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ZYX Yatra Phono Cartridge Review

Low Output Moving Coil Phono Cartridge from ZYX

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…and now back to the ZYX Yatra!

The listening sessions that followed were all about discovery regarding the ZYX Yatra. This cartridge absolutely came into its own now that it was properly matched and dialed in to the vintage Technics EPA-500 with the “M” wand.

Going back to my line-up of cartridge evaluation LP’s, the song “Way of Life” from Gentle Giant’s In a Glass House was delivered with explosive dynamics and visceral bass drum kicks with the speed and “skin” that I had yet to hear from my new Eficion F300 speakers. So, too, were the lower piano pedals at close to the end of the cut that typically elicits short hops from many cartridges, my Accuphase included; not so with the Yatra. In fact, the Yatra exhibited near flawless tracking on even the most complex of passages presented by this LP.

Switching to Janis Ian’s Breaking Silence LP, the song “This Train Still Runs” almost defies description. Janis’ voice is effortlessly sweet and expressive without so much as a hint of sandpapery tracking of her very sibilant voice. Acoustic guitar is warm and richly detailed-yet-relaxed without so much as a hint of colorations, and all the time the drummer and bass come through with shotgun-like speed, focus, clarity, and canon-like weight. The ZYX Yatra competently handles it and delivers the sound without fuss, nor congestion, or even a hint of losing its composure.

On LP’s with more of a live setting, such as Peter Gabriel’s superbly engineered LP, New Blood which features arrangements of Peter Gabriel performing his songs accompanied by a 46-piece orchestra, the Yatra truly earned its mettle. For instance, on the track “Rhythm of the Heat,” the purity and disarming calm of Peter Gabriel’s voice and piano soon lead to a full orchestral crescendo and Tympani strikes that transcend anything I have heard from my vinyl playback system. In fact, the ZYX Yatra delivered the goods on this album time and time again, providing outstanding dynamics and clarity while also being expressive and balanced when reproducing the strings and brass. On quieter tracks such as the classic “Don’t Give Up,” the Yatra delivers Peter’s voice, the bass line, and the unique qualities of Ana Brun’s vibrato –laced voice with so much emotion, expressiveness, and dimension, that it most definitely was one of those goose-bump moments.

Perspective

The ZYX Yatra is a $1,600 phono cartridge in a line that tops out at over $10,000 with the exotic diamond–cantilevered Sigma. Yes that’s right; it truly is nearly the entry level. Yet, the Yatra is far from what that label normally implies. By comparison, the ZYX Omega-S comes in at just over three times the price at $4,995. So naturally, comparing the two is a worthwhile discussion.

The ZYX Yatra delivers many of the wonderful things that the Omega-S is capable of. It is unfailingly neutral in balance, it’s clean, fast, dynamic, and thanks to superlative stereo separation, delivers outstanding 3D imaging, particularly in image width. In parameters where it falls noticeably short of the Omega-S is in the area of retrieving lowest level detail such as spatial cues and subtle textures. The Yatra gives you a convincing amount of information in order to deliver a credible image, yet the Omega-S delivered so much information that it almost distracts with the acoustic environments and cues it manages to decifer and present. Another area where the Omega-S clearly outclasses the Yatra is in its consistency and master tape-like continuousness. Don’t get me wrong, the Yatra is no slouch, but the Omega-S is simply better, much better, in this respect.

From the perspective of my Accuphase AC-3, the Yatra out-classes it in every possible way: tracking ability, bass response, detail, imaging. Well, you get the picture. Indeed, the 20-or-so-year-old distant cousin is clearly from an era that while it was a reference standard for its time, advances in materials and refinements in design have clearly enabled Nakatsuka-San to design a line of cartridges that perform well beyond that performance level.

XYZ Yatra Cartridge

Summing it all up

In Sanskrit, the word Yatra refers to a journey or pilgrimage to a holy place. This name is certainly fitting this cartridge. My time with the ZYX Yatra has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that indeed, the apple does not fall far from the tree when it comes to sheer musical satisfaction. The Yatra indeed is unmistakably a Nakatsuka design, and it certainly delivers the goods. The big surprise to me is how much the Yatra delivers for its price. In fact, it makes for a very compelling case to those collectors out there, including me, who chase NOS (New-Old-Stock) vintage cartridges and overpay for the performance they are going to get from those older designs. This certainly is something to consider the next time you browse the classifieds or eBay listings!

One thing to keep in mind is the fact that the performance levels of the ZYX Yatra I describe here were obtained only after careful consideration to tonearm matching, proper set-up, and proper break-in. Attention to detail will definitely reward you with great sound. I, for one, am so impressed with this little red wonder that I am considering keeping it around permanently. Congratulations to Hisayoshi Nakatsuka and ZYX for continuing to advance the art of cartridge design and allowing so much goodness to trickle down to those cartridges that are priced for us mere mortals. Also, a hearty Thank You to SORAsound for once again bringing the ZYX creations to the U.S. market.

Selected Cuts:

Gentle Giant | Octopus | Vertigo | 1972 | 6360 080 | UK-first pressing
Gentle Giant | In a Glass House | WWA | 1973 | WWA 002 | UK-first pressing
Townsend/Lane | Rough Mix | Polydor | 1977 | 2442 147 | UK-first pressing
Janis Ian | Breaking Silence | Analogue Productions | 1992 | APP 027 | 180 gram “audiophile” reissue
Peter Gabriel | New Blood | WOMAD | 2011 | HQ-180 gram pressing
Peter Gabriel | Scratch My Back | WOMAD | 2010 | HQ-180 gram pressing
Rickie Lee Jones | Rickie Lee Jones | Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs | 1979 | MFSL 1-089 | Original Half Speed Master
Brand X | Do They Hurt? | Passport Records | 1980 | PB 9845 | Original US pressing

Reference System during Review Period:

Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable
Ortofon TA-110 Rubber Injected Tonearm
Technics EPA-B500/A501M tonearm system with custom TelWire balanced wire loom (XLR terminations)
Zesto Audio Andros PS-1Phono Stage
Pass Labs XP-20 Line Stage
Pass Labs X350.5 Power Amplifier on Billy Bags amp stand
Eficion F300 Speakers
Aural Symphonics Magic Gen v2t Power Cord
EnKlein Zephyr Power Cord
EnKlein Zephyr Balanced Interconnects
EnKlein Zephyr Single Ended Interconnects
EnKlein Titan Speaker Cables

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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