Investigating a new source component is always a gas while at the same time raising a few basic questions. How will it alter the system? Will it rob Peter to pay Paul sonically, leaving one in a break-even situation? Will it belly flop or will it elevate the system to new levels of engagement?
When the new source component is a cartridge the level of anxiety is always off the charts. Cartridge installation should be an event on Fear Factor! Every bit as terrifying as a helmet full of scorpions, the nightmare of decapitating a cartridge came true with the Clearaudio Stradavari 2 I used in the review for the Osiris tone arm. I promised myself that would never happen again, yeah, right. Building the suspense, the Zeus is a cartridge that I have been hearing about from it’s designer Tom Vu of KT audio Imports for a year now, making this a particularly charged event. Having reviewed the Triangle Art Signature turntable and Osiris tone arm, I expected the Zeus would be good, but how good? Tom has been making some lofty proclamations regarding the Zeus all the while I grew more anxious for it’s arrival. My ears were ready, wide open and down right hungry to let them really hang out on what this this cartridge was all about.
The Zeus came in a little wood box with Triangle Arts Zeus hand carved across the top of the box, reminding one that this is a bespoke product. Removing a couple of screws I was off to the races. Recommended down force is 2 grams that I found to be a little light. I went to 2.5-3.0 which seemed to offer the best tracking performance. With a micro ridge diamond tip and boron cantilever the aluminum bodied Moving coil Zeus was a cinch to set up. Once dialed in with the Dr. Feikert set up jig, I had to do little but sit back and enjoy the show.
And what a show it is. I would love to reference one outstanding characteristic to start my observations, but this cartridge changed the entirety of the sound. Want a few examples? Here we go: deep breath- tone, texture detail from lowest bass to the highest treble, palpability, perfect image size, soundstage layering – front to back left to right up and down, dynamics from the softest to the most grand; all not just changed, but so improved to reference level of the highest order.
Having blathered all of that, I guess I will focus on the very rare quality that the Zeus has – the ability to wring out the last ounce of “live-ness” contained in the recording. The Zeus will reveal the energy, intention and technique on all your musical chestnuts. A great example of this is on ‘Walk This Way’ from Aerosmith Toys In The Attic. The whole band really has their backs into it. Throbbing clear as a bell are bass guitars barking and snarling, and a fresh Steven Tyler’s whaling rocking the pad. I have heard this track a whole hat full of times in the last 37 years and it has never sounded anything like this. My Ortofon Cadenza Black has an engaging go at it, but the Zeus just comes in and clears up all the mess, unleashing the sonic hounds.
This Album also illustrates the Neutrality of the Zeus. Put on the Title track ‘Toys In The Attic’ and you may be tempted to toss the record in the trash. Yet “Walk This Way,” a few tracks on sounds awesome. This allows for some investigation deeper into my little record collection. Ringing hidden musical treasure, Very cool.
As good as the Zeus is, it improves a bit with a good deal of record spinning. Just play records and don’t worry about it, but when it happens, you will know it. The sound just blooms in all directions opening the treble further and smoothing the over all sound without loosing any other positive traits. This blossoming reveals spatial cues of all the different instruments on the stage. Listening to “Listen to the Music” from the Doobie Brothers Greatest hits I was delighted by the tone, texture and dimension and space that is in this recording. This is all incorporated into the over all naturalness and flow this cartridge provides. This cartridge is not just reproducing music; it provides or renders a sense of place, time and feel, something analog does so well.
Back to the jams. ‘South Side Of The Sky’ from Yes Fragile swings and jolts forward with great thrust. Again, this cartridge makes live even livelier. While this recording from analog productions can bite the ear with brightness, I take off the audio nerd reviewer Beanie and just dig the tune.
Sarah Vaughn’s lonely Hours features Sarah at her most romantic, dealing out torch song after torch song, her vocal power, control, tone and texture are rendered with such ease and confidence, allowing for a very strong illusion of her being in the room. The Orchestration while limited to a left and right channel mix, yet still has great depth and presence.
Of course the supporting cast of components allows the great characteristics of the Zeus to shine. The Pass XA200.5 class A amplifiers provide unflappable control while the Lansche 4.1 speakers provide depth textural purity with the help from it’s astounding plasma tweeter. All components are hooked up by Skogrands outstanding cable.
Yeah, so far so good, but does the Zeus have balls? You bet. Stanly Clark’s bass on ‘Working Man’ from If This Bass Could Only Talk burbles and pops with remarkable transient speed, tonality and weight. The low bass that accompanies is less well delineated as it is recorded that way. Throughout this album and any other record that provided low bass shenanigans, absolutely nothing was left wanting in the lower regions.
My Ortofon has great tone, but nowhere near the resolution offered up by the multi talented Zeus. On Steely Dan, ‘My old school’ from Steely Dan Greatest Hits the Zeus has it all, great tone, layered textures and a lite frequency balance that never strays into etched brightness. Maintaining this balance is a tricky balancing act and the Zeus proves sure-footed. ‘If Love is a red dress (Hang Me In Rags)’ from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack features a torture test in the upper mid range. There are several passages in which Maria McKee really opens up and sustains a note with power and emotional intensity. The Zeus rendered it perfectly with no strain, glare or tonal modulation. The tonal pallet can easily allow you to forget all the imaging trickery provided by the Zeus and drink in the elixir like timber.
Like a shot of adrenalin to the chest pulp fiction style, Jimmy Paige and the Black Crows Live
At The Greek carries awesome weight and quick force full impact coupled to a clearly defined soundstage. Each instrument independent from the other in a physical sense but spot on the same page musically. This is a real reference recording, great music really we’ll performed. The Zeus clearly communicated all these traits without the slightest sense of strain or ambiguity. As for pairing Jimmy Paige with the Black Crows performing Led Zeppelin songs, this collaboration could have been shown to be foolish or gimmicky. In practice, that conclusion could not be further from the truth. The material proved to be in very competent hands. Chris Robinson’s vocals hold up really well while his band mates are seriously in sync.
Robin Trower Live is one that goes back 35 years with me and I have never heard this recording sound anywhere near this good! It still has its issues to be sure, but what is there that is salvageable is spectacular. Trower’s guitar bellows and howls Bill Lordan’s drumming gets the tracks moving. The duet between the drummer and Trower’s guitar on ‘Little bit of sympathy’ unravels at killer speed somehow not stepping on one or the others toes musically. The Zeus is able to track it all with not a drop of sweat.
On the wonderful Duke Elington’s Indigos, the piano is rendered about 7 feet behind the plane of the speakers and is locked solid in space. The sax on the left is set 5 feet back and just to the inside of the left speaker and is aglow in space. The imaging is just perfect, every element feels anchored and surrounded by real space, not some inky approximation.
The solo clarinet opening the track ‘Tea for two’ has never sounded like this. Harmonic complexity with dynamic freedom really frees up the performance. The end of the first stanza has the clarinet fading out with a delicate vibrato. I have listened to this track a zillion times and have never heard this gentle vibrato fade so completely to silence.
Ultimately, this is not the kind of product whose sound that should be broken down into parts. The musical picture rendered is so complete and compelling. Yet having said that, the performance can be dissected so easily thanks to its clarity, transparency and the over all ease of its presentation.
Some products, when introduced to the system have a mild, if important contribution to the sound. Theses components force me to squint down and really listen for the subtle changes to the presentation.
The Triangle Art Zeus cartridge does not fit into that category. The totality of improvement from bottom to top left to right, front to back leaves a huge impression. There was nothing subtle about the inclusion of the Zeus cartridge. The sound has grabbed me by the short hairs and has not let go. The Zeus has it all- transparency, dynamics truth of timbre, soundstage and imaging proficiency, bloom and a lively-ness that is oh so captivating. Neutrality only hints at it. This is one of the most honest components I have ever reviewed.
My rig is complete, thanks in totality to Tom Vu of Triangle Art and KT audio. I could not envision this wonderful destination when I embarked on the journey into analog a couple of years ago. I hear he is working on a reference cartridge, stay tuned.
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