the Universe line of cartridges easily retains the title of one of the most detailed cartridges, with the best top end extension going. The added dynamic contrast, low-level detail and low-end extension of the UNIverse Premium, vaults the ZYX name into a space previously occupied only by the world’s handful of the very best cartridges. The ZYX UNIverse Premium has achieved tonal perfection, with no identifiable weakness whatsoever. At the very top level of the premium cartridge podium, there resides few competitors. If budget is not an issue, then the buying decision can be a relatively easy one because there are simply very few alternatives. If you want to own the very best, perhaps it is time to add the ZYX UNIverse Premium to your arsenal. 

ZYX UNIverse Premium Cartridge
MSRP $15,000
MANUFACTURER ZYX Co., Ltd.
CONTACT www.SORAsound.com

$15,000 for a cartridge.

No matter what anyone says about the quality, that is absurd!

I also never believe cartridge reviews as accurate, due to the fact very few know how to "fine tune" cartridge/arm setups. Too much sonic variability!
 
don_c55
$15,000 for a cartridge.

No matter what anyone says about the quality, that is absurd!

I also never believe cartridge reviews as accurate, due to the fact very few know how to "fine tune" cartridge/arm setups. Too much sonic variability!

How do you feel about interconnects that cost $24,000 and speaker internal wire upgrades that cost $32,000?

The reviews of the original UNIverse that cost $4995, said the exact same thing about the cartridge sound quality. It is perfect!

Where is the $10,000 difference with the Premium UNIverse?

In the pockets of ZYX, and Sora Sound!


$15,000 for a cartridge.

No matter what anyone says about the quality, that is absurd!

I agree. ZYX is not alone though. Koetsu has a $14K cartridge, Air Tight has a $15K cartridge, Lyra has a $12K cartridge, etc.

I also never believe cartridge reviews as accurate, due to the fact very few know how to "fine tune" cartridge/arm setups. Too much sonic variability!

I just posted the review because jollytinker mentioned it. I do not believe any review, due to sonic variability and reviewer bias. Audio press is part of the whole manufacturing/publicizing of the audio hobby.
98% of the reviews are glowingly ridiculous. I know, I've owned some gear that had great reviews, but had me scratching my head.
don_c55
$15,000 for a cartridge.
No matter what anyone says about the quality, that is absurd!
It's a subjective judgment. I'd never pay that kind of money for a phono cartridge. But many people think that what audiophiles commonly pay for components - $20K speakers, $15K preamps, $15K turntables - is also absurd. So who is to decide? Each user should be free to decide for himself, especially in this forum, imo.

Dear listeners,
Thank you for your replies, though my interest would likely top out at the 4D, which, while not inexpensive (to my mind), is listed in Europe for less than $3000 US.  I'm curious how the CF cantilevered  model might compare to the boron version, as well as with very different designs -- e.g. the Sound-smith Paua.
Cheers,
Harvey
BTW,
While undoubtedly proprietary, curious what adhesive or binding compound is used to produce a ZYX  cantilever composed of 1000 pieces of CF composite.
Harvey
elmers glue, and tiny tweezers??  LOL
Ha-ha-ha.  We yearn for a review, so we can dump on it.  The audiophile version of Catch-22.  My neighbor up the street owns a Uni Premium.  I have yet to hear it, but it was in his system that I first heard the "plain" original Universe, several years ago.  Couldn't be nearly as good, because only $5,000.  I think Nakatsuka-san figured out, perhaps with Mehran's help, that by constantly renaming his line of cartridges after slight modification to existing products, he can also gradually increase prices and get away with it, largely because of our top down ecosystems.  If something costs more, it MUST be better.  Or perhaps I am being too cynical. It does not matter to Lyra, Airtight, ZYX, Koetsu, etc, that most of us are priced out of their top tier products; they can sell those to the Oligarchs of the world, and we can pick at the lower level merchandise.  If a Bugatti Chiron is $2M, why not a $15K phono cartridge?

Does the UNI Premium have the CF cantilever?  I think that when I researched this question, I found that only the Ultimate series uses CF.  I hope someone here will correct me, if I am wrong.  By the way, the Ultimate is available in Tokyo, unlike any of the Universe models.

@unchilled 
While undoubtedly proprietary, curious what adhesive or binding compound is used to produce a ZYX cantilever composed of 1000 pieces of CF composite.

I have a feeling God and Nakatsuka-san are the only ones who can answer that question. 

Unchilled, I am currently listening to a Universe that I bought with only 10-20 hours on it for only $2000.  Such bargains are out there if you are patient; this one was on Audiogon, and I am a longtime friend of the seller, albeit we live about 10,000 miles apart.  Still, knowing him as I do gave me the courage to buy used.  Mehran occasionally has "factory reconditioned" Universes (the original, like mine) to sell; I don't know what he typically charges for them, but reconditioned Universe II's are close to $5K, which is a bit rich for my blood, just on general principles.

@unchilled  I've owned low output copper Premium 4D with silver base for some time, it was step-up from my silver coil Zyx Airy. On Live18 shell with dedicated pre-preamp (Zyx CPP-1) they were good on Technics EPA-100 tonearm. But after a few years of hardcore digging for vintage MM and MC i must say that Zyx was not my favorite cartridge, but it was the most expensive cartridge i have ever owned. So its not nescessary to pay more than $3500 for a cartridge if you're not sure it is "your sound". Not to mension all those vintage cartridges available 10 times cheaper in price, including vintage MMs to blow your mind.  

I still love Zyx pre-preamp CPP-1, haven't used for a while, but last night connected my 0.2mv Argent MC110 via Zyx CPP-1 pre-preamp to JLTi phono stage it was breathtakingly good.    
Hi Lewm and chakster,
Thank you for sharing your experience.
Harvey

I have a r100 ultimate I'm going to try soon... will report in with my impressions in due course 

Mehran swears it bests the old Yatra and Fuji...  I won't be able to establish that but I'll consider it against my AT Art 9 and Koetsu Black...
@jjss49 i hope you know than R100 is an old model, lower that R1000 Airy 3 and way different from the Premium 4D. I doubt it can beat the ART-9, even my ART-2000 was as good or even better than more expensive R1000 Airy3. instead of the old ZYX you can also try vintage Monster Cable cartridges designed by Nakatsuka San. Even ADC-TRX MM was Nakatsuka San's design.     
@lewm you're right about UNI PRE cantilever - it's a kind of metal. I assume it's boron. But I do think you're a bit too cynical about the Zyx line as you put it. There is a substantive difference between the UNI II and the premium in my experience. I hear it pretty much the way Mr. Mak does in his review: the top end stays extended but the mid range thickens up (in a good way) and the bass goes deeper while remaining taught and detailed. It's not just repackaging to exploit the market imho. I bumped up to the premium when my UNI II broke and I didn't want to spend more money to stay in the same place. I didn't spend MSRP on the premium (and wouldn't) but I don't begrudge anyone who makes that choice. I mean, how is a $3k cartridge more 'logical' in the grand scheme of things than one that costs 3x more? 
Carbon fiber doesn't take to shock well at all.   I have a cf bike, and there was a caution that if should go down with it to have it checked by a competent tech.....I have cf in my car - when I accidentally rolled over a curb, I could see no damage at al, butI was told by the service dept that he would not allow me to drive the car until it was fixed.....2 months and 27000 dollars later.  Dropping a stylus on the record would probably take out the stylus.  I have no experience with this cart, but just sayin'
JollyT, You've got the experience of actually listening to the Universe line in your system.  So, I am in no position to doubt what you say.  If the Uni II and the Uni Premium are progressively better than the original Uni, then I guess I have something to look forward to, should I find either one at a good price.  By the same token, Chakster, it might be premature for you to judge the ZYX line if you have not heard any of the Uni's in your system.  Years ago, Doug Deacon posted a comparison of the Airy 4D to the original Uni, and he found the latter to be decidedly superior.  For my part, I would say that the Uni might end up superior to any of my vintage MM or MI cartridges (IMO, of course), but it's too soon to say. For sure, it's up there with the best of that bunch.
I have owned the ZYX Airy 3, Original UNIverse, and 4D cartridges.
The 4D was actually my favorite of those three.
Now, there may be other reasons for that. The Airy 3 and original UNIverse that I owned had the silver coils, whereas the 4D had the copper coils.

However, the fact that ZYX changed the body design of the UNIverse II to look more like the 4D might also imply that others thought the 4D, which was released about 5 years after the original UNIverse design, may have been a better cartridge design.
I have had: Airy3, UNI I, UNI II and now UNI premium. The premium is by far the best cartridge I have ever heard in my system. I have been listening to this MC for about a year now, its excellent, every vinyl I own sounds better. You know its good when you get excited about hearing your favorite records again, like it was the first time. Mehran @sorasound is really is a great guy to do business with. No regrets.
Lewm -

Doug Deacon's review did not say the Universe was "decidedly" better than the 4D. Instead, the essence of his post is that the 4D (also known as the Atmos) might be preferred by rockers, and the Universe preferred by classical music listeners. He also wrote that he could see jazz lovers preferring either cartridge, depending on listening taste.

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/review-zyx-atmos-x-sb-low-output-cartridge

I own a 4D. I am very pleased with it. My next cartridge I think will be a Universe II or Universe Premium. I would be skeptical about getting the Ultimate version because of reasons stated in this thread.
Mehran @sorasound is really is a great guy to do business with. No regrets.

that's for sure
thaluza, Mea culpa. Without having searched for Doug's review of the 4D (Atmos) vs the Uni, I do believe you are correct, in essence.  Your description of his review does ring a bell, now you mention it.

If people have 15K as loose change in their pocket and are getting a finer product I don't see why there is any problem. If you have the money there is none.

I worked for a luxury Italian house years ago and women were paying $1,600 for a handbag instead of one for $30 at Penney's and like they say about watches they did the same thing. And if you wanted a truly magnificent handbag that was a work of art you'd pay 26k.

Not to mention the men's Ferrari red alligator driving shoes(literally only for driving or they would wear out in no time) that 10 years ago cost 4k. They truly were astonishing to behold.

I have found that the Lyra Atlas and the Universe Premium when I've heard them are truly works of art.

If you can't afford a painting by Rembrandt you simply don't buy it. And in the world of audio these things are at that kind of level. You might consider the price absurd but then so is the cost of a Rembrandt.


Vindanpar, "Nice", I can understand when applied to a pair of shoes, but "astounding"? Nah.  Ferrari's can be astounding but not shoes to wear while driving them.  I don't think the price of a Rembrandt is analogous to the price of a high end cartridge.  One is a solid investment as a collector's item.  The other is a rapidly depreciating guilty pleasure that deteriorates at a rate proportional to the hours of pleasure it produces for the listener.  Only to be replaced in the public's affection by the inevitable next new model.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with that.  I'm all for it when the excellence is really there to be heard.

I said 'astonishing' and they were! They were very beautiful to look at. They belonged in a museum. Kind of like when the Met costume exhibit features a major designer like Versace or Dior.

Is great sound a guilty pleasure? Then I think everyone on this site is at least in search of such a pleasure. Maybe my Rembrandt analogy is wrong. More like a fabulous meal in a 3 star Michelin restaurant that costs a fortune but is only for 3 hours. But how long does it really last? The length of a happy memory. Like a great live performance or great sound. 3-4 years isn't bad if you can afford it. 



 



Wow at these prices my soundsmith strain Guage is a bargain, since the stylus pops out for easy and cheap replacement (or to hear a different profile one) . Funny thing is that even after 2000 hours or so I sent the stylus back to be examined for possible replacement and Peter indicated it looked totally fine. I have probably double that time or more on it. Had anyone else experienced so many hours without need for a new stylus?
emailists, That is indeed remarkable longevity for a stylus.  Is there anything special about a strain gauge design that would reduce wear on the stylus? I can't think of a reason related to the technology per se.


Hi Lew,
This is from the Sound-smith website re: strain gauge -- "All other cartridges are all magnetic generating systems, which require a mass to be constantly moved to generate a voltage. The Strain Gauge does not; the effective moving mass has been reduced by over 80%....allowing the stylus to stay in intimate contact with the groove walls.....and allowing the stylus to stop jittering - or "bouncing" in the groove as it now is not trying to move a "large" mass back and forth...."
This may explain the reduced "wear and tear" on stylus and cantilever.
Harvey
I've posted some brief initial comments concerning the Zyx Ultimate 100H on the HifiWigwam site. The post is based on just a few hrs of playing time with the new cartridge, so will no doubt need updating, but "out of the box" the Ultimate 100H compares well to my older Zyx Airy 2 SB/X cartridge.
Thank you for sharing your first impressions.