Review: ZYX UNIverse II Cartridge

Category: Analog

Less Is More

The innovative and creative genius at ZYX has married two great achievements into a single cartridge. The inner workings of the UNIverse have been re-housed in the semi-nude body of the 4D to create the UNIverse II. It is a match made in heaven.

On hearing the UNIverse II for the first time we noticed a nice incremental increase in speed and resolution, resulting in a little more articulation, weight, detail and space around the instruments, compared to the original UNIverse. A pleasant improvement that wasn’t entirely unexpected from the change of the cartridge body. As a few more LP’s were played we noticed that the exceptional air and separation around the violins and woodwinds that we had always enjoyed now extended to the tubas and double basses. Pulling out records with rich, densely scored bass lines was an eye-opener. All the bass instruments were in their own individual space with surprisingly greater resolution of textural detail. Yet despite this avalanche of additional information, what really came through was the rhythmic punch and drive of the music. There is an added unification of the whole sound space that came with the additional spacial focussing of all the orchestral instruments. The UNIverse lifted the veil between the listener and the sound space. The UNIverse II completely immerses the listener in the sound space of the recording.

With the original UNIverse it was often possible to get lost in the admiration of the instrumental detail that was revealed in the mid range and highs to infinity. Despite extending this level of resolution well into the bass, it is the music and the emotional intent of the composer that comes through with the UNIverse II. Our best efforts to assess the clinical advantages of the UNIverse II were often cut short as we were pulled back into the music. It is not easy to evaluate the increased width and depth of the sound stage with involuntary head and shoulder sways induced by the beat of the music. For those that subscribe that music is built from the bass up, the UNIVerse II provides a strong, immensely satisfying and solid foundation.

The last thing I want to do is give the impression of detail, upon detail – but where’s the music? The music is there, first and foremost, the added detail enhances the listening experience. Those familiar with the extraordinary openness of the UNIverse know how revealing the sound can be for instruments like violin and acoustic guitar. They sound like real instruments and it is easy to visualize the sound box behind the strings. The UNIverse II extends this level of realism to the lower registers. There is a far greater clarification of the individual voices of each organ pipe. It is not just a low “C”; the individual pipe is now easily recognized. As the size and shape of the body of a harpsichord can be so easily constructed from all the sonic information generated by the UNIverse, the same is now true for kettle drums with the UNIverse II. Everything can now be heard, from the striking of the taut skin and the reflections and resonances within the body of the drum to the subtle differences between two adjacent drums. The open body of the 4 D frees the UNIverse II to generate added weight, solidity and impact of every drum beat. The redesign has eliminated any perceived bass constraint of the original UNIverse.

The 4D body also brings the set up advantages of the 4D to the UNIvese II. As with any cartridge, the more time and care spent on alignment, tracking force and VTA optimization the better the results. This was especially true for the UNIverse; once the alignment and tracking force had been set properly then the VTA needed to be adjusted for each LP to get the very best sound. As with the Atmos/4D the UNIverse II has significantly broader tolerance for less than absolutely perfect arm height. We swapped records without adjusting the arm height for each LP and felt no overwhelming need to make any change. We have bemused many audiophile friends by our constant adjustment of arm height to get the very best out of the UNIverse. This is due to the drop in performance when the VTA isn’t exactly right. The arm height does need to be keyed in for the UNIverse II, but there is no need to make constant adjustments. Optimal sound requires optimal set-up, but the performance drop off due to the slight variations in arm height from one LP to the next are not significant.

The UNIverse II delivers all of the phenomenal air, detail and clarity of the original UNIverse and extends those qualities to the bass. The 4D body enhances all of the strengths of the UNIverse with better imaging, resulting in wider and deeper sound stages. With more percussive impact and rhythmic drive the UNIverse II easily out performs both the UNIverse I and the 4D. Our previous review of the Atmos (4D) left options as to which cartridge was better suited to any particular type of music. With the UNIverse II outperforming both predecessors there is no question about which top performing ZYX cartridge to invest in.

Less is more - so very much more.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
All the cartridges listed in my UNIverse I review plus Ortofon A90
It doesn't matter what someone pays for something or what price is relevant or
not. A review should give an impression what a unit is able to do.

$8500 is absurd for the UNIverse II.

Maybe, but I am sure that you wrote that also about Lyra,
MySonic, Koetsu, Clearaudio, Allaerts ...carts :-)

His opinion is no better than many others on these forums.

I think, but this is my personal opinion, his opinion is much better than others,
he has knowledge, is brain works very well and he is able to see behind the

.. glowing reviews

Indeed a problem. But wherever you look, you will always find glowing reviews from owners who are so happy with their decision and no matter how bad it is in reality, the review ends always in a recommendation. There is no way out, all we can do is to read it and when interest is growing to find out what is really going on. Probably all is really fact, the product meets all hopes, our time is not wasted then and we can say 'Thank you for sharing;.'

.. he's a hell of a nice guy

I don't know him personally but even when he would be the opposite, the review
counts, is it true or not? So, even when he would be the devil, when the review
is spot on and true, it is ok. I don't buy a product because I want to hold hands
with a Manufacturer, I buy it because it has some abilities I am looking for.

I dislike ZYX cartridges

Yes, that is an opinion like we all have about something. But when we go down
to the core, then we have to say, an "opinion" is an opinion and a"ability" is something totally different. And a review should go for the abilities.
When a product review is wrong, when dirt is written to Gold, then we have a problem but interestingly, no one complains about that.

Judgement with 2 faces?
Doug, thank you for your review.
I have learned much from you on this forum and am even more appreciative of your polite and respectful demeanor.
The way you and Paul approach the playing of music epitomizes for me this best about this hobby.
Thanks all for your thoughtful words. They are appreciated.

Disagreement is what keeps audio interesting.
Audio is not especially interesting. Music is. Audio is merely a poor means to a rich end.
I'm about to trade up to the new UNIverse. Had a quick glance at your system Doug - see you're probably one of the few out there who owns Doshi stuff - heard his stuff at RMAF and it's killer - clearly you hear things similarly to the way I do! I've always been a bit disappointed hearing Wilson speakers - other than in Doshi's RMAF rooms!