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R-1000 Airy3 X/TB

Manufacturer: ZYX Co., Ltd.
Price: 7000 PLN

Contact: 128-10 Funaki, Nagaracho | Chiba
Japan 297-0207


Product provided courtesy of: Eter Audio

ne could see that coming – the more popular in our country vinyl gets the more products for vinyl playback become available. ZYX, isn't a new name on Polish market, as there were some episodes of its presence in Poland in the past. In „High Fidelity” their cartridge got reviewed as a pickup manufactured for Franc Kuzma, together with Kuzma Reference turntable. But now, at last, the whole portfolio of this company, including top of the line ZYX Diamond that is priced at almost 50 000 PLN, is available also in Poland.

As any real company, meaning one that was created as an answer to a certain need, ZYX embodied an idea of one man – Mr Hisayoshi Nakatsuka. He's the president of the company and a chief designer, and he came up with the idea of a new company while studying cartridges available at the time on the market. He realized that while mechanic-wise all of them had a symmetrical design, electric-wise the design wasn't symmetrical which had to introduce some „time distortion”. Hisayoshi-san arrived at the conclusion that it had to result in slightly different tone of the right and left channel. That lead to an idea of creating a new company that could fix that problem. Its name – ZYX reflects the basic idea behind the company – signal enhancement in time domain. So what about this name? – As you can read in company's materials ZYX assumes coherence of three elements: time (Z), amplitude (Y) and frequency (X). But wait – this is a Japanese company, right? – that's why another explanation in Confucianism spirit is given too: Zi (Time) is Infinitely (k Ku) Pure (Su).

Mr Hisayoshi Nakatsuka is a true-born Japanese from Nagano prefecture and has many years of experience in audio business. After graduating from University he was hired by R&D department of Trio company (today it's Kenwood), where he developed the first “optic cartridge” in the world. Another stage of his carrier was a famous Danish company, Ortofon, where Hisayoshi-san developed a very popular cartridge - MC-20. In 1976 he was hired by Namiki Precision Jewel – a company specializing in cartridge production, where he ran an OEM cartridge department developing and manufacturing special versions of pickups sold later under different brand names. Using Namiki Precision Jewel's help in 1986 he finally founded his own company – ZYX, which he runs still today. Hisayoshi Nakatsuka's work has led to approval of 15 design patents.

New models rarely are introduced by ZYX. The model under review, R-1000 Airy3 X/TB, was developed more then 10 years ago, in 2004. It's name/symbols offer already some information – R-1000 is a name of the line this pickup belongs to, Airy3 is the name of the particular model, X describes its version, and TB a kind of interface between cartridge and tonearm. You will find some more details in Design section. The key elements of this design are specially winded coils, that come together to create a design called by ZYX a „Real Stereo”. Airy 3 uses a Boron Solid Cantilever, and diamond Micro-Ridge stylus with a 2000 hours of expected lifespan.
Manufacturer recommends 2g tracking force. But I read a review of Airy 3x-SB cartridge at „10 Audio” magazine from 2005 (see HERE). The reviewer described his experience with some different tonearms, which led to using the recommended tracking force with some of them, but a slightly bigger, of 2,1g, with others. Since cartridge's TF range goes up to 3g, using slightly higher TF should not result in a shorter lifespan, so no reason not to experiment with it. I found out that the best sonic results with SME 309 arm were achieved with 2,15g TF. Manufacturer also recommends impedance loading higher than 100Ω – I used 200 or 220 Ω. As for voltage setting I chose 0,4 mV on my RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC phonostage. The pickup was tested on three different decks: Transrotor Super Seven La Roccia 07 TMD, Origin Live Aurora Mk III/Onyx and Funk Little Super Deck.

Records used during test (a selection)

  • Billie Holiday, Lady Day, Columbia/Pure Pleasure PPAN CL637, 180 g LP.
  • Brendan Perry, Ark, The End Records | Cooking Vinyl | Vinyl 180 VIN180LP040, 2 x 180 g LP (2011).
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy Records/Universal Music Japan UCJU-9072, 200 g LP (1955/2007).
  • Frank Sinatra, The Voice, Columbia/Classic Records CL 743, Quiex SV-P, 180 g LP.
  • Joy Division, An Ideal For Living, Warner Music UK JDPM11, 12” EP LP (2014).
  • Kraftwerk, Autobahn, Philips 6305 231, LP (1974).
  • Krzysztof Komeda, Dance of The Vampires, Seriés Aphōnos SA04, 180 g LP (2013).
  • Maria Peszek, Jezus Maria Peszek, Mystic Production MYSTLP 014, 180 g LP (2013).
  • OMD, English Electric, BMG | 100% Records 38007923, 180 g LP (2013).
  • Otis Redding, Pain In My Heart, ATCO/Warner Music Group 2796089, “Limited Edition 3986/5000”, 180 g LP (1964/2014).
  • Pharrell Williams, Happy, Columbia 4305363, 12” EP LP (2014).
  • REM, Unpluged 1991, 2001. The Complete Sessions, Rhino 812796055, 3 x 180 g LP (2014).
  • The Doors, Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine, Electra/Rhino 8122796058, “Limited Edition 4981/5000”, 180 g LP (1972/2014).
  • The Yarbirds, Little Games, Parlophone/Warner Music Group 4633540, 180 g LP (1967/2014).
  • Thelonious Monk, Solo Monk, Columbia/Sony Music Entertainment/Music on Vinyl MOVLP843, 180 g LP (1965/2014).
  • Urszula, 3, Ariston ALP-007, LP (1987).
  • Urszula, Urszula, Savitor SVT-004, LP (1983).

A reviewer often has to fight a temptation to find some quality of the sound that particular manufacturer, or product were created for. If, for example, particular manufacturer concentrates its efforts to ensure proper tonal balance, that's exactly what a reviewer is looking for in the sound, if the key should be bass extension, he would look for it. So if this particular company was created to improve sound's “timing”, or time coherence, from the very first moment listener tries to find it in whatever he's hearing. It's easy to praise such a product focusing on this single element of the sound. But if you focus on a single element you might loose the bigger picture of your sight. In this particular case of Airy3 X/TB focusing on time coherence wouldn't do much good to this pickup, as this element is only a small piece of a greater whole, and this whole still would be very interesting even without this single element.

Listening to analogue sources we expect a “warm” sound. That's a stereotype, and we can't really help it. But if you have enough experience with vinyl playback you already realize that there are so many more shades of vinyl sound than just “warm” one. What ZYX offers is first of all dynamics and clarity of the sound. It delivered extremely well many dynamic shades of Brendan Perry's Ark, or nicely presented even though not so impressive dynamics of Polish issues of Urszula records. I haven't heard these records so well played in a long time. Only very few top-of-the-line pickups performed significantly better. ZYX at 7000 PLN sounded refreshingly good, energizing I would even say. It extracted from, supposedly, “flat” Polish issues something that changed my perception of them, that made me start realizing their real musical, rhythmic and harmonic value. What you need to know is that if you buy the Airy3 X/TB what you get is a dynamite, controlled, domesticated, but still wild, dangerous and full of surprises.
The very precise presentation of the sound follows. It's not about sound being highly detailed, but about focus, about lack of elements that distract our attention. I listened to more and more records and each of them made me appreciate even more the incredible balance between a very open sound, and its richness, purity and dynamics. Such a great balance comes from resolution.

I've mentioned it already many times in other reviews – the better resolution the warmer the sound. It's an axiom for me. I realized that many times, confirmed it and re-confirmed it to be sure. That happens when it comes to top devices, those costing dozen of thousands of zloty or more. When it comes to less expensive product warmth is used to mask some flaws. When you start listening to ZYX you shall hear something very interesting, namely a sound that is not warm as it is. ZYX pickup does not warm sound up. But if the recording captured deep, warm sound, like the one on Perry's record, then music will heat up between your speakers – you'll get boiling temperature there. That will happen with digital recordings “translated” to analogue. But with pure analogue recordings, like Classic Records reissue of Sinatra's The Voice, or bought in Pure Pleasure, older record of Billie Holiday Lady Day what we get is a warm, but but gently muted sound (Columbia's catalog number for Sinatra is CL 743, and for Holiday CL 637, but material comes from 10” 78 rpm records). An interesting thing about these recordings is that they offer a pure, open sound, and a very good, considering the price, resolution, but nobody tried to sweep some flaws of these recording under the rug. In my opinion there actually was nothing to sweep.

There are some better, more exciting (in terms of sound) cartridges on the market, no doubt about it. But the problem is that you get bored with their sound after initial fascination. They still offer nice and exciting performance. But having a large collection of vinyl records I'd rather hear how they sound, not how my cartridge sounds like, wouldn't you? So when faced with a choice of very precise, uncolored sound, and a one that is particularly rich, saturated, even if not 100% neutral in balance, I would always chose the latter. I believe that tonal balance is not the most important element of the sound, it should never be an ultimate target for audio designers. The best performers achieve tonal balance but it come naturally, you don't need to make an effort to achieve it. The former, which means a clinical sound, isn't working for me, ever. If you expose the beginners among audiophiles to such clinical sound you'd loose them once and for all. After experiencing such a sound one would have to an idiot to still want to be an audiophile. But if you offer a sound that, via emotions, touches the soul of a listener, you making sure that a person exposed to such a sound will love it.
Back to the point. What makes this cartridge so interesting is the sound extremely clean, fast, with proper tonal balance but yet not clinical in any way, not repelling, not drilling a hole in listener's mind – that simply doesn't happen. The sound seems sweet, while it's not warm. That's why Airy3 X/TB presents in such a sophisticated way relations between sound and its environment, beautifully rendering reverberations and room acoustics. The resolutions is fantastic, as the selectivity is. I wouldn't count on particularly warm sound. Denon DL-103 delivers much darker and warmer sound, also all Miyajima Lab's pickups sound much warmer.

Analyzing the sound of this cartridge I would point out an important role of the upper bass. Focus is extremely good throughout the whole range but this sub-range seems to carry an extra energy load. This seems to “shape” the whole sound. Whenever there is a stronger impulse in the lower end of the range this cartridge will deliver it in a more robust, better way than any other pickup, while preserving timing in incredibly coherent way. I think it's probably also why everything that is “behind” main sound, acoustics, reverbs and so on, are so clearly presented.


I spent more time than usually with this cartridge, listening to it often late at night, using headphones. My headphone system fulfills my expectations fully offering absolutely satisfactory performance. Surely I'm ready to accept any surprises that a future might bring, but for the moment I am fully content. Still I realize that lower midrange offered by this system is a little bit lean. I simply got used to it while appreciating phenomenal resolution and coherence of the sound that makes listening to even well know recordings a new, exciting experience. Such a sound characteristics makes it very clear, audible if the source connected to this system leans towards the bright, not clear enough, or emphasized treble. My headphone system is nothing like that but if you connect another element, source most likely, with such problems, system will show them very clearly. When the source is a turntable all cracks and pups are quite audible.
ZYX offers very open sound and it hides nothing. But even when I used headphone system I heard only quite limited number of those cracks&pups, even when I listened some quite fatigued records. The noise of stylus moving along groove was audible but – same as with pops&cracks – it was presented as a layer „under” the music. These two elements when I listened to ZYX via speaker system almost completely disappeared. It's still not the level where everything except for music exists on a totally different plane, but it was good enough to forget about it and focus on music alone.

It's a beautiful cartridge offering dynamic, powerful, open sound. Sound is also very clean, but not “clinical” – it's about lack of distortion and not brightness. There is a slight emphasis on upper bass, but it only adds momentum to the presentation. Presentation of space and reverberations is quite extraordinary and basing on these elements I would say that Mr Hisayoshi's approach to cartridge design does bring certain effects. Is it really a direct effect of this particular design – that's hard to say. You'd need two almost identical ZYX cartridges where one would have “regular” coils and other these special coils from Mr Hisayoshi and that would be the one and only difference between them. But to be honest I do not really care. I accept the sound of this cartridge enthusiastically whether its coils were winded in a special, regular or any other way. No hesitation at all - ZYX gets a RED Fingerprint award!

All you need is one glimpse at cartridge to know that it is made by ZYX. For models from Premium and D4 lines a round natural stone attached to the front of pickup will tell you that. In other lines - R1000, R100 and R50 what makes them different is the shape and color of the plastic body, which is transparent in case of R1000.
The cartridge under review - R1000 Airy3 X/TB – is a Moving Coil type, of a medium compliance and output voltage of 0,24 mV (3,54 cm/s, 1 kHz). There is a high output version (HO) of the same model which is called R1000 Airy3 XH/TB (‘H’ = high). Tracking Force range is quite wide – it starts at 1,7g and end at 3g, with the recommended TF of 2g. Recommended loading impedance should be 100 Ω or higher.
The Micro-Ridge stylus is glued to a boron cantilever. Coils are winded with high purity long crystal copper wire (6N) according to Mr Hisayoshi's design. The ‘X’ in the model's name tell us that copper wire was used. Another versions are also available – the 'S' for a silver one (with 5N silver wire) and 'G' for the one with golden wire. All metal elements including magnets undergo cryo treatment – there is a writing that reads ‘crio’ on the box. Ten years ago, when the Stereophile's editor Art Dudley reviewed ZYX R-1000 Airy S, cryo treatment was still something very exotic and used only by Japanese manufacturers (see HERE; and interview with Art will be available in our June's issue). Today this treatment is commonly used by cable, plugs and cartridges manufacturers, although still mostly by Japanese ones.

As you can see there are few versions of the same model. There are some options available for customer. One is a coil wire material, as already mentioned, other is material of the element working as mechanical interface between cartridge and headshell. The name of reviewed cartridge includes letters ‘TB’, which reads „tin base’ – on the top of cartridge there is a thin tin plate attached. But one can also buy a 'SB' version with a silver plate.
The pickup comes packed in a very nice, silk bag – bag for each model comes in a different color. The Japanese consider this way a packaging, along with packing in paper, as an expression of respect (see the review of Air Tight PC-1 Supreme HERE). Inside the bag one will find a carton box, and than inside of it the proper wooden box with acrylic top. Cartridge is screwed to a metal plate inside the box and it sports a plastic stylus protection guard. The latter has holes drilled in it that allowed to mount cartridge to headshell without having to remove the guard first. Inside the box one will find also a small brush for stylus cleaning, a tiny screwdriver, and three pairs of screws in different lengths.
All the looks very elegant and professional, but the most important element is attached manual. It is highly detailed and it offers a lot of answers that a user might have, including those concerning philosophy behind this product. Another nice addition are individual measurements of the particular unit.

You have to remember to give ZYX some time to break in – it's simple mechanics – some parts have to work for a while before they start to work in an optimal way which improves the sound significantly. The longer we break it in the more open, dynamic and more clean sound we get. But at the same time sweeter, deeper and more THERE. I think 50 hours should do the trick.

Technical specification (according to manufacturer)

Cryogenic treatment temperature: -196 ℃
Output voltage: 0,24 mV (3,54 cm/sec, 1 kHz)
Frequency response:
- 10 Hz - 100 kHz (±1 dB)
- 20 Hz - 20 kHz (±3 dB)
Chanel separation: > 30 dB (1 kHz)
Channel balance: < 0,5 dB (1 kHz)
Tracking force range: 1,7 g – 3 g
Recommended tracking force: 2 g (20ºC - 25 ºC 〕
Trackability: 60 μm
- horizontal:15×10-6 cm/dyne
- lateral: 12×10-6 cm/dyne
Internal impedance: 4
Loading impedance: > 100 Ω
Coil type: 6N Crystal Copper φ 0,035 mm/CRYO
Cantilever: boron φ 0,30 mm
Stylus: Micro-Ridge Solid Diamond 0,07 mm
Contact radius/life time: 3 μm×60 μm, 2000 h/2 g
Weight: 5 g



- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
System I
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
System II
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
System I
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
System II
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One