ZYX Universe, Dynavector XV-1s, vdH Colibri, ??

Last Sunday i finally took the time to compare three cartridges; my Dynavector XV-1s (.24mv output), a friends ZYX Universe (.24mv output) and my vdH Colibri (.85mv output) with the darTZeel preamp and phono stage in battery power.

Some background. in a post from my system thread i describe the path that brought me to be experimenting with various cartridges. that post also raves about listening to battery power with the darTZeel phono stage. i promised to compare the Dynavector and ZYX to the Colibri on battery power.

so that is what i did.

the darTZeel preamp has plenty of gain (62db in the phono stage and 20 db in the gain stage of the pre itself) so even with the relatively low output of the Dynavector and ZYX there are no gain issues at all, i only needed to go to about 2 o'clock on the volume attenuator for very high volume with the 95db efficient VR9 speakers. in battery mode the darTZeel phono stage is extremely quiet; so the normal advantage the Colibri has over other cartridges with lower gain is considerably reduced.

the darTZeel phono stage is set with 100ohm loading that seemed to work well with all the cartridges but is not ideal. i know that the Colibri likes about 400-500 ohms ideally; and from what i understand the Dynavector and ZYX both are ok (if not ideal) around 100 ohms.

the Dynavector is pretty new and only has maybe 30 hours on it; so it has not yet openned up completely. i am told the ZYX is fully broken in......and my Colibri is most definitly broken in.

i am very familiar with the setup parameters of the Colibri. i run it with the arm slightly down at the back, and track it at 1.45 grams as measured by my ALM-01 Winds Electronic Stylus Pressure Gauge. with the Rockport there is no anti-skate issues.

i ran the Dynavector XV-1s at 2.70 grams and slightly down in the rear of the arm.......and the ZYX Universe at 1.95 grams and the arm level.

i had played around previously with the Dynavector for my 30 hours and had had the Universe in the system for about a week prior to get it dialed in. so i had a reasonably good idea of setup on each cartridge.

the Rockport does make it easy to switch cartridges very quickly as all you need to do is change the counterweight to the proper one for the weight of that particular cartridge. then adjust the arm length for exact stylus position (there is a groove in the platter that you sight the stylus exactly inside for perfect position), rotate the arm for visual azimuth (i can get it very very close to perfect), and set your VTF. in practice about a 20 minute job if you already know the VTF you want.

so i was able to first listen to the Colibri, switch quickly to the Universe, listen again, then switch quickly to the XV-1s, and listen again.

before i get into what i heard on Sunday i want to describe my perceptions of how the Dynavector and ZYX compared when i the Universe first arrived from my friend. for reasons described in the previous post i had purchased the Dynavector as an alternative to my Colibri and it had been in my system for about 6 weeks. i had been using my Lamm LP2 Delux phono stage with the Placette passive RVC and Tenor 300 watt Hybrid monoblocks. i liked the Dynavector; compared to the Colibri it was less exciting, less on the edge, less vivid and immediate and less explosive......OTOH although it had a little color it was fairly neutral, always natural, very involving and had very good detail if not quite like the Colibri. more of my favorite music was enjoyable compared to the Colibri.

when i installed the ZYX Universe my first impression was of slightly less smoothness and naturalness compared to the Dynavector but more of the excitement of the Colibri. i played some of the Lps that had been on the edge with the Colibri and the ZYX was more natural and under control yet considerably more exciting than the Dynavector.

on the Lamm/Placette/Tenor my initial impressions were that these were simply two good cartridges that had different perspectives. as i listened more to the ZYX i could never really get fully involved into the music as i had felt with the Dynavector or especially the Colibri. why? i'm not exactly sure. it was like i wasn't hearing as far into the music as i liked. nothing was missing from the 'checklist' but i wasn't fulfilled.

the Lamm has 57.5 db of gain, has 400 ohm loading, and is extremely quiet. it has a very slight warmth, just to the dark side of neutral; but has a textural richness and refinement that i have not heard from any other phono stage (until dart battery power). it should be an ideal match for the ZYX.

so that was how it was before i tried battery power (as described in my previous post). i hope this makes sense up to this point.

now to the three cartridge comparison.

first the Colibri. the Colibri can be a 'train wreck'. it breaks all the rules. the barrel and canteliver are out of algnment with the cartridge 'body'......so setting asthimuth you ignore the body and just align the cateliver and stylus. i have owned 3 Colibris and they are all different yet all inconsistent. they can have any length canteliver a customer wants, gold windings, copper windings, wood bodies, polycarbonite bodies.......they have such little play in their suspensions that they can 'buzz' on certain edgy types of music. they are the Formula 1 cars of cartridges. the Colibri is so immediate, so explosive, yet so natural and so incisive that if all elsewhere is not about perfect.....you will know it and there will be a problem.

OTOH when all is right the Colibri is magnificent.

long story made short; with the battery powered dart phono stage in my system; the Dynavector and especially the ZYX are not nearly in the class of the Colibri. as the system improves, the lead of the Colibri gets larger.

i used tracks on 7 Lps for this comparison.

1.Muddy Waters 'Folk Singer', 'Good Morning School Girl', Classic reissue.

the Colibri here made the guitar plucks real and there. the whole musical sense was vivid and immediate. there was not a sense of the recording chain.....just some guys doing their thing. totally involving. each note dripped with reality. brilliant colors in the vocals and guitar overtones. ALIVE.

with the Universe it sounded great, nothing missing, satisfying. but; the guitar pluck was not as vivid, the colors were less vivid, there was overall a bit of haze that only compared to the Colibri was evidant. maybe no other cartridge would expose that issue. the decay of notes was reduced which reduced the overall involvement. sounded like a different pressing. NOT ALIVE.

on the Dynavector this was more different. less energy, less edge. transients were softened. smoother and warmer. very nice. a great sense of ease but too buttoned down for me. this track should boggie. excellent bloom and note decay.

2. The Royal Ballet, side one, Classic 33rpm reissue.

Colibri; spooky good. i don't want to stop. an 'oh my god' about every 30 seconds. i try to critically listen but it's hard.....i just want to close my eyes and forget about everything. about the best reproduced strings i have ever heard. such a sense of venue, the 'subway' and 'buses' outside seem real. where am i?

ZYX Universe; a different realm......reproduced music. very good.....but less of everything. very, very good. specifically, less separation of instruments, less delicacy
and less clarity. the effortlessness of the Colibri in sorting out the complex textures is missing.

Dynavector; not the detail or energy of the Colibri but very natural. slightly veiled but warm and inviting. not
wholey real but still much beauty. good flow and pulse of the music.

it's getting late; i will continue tomorrow morning or evening as time permits.

the Dynavector and ZYX are excellent cartridges that by themselves are rightly considered SOTA. just because i hear what i hear doesn't invalidate anyone else's perspectives.

so as not to attract too many flames i want to clearly state that i limit my comments to my specific system and setup choices. there are many varibles i have not or cannot address; arms, cartridge loading, breakin, taste, settleing in. i did not do the tiny tweaking of these cartridges that one does over time to dial them in just right. OTOH the differences that i heard are considerable and not subtle.

it just one guys opinion on one particular system on one particular day.

with that said; flame away.
I don't know what you're reading Nsgarch....but Arthur spends more time and space on the ZYX than most other cartridges he has ever tested.
It is right after his Class A description of the DV1s in the Recommended Components File.
Halcro, what I was reading was Arthur's remarks as of 11/27/05 -- two years ago. At which time he'd only heard the Airy 2 for himself.
Shame on you Neil, for not predicting Arthur's results two years in advance! ;-)