ZYX 4D-G/SB2 Low Output Moving Coil Cartridge
|ZYX 4D-G/SB2 Low Output Moving Coil Cartridge|
|Putting the Smooth in the Groove|
Over the years, reading the highly favorable reviews for the various ZYX cartridge models, I finally became curious enough to request one for review. Happily, Tom Vu of K.T. Audio Imports agreed to send me the new ZYX 4D-G-SB2. ZYX actually makes three coil versions of this 4D cartridge. All of them use cryogenically treated ultra-thin gauge wire coils made from 5N silver, 6N crystal copper, or 24K gold. The “G” in the model name “4D-G-SB2” signifies gold coils, and the “SB2” designates a silver base plate is used. The silver plate almost doubles the mass of the cartridge from 4 grams to 7.9 grams which together with its horizontal compliance of 15 x 10cm/dyne makes it suitable for use in medium mass tone arms. The silver base plate also provides a stronger, more rigid mounting platform. The 4D cartridges are available without the silver base plate for use in lower mass tone arms.
Japanese ZYX designer Hisayoshi Nakatsuka, who designed the excellent Monster Alpha Genesis line of MC cartridges back in the 1980’s, has developed some interesting techniques to maximize performance in the 4D series, not the least of which is using very fine coil wire cryogenically treated at -320 degrees Fahrenheit. This alters the structure of the metal and eliminates impurities, which is reported to result in smoother, less grainy sound.
In addition, Nakatsuka has developed a new 2-layer armature in which the conductive pieces are laid together in opposite polarity to cancel tiny eddy-currents that could interact with the signal generated in the coils and degrade the audio signal (albeit to a small degree).
The “4D” in 4D-G denotes a cartridge capable in 4 dimensions. So in addition to width, depth, and height, the 4D design is said to have minimal timing (phase) errors, courtesy of the new 2-layer armature and other design parameters. Having a phase-coherent signal is essential for natural sound reproduction. Instruments and vocals will sound more correct and true to life. Additionally a time/phase coherent signal results in more accurate and stable imagery.
For the cartridge body, Nakatsuka uses a clear acrylic that is cut away on the sides resulting in a rigid semi-skeleton structure that is less affected by airborne vibrations and mechanical feedback. This further ensures signal purity.
The 4D-G uses a solid boron cantilever with a Micro-ridge diamond stylus. The recommended tracking range is 1.7 to 2.5 grams, and the suggested load impedance is 100 ohms. Cartridge output is 0.24mV and its internal impedance is 4 ohms.
During my evaluation, I used two different Michell turntables, an Orbe SE with a Wilson Benesch ACT 0.5 arm, and a Michell TecnoDec with a Michell-modified Rega RB250 arm. The 4D-G sounded excellent in both turntables but displayed a bit more inner detail and ultimate slam in the more expensive Orbe SE. A Musical Surroundings Nova Phonomena battery-powered phono stage loaded at just under 150 ohms provided the RIAA equalization and voltage amplification.
I found the ZYX to be quite easy to mount and adjust for proper tracking force (a tad over 2.1 grams in my system), azimuth, and vertical tracking angle (VTA).
I honestly wasn’t sure of what to expect from the ZYX 4D-G. I have to admit that I am very pleased and impressed with the sound of my reference cartridge, the Benz-Micro Ebony L, which I reviewed for the Stereo Times back in August 2007. But from the opening guitar licks I heard when the ZYX first hit the groove, I knew I was onto something special.
Spinning “My Baby Gives It Away” from Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane’s Rough Mix (MCA 2295), the opening guitar licks had a focus and purity that took me by surprise. There was a harmonic sweetness and body to the chords that was very musical and pleasing. Townshend’s somewhat quick-worded vocal was clear and easy to follow in its own little pocket of air.
Vocals, whether male or female, sounded very natural. Johnny Cash’s voice rang out loud, clear, and true as he sang “Down There By The Train” on his Cashalbum (American Recordings 9 45520-1). His voice was dynamic to the extreme and never broke up or became edgy. And his acoustic guitar was rendered with crispness and rightness of timbre.
Going to my classical music, Stravinsky’s L’Histoire Du Soldat fromIgor Stravinsky Conducts 1961 (Columbia MS 6272) was quite revealing. The violin was nimble and harmonically engaging, while woodwinds like the clarinet and bassoon in the Pastorale seemed to materialize out of total silence with a very tactile presence and body. This is a great strength of the ZYX 4D-G—it has a very quiet background and when instruments chime in they sound very pure and true-to-life. Possibly, the cancellation of the small eddy-current within the new dual layer armature has something to do with this level of purity.
Another quality that adds to this illusion of a live presentation is the complete absence of roughness or grain structure. The ZYX has this quality in spades and in my experience is without peer in this area. It is truly a “smooth operator”! Even my Benz Ebony seems to have a very fine grain structure compared to the 4D-G. Not to type cast a particular factor, but I have noticed a certain smooth sound quality to gold wire in particular, and having tiny gauge cryogenically treated 24K gold as the main ingredient in your signal generator is very likely responsible. In any case, this innate smoothness allows instruments to sound silky smooth when called for by the musical composition.
And when I say “smooth” I don’t mean that it rounds the leading edges of transients. On the contrary, this is a very fast sounding cartridge that can start and stop in the blink of an eye. Just try some percussive sounds like I did when I played the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Senselive album (Sire 9 25186-1). Cuts like “Once In A Lifetime” and “Psycho Killer” really came to life with the 4D-G. The interplay of the drum kit, bass guitar, lead guitar, and organ was most spellbinding, not to mention that you could hear the live clapping, whistling and other sounds from the audience.
The thing I became really aware of listening to this complex piece of music was that every sound that the 4D-G reproduced, from the bass on up through the treble, was very clear and recognizable as part of the fabric of the music. Thus, the songs made more sense and the improved lyric comprehension made the experience even more enjoyable and profound.
Regarding the overall frequency balance of the 4D-G, I’d have to say this ZYX has the most even handed (least peaky sounding) presentation of any cartridge I have heard. This means that although the ZYX can portray extreme dynamic swings in level, loud instruments are less likely to become offensive and biting. So when you crank up your favorite selections the ZYX will keep you engaged with the music instead of rushing to turn down the volume—and then off to the medicine cabinet to fetch your pain reliever of choice.
Superb imagery is another great strength of the 4D-G. The ZYX presents a soundstage that is wide, deep, layered, and exceptionally stable. With large-scale orchestral recordings like Danse Macabre from Witches’ Brew (RCA LSC-2225) not only is the soundstage expansive, but the rear of the soundstage seems to stretch out further to the far rear corners, almost like you are hearing the piece in a larger, more spacious venue. And there was an instance when I was playing The Information Society’s 12-inch single of “What’s On Your Mind” (Tommy Boy TB 911) when the soundstage stayed stable and coherent in the front of the room but another part of the sound field moved wide to both sides and then back around behind me, virtually enveloping me in the sound field from every direction. I have heard this effect on this disc in the past, but the 4D-G seemed to exploit the size and spaciousness of the wrap-around sound to a much larger degree than I had previously experienced.
Furthermore, regarding the above-mentioned Danse Macabre, I must say that when the brass instruments hit the very loud peaks during the explosive climax, their character and timbre held together very well. The sound of the different brasses playing full tilt did not become shrill or strident as it often does with lesser cartridges. To me this indicates that the ZYX 4D-G tracks exceedingly well at its rated tracking force.
Finding fault with the ZYX 4D-G is not the easiest of tasks. In fact there is only one minor thing that comes to my mind. While the bass of this cartridge is very articulate and detailed, some other top cartridges may have a bit more low-end weight. Of course some of the perceived “weight” from other cartridges could be comprised of distortion to some extent. At least with the 4D-G almost all the bass you hear consists of plainly recognizable tones and beats. In other words, one can almost always discern what type of instrument made a particular sound. Its pitch definition and bass control are first rate.
In my opinion, ZYX designer Hisayoshi Nakatsuka has easily met his design goals for the 4D-G cartridge. Never have I heard a cartridge sound so unstrained when unraveling complex musical passages. Even when many different instruments are all playing at once with each competing for attention, the 4D-G remains composed and delivers each instrument with unprecedented vividness and authenticity.
Nakatsuka’s new innovations including the 2-layer laminated armature, the cryogenic coil treatment, and the acrylic semi-skeleton cartridge body seem to work together synergistically resulting in stellar performance from the 4D-G.
Perhaps not all audiophiles will be as smitten with this new ZYX as I am, precisely because the cartridge is so neutral and smooth sounding. Be that as it may, I find the 4D-G to be exactly my cup of tea and I’ll be buying the review sample for use in my reference system as my new benchmark cartridge—one that will remind me how delightful the vinyl playback experience can be.
ZYX Corporation of Japan
K.T. Audio Imports
839 S. Parkglen Place
Anaheim, CA 92808
ZYX 4D-G/SB2 low output MC cartridge
Price: $4,580 USD
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