[A]s I have noted in previous reviews, famed craftsman Hisayoshi Nakatsuka has been at the cartridge designing and building business for quite a long time. As such, over these many years, Nakatsuka-San has refined his designs and assembly processes to the point where each and every cartridge emerges with the characteristics that immediately identify them as designs by Nakatsuka-San. That sort of consistency is rarified in a cottage industry and even within just a single line of models from the same manufacturer.
As mentioned in the previously published review of the ZYX R100 Yatra, Mehran of SORASound has been so kind as to provide me with incredible access to the world of ZYX and the designs of Hisayoshi Nakatsuka. In this review I will be focusing on the entry level cartridge of what has proven to be a broad and deep line of overachievers from ZYX. The ZYX R50 Bloom is available in three flavors, a low output (.24mv) version, a higher output Bloom–H (.48mv) version, and the R50 Bloom MONO. The standard low output R50 Bloom with an MSRP of $995 is the subject of this review.
The configuration of the ZYX Bloom sports the proprietary “Real Stereo” generator system that is found in all of Nakatsuka-San’s designs, plus copper coil wires and has an output level of .24mv. The rest of the specs however harken back to Nakatsuka’s earliest designs for Accuphase. The ZYX Bloom sports an aluminum tube cantilever that has a coating to reduce resonances. There is a Line Contact diamond stylus fitted at the end of the cantilever; an essentially similar arrangement to the one employed in Nakatsuka-San’s Accuphase AC-1 design over 30 years ago. The outer body is a blue plastic translucent trapezoidal body. The ZYX Bloom is fitted with the now ubiquitous silver platform as is found on most other ZYX models; I understand it is an available option, but SORASound includes it for all Bloom’s. The entire cartridge weighs in at a total of just under 7.6 grams.
The Technics EPA-A501G high mass wand proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered in optimizing the performance of the ZYX Bloom in this tonearm system. I used a vertical tracking force of 2.0 grams for the entire review period.
The break-in period for the ZYX Bloom was brief as was the case with the R100-Yatra. It took all of about 20 hours for bass to firm up, for images to sharpen, and for tracking ability to improve. Also as was the case with the R100-Yatra, the ZYX Bloom actually sounded very good straight out of the box.
Listening to the properly installed and optimized ZYX Bloom resulted in an entertaining and nostalgic series of sit-downs. As it turns out, this isn’t exactly your typical modern ZYX in parts and materials nor is it at all typical in sonic signature. The ZYX “Real Stereo” motor provided the usual superb stereo separation, excellent transparency, and image focus, width, and height. From that standpoint alone, this entry level cartridge did not sound at all entry level. Indeed, the ZYX Bloom couldn’t help but reveal its true lineage LP after LP and yet, its true colors emerged with a sonic palette that is simply atypical of a modern ZYX. In short, the “Bloom” is an apt name for this expressive little cartridge.
Thanks to the aluminum cantilever and line contact stylus, the cartridge has a slight glowing nature in the midrange that is hard to resist, as well as a lushness in tone when reproducing cymbals, wire brushes, and chimes. I’ve been a sucker for cartridges with this signature for many years; for example such as the Technics EPC-205C, Accuphase AC-1, and even the original Miyabi MCA. While being very different in form and in performance, the ZYX Bloom shares that same bit of sonic charm that sucks me right in. I have always believed it to be the material used in the cantilever. I have found that high end moving coil cartridges with aluminum cantilevered and titanium cantilevered stylus assemblies have a slightly slower and romantic quality to their midrange and a lushness in their highs. In the case of the ZYX Bloom, designer Nakatsuka-San endeavors to temper this effect by applying an outer coating to the cantilever in order to stiffen the material and reduce the effect. Joseph Grado used a very similar technique in his famed handmade Signature Series cartridges back in the day. Suffice it to say that the ZYX Bloom was already well on its way to proving its chops.
Spinning the Vinyl
In order to set the perspective for a true cartridge showdown one Sunday afternoon, I listened to the ZYX Yatra and then hot swapped the pre-mounted and balanced ZYX Bloom. Going back to the main points I had made in my notes regarding the ZYX Yatra, I played the same selections on both Yatra and then Bloom. Level matching was not an issue since they both have the same output level of .24mv.
I first rolled through a few cuts from the suite of Gentle Giant albums I mentioned in the ZYX Yatra review, In a Glass House, Octopus, and Acquiring the Taste. In this round of listening, the ZYX Bloom proved to have a slightly mellower or softer presentation to dynamic swings than the ZYX Yatra. For instance, the song “Way of Life” from In a Glass House was reproduced with a slightly laid back presentation and the visceral bass drum kicks were not as deep, nor were they as explosive as with the Yatra. That said, the ZYX Bloom also surprised the heck out of me with its ability to track these LP’s without so much as a hint of strain. Neither cartridge failed the “skip” test in the song “River” from the Octopus LP. This, to me, was absolute confirmation that the chosen tonearm wand was appropriate for the ZYX Bloom. Stereo separation and image height on the ZYX Bloom was stellar and on par with the ZYX Yatra.
In fact, in total lock-step precision, LP after LP, such as in Janis Ian’s Breaking Silence, Peter Gabriel’s, New Blood, and In a Glass House, the ZYX Bloom did not fail to deliver excellent performance without so much as a hint of unwanted distortions, response aberrations, or any such mechanical failings related to tracking ability. No, it did not deliver the bass depth nor dynamic impact as did the ZYX Yatra when playing back “Rhythm of the Heat” from PG’s New Blood; nor did I expect it to. It did add a very slight touch of mellowness in the midrange of most recordings that was not at all unpleasant and worked very well with strings and female vocals.
- (Page 1 of 2)
- Next page →