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ZYX Yatra Phono Cartridge Review

Low Output Moving Coil Phono Cartridge from ZYX

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XYZ Yatra Cartridge and Merrill Williams Turntable

Break-in and Compatibility

The entire break-in was accomplished using the ZYX Yatra / Ortofon TA-110 combination. Since the ZYX Yatra’s cantilever and stylus are similar to those of the ZYX Omega, I expected a lengthy break in period for the Yatra. Thankfully, such was not the case. After about 20 hours, the cartridge started to sing quite nicely. By comparison, the more advanced and pricier ZYX Omega-S required a significantly longer time to accomplish this. So after about 40 hours, the ZYX Yatra’s break-in was a done deal and I performed final tweaks to the VTA until the image size and bass performance were optimized.

It is particularly noteworthy that aside from requiring only a shorter break-in time, right out of the box the ZYX Yatra sounded quite good — even with as little as five hours of play time on it. Imaging was already decent and tonality was not as dry as I remember the ZYX Omega or my Accuphase AC3 being when they were this fresh. The bass however, was where the stiffness of the cantilever’s suspension identified itself; it was a bit vague and lacked depth and impact. In addition, tracking ability of difficult passages proved to be a rough ride.

From the moment stylus touched record in my first true listening session with the optimized and broken-in ZYX Yatra, I knew it was going to be a good day for music. The combination of the ZYX Yatra and the Ortofon TA-110 yielded great sound. Thinking back to my review of the ZYX Omega-S a couple of years back, I decided to follow the playlist I used back then.

I rolled through my three favorite Gentle Giant LP’s, In a Glass House, Octopus and Acquiring the Taste, and enjoyed nearly every minute of  them. The ZYX Yatra / Ortofon TA-110 combination has proved to be one of the most uncolored and natural sounding pairing I have heard in my system. In fact, I was beginning to suspect that indeed, the Ortofon tonearm may very well be even more neutral than I had originally opined. Several tracks in Gentle Giant’s Octopus had always had a thickness in the upper bass that I assumed was on the recording since I had heard this condition on nearly every turntable set-up I have run across in other people’s homes. However, the combination of the Merrill R.E.A.L. 101, Ortofon TA-110, and ZYX Yatra made this thickness virtually disappear. For me this was nothing short of a revelation. However, all was not perfection. The weight of the bass was clearly not as I had come to expect from this record and certainly not what I had been experiencing from the Merrill-Williams / Ortofon / Accuphase combo. So, too, was the ZYX Yatra’s tracking ability. The Yatra failed the “skip test” on the inner grooves of the track “River” from the Octopus LP. This was a bit of a disappointment, but I was already suspecting that perhaps there was a mismatch with tonearm and cartridge that could only be corrected with additional tonearm mass.

Switching to acoustic guitar and vocal in a live-in-the-studio setting, I moved to the Ronnie Lane and Pete Townsend LP, Rough Mix. Here once again I was very impressed with the Yatra’s soulful delivery of acoustic guitar and very how clean and wonderfully unprocessed it sounded on Peter Townsend’s voice.  Images were right-sized, and with appropriate height. Depth and width were also first rate with the drums spaced well back from the lead vocals and acoustic guitar. However the well-lit and crystalline view inside the soundstage right on up to the back wall was not as crystalline nor present as that with the ZYX Omega S. The Omega S’s retrieval of recorded spatial cues and low level detail were presented so completely and so vividly almost to the point of distraction. Not so with the Yatra. That said, the Yatra was still outpacing my reference, and Yatra’s distant cousin, the vintage Accuphase AC-3.

I listened to quite a few LP’s that rest of the day prior to finally deciding to give in to my intuition regarding the possible tonearm mismatch. I had just received my long-awaited custom tonearm board from Merrill-Williams for the vintage EPA-500 tonearm base, so I decided it was finally time to do a turntable tear down and swap tonearm boards and tonearms. It had been a good nine months since I last used my vintage tonearm. Once the Merrill-Williams REAL 101 came to town, I had taken the opportunity to send the arm base to Chris Kline at TelWire to be completely re-wired. Once this was accomplished, the EPA-500 base then needed to take a trip to Merrill-Williams so that they could fabricate a custom tonearm board for the huge beast of a base and unusually long 9.5” tonearm. As luck would have it, all the pieces came together at just about the right time to use it on the ZYX Yatra.

Several hours of fairly straight-forward effort and the install deed was done. The Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 was now sporting a vintage EPA-500  tonearm base. I mounted the Yatra on the “M” medium mass wand, set VTF, VTA, azimuth, and was good to go.

A quick listen to Gentle Giant’s Octopus confirmed that indeed, the EPA-500 with the “M’ wand was a great match for the ZYX Yatra. There was no hint of mistracking, bass was fast, tight, and energized, and the Yatra handily sailed through the infamous inner-groove “skip” test on the song “River.”

Two Tonearms-Two Cartridges

Over the next four weeks or so, I put the ZYX Yatra through its paces and at the same time went through a learning process of what the vintage Technics EPA-500 had added to or subtracted from the overall picture regarding the Merill-Williams record playback system. Indeed, being able to hot-swap tonearm wands made it quite handy to evaluate both the tonearm and the ZYX Yatra. Whenever I heard something that merited further investigation, I would simply swap in the Accuphase AC-3 to get a reference point. By the end of the review period I had come to some very concrete conclusions both about the EPA-500 tonearm system and also the ZYX Yatra.

Since the subject of this review is the ZYX Yatra, for the time being I will simply say that moving from the Ortofon TA-110 to the vintage EPA-500 amounted to a trade-off. The TA-110 is unmistakably closer to neutral. In fact, it is one of the most neutral tonearms I have ever heard specifically in the upper bass region. This is more than likely due to its ability to keep tonearm release energy in check thanks to the strategically placed rubber insert. However, overall, the longer tapered titanium EPA-500 yielded a much more continuous and smooth quality to the sound, especially in the highs. It also enabled the two cartridges, Accuphase and ZYX, to track better; perhaps in part due to higher quality vertical and lateral bearings. To the Ortofon’s advantage, I believe the TA-110 actually had the edge in clean reproduction of the lowest registers, but it failed to deliver the visceral impact that the EPA-500 famously provides.

4 Responses to ZYX Yatra Phono Cartridge Review


  1. Darryl Lindberg says:

    I enjoyed your review of the ZYX Yatra. However, as a scarred veteran of many an analog set-up, I was intrigued by your comment that “azimuth proved to be much less of a hassle thanks to a neat set-up trick shared by George Merrill regarding the superb R.E.A.L. 101 reference table.” Unless it’s some kind of industrial secret, I’d very much appreciate your sharing of this set-up trick with those of us who are unenlightened!

  2. Raymond Seda says:

    Hello Darryl,
    Thanks for your kind words regarding the article.

    The “trick” I was alluding to is not any sort of secret. However, as far as I can determine it’s a technique that is pretty well limited to the uniqueness of the R.E.A.L. 101.

    As you know from the review and the Merrill-Williams website, the design of the R.E.A.L. 101 is essentially rubber and aluminum top and bottom plates. The tonearm board is also a “sandwich” concept using machined plastic pieces as the tonearm boards . There is a “top” and “bottom” armboard and they are bolted together and “sandwiched” with the rubber plinth material between them.

    In the case of a tonearm that does not provide azimuth adjustment, you are usually relegated to adjusting azimuth my using shims at the headshell. A hit-or-miss and time-consuming process.

    In the case of the R.E.A.L. 101, you can accomplish some level of adjustment in azimuth by tightening down on the tonearm board bolts. This is true only because the plinth is made of rubber and, of course, rubber can be compressed. Small levels of compression are possible for the long term without harming the turntable. The rubber will eventually regain its form once released.

    Like I said, this works great if you happen to have a R.E.A.L. 101, the only rubber turntable I know of.

    Cheers,
    Ray

  3. Darryl Lindberg says:

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks for the response. Experience should have taught me that there’s no easy way to adjust azimuth! Actually, it seems to me that the Merrill’s adjustment might not be as effective as using shims–even though it may be a tad more convenient. That’s because an azimuth adjustment made at the tonearm mounting board will tip the bearing and the entire tonearm (as opposed to an adjustment at the head shell), which, if I’m not mistaken, will cause a bunch of other problems.

  4. Ray Seda says:

    Actually, I had considered that as a possibility. Of course, there are no negative effects to the tonearm itself, but the change in angle would be slightly different as the stylus goes through its arc. However put into practice, a small adjustment had nothing but positive audible effects on a cartridge I had in my stable that had a misalignment to begin with. So I opine that it is still a worthwhile and simplified approach even if somewhat flawed.

    At the end of the day, these adjustments are required only if you need to compensate for faulty geometry in the cartridge, tonearm, or mount, so any easy improvement available when a tonearm lacks this adjustment is a good thing.

    Also just to be clear, since these are comments posted regarding the ZYX Yatra, this cartridge was spot-on and required no such adjustment. The adjustment I made during its set-up was to undo an adjustment I had made for a vintage cartridge I had been listening to on another tonearm wand.

    Cheers,
    Ray

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