or do I need to adjust VTF or VTA?
Why not try that first as that might solve your problem.
They usually require several months of break-in (assuming you are listening a few hours every day). I provide a free break-in service for the carts. Please send it immediately so I can start working on it!
In all seriousness, mine was pretty good straight out of the box, but it did have an issue with the highs, at normal VTF. I did some searching through the Audiogon forum archives, found others had experienced the same issue, and assisted break-in by raising VTF slightly. This worked for me, and I ended up lowering it a bit after a month, and a bit more after another month, and a bit more after probably 3mos (I was not listening a few hours every day at the time - more like a few hours every few days).
The other thing I noticed early on is that the Universe picks up more grunge than my other carts, and has to be cleaned more frequently. I think it is because the contact area is so small, pressure is higher and it takes less to deform the stylus shape than it would a larger stylus.
There's mucho written here on the UNIverse, and some of Doug Deacon's reviews you'll find as well, read them, I highly recommend it, as Doug is the UNI Guru, and the strongest of all ZYX proponents.
I own the Uni's little sister, the Airy 3X SB. yes, the first thing I noticed was uncanny silence in the groove, and a good sound right out of the box new, but there was something I just couldn't put my finger on?
Yes, that was one thing I noticed was sibilance at first. Tony Bennet's voice on "San Fransico", was horrid, the SSss's were way way over-exagerated. And the ZYX "sound" after some readings, and evaluations by others, I put a finger on this malady, and the characteristic was a very good description by others.... the sound was "mechanical".
I started thinking about my alignment, damping fluids, but thought some more, and one error I concluded I made, was, I was following what others liked as far as optimum VTF settings, (relatively low, like 1.83g) sat and thought, and then surmised that I might be tracking this Cartridge a bit too light, upped the VTF to an even 2.00g, and things did get better.
I remembered Doug's, and other's advice, that break in times, would be lenghty with this Cartridge, in the vicinity of 100-150 hours total.
The Airy 3X didn't seem so sensitive to VTA, but seem sensitive to VTF. The UNIverse on the other hand, I understand is very sensitive to both VTA, and VTF.
These two Cartridges, while they may not share the same innards, share as I understand the same Cantilever, and Stylus, and probably the very same Cantilever Suspension.
Doug has noted even changes in weather have dictated minor adjustments in VTF to his the UNI's sweet spot.
I would probably lean towards the heavier suggested VTF during the initial hours of play, so better solidity is heard. and then, perhaps after a number of logged in hours, can you then begin to fine tune VTA, VTF, and then even try different loading settings.
Dependent upon Phono Stage, you will then find, after the 100, or so hours of play, a setting which suits your system, and your ears. PS: Again, chat with Doug, he'll help you squeeze the best from this killer Cartridge! Mark
My Universe was damn startling just 4 hours after playing.
It won't hurt to raise VTF above 2 gms for a few months.......after a year you may find that 1.7 gms is better.
Raising VTA slightly also seems to suit the Universe. It will certainly help to now check very carefully the arm/cartridge geometry preferably with a protractor like the Wally or Mint. Care taken with correct Baerwald geometry will often be more important than other parameters such as VTA and VTF.
Good luck.....it's a superb cartridge.
VTA and VTF adjustment is critical for the universe cartridge. I agree with MarkD51 that the airy is not as sensitive but imo, the sweet spot on the universe for vta is smaller and the performance of the cartridge improves with lower vtf. The other note about picking up grundge from the grooves is true and due to the stylus type. As far as break in time, i brought my uni used, so I can not comment, but the airy took at least 100 hours to reach its full potential. However, once optimized, the universe is in a plateau above any cartridge i have ever used
To reiterate what has been said, I think important things to check, will be of course, as others have mentioned, highly critical attention to proper Cartridge alignment. This pretty much is a given with such world class Cartridges, and you'll note virtually all the boys here, with wheter it was a Lyra Titan, a ZYX Universe, a Dynavector DRT XV-1, a Koetsu, A Benz LP, the boys all love the MintLP Protractor!
And the boys here have taught me, that while one should use the ear as the final criterion, the lack of good tools is I feel a shortcoming, and you'll note most of the fellas usually have darn good Digital Scales, capable of .01g resolution accuracy in thier arsenals.
The don't have to cost an arm, and a leg, like the Winds Scale, and many can be found cheap at places like Old Will Knott Scales. While many like the old venerable Shure SFG-2, this is a scale that falls short when setting up Cartridges like the ZYX.
The Airy 3, and UNiverse's sound will noticably change with very minor changes in VTF as little as .1g.
Doug, and others will tell you, repeatability, is just as important as accuracy with a good scale. I found a cheapie at the pre-mentioned site for $32 shipped which is dead accurate, the Proscale LC-50, a Clearaudio Weight Watcher clone.
I'm sort of doubting loading plays much importance at first as far as VTF, and VTA, but loading will as well be all over the place, and I suggest just sticking to what others suggest with the UNIverse. Then maybe after a good number of hours, try something different for kicks, it cannot hurt anything. Mark
...highs are somewhat sibilant and bright...
Can be the setting from the Phono Stage, or a cable...
The UNIverse has an excellent high frequency area, but not in the area you write about. The break in from this cartridge has no secrets, it simply gets better and better, but no change from "Duck--->Swan" :)
Probably after what has been written, you might be saying to yourself, "Oh man, maybe I made a mistake buying this Cartridge, if this Cartridge is that particular, and picky about set up"?
While I don't own this particular Cartridge, I'd probably be safe to assume, and say, that like many other top quality world class MC Cartridges out there, time must be given for break in, the better the Toneamm, the better it will be able to showcase such a fine Cartridge.
And of course critical attention paid to proper set up, compatibility down the line of Phono Stage, and it's settings.
But, I don't believe any of these Cartridges from ZYX entry level, to the UNIverse, and beyond, are so tempermental-touchy, that one absolutely has to fiddle with both VTA, and VTF on a per record basis, otherwise the sound will be so totally flawed to be unlistenable.
By saying this, Doug D certainly isn't overdoing it, or has any afflictions of any sort, that he feels that things could be better, etc, by doing this-doing that by tweaking-adjusting. As for 99% of the rest of us, the UNI, can probably be set up, left alone once correct, and things will sing quite nicely, without the need of fussing with it every other day, or multiple times per listening session.
If a Cartidge was that fussy, this is certainly not an advantage, or a good quality, and I think Doug will agree, the UNiverse doesn't realy require such fanatisism, unless you're looking to squeeze the very last bit of performance. When it gets to that level, there are no doubt other issues within the system falling far short, than the UNI not being able to handle the music thrown at it.
Still, there's good advice in periodically checking things.
I know Doug doesn't stop in here as often as he has in the past, but may chime in, offer experiences, and doubtful there's anyone here who can contribute more to what the UNI is, and what it can do.
I'm sure Doug, and the rest would agree, that extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum will become better. Deeper, lower, tighter, cleaner bass response, and the high frequency will become better, smoother, clearer, and that the sibilance issues, rawness will wane-subside with time.
That slightly mechanical sound I noted on my Airy 3X is going away, the sound is becoming more organic, and analog sounding, smoother, and as others have mentioned, the sound becomes better, and better as hours of break in accumilate.
My own Cartridge seems to be Cartridge that doesn't lie, or sweeten-hype less than stellar recordings, it's like a reference studio monitor speaker, yet I notice many records I've owned, and played over the years do seem more listenable with the Airy 3X, and this is no doubt due to the Micro-Line Stylus doing its thing, reaching deeper into the groove, which no Cartridge before, has touched, Mark
I owned a ZYX Universe and had the exact same comments as you. The ZYX was ringy w. poor bass. It had a fairly high resonant frequency and loading it with mass helped a lot but took some of the dynamic life away. The cartridges vary between samples a little as far as compliance is concerned. You might have a lower one. Once I ordered the Brass mounting plate for my Schroder it finally shined. But if the VTF was a tiny bit too low (1.95 vs. 2.00 for example) it would be ringy. After break in it was better, but for me never perfect. Then again, I had tried an earlier sample from a friend and it was incredible. It truly lived up to the reputation. So then I ordered my own. But it wasn't as good. I would first try changing arms or adding some VTF. Good luck.
do vta on every record, it makes a difference
I'm breaking in a new zyx also (after a suspension problem) - 70 hours now and glorious
focused at 20 hours
buy the mint protractor - you will know that you are set up correctly and get great sonic benefits
when mine was off I could hear high freq shriller tone
pretty resolving right out of the box
congratulations being in the zyx universe family. what I have come up with is to mark time for breakin by using the line method. 40 minutes per line for approximnt lp play time. I now have over 300 hrs on my 2nd universe. I use a wally tracker unv. for setup. get this right and you are on you're way. as mentioned the stylus is very small and as I found out the hard way it will easily brake off please use care with setup and lp playing. getting to light with vtf will cause a loss of dynamics. at this time I don't need to track below 1.96. using triplaner that .96 has a fair amount of adjustment with vtf fine tuning. small movements and time listening are needed as you can miss the right spot by making to large a move. you can go to extremes to squeeze out performance cause universe has extreme sound. the only way though is to spend the time needed. after a lot of time playing with universe I now set vta by lp thickness only. I have setting for each with good results. you can spend the time but when you're in that mode you can't relax and listen to your favorite music its up and down. take some time out for musical satisfaction while you're seeking that magical spot for vtf/vta. enjoy
Interesting. I find the universe cartridge performs best at or near 1.70g vtf. The soundstage is so deep and resolution between the tracks or instruments so clear at this level. It sounds good at 1.9 but the sweet spot on mine was achieved by slow reduction until mistracking then backing up a bit from that. VTA was optimized before and after the vtf move but the cartridge and arm are near level at my optimum vta. It was a little troubling to hear the stylus mistracking but backing off about .05g settled that down. again, once optimized, it is the best cartridge i have ever used by a long shot. My other cartridge is an airy3s which i have used only twice since mounting the uni.
Using the lead out groove for break in sounds interesting very plausible. Break in time of 75 or 100 hours is plenty of albums. Far more arduous than putting 100 hours on a preamp or cd player. I'm interested to know if anyone else has any comments on using the leadout groove for the intended purpose? All the advice is fantastic. As I said in my first post, this cartridge has more potential than anything else I've listened to with the notable exception of the sizzling highs. I'm going to work at it for a while. I'm now tracking at 2 grams with parallel VTA. We'll adjust the VTA after 50 hours or so of play time. The ultimate is getting those smooth, rich highs happening. I'm sure due diligence will pay off.
Of all the cartridges I have ever used, The Universe has the ability to delivery more details and "air" far better than anything else. What are the rest of your equipment ?
The Universe is very revealing, possibley bringing out the weakness of other things in the chain ? I have used the univervse with 6 different phono stages, but I was able to fine tune it so that the apparently sibilence and brightness will disappear.
I have no problems with the Universe whatsoever, and still think its one of the best cartridges out there.