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ZYX Ultimate Airy X Cartridge | REVIEW

by Marc Phillips in Analog

The first time I listened to the ZYX Ultimate Airy X cartridge it instantly reminded me of Scot Hull’s wife, Julia. I know that sounds strange, and even Scot’s probably thinking “WTF, Marc?” right about now, but hold on and let me finish. This won’t be creepy at all. When Scot Hull was ordained last year, Colleen and I traveled down to Frederick, MD to attend. Toward the beginning of the ceremony and services, Julia went to the front of a church and began to sing a hymn/spiritual and [...]


  • In my earlier review, I wrote about the Vertere MG-1/SG-1 turntable/tonearm combination. Here I’m going to pen about a few other offerings from Vetere (website), companion pieces I received with the ‘table and arm–the Vertere Acoustics Mystic moving-coil cartridge ($2,699) and Phono-1 MK II phono preamplifier ($1,395). First off, let me say that both these pieces were excellent performers. I was particularly impressed with the Phono-1, which I consider one of the best deals in [...]
  • ModWright PH 9.0 Phono Stage | REVIEW

    April 2, 2021 // 0 Comments

    The story of the ModWright PH 9.0 phono stage (website) is in many ways the story of my entry into the world of high-end vinyl playback, coinciding with my first serious turntable, then a second, and next the chance to hear some very serious phono stages such as the Manley Labs Steelhead RC and the one found inside the Mola Mola Makua preamplifier. When speaking with ModWright Instruments founder Daniel Wright, what strikes me the most is just how nice he is. Seriously, he’s in competition [...]
  • Is the Parasound Halo JC 3+ phono preamplifier (website) a modern incarnation of the Vendetta Research? Before you answer that, have you ever heard John Curl’s original Vendetta Research phono preamplifier? I have, maybe about a dozen years ago when I was writing some sort of column about “old school” amplification. The Vendetta Research was a revolutionary product, one where the importance of the phono stage was instantly elevated into a component that could make a big difference in the [...]
  • Between a worldwide pandemic, the death of reason and civility, and accidentally scratching my favorite Stones’ Sticky Fingers import pressing, I had a serious case of the blues. When I found out Norm Steinke of Rutherford Audio, the American distributor for Vertere Acoustics, would be sending me a fancy British turntable to check out, my mood improved significantly. Along with the excellent Vertere Acoustics MG-1 turntable ($9,995 for a clear plinth, $10,995 for black), Norm included the [...]
  • LSA T-3 Turntable | REVIEW

    February 21, 2021 // 4 Comments

      Maybe you’ve started to notice a certain theme in many of my reviews, so it won’t surprise you to hear that the LSA T-3 turntable (website) and I also go way back. We’re talking close to a decade ago, when I first started out as an importer and distributor and I was on the other side for the first time—not as an audiophile attendee or a member of the press, but as someone trying to sell a product. I’d always see the Margules family—as in Margules Audio Group, a manufacturer [...]
  • I do have a couple of my patented old audio guy stories about George Merrill, the legendary turntable designer who now makes the GEM Dandy PolyTable Signature turntable. (Website here.) The first isn’t really a story—I first heard of Merrill many years ago, when he was known for his modifications on AR turntables. I had an AR ES-1 ‘table back then, during my apprenticeship as a card-carrying audiophile, and I always had a plan for getting it in for a facelift. (Upgrade fever was a [...]
  • Before I even bring up Ana Mighty Sound (website), let me state that I abhor rebuilt cartridges. They are to me, unholy, defiled, inferior, and more often than not, a far cry from the real thing.   It is like having your Ferrari serviced by the corner garage operation, or your Rolex tempered with by some counterfeit watchmaker, or worse, having an operation performed by an unqualified surgeon. Even when the cartridge comes back looking like it’s good as new, which it seldom does, something [...]
  • Let’s talk about the Passion Of St. Bernard. No, not the dog. No, not Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the Benedictine monk–although he was no doubt passionate about his stuff. I’m talking about the founder, and head of Charisma Audio (website), Mr. Bernard Li.THIS Bernard is deeply passionate about high fidelity home playback with a special focus on cartridges and all things analog. You’d also need to have the patience of a saint to go to the lengths that Mr. Li has in [...]
  • The Best Reel-to-Reel and Cassette [Editor’s note: Welcome to the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for 2021! This year we decided to mix it up a little by breaking up the Buyers Guide into sections, which makes it a far more manageable read. And oh, we know what you’re thinking–the best reel-to-reel and cassette tape playback? Really? People are still listening to tape decks? Let’s clear this up: these are the best reel-to-reel and cassette tape components that we, the [...]
  • The Best Tonearms [Editor’s note: Welcome to the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for 2021! This year we decided to mix it up a little by breaking up the Buyers Guide into sections, which makes it a far more manageable read. And oh, we know what you’re thinking–the best tonearms and cartridges? Have you seen the prices of those things lately? What we really need is the best tonearm/cartridge combo for under $100, amirite? Let’s clear this up: these are the best tonearms [...]
  • The Best Phono Preamplifiers | Buyers Guide 2021

    December 4, 2020 // 6 Comments

    The Best Phono Preamplifiers [Editor’s note: Welcome to the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for 2021! This year we decided to mix it up a little by breaking up the Buyers Guide into sections, which makes it a far more manageable read. And oh, we know what you’re thinking–the best phono preamplifiers? Really? Do people actually walk into a room where music is playing and say, “Wow, what that’s the best phono preamplifier!”? Let’s clear this up: these [...]
  • The Best Turntables | Buyers Guide 2021

    December 4, 2020 // 6 Comments

    The Best Turntables [Editor’s note: Welcome to the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for 2021! This year we decided to mix it up a little by breaking up the Buyers Guide into sections, which makes it a far more manageable read. And oh, we know what you’re thinking–the best turntables? Really? Everyone knows that modern ‘tables will never measure up to greats like the Garrard 301 or the Thorens TD-124! Let’s clear this up: these are the best turntables that we, the [...]
  • Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO Turntable | REVIEW

    October 30, 2020 // 2 Comments

    Debutantes Wear White Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon EVO landed on my doorstep in what seemed like mere minutes after I’d been asking Managing Editor Eric Franklin Shook, “They want me to do a turntable review? But why not Dave, or Marc?” Though my serious journey into vinyl has only just begun this year, the Pro-Ject table was the perfect place to start. I’ve had a quick succession of lent tables, cartridges and phono stages in-house in the last few months, and under the careful [...]
  • Thorens TD-1601 Turntable | REVIEW

    October 23, 2020 // 2 Comments

        Which Thorens turntable is your favorite? The idler-driven TD-124, a sixty-year-old design that can compete with today’s finest? The TD-125 for its superb mechanical design and its extraordinary reliability? The TD-160 for bringing this exquisite engineering to a model that almost anyone could afford? How about the Thorens TD-1601? I really like that one, but more on that in a minute. I’ve considered a TD-124 over the last few years, one of those amazing and meticulous [...]
  • RCM Sensor 2 MKII Phono Preamplifier | REVIEW

    October 18, 2020 // 2 Comments

    RCM Sensor 2 MK II Phono Preamplifier Words and Photos by Dave McNair I’m one of those audiophiles that started my listening obsession with vinyl records. You know, those flat round black things that sound amazing unless they don’t. I love records. I hate records. It’s all so confusing. Listening to records using the RCM Sensor 2 MK II phono preamp takes all that confusion away. As a recording engineer (now mastering engineer) who started during the heyday of magnetic tape and [...]
  • Golf balls and squash balls, what have I gotten myself into? Literally! When Bernard Li, CEO of Charisma Audio, delivered the Well Tempered Lab Amadeus 254 GT table to me, I immediately questioned the sanity of my decision to embark on this review. The turntable itself is absolutely gorgeous. With its post-industrial look and aluminum top, the Amadeus captivated me momentarily, but as soon as Li started to assemble the $7800 Amadeus the alarm bells started to sound off in my head. Words and [...]
  • Glanz MH-124S Premium Tonearm | REVIEW

    September 27, 2020 // 0 Comments

    The Glanz MH-124S Premium tonearm review is the most difficult review I have ever done for two reasons. The first reason is the sheer beauty of the tonearm and its absolutely flawless sonic performance, making it very difficult for me to return the sample to Hamada San. The second reason is a more somber one. Three months into the review, my beloved brother-in-law took his own life after a silent battle with depression, leaving behind his two-month-old child and widow. For a couple of months, I [...]
  • Goldring Ethos Phono Cartridge | REVIEW

    September 18, 2020 // 0 Comments

    I wasn’t supposed to review the Goldring Ethos phono cartridge. It merely hitched a ride with the Thorens TD-1601 turntable and arm combo that I have in for review. Anthony Chiarella, who represents both companies, had it mounted on the ‘table before it shipped. He told me that it was a match that everyone had really enjoyed while testing out the Thorens. Goldring? Sure, I was more than happy to keep the Goldring Ethos on the arm for the time being. 25 or 30 years ago, when I was deep deep [...]
  • Is the Andover Audio Model One the good old-fashioned record player I’ve always wanted? For the last couple of years I’ve pushed this idea, mostly as a result of spending time with retail customers and finding out what they expect in a new turntable. I’ve concluded that we need to bring back all-in-one record players that sound good and are affordable. Vinyl newbs walk into a “hi-fi” store because they want something simple, an easy entry point into the hobby. They don’t want the [...]
  • In reviewing the Sumiko Songbird phono cartridge, the little brother/sister to the Sumiko Starling I reviewed in The Occasional, I encountered somewhat of a dilemma. Is it wise to start off with the flagship product from a manufacturer’s line and then work back toward entry level? If you move in the opposite direction, working your way up and going on The Journey, you have the joy of discovering better and better performance along the way. If you go the other way, your observations will [...]
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