April/May/June 2022

July/August 2022
September/October 2022
November 2022
December 2022
January/February/March 2023
April/May/June 2023









This section contains ALL of the newest material before it is posted to the dedicated files. It will remain here for around 12 months, thus enabling readers to discover the latest observations, news, opinions and thoughts in the fastest time.

Caveat 1- Readers should always keep in mind that the material which is most recently posted is also, generally speaking, the least reliable. It is usually, though not always, my (or our) "first impressions". Sometimes it will be an a simple update, which of course is usually more reliable. In any event, I may further edit, quite liberally and without any notice or warning, anything you may read here.

Caveat 2- A number of the posts below are by Anonymous Readers of this website. They are separated from my own posts (*******), and should never be considered my own personal evaluation, belief or recommendation. In many cases, I will add a "Personal Reply" to the reader's letter. If so, my contribution will be the only editorial part of that post that I take personal responsibility for.

I have made these letters public because I feel they may be interesting and informative to some readers. I also like an exchange of observations, evaluations and ideas, even when I disagree with some of them. However, readers must always consider the extent of the previous experiences of the anonymous writer. Serious thought should also be focused on the writer's actual objectivity and their sonic priorities. All of this background and perspective is obviously relevant and critical, and can be extremely difficult to evaluate within a short anecdotal observation. A continual skepticism in our audio world is a perspective that is difficult to argue with.




Two New Performance Standards...

"Ultimate Lenco" Turntable/Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm Combination

After numerous delays and setbacks over the last two years (mostly caused by the pandemic), our experiments and evaluation of the Lenco/Kuzma are finally complete, with results that can only be described as magnificent.

We auditioned, tested and evaluated these two components only as a combination. However, I still decided it is best to separate them into two individual reviews, even though I fully realize the inherent difficulty (if not impossibility) in attempting to isolate their respective performances. To partially rectify this course of action, I have also decided to include an addendum directly addressing any relevant issues and questions caused by the separation (see Addendum One below, along with all the other related Addenda, in November 2022).

So, we will begin with the Ultimate Lenco, since the turntable is traditionally considered the primary phono-source component, and then focus later on the Kuzma 4Point 14" tonearm.

The "Ultimate Lenco" Turntable by Jean Nantais

Introduction & My Personal Lenco History

The "Ultimate Lenco" is now the fourth version of highly modified, and/or completely rebuilt, Lenco idler-drive turntables, designed and manufactured by Jean Nantais, which I have auditioned (and purchased). Below is a quick history of when these respective models were initially installed in my personal Reference System:

February 2010 - The "Original" Reference Lenco - This turntable's performance, which was shockingly superior (Level 7!*) to anything I had heard prior to its arrival (40+ years), prompted a lengthy and exhaustive essay/review. For newer readers, I highly advise taking the time to read this review, in its entirety, if you want to know my complete turntable history, and to fully understand my reasoning and perspective on the subject of turntable performance in general, and the Reference Lenco in particular.

December 2012 - The Reference Lenco Mk. II - This update, which did not include the heavy plinth, was much larger and encompassing than I had previously thought was even possible after living with the "Original Reference". The Mk. II update was similar to the typical differences one would observe between a 33 RPM and 45 RPM version of the same record. I can understand how this claim may sound like typical audio hyperbole, but it isn't.

May 2014 - The Reference Lenco Mk. III - This time, the III update did include a new and different plinth (though the weight was similar). However, while the Mk. III's improvements were also easily noticeable, they were still not the equal, in either degree or importance, to those I had earlier experienced with the Mk. II. In quick summary - The Mk. III reduced performance negatives more than it increased performance positives. These sonic improvements were still important, but not as important.

November 2021 - The "Ultimate Lenco" - This latest version is almost a complete rebuild when compared to the earlier "Reference Lenco" models. The "Ultimate" has actually been available for some years now (2016), but I deliberately avoided it. Why? I had many prior reviewing commitments (cartridges, speakers, electronics and cables). Even more pertinent, I also wanted to receive a model that had already gone through all of the many minor changes and updates which are typical, and unavoidable, when introducing any new component. (Especially when considering I live 1,500 miles from the manufacturer, I'm unable to lift the turntable on my own and I'm also an underachiever in mechanical skills.)

*Level 7 is the highest (and the rarest) level of improvement in my "HIERARCHY/LEVELS OF AUDIBLE IMPROVEMENTS". It is also important to note that I have not experienced another Level 7 Improvement since hearing the "Original" Reference Lenco in early 2010, now more than 12 years ago.

Basic Description

The Ultimate looks similar to the earlier Reference models at first glance, since they are all relatively large and bulky turntables, with huge wooden base/plinths. However, the important differences between them become immediately noticeable upon even the most casual inspection:

1. Plinth/Base (Wood) - The size and appearance look (and weigh) exactly the same, but the material composition (and processing) of the wood has changed. According to Nantais, the Ultimate's wood composition is unique and is also further aged (when compared to earlier plinths) in a manner which allows it to absorb more energy, thus lowering its "noise floor" (Nantais' expression). In fact, Nantais claims this new process is so successful that 100+ lb. plinths are no longer necessary to achieve optimum energy absorption, so future models will now come with plinths that weigh closer to 75 lbs. Nantais also clarified that only the Ultimate model uses these special and aged woods.

2. Chassis/Plinth (Metal) - All of the other Nantais models use a modified version of the original Lenco chassis. However, the Ultimate uses a completely new chassis design, which was chosen after Nantais successfully experimented with a number of different metal alloys.

3. Transcription Platter - The Ultimate's platter is the most obvious visual change when directly comparing it with all of the previous Nantais Lenco models (as well as almost all the other turntables in the world). The reason is simple: The Ultimate's platter is an extra-large 14.25" in diameter. This means that the Ultimate can be accurately/officially described as having a "Transcription Platter".

This new platter also incorporates new alloys to minimize any residual colorations. Based on my own first-hand knowledge, Nantais spent years of experiments to find the optimum combination of these alloys. The Ultimate's transcription platter also has extra weight at the outer rim, which provides even greater inertia than a typical transcription platter. (However, because of the increased size of the Ultimate Platter, an extra-long tonearm now becomes an actual requirement, and not just an option.)

4. Bearing - The bearing was designed specifically for the Ultimate (and its extra large platter), though it is also used in the Reference III.

5. Idler-Wheel - This is also custom-made. According to Nantais, the new idler-wheel design is balanced to optimize contact/torque, minimize vibration transmission and maximize longevity, all at the same time.

Logistics and Jean Nantais' November 2021 Visit

I received the Ultimate Lenco on October 1, 2021. However, the Ultimate remained in its (heavy-duty) carton until Jean Nantais arrived in early November (which was almost a miracle considering the strict Covid-19 quarantine Canada/USA travelling restrictions at the time). Further, I had informed Nantais, in no uncertain terms, that not only would I not attempt to remove the 110+ lb. Ultimate from its carton, I would not even allow anyone else to remove it either, except Nantais himself. (The Kuzma tonearm was already received in 2020.) However, after Nantais arrived, we did not immediately install the Ultimate/Kuzma combination in my system. We both acknowledged that another important requirement came first...

Since Nantais' last visit in 2017 (when he assisted me in setting-up the Acapella Ion Super-Tweeters, a difficult and tedious task), there had been many serious changes to my Reference system; speakers, cartridges, cables etc. Accordingly, Nantais and I spent an extra long evening (November 8th) listening to every recording/musical genre possible on the Reference III/Graham. Why? We wanted one final deep immersion with my Reference III/Graham system, so we would better recognize, and appreciate, any and all sonic differences we would later observe with the new Ultimate/Kuzma combination.

As the evening finally came to a close, at around 3 AM, I realized I had to choose the final record I would ever play with the Reference III, a component I had grown attached to over the 7.5 years I owned it (which I admit makes me somewhat of a hypocrite, based on my own advice from My Audio Philosophy). In the end, I felt I made the perfect choice at the time, and I still do today; Richard Strauss - Four Last Songs - Schwarzkopf/Szell - EMI ASD 2888.

Performance Evaluation & Comparisons

Since both the turntable and tonearm were completly new to me (and the tonearm cable as well), I had no idea how they would interact, or what I would hear the first time I played them together. Accordingly, I made a serious effort to eliminate any expectations, or biases, prior to our first listening session, and below is what I observed by myself (and, deliberately, without any input from Nantais, who was sitting next to me at the time):

The very first difference I heard (within seconds, literally) was the improved flow of the music and, shortly after that, a greater separation of the instruments. By the end of the first LP (paraphrasing my contemperaneous notes), I also observed less noise from the record; a reduction of ambiguity; a minor attenuation of the bass frequencies, but with superior quality and control; and cleaner and more precise sonics at all volume levels. Cumulatively, these observations constitute my "first impression" of the Kuzma/Lenco combination.

However, the critically important details, which can only be discovered, confirmed and understood with long-term listening, are what really matter, and that will be my focus below, item by item, in no particular order:

Musical Flow - While this was the first improvement I observed, it is also true that I did not feel it was "dramatic" in its degree or in its effect. I even found myself ignoring the flow within a short period of time, with my attention moving elsewhere. In fact, it eventually required some focus, on my part, to notice (or isolate) the superior flow on its own. This most recent observation was in stark contrast to my first listening experience with the "Original" Lenco Reference, when the improvement in (musical) flow was overwhelming, and literally impossible to ignore.

My two extreme reactions are easily explainable; The earlier listening experience was the first time I was hearing a modern idler-drive directly compared to a belt-drive, in effect the largest contrast of musical flow sonically possible. Further, it is also my experience that musical flow is something a listener usually becomes accustomed to quicker than most other audio changes, with the mind then focusing elsewhere. However, I eventually realized that while the Ultimate's musical flow improvement could never be as profound as it was with the "Original" Reference, it was not only still important on its own, but also a (if not the) key factor in the overall performance of the Ultimate Lenco. An Explanation:

I was already well used to the outstanding musical flow of the Reference Lenco III, so the improved Ultimate Lenco could not provide that large "leap" in performance which was now necessary to grab and retain my attention. However, the improved musical flow of the Ultimate ended up positively affecting a number of other important areas of sonic performance; bass control and detail; precision and intelligibility; phrasing; inner and outer details; cleanness and purity etc (see below). In short, the improved musical flow of the Ultimate Lenco was a critical factor enabling the turntable/tonearm combination to perform at an unprecedented sonic level for myself and my associate.

Still, there were other important performance factors as well to take into account.

Bass - I noticed a subtle volume attenuation of the overall bass frequencies with the first LP we played with the Ultimate (which surprised me), and this initial observation was confirmed with many other records played over time. However, I soon realized that this attenuation was due to both a reduction in bass distortion and a corresponding improvement in bass tightness and control. These sonic differences were very similar in nature, and degree, to those changes serious audiophiles usually observe when comparing bass notes first amplified by a typical tube amplifier, to those same bass notes then amplified by a good transistor amplifier (with superior bass damping capabilities, but with no sonic downsides).

In short, the quality of the Ultimate Lenco's bass is now the best I've ever heard (thus overtaking the Reference III), and there is yet much more to discuss concerning the bass frequencies...

Even with an attenuation of bass volume, the Ultimate's bass energy was still more concentrated, precise and controlled, thus giving it greater visceral impact than the Reference III. This characteristic was most easily observed with the finest recordings, and for an actual example; the outstanding Harmonia Mundi LP "Arabo-Andalusian" HM 389, which I've used as a reference record for decades.

Deep Bass - Then there is the deep bass of the Ultimate Lenco, which I've categorized separately because it was more unique and thus more difficult to describe than just another common improvement. It appears simple at first - The bass of the Ultimate Lenco extends deeper than the Reference III (and any other turntable I've heard). However, in this instance, the positive consequences of this specific change are much more important than what a listener would normally expect. The Ultimate not only superbly reproduces the lower notes themselves, which is to be expected, it also captures (or encompasses) the entirety of the instrument creating the note, to a degree that I've never experienced before (except live, and in a large space).

Deep bass reproduction at this high level requires much more than simply a heavy platter, multiple woofers and powerful amplifiers, which are only good for moving large amounts of air (which is still important of course). With the Ultimate, you realize that an outstanding amount of control is also required, along with a frequency range deep enough to go even lower than the instrument's capabilities, and all of this with minimal compromise. Why/How? The extra control (along with lower LP noise, see below) allows the listener to finally hear the bass instrument slightly (yet still distinctly) vibrating well after the note is launched, thus exposing it. Previously, most of these details had been obscured by the note itself.

Finally, there is an interesting anecdote specifically concerning this issue...

Prior to my first listening session with the Ultimate/Kuzma combination, Jean Nantais had told me that the Ultimate Lenco had the unique capability of reproducing the "undertones" of deep bass notes, which he had never heard before. Frankly, I had never believed, let alone understood, the concept of "undertones" (a term I first encountered decades ago), and accordingly discounted Nantais' claim as the understandable hyperbole of a manufacturer overly enthusiastic with his latest and most serious design.

As it turned out, Nantais was right and I was wrong. Maybe the term "undertones" is not the most appropriate description of what I (and Nantais) am observing, but the Ultimate Lenco (and Kuzma) does reproduce something important in the deep bass which I've never experienced before, and if it requires a new and original term, I can be on board with that.

Separation of Instruments - This was the second improvement I noticed and, as it was so obvious, it took far less than a minute to first observe it. This improvement doesn't require any new expressions or terms to describe. It was the Ultimate's reduction of both the homogenization of instruments, and general LP sonic ambiguity, when directly comparing it to my previous references (whom themselves were outstanding in this area). Another way to describe this particular sonic attribute is that the instruments appeared to have less effect on other instruments, no matter how loud they played. In fact, the largest differences were observed during the most challenging passages. Bottom Line - Individual musical lines have never been so easy to hear.

Soundstage/Imaging Focus - This category is related to the "separation of instruments" seen above, though more encompassing. The soundstage is now larger and wider with the Ultimate, and with an incredible capture of the recording space. Individual instruments are better focused, and isolated, in their own space and, accordingly, there is a more realistic and convincing space between the instruments. This improvement was observed at all volume levels. Further, in my contemporaneous notes, with one particular LP, I even used the words "holographic" and "X-Ray" to describe what I was hearing.

Precision and Purity - This category is a major improvement, which I noticed on basically every single LP I played, regardless of the recording quality, genre of music or volume levels, and with both inner and outer details. When my associate/friend visited me in December 2021, "precision" was the very first word that came out of his mouth when describing what he heard. I will discuss this important category in greater detail within the Kuzma tonearm review.

Lower LP Noise - The Ultimate had lower background record noise (unlike all the previous Nantais Lenco Reference models). Further, while I've experienced this "lower LP noise" phenomenon earlier in my audio life, that was now decades ago and, to clarify any ambiguity as to the descriptions I am using, I have always made a serious and clear distinction between common "noise", no matter what the source, and the "sound-floor", which I will discuss next, just below. Interestingly, as with the category of "deep bass" above, there is another anecdote concerning Jean Nantais and this particular improvement as well.

Nantais forecast this change and even predicted that the Ultimate's already low "noise-floor" would go still lower over time, due to "turntable break-in". I again dismissed the latter prediction, since I never experienced it before (short of a new bearing) and, once again, as with the deep bass issue, I was wrong...

I ended up observing the Ultimate's LP background noise go slightly lower over the first few weeks of play, something unprecedented in my experience. Nantais explained to me that this was the positive result of the inherent noise, initially created and stored in the Ultimate's motor, platter, bearing and metal base, slowly finding a superior/less resistant route to its massive wood plinth, where it would be more efficiently absorbed and dissipated by the special woods chosen, processed and aged specifically for that purpose. This unexpected improvement directly affected the sound-floor in a positive manner, which will be discussed next.

Lower Sound-floor - The Ultimate's sound-floor was slightly lower than the Reference III. More significantly, there were also noticeably extra details in all the soft sounds, which was even a larger difference. These important results were partially due to the lower record noise discussed above, though I believe the majority of the advancement was caused by the combination of the improved metal base, platter, bearing, idler-wheel and plinth.

Dynamic Range/Intensity - The literal dynamic range (the very softest to the very loudest volume extremes) was only slightly enhanced with the Ultimate/Kuzma. However, the effective dynamic range was notably enhanced. This was because both the softest sounds, and the loudest sounds, were cleaner and more clarified than before, thus making both volume extremes more distinct, and more musically convincing, to the listener. Further, and just as important, the dynamic intensity was also improved, mainly due to the superior concentration of the sonic energy reproduced by the Ultimate (exaggerated analogy: a floodlight to a laser).

Intelligibility/Phrasing - This sonic category is directly related to "precision" discussed above. Not only were the actual words of the vocalists more easily distinguished*, the distinct vocal (or instrumental) phrasing was improved as well, which is directly related to "musical flow" discussed above. (I even believe it is possible that "imaging focus" may also be distantly related to this category.)

*This may prove to be a mixed blessing for those listeners who feel many popular song lyrics are inane or prosaic.

Immediacy - This was noticeable on most records, though not to the same magnitude as the larger improvement in "precision". Still, I believe these two categories are also related to some degree. Further, I was fortunate to discover a series of LPs, utterly transformed by the Ultimate/Kuzma, which now sound as "live" as the finest direct-to-disc records (Mozart/Haydn - Various String Quartets - Salomon String Quartet - Hyperion Records).

Natural Completeness - The sonics of every LP I played with the Ultimate sounded more "complete", in the sense of harmonics, decays, natural body, etc., than I've ever experienced. For many serious audiophiles, this may be the single most important sonic category, because it directly relates to what many of them term "musicality". The Ultimate was also slightly more "neutral" than the Reference III, which I believe is partially the positive consequence of the combination of improved purity, completeness and precision.

Individuation - This category is the culmination of multiple categories seen above, especially "completeness", "phrasing", "separation" and "dynamic intensity". When this category is optimized, as it is with the Ultimate/Kuzma, the musicians are "humanized" to the greatest possible degree, which I have long felt should be the ultimate performance goal of all serious audiophiles and music lovers.

Sonic Downsides - This will be simple and fast. There weren't any. At no time did either I, or my associate, feel that the Ultimate/Kuzma was sonically equalled, let alone outperformed, by the Reference III/Graham, in any manner.

Ultimate Vs. Reference III - An Important, Objective & Comparative Measurement

From the first evening I played the Ultimate, I noticed a specific operational change, which I initially ignored because it meant far less than the different and improved sonics I was experiencing for the first time. The "operational change" in question was the Ultimate transcription platter's relatively longer time, after shut-off, to come to a complete stop (compared to my distinct memory of the Reference III's platter). When I decided to pay closer attention to this phenomenon, I immediately realized, of course, that this change was critically important because it was proof that the Ultimate had far more inertia than the Reference III.

However, my subjective recollection of the Reference III's stopping time (even though I owned/used it for 7.5 years) was obviously not as "objective" as an actual measurement. So, I asked Jean Nantais to time/measure the Reference III platter stopping, as accurately as possible, and send me the results. I, in turn, measured the Ultimate Lenco (on 5/25/2022, using an iPhone app), and these are the results:

Measured Time for the two platters to come to a complete stop, after shut-off (33 RPM):

Reference III - 13.18 seconds

Ultimate - 34.63 seconds

34.63/13.18 seconds = 2.63 Inertia Ratio

I had estimated that the Ultimate/Reference III Inertia/time ratio to be around 2.5. In actuality, it was around 2.63. This Inertia Ratio is important and objective evidence of the much greater inertia of the Ultimate Lenco. Finally, there is one more factor, concerning the respective platters, which may also be relevant to their performance. I found that every stock casted Lenco platter, on all the Reference models I used, had a tiny "wobble" while rotating, while the Ultimate's platter is as wobble-free as my vision allows me to see.

In summary, I believe that the objectively greater inertia is the primary reason for the improved "musical flow" of the Ultimate Lenco, as well as all the other sonic benefits which come along with that specific improvement, and discussed in detail above.

Summary & Conclusion

Overall, the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma's greatest sonic achievement is straightforward: It is responsible for the largest single reduction of analogue mechanical distortions that I've ever experienced, while simultaneously reproducing the largest amount of musical information I've ever experienced.

The positive sonic results, which I discussed above, can also be simplified in a similar manner:
1. The sonic differences between recordings, and even individual cuts, are more pronounced than ever before.
2. The Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma comes closer to the performance of a Reference quality open-reel tape than any phono combination I've ever heard.

Finally, if we must strictly focus on the Ultimate Lenco all by itself: There are really only two fundamental causes for all of the different and important sonic improvements which can be attributed to the Ultimate Lenco alone: The "superior flow" and the "lower noise".

The Bottom Line - These two performance attributes, both on an unprecedented level from my perspective, are what truly separate the Ultimate Lenco from all the Reference Lenco models I've previously heard and reviewed, and all the other turntables I experienced before them as well.

Ultimate Lenco Addenda

Relevant Links:

Idler-Wheel Drive (Jean Nantais' Website, with the Ultimate Lenco, plus upgrades to the Lenco and other high-quality idler, rim and direct drive turntables)

Lenco Heaven (Website dedicated to Upgrading Lenco Turntables)

IAR's Rockport Turntable Review (Peter Moncrieff's Review of Rockport Sirius III - The Critical Importance of Constant Speed and "Flow")

My "Reference Lenco" Turntables Dedicated File

My Audio System





CAVEAT-Please be advised that the readers' letters posted on this site are solely the opinion of that reader and may not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions of Arthur Salvatore. These letters furthermore, are not to be taken as being endorsed by Arthur Salvatore. They are posted because they may be edifying, thought provoking or entertaining.

Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the March/April/May 2021 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.


Nothing This Month.



Most Recent Updates

My review of the Kuzma 4Point tonearm, and all my other audio projects, has been delayed this summer due to a number of factors which took priority, including some unexpected problems in my home, which is currently being both repaired and renovated.

"The Truth" T5 Line Stage - I received a T5 in June. Unfortunately, it was not working properly and was sent back to the manufacturer for repair. The T-5 was apparently damaged in shipping and has now been repaired. It will be returned to me sometime this fall. Also, this version of the T-5 has no selector switch, which means it has only 1 input (and 2 outputs). Based on my previous designations, and to be consistent, this particular T-5 is then actually a T-5x.

ZYX UNIverse Premium & III - I have now also conducted a second "shootout" of these two cartridges, the two finest I've ever heard. This time the two cartridges were compared to each other using the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma combination, and with the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme II/"Doubles" speakers which, in total, makes it a much more revealing system. Bottom Line - The listening results are somewhat different from the first comparisons made in 2020. Details to come.

This Website's Unique Perspective

From my long-term observations, the primary distinction between myself and all other audio journalists, writers and reviewers, past or present, is the strong and unprecedented emphasis I have placed on the reproduction of (very) soft and subtle sounds. There are many other differences between myself and the others, which is normal and to be expected, but none of them are as pronounced, evident and important. In fact, I even coined a new expression for the concept of accurately (and completely) reproducing "soft sounds", after I realized that the default generic term, popular with most audiophiles, was both ill-defined and misleading: Here's the relevant article and direct link: THE "SOUND-FLOOR"-THE ULTIMATE KEY

Music requires soft sounds to be complete and, just as important, an audio system, if it is to be honestly judged as "outstanding", must have the ability to play at (very) soft volume levels, without "dying", and still sound real and alive. My 50+ years of experience with tube electronics, along with the countless positive results I've had modifying these same electronics, enlightened me to the critical importance of this highly neglected sonic virtue. However, the various experiences I had with literally thousands of fellow audiophiles are the real foundation for my conviction concerning this issue. It has been my consistent observation, for many decades now, that the more sensitive and experienced the listener, the more they will appreciate hearing all the subtleties of soft sounds. This is the indisputable confirmation that provides the confidence for my conviction.

I also highly value (or highly prioritize) the organization of sounds because, at its most fundamental definition, music is simply organized sound. I share this value of organization with (too) few contemporary audio journalists. Both are equally necessary, because soft sound information is mainly useless unless it is properly organized and, like-wise, there isn't as much value to proper organization when much of the information that is supposed to be organized is missing. Three components, the Morrison speaker, the Golden Tube SET amplifier, and the Reference Lenco, specifically and jointly, taught me the importance of this value.

However, I also realize that most audio writers, and audio enthusiasts in general, have very different sonic priorities than mine. The most common sonic priorities, by far, are "the basics" as I define them; the ability of an audio system to play loud, deep and high.

In actuality, when you think about it, it's relatively easy to create an audio system that has the ability to play loud, sound "big" and also go both deep and high. You simply have to use a large assortment of speaker drivers, utilize both large speaker cabinets and woofers, and have a large amplifier output stage, either transistor or tube. Unfortunately, it's much more difficult, and expensive, to accomplish the next logical step: Have that same type of audio system also play consistently clean and smooth. Those important upgrades require improved drivers and passive crossover parts, deader cabinets and better power supplies. In recent times, two of the most well-known audio reviewers, (the now late) Harry Pearson and Michael Fremer, had/have a strong preference for systems with those strengths (which also cost a fortune), but I don't share their highest sonic priorities.

In contrast, it's my long-time experience that the most difficult audio accomplishment is for an audio system to accurately play both softly and organized simultaneously, which takes real thought, numerous experiments, research, along with really high quality (and expensive) parts. This is why the vast majority of audio designers simply ignore and/or avoid the attempt to reach, let alone to master, this particular goal. Why is this goal so difficult to achieve? Simple: There is no room for any error; one single mistake, anywhere in the long audio chain, means failure.

Example 1: It's wonderful to have deep bass and extended highs in an audio system, as I have and enjoy them myself, but not only are these frequency extremes virtually useless unless they are time coordinated to everything else, specifically the midrange, they actually become an audible distraction if they are out of place and bring attention to themselves as "alien" to the remaining complete sound.

Example 2: Most audio systems, regardless of cost, have to play louder than life to capture the details and excitement in the original recording, and they subsequently "die" when the music volume is soft. This is because they are missing sonic information due the complexity and problems with the signal path, in the speakers and in the electronics, and this missing information is never completely recaptured when playing loud, though it may be less obscured. Meanwhile, a superior system can play at realistic volume levels and still not sound dead when the music inevitably becomes soft in volume.

In my experience, the most evolved audio systems in theory, which are also the rarest in actuality, can play at an even lower volume than the musicians normally play in real life and still sound alive. This is the goal I have achieved over several decades and which other serious audiophiles can also replicate, though everything in the system has to be just right, with not even one weak link, for this reality to occur.

My article, "Building a Great Audio System", is the best advice I can provide, at this time, to reach this goal in any system, and it does NOT require huge monetary expenditures. Instead, if the various structures are followed, the sonic results will also inevitably follow, in general, even if they don't quite equal what the (theoretical) very best can do at any one time.

Almost as important as the above, a truly outstanding audio system requires the ability to reproduce instantaneous and uncompressed dynamic shifts, which can induce involuntary "goose bumps" and the complete attention and involvement of the listener. Finally, this same outstanding system requires a consistent neutrality. Thus there is no unnatural emphasis, or de-emphasis, of a specific frequency and/or a frequency range ("consistent" because it doesn't alter with either the frequency and/or volume levels). These final priorities of "uncompressed sound" and "level sound" basically completes the fundamental sonic picture.

So for now, this may be considered as my personal, four leg "Sonic Stool" - Complete sound, Organized sound, Uncompressed sound and Level sound*.

*However, I strongly believe that "Audio" is far too complex a subject for any simple equation, no matter how thoughtful, precise and true, to ever fully encompass and define it.




CAVEAT-Please be advised that the readers’ letters posted on this site are solely the opinion of that reader and may not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions of Arthur Salvatore. These letters furthermore, are not to be taken as being endorsed by Arthur Salvatore. They are posted because they may be edifying, thought provoking or entertaining.

Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the March/April/May/June 2021 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.


Another Interesting Ultra-Sonic Record Cleaning Machine

A reader sent me some information concerning another modestly priced ultra-sonic record cleaning machine. Here's his letter, with some minor editing and my bold:

"I have been following your analysis and conclusions with regard to Ultra sonic cleaning of LPs and finally took the dive. I purchased a HumminGuru unit on the used market from a gentlemen who "upgraded" to a Degritter. As you most succinctly pointed out the magic is in the cleaning fluid not the sonic cleaner. So, I utilized the L'Art du Son cleaning fluid and distilled water that I was previously using with my VPI 16.5 cleaning device.

The HumminGuru is so simple to use since it has a 400ml reservoir that I add 4ml of L'Art du Son cleaning fluid to. I microwave this solution to 90 degrees Fahrenheit before emptying it into the HumminGuru machine. I place the LP in the machine and run it through a double cleaning cycle (5 minutes) followed by an auto mode deep cleaning cycle (5 minute clean plus 5 minute dry).

I utilize the solution one more time for a second LP after microwaving the solution to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and emptying it into the machine. I discard the solution after two uses and start with a fresh 400ml batch. This process has yielded great results for my LPs that have been previously cleaned with my VPI 16.5 and the same L'Art du Son cleaning solution.

I have confirmed with another expert audiophile friend of mine that the noise floor has been noticeably lowered with almost zero surface noise and the following immediate changes:
1. More decay on most instruments and voices
2. More micro details on plucked strings, voices and cymbals
3. Better dynamic attacks
4. Better separation of voices and instruments (they seem to have their own spaces). The cymbals on Steely Dan's Aja are now shimmering, metallic and well defined. Before sonic cleaning they were just a shushing sound that you guessed were cymbals.

All in all, this has been a great improvement to my entire LP collection. I have been spending many hours cleaning many albums. However the nice part is I have the machine in a separate room from my listening room and I can actively listen to music and just remember every 5 minutes (the first cleaning cycle) and every 10 minutes (the final cleaning and drying cycle) to check in on the progress of the cleaning process. My nightly listening sessions have the added benefit of yielding 6 to 10 more rejuvenated LPs.

My next adaptation of this process is to try the cleaning solution that your group is using: Triton X-100, Hepastat 250, Isopropyl Alcohol and distilled water. Not sure if it can get any better than this but who knows.

... The HumminGuru unit is very reasonably priced and facilitates small batch cleaning with out a lot of setup or tear down. This made the process very easy and manageable. Thanks again for the info that spurred me on to take action.

P.S. Your recommendation regarding the Esoteric X-03 replacing my Oppo 105 was a life changing event in listening to CDs. The addition of an Audionote 4.1 DAC took me to another level of digital nirvana for both CDs and streaming through a Logitech Squeezebox Touch. Not replacing vinyl, but the digital realm has gotten a far sight better and less digital in nature." (08/22)

Relevant Link:

HumminGuru Website


Until I find a list which is more definitive, and objective, here are some speakers that I, and mainly the Readers of this website, have found to work very well with low-powered Single Ended Triode (SET) amplifiers;

AcuHorn rosso superiore175

Affirm (formerly Maxxhorn) Lumination & Immersion

Apogee Acoustics Definitive Ribbon Speaker (very expensive)

Aspara Acoustics HL1 Horn Speaker

Audio Note ANE SEC Signature

Avantgarde Duo and Trio (All Versions)

BD-Design Oris and Orphean Models

Bottlehead Straight 8s (Discontinued)

Brentworth Sound Lab

Cain & Cain BEN ES (and other models)

Cardersound Madison (Single-Drive Back Loaded Horns)

Coherent Speakers Model 15 (and other models)

Coincident (Total) Victory II & Pure Reference Extreme (and most of their other models)

Classic Audio Loudspeakers (All Models)

Decware (Various Models)

(DIY Hi-Fi Supply) Crescendo Ribbon Horn Speaker System

Fab Audio Model 1 (Toronto, Canada)

FAL Supreme-C90 EXW or EXII

Goodmans of England 5 or 612s

Hawthorne Solo and Duet

Horn Shoppe (Two Models)

Horning Hybrids (Various models)

Hoyt-Bedford Speakers

Klipschorn and La Scala (All Versions)

Living Voice OBX-R2 & IBX-R4 (UK)

Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo

Omega Speaker Systems

Pi Speakers (Various Models)

ProAc Response Two*

Prometheus II

Reference 3A MM de Capo i

RL Acoustique Lamhorn 1.8 (Montreal, Canada)

Sonist Concerto 2

Sunlight Engineering 308

Supravox Open Baffle

Teresonic (Various Models)

Tonian Acoustics (Various Models)

Vaughn Zinfandel

WLM (Various Models)

Zingali Horns

Zu Defintion

*Recommended by a reader and Gordon Rankin (Wavelength Audio), a veteran expert SET designer, despite its 86 dB sensitivity.

I would appreciate finding out about any other models, that readers have actually heard for themselves, to add to this list. This list is not a temporary project. It will be kept permanently in the Speaker Files. Further, don't expect to see the speaker models posted here a day or so after your e-mail is sent to me. Please remember that I'm usually behind in ALL my correspondence, including even the brief and helpful information letters. I will keep my own "SET friendly list" because at least one list should have no commercial foundation, temptations or considerations**.

Important- I would like to know if any of the above models can be bi-amped. This is critical, because I am convinced, based on decades of experience, that speakers with the capability of being bi-amped have far superior potential, assuming everything else is equal.

**For example, another website placed the Merlin speakers on their list, which, despite all their desirable qualities, still did not work well with low-powered SET amplifiers. I know this with certainty, because I tried them, more than once. The sensitivity was just too low. Merlin, themselves, used the excellent CAT amplifiers, which are pentode based and push-pull, at their audio show demonstrations. Merlin was a company that any serious audiophile should trust to know how to optimize their own speaker designs.




Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm

The Kuzma 4Point is the most advanced tonearm, in both its unprecedented technology and resulting performance, either pivoted or linear, that I have ever heard. Further, while I have many decades of experience with numerous high-quality tonearms (including setting-up well over a thousand tonearms in either my former retail store and/or for personal use), I have never felt confident that I had a true understanding of the related physics, which I feel is required when discussing the actual technological details of this component.

Accordingly, this review will primarily focus on the performance of the Kuzma 4Point 14". However, I will augment this review with three important direct links to articles and reviews which I have found both informative and influential. These links provide a superior focus on the underlying technological details of the Kuzma 4Point tonearms in general, and the 14" model specifically, and may also help explain the technical reasons why the Kuzma 4Point tonearms perform at such a high level.


While I was very satisfied with my former tonearm Reference, the Graham Phantom Supreme (mounted on the Reference Lenco III), for both its outstanding performance and its exceptional ease of use, I was not able to use it with the new Ultimate Lenco. Why? This was because the Ultimate has a 14.25" transcription platter, thus requiring an extra long tonearm. I could have simply chosen a longer version of the Graham, but I instead decided to take advantage of this new found situation, and thus start from scratch. So, I would now find a tonearm with both an extreme length and the latest advanced technology.

I also had one further requirement, and this was just as critical as the two above; the new tonearm not only had to be simply "compatible" with the ZYX UNIverse line of cartridges (which are my current references), it also had to possess the capability to optimize their highest potential performance. Of course, it didn't take much time, or thought, to soon come to the realization that the "pool" of suitable tonearms would be relatively small (and expensive).

So, to make a long story short, I ended up spending a month or more researching every possible available tonearm, though it's also true that the Kuzma became the top contender almost from the very beginning. Background - I was aware of the basic 4Point design due to Michael Fremer's rave review of an early model, which I had read years ago (see link below). Two other reviews (see links below) not only confirmed (and expanded on) Fremer's enthusiastic opinion of the Kuzma 4Point, they did so with the later (and longer) versions of the tonearm including, importantly, the 14" version which I required. Accordingly, I ordered the 14" version of the 4Point and it arrived in Summer 2020. The 4Point was originally supposed to be mounted on the Ultimate Lenco in Fall 2020, but the pandemic ended up delaying the project an entire year (to November 2021 to be exact).

Basic Description

The first Kuzma 4Point tonearm (11"), with its unique bearings, became available over a decade ago now. Since then, the 4Point design has been continually updated, and there are now also a variety of tonearm lengths to choose from as well, including the 14" version I have (which is the longest that Kuzma presently offers). The various 4Point 14" models retail in the (+/-) $ 15,000 range, depending on the choice, if any, of the phono cables.

I have the latest model, with the jeweled bearings. (These unique bearings, which are at the heart of the design, are best described in some of the reviews which are linked below.) All Kuzma provided phono cables are importantly (and unusually) direct wired, meaning they do not have any (compromising) "break", or joint, from the cartridge pins all the way to the RCA males. I chose Kuzma's standard silver "Crystal" cable, though I had it shortened from 4' to 3'. The head shell is independent of the tonearm, so it doesn't have its own dedicated cartridge wires.

The physical appearance of the 14" 4Point is also unusually large and bulky (even more so because of its length), to the point of being almost disconcerting, if not intimidating. Fortunately, what the eye sees and the ears hear (its performance) can only be described as incongruous! In fact, I find it difficult to remember when I last experienced any component with as great a disparity between its imposing appearance and its actual performance. (To somewhat plagiarize myself, by updating an analogy I previously used from an earlier speaker review; The 4Point 14" is like an Olympic shot putter with the dexterity of a Bolshoi ballerina, though it is difficult to fully appreciate this rare achievement without actually seeing and hearing it in person.)

Finally, the 4Point 14" was the top-of-the-line tonearm manufactured by Kuzma when I ordered it back in 2020. This status changed as of May 2022. Kuzma has now come out with a new "flagship" model, the Kuzma SAFIR 9, which costs over $20,000. Here's the first sentence from the Kuzma website's description (see link below):

"The Kuzma SAFIR 9 tonearm is the best result of our attempt to extract more music from vinyl records that has, until now, been heard."

Set-Up & Optimization

Good News - The 4Point was as easy to optimize as any tonearm I've ever used. The most critical and difficult steps were at the very beginning; the measurements and then the actual mounting of the tonearm to the turntable, where I advise most audiophiles having a steady-handed assistant, just to be absolutely safe, especially when aligning and then securing the bearings and their respective cups.

The step-by-step instruction booklet, loaded with detailed pictures, is excellent, particularly considering that English is not the first language of the manufacturer. The VTA, VTF and azimuth are easy to change and, importantly, also repeatable. The anti-skate adjustment is the typical type, and there is also damping in both the horizontal and vertical planes. In short, the Kuzma is incredibly flexible, enabling it to optimize the performance of virtually any available cartridge, no matter how precise and critical the required adjustments.

In the end, it took a few months to fully optimize the VTA and VTF settings, though it was "in the ballpark" in the first week. Further, below are some other settings and observations that my associate and I experienced which may prove helpful to other audiophiles using this tonearm:

1. The anti-skate position was at the minimum setting* (which is not that unusual with most tonearms).
2. The horizontal damping was also at the absolute minimum position (the pin just touching the surface of the fluid, and not immersed). The damping acted like a "noise sink", according to my associate. (In our experience, immersing the pin, even slightly, deadened the sound.)
3. The vertical damping trough attachment was completely removed from the tonearm, and this simple change caused an easily noticeable improvement in performance. (See the link below for the origination and explanation of this modification.)
4. I have not used the azimuth adjustment as of yet, but I plan to do so eventually. I realize there is probably still some room for sonic improvement, but we did not hear even the slightest channel imbalance or focus problems, and there was also no visual anomaly.

*I was informed by the manufacturer that (since 2021) the "bias weight" has been reduced, thus allowing greater flexibility in the anti-skating setting.

The 3' silver tonearm cable was broken-in by my custom DIY device. I played two alternating CDs hundreds of hours through it. A picture and description of this simple device, along with an explanation and the two CDs, is posted below.

Finally, I am going to stick my neck out and report what I experienced for the first time in my audiophile life. The Kuzma 4Point tonearm actually sounded slightly better after a week or so of play. In other words, I heard a tonearm break-in, just like many other components (and cables) do when they are first played. I observed a tiny reduction of a particular background noise ("chatter" like), plus improved precision and a slightly greater stability of the images.

I thought a lot about this, and since the Kuzma's (well-broken-in) phono cables can be safely ruled out, it could only mean that the bearings, and their matching cups, must have settled-in over time, thus becoming better aligned, which reduced their unnecessary, and distorting, micro-movements.

Comparison & Performance Evaluation

Because the Kuzma 4Point tonearm was 1/2 of the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma "team", it obviously also shares the credit for most of the numerous sonic improvements, attributes and achievements already described, in detail, within the Ultimate Lenco review (see above). However, in the end, just as we eventually isolated the two fundamental causes for the Ultimate Lenco's unprecedented level of performance ("superior flow" and "lower noise") which separated and distinguished it from the earlier Reference III model (and all other turntables I've heard), we must now do exactly the same for the Kuzma 14" 4Point.

So, once again, when strictly focusing on the Kuzma 4Point, by itself, what are the fundamental causes for its various and important sonic improvements? I believe there are two fundamental causes which are almost entirely responsible for its unprecedented level of performance:

1. The Kuzma's lower levels of inherent and residual noise and resonances, separating it from any other tonearm I've previously heard. Also related, but even more important...

2. The Kuzma has, by far, the highest level of precision that I, and my associate, have ever experienced.

To focus on these causes individually:

Noise & Resonances

Noise - While it is obviously impossible to calculate an exact degree of responsibility, between the turntable and tonearm, for the reduced background noise and/or a lower sound-floor, we can come to some generalized conclusions based on numerous prior experiences. One can immediately sense a reduction of residual background noise from a turntable when the musical passages are very soft (like rumble), and especially when there is no music at all, such as "dead passages" between cuts. The tonearm's residual noise is much more subtle. It may be best sensed by any noticeable changes during the dead passages, which ideally should remain constant, though it may also be noticed during the quiet passages as well (though usually only by comparison with better tonearms, and not directly).

Resonances - During louder and/or more complex musical passages, any inherent tonearm resonances will be exposed, adversely affecting the tonal balance, clarity and purity. Just as bad, the sound-floor will also elevate, thus obscuring the harmonics, decays and other low-level information. Fortunately, most modern tonearms (even including those of reasonable cost) are generally devoid of the obvious resonances which plagued most tonearms from around 35 to 60 years ago. These days, with better materials and improved bearings, it's relatively difficult* to observe/identify a specific resonance until that particular tonearm is actually replaced with another model possessing even a lower level of resonances. In fact, this scenario is exactly what happened in this instance; The already outstanding (very low resonance) Graham was replaced by the even more outstanding Kuzma 4Point.

*A resonance may also have a source other than the tonearm, such as the phono cartridge, incorrect VTF and/or loading etc. It usually takes a process of elimination to identify the actual culprit, which can be lengthy and tedious.

So, to be clear about the Kuzma's inherent noise and resonances: The Kuzma 4Point has the lowest level of resonances I've ever observed, and its background noise (sensed at soft and dead passages) is lower than any pivoted tonearm I've ever heard, and is only equalled by the finest air-bearing linear tonearms.

And now we will shift our focus to the second fundamental cause of the Kuzma's performance, precision...


I am completely convinced, as is my associate, that what separates the Kuzma 4Point from the Graham, and every other tonearm I've ever heard, is its unprecedented degree of precision. In fact, "precision" was the very first word out of my associate's mouth during his initial listening session with the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma 4Point combination, back in December 2021. My associate also later stated that he felt that the Kuzma exposed the Graham's relative "wobble", which produced a "false air" by comparison. In contrast, he described the Kuzma as being "clear and realistic".

Further, from my current perspective, I now believe that "precision" is the critical key to not only the Kuzma's performance, but for all tonearms as well. In other words, "precision", for a tonearm, is the direct equivalent to "flow" for a turntable. However, unlike flow, precision is almost always easily observed directly, by itself, and not mainly indirectly. An improvement in precision can even be so obvious that it is literally impossible to be ignored, like an excellent electrostatic when compared to an average dynamic driver. Importantly, this "obviousness" was exactly the case with the Kuzma 4Point.

Unfortunately, the highest degree of extreme precision, such as that achieved by the Kuzma 4Point, is very difficult to accomplish. Why? Precision, at the highest levels, requires a combination of absolute stability and completely frictionless movement. Moreover, these two critical qualities actually contradict each other, but the best audio components, such as the Kuzma 4Point, overcome their inherent design contradictions, which is why they are both truly great and RARE!

Finally, we must attempt to address the technical reason for the Kuzma's important achievement. I believe there is only one rational and logical explanation for the Kuzma's unprecedented precision: The unique 4Point bearings. These bearings are the singular key to this design and explain its next-level performance. My Evidence* - Other current Kuzma tonearms, and those from the past, are similar to the 4Point models in build quality, general design and materials. However, none of these models have the advanced 4Point bearings. So, from my vantage point, case closed.

*I also believe that the 4Point bearings share much of credit for the Kuzma's ultra-low noise as well. For me, this was an unavoidable conclusion after personally observing a further reduction of the Kuzma's tiny background noise during its first week of play (see above).


The Kuzma 4Point 14" tonearm is a great technical achievement. As I've stated multiple times above, its performance is unprecedented. Further, there is no reason why the shorter versions of this model won't be just as singularly outstanding. In short, the 4Point design is now my top Tonearm Reference.

My Advice - If you can afford this tonearm, no matter what length you require or prefer, I would suggest you seriously consider the investment, and this advice remains the same regardless of your phono cartridge, turntable, system or any other audio/musical priorities which are important to you.

Kuzma 4Point Addenda

Relevant Links:

Kuzma Manufacturer's Website

Kuzma's U.S. Distributor

Michael Fremer's 2011 Stereophile Review of Original Kuzma 4Point 11" Tonearm

Roy Gregory's 2016 HiFi+ Review of Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm

Tim Aucremann's 2019 Positive Feedback Review of Kuzma Latest 4Point 14" Tonearm (with relevant pictures)

Kuzma 4Point Tonearm Modification - Removing the Vertical Damping

My "Reference Tonearms" Dedicated File

My Audio System




CAVEAT-Please be advised that the readers’ letters posted on this site are solely the opinion of that reader and may not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions of Arthur Salvatore. These letters furthermore, are not to be taken as being endorsed by Arthur Salvatore. They are posted because they may be edifying, thought provoking or entertaining.

Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the September 2021 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.


Nothing This Month.



Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma 4Point Addenda

Addendum One - Which Component (Ultimate Lenco or Kuzma 4Point) Made the Larger Improvement?

This particular evaluation and choice is obviously a subjective exercise. I've already stated above, more than once, that it's impossible to accurately isolate the respective performances of these two components (though I tried my best to do so). Even worse, we must also then compare them to their respective predecessors. Still, I believe that my two reviews above would not be truly complete unless the readers know how I (and my associate) would answer this (academic and theoretical) question or, to put it in other words, "which component made the more noticeable improvement when compared to its predecessor"? Fortunately, my associate and I both chose the same component:

The Kuzma 4Point 14" tonearm provided the greater (or more noticeable) sonic improvement of the two components or, stated again in a different manner, the 4Point was superior to the Graham to a greater degree than the Ultimate Lenco was superior to the Reference III. However, this does not mean that "tonearms are more important than turntables". That is a completely separate issue (and it's also "academic", since both components are obviously required in a phono system). Still, even if it is only an academic question, I'll take the bait:

Which is ultimately more important to the final sonic performance, the turntable or the tonearm?

The turntable. That is why I reviewed the Ultimate Lenco first. To repeat myself, from the short prologue of the two reviews above, "the turntable is traditionally considered the primary phono-source component", and I agree with that "traditional" theory. I believe, in the final analysis, that the turntable makes the larger and more fundamental difference in sonics, and is also more important in relative terms.

So, to address the next inevitable question: Does this mean that Linn (Sondek) was actually correct with their relentless and obsessive* (if not nauseating) 1970s marketing campaigns? Yes, Linn was right, but it's still difficult not to be cynical as to their true motives, especially when considering their insipid ("follow the tune!!") marketing history. Fortunately though, there is an excellent essay (though quite lengthy), by Peter Moncrieff, which is the best I've ever read explaining the reasons for the primacy of the turntable in phono systems (see link below).

*The 1970s marketing campaigns initiated what would eventually evolve into a manic veneration of the Linn Sondek turntable. This decade-long period is still (fortunately) the only instance when a part of "Audio" came close to establishing an actual cult directly dedicated to a single component.

Relevant Link:

Peter Moncrieff's Review of the Rockport Sirius III - The Critical Importance of Constant Speed and "Flow"

Addendum Two - A Simple DIY Phono-Cable/DIN Break-In Device

A Short History and Introduction

Last century, decades ago now, I (and many other serious audiophiles) slowly discovered that most audio signal cables required hundreds of hours of actual play (or "break-in") to perform at their absolute best. As I owned an audio store during that period, I also had to seriously consider any possible implications and/or ramifications of this new and unexpected circumstance, for both the store and the customers.

The various cables I used in the store, for demonstration, were never a serious concern, since they were continually played and were almost always fully broken-in. As for the customers, I would routinely inform them that their new cables would sound better with play time, which most accepted, though a few of them felt it was an annoyance* (especially when considering the increasingly higher prices of most quality cables). I would advise the customers to break-in their new interconnects by simply connecting them to a CD player, on "Repeat", 24/7, with the amplifier turned off. The speaker cables would usually take somewhat longer, since the amplifier(s) had to be turned on and connected to either the speakers or, for some customers more technically adept, heavy-duty resistors.

*There were also some people back then, and even still some today, who refuse to acknowledge even the physical possibility of any form of "cable break-in". They feel it is either a "hoax" or "a mass illusion".

Unfortunately, I also eventually realized there would be a serious problem with fully breaking-in one specific type of cable (even with the dedicated "break-in devices", then slowly becoming available). Which cable am I referring to? The tonearm/phono wire/cable.

A Quick Primer - The weak and delicate signal from the 4 phono cartridge pins initiates its journey by entering the 4 tiny female cartridge leads of the tonearm, and ultimately travels all the way to the RCA phono output males, which are then directly connected to the RCA phono input females of the phono stage. To further complicate matters, the tonearm could also have a DIN plug termination/break in the middle of the journey.

The problem all serious phono-oriented audiophiles confronted was simple and fundamental to explain, and understand: Yes, you can play the turntable/cartridge countless hours, with all different types of music, thus sending a signal through those wires and cables, but none of that will result in any practical and/or positive sonic effect. Why? The signal from the phono cartridge is usually much lower than 1 millivolt, and not the usual 1 volt+ from the CD player. That 1000 to 1 voltage ratio means that 200 CD hours of required play effectively converts to 200,000 hours of required phono play. In short, it is literally impossible to break-in the tonearm's internal wire, and its attached phono cable, by simply playing it, not even in an entire lifetime.

So, what did we do after this lamentable realization? To be frank, nothing, for many years. We simply accepted this as an inescapable compromise which all of us would just have to live with, consoling ourselves that at least some break-in was still occurring, even if it was subtle. However, sometime early this century, the catalyst now forgotten, I decided I would no longer accept this fate. I was resolved to find some method that would finally eliminate this problem, once and for all. Just below is the simple solution I came up with, and now I have decided it was time to share it with everyone.

A Simple Device

A picture of the device (I'm using the term "device" loosely), just below, is virtually self-explanatory. Four separate wires, around 6" to 9" or so in length, 2 hots and 2 grounds, are attached to two RCA females on one end (though the "other end" of these wires is more critical). The key to this device, and the most important step, is to next find a thin wire which will snugly fit into the female cartridge leads (the rest is routine). You simply first cut 4 thin and short (.5") wires, and then solder them to the 4 respective original thicker wires, making certain each thin wire extends around .25" from the original thicker wire (see picture). Colors, or another method, can be used to identify hot/ground. Anyone handy with a soldering iron can easily build this device, no technical skills are required. The parts are also cheap (two RCA Females and wire), and none of them have to be "audiophile" in quality.

To use the device, you first snugly connect the extended 4 thin wires to their 4 respective hot/ground cartridge leads* (being careful that the leads don't touch each other), which are easy to identify with their colors (red/green and white/blue). A cable is then used to connect a CD player to the device's RCA females, and the tonearm's output phono cable is connected to any load (even a phono stage, if turned off). You can also build your own simple termination load, as I have (see picture below). It is inexpensive to make and even provides greater flexibility during the break-in process.

The Ultimate Results - The line-level signal, from the CD player, first goes through its output cable, of any length, then through the special cable just built, then through the cartridge leads, then through the internal tonearm wire, then through the exterior tonearm cable, eventually terminating at the chosen load. That's all there is to it! Further, any budget carousel CD player is fine, which is also the most convenient option, though a single CD player will work as well. Just make certain the CD music is full-range, loud and/or intense.

*You can also use the 4 thin wires to break-in a tonearm cable, on its own, with a DIN input connection, which are all female. You simply connect the 4 thin wire to the respective DIN equivalents (identifying L/R hot/ground with a voltmeter at the RCA males).

Some Notes on the Two CDs:

The IsoTek CD has an assortment of non-musical and complex signals, specifically designed to burn-in components and systems. I've discussed it before, and I've used it with success for years. The "Earquake" CD comprises the most challenging acoustical music I'm aware of. All of the mostly short cuts are modern classical compositions, with large orchestras. The most demanding of them all is the final cut, Hekla, composed by Jon Leifs (Iceland). It was inspired by a volcanic eruption, "featuring a 22-person percussion section"!


Addendum Three - How do "Vintage" Tonearms Compare to Modern Tonearms?

Tonearms have evolved in build quality, versatility and performance over the last 60 years. In the 1960s and 1970s, the original SME models (the 3009 and 3012) were by far the most famous, popular and thus also the most imitated. They were mounted on numerous turntables, and some phono cartridges (Shure etc.) were even designed around them. However, everything changed once moving-coil cartridges finally became reliable and, maybe even more important, achieved unprecedented performance. It was not a surprise then that moving-coils eventually became universally popular. Accordingly, a new generation of tonearm designs were required to optimize the potential performance of these new (and usually heavier) pickups.

The most concentrated and noticeable progress of tonearms was made in the 1980s. Especially noteworthy were the Linn Ittok, SME V and IV, the (linear and air-bearing) Eminent Technology and several models from Fidelity Research. The fact that all of these models are still in demand today, four decades after their respective debuts, is incontrovertible evidence of their overall quality.

It's also true that further improvements have been made since then, mainly in the reduction of colorations, noise and resonances. This was the end result of the tonearm manufacturers using superior materials and, with improvements in machinery and computers, even finer engineering and machining standards. Still, in almost all instances, these various improvements, while important, have offered mainly refinements when compared to the still excellent 1980s designs, rather than any new true sonic "breakthroughs". (The Kuzma 4Point, reviewed above, is a rare exception to this long-term trend.) However, there has been one modern tonearm development, especially over the last couple of decades, which has proved to be more important than all the others...

The New Focus on "Dialing In"

The most important area of recent progress, by far, has been the ability of most modern tonearms to "dial-in" the most essential setup parameters (VTA, VTF and Azimuth). This highly significant development now allows the listener to finally hear and enjoy the full potential of their tonearm and cartridge (and, by default, their entire system). How important is tonearm/cartridge "setup"?

It is critical!

In fact, it's even highly likely that an (otherwise) inferior tonearm, if properly setup and optimized, will outperform a (potentially) superior tonearm, which is not setup optimally. Why has it taken tonearm manufacturers so many years to design and build tonearms with the capability of making micro-adjustments? The manufacturers didn't want to compromise the inherent sonic performance of the original tonearm design, when in the process of improving its respective versatility and/or adjustability, or it could end up being a net sonic "wash", or worse.

So, to summarize the general differences between older and "Vintage" tonearms when compared to those tonearms designed and built today: While there have been continual marginal improvements in the basic tonearm itself, there have been more important improvements in the capability of modern tonearms to optimize the performance of the phono cartridge, even though it is still (and always will be) a difficult and tedious process.

In contrast, older tonearms were virtually impossible to optimize to the same degree (especially those now considered to be "Vintage", including even the best of them). In fact, to veteran audiophiles, the older tonearms' lack of fine (and repeatable) adjustments were obvious and very frustrating in practice. How much so? To the point that pure "luck" was almost always a relevant factor in the final sonic results (I'm serious!). This was true even when the most meticulous audiophile made a serious attempt to attain the optimum settings. Fortunately, audiophiles no longer have this problem, or excuse, which is something to celebrate.

Addendum Four - Are there any Serious "Downsides" to "Super-Fidelity" at some point?


Over many decades now, I've had countless thousands of personal discussions with serious audiophiles on many, and various, audio related topics. These conversations occurred in my former audio store, my home, my customers' homes and at audio shows. However, one very specific topic would come up on only very rare occasions, and further, like the topic of "death", it almost always made everyone, more or less, uncomfortable. This specific topic, in the most broad and general terms, was whether a serious sonic improvement, recognized by everyone, also had any related negative consequences as well. Some part of the inherent discomfort was caused by the initiator of the topic automatically exposing themselves to the accusation of displaying "arrogance", and/or "hubris", for even introducing this particular subject in the first place.

From a personal perspective, I first remember discussing this topic, though it was only briefly, a few decades ago (the specifics and the names now long forgotten), and I've discussed it a few times since then, though again also briefly. However, I do remember the one consistent peculiarity with all of these brief discussions (besides the unease of the participants): They always occurred when we were experiencing some sort of a "sonic breakthrough", by which I mean the kind of performance improvement which can inspire a near state of ecstasy in some audiophiles (including myself). Such a rare experience may temporarily cause some audiophiles to lose their normal inhibitions, and thus bring up some of their usually hidden thoughts, like many people do after drinking too many glasses of wine. So, but what about now, in 2022?

Very recently, an associate brought this subject up while we were listening to the new Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma combination. He was inspired after listening to a familiar record, with average sonics, which now sounded much better than ever, but he also now observed other elements which gave him some unexpected reservations. His concerns were serious enough, at the time, that I wrote them down in my listening notes, and then forgot about them while we both moved on. However, on further reflection, lasting several months, I eventually came to the realization that this was a serious topic which I could no longer avoid and ignore, as I frankly had for many years. This issue, of (highly) flawed recordings being reproduced with outstanding fidelity, which is becoming more relevant every year, simply demanded attention on my part. Accordingly, I committed myself to finally, and seriously, address this subject, as an "Addendum", after the formal Ultimate Lenco and Kuzma reviews were finished.

Describing "Super-Fidelity" (Assuming it even exists)

There is no recognized definition of "super-fidelity", for the simple reason that it must be (also by definition) a strictly subjective evaluation. I also concede that a good faith charge, of at least some degree of arrogance, will always be available to a skeptic and/or cynic. However, it's possible that some skeptics may go further, by claiming that either such a super system cannot exist in the first place or, even if it can exist, no one has the ability to honestly make such an evaluation. I strongly disagree with both of these latter premises. To be clear - I believe, and argue, that such "super systems" do exist and that some listeners do have the ability to make such a rare distinction, and with confidence. The Details - Such a listener requires a deep experience with a broad range of components, systems and recordings, along with the ability to impartially, yet still subjectively, recognize a "super level" of audio performance.

How would such a super level of performance be described, in general audio terms? Such a (super) audio system must have the capability to continually surprise, amaze and overwhelm even the most experienced and critical (and jaded) listeners, regardless of their audio priorities, and no matter what genre of music is played. Such a system, in practice, will be extremely rare and will have been created after many years, if not decades, of countless listening sessions, comparisons and experiments. Further, and in strict contrast from any "conventional audio wisdom", I also argue that any recognized "super system" will not have been created by the simple expedients of purchasing only "Class A+" components and/or only those components which are ultra-expensive, and then just "hoping for the best results" (which would be the audio equivalent of hoping to win the lottery).

The Real Audio Issue, and its Implications

All serious audiophiles eventually observe some specific sonic problems in all recordings (and even the performances as well sometimes). This is true even when they are audio novices, and/or even with systems which are considered just "good". These sonic problems, which are, of course, consistent with an imperfect world and thus unavoidable, are usually ignored by most listeners at this stage. However, better systems, especially those at the level of "excellent", "great" or "super", expose even more specific (and previously hidden) sonic problems and, even worse, reproduce them, with such clarity, that they are now conspicuous, which then means that it's no longer possible for them to be ignored.

So all this then brings us back to the main issue: From a starting point in which an audio system is only just "adequate" in performance, all the way to the point where it can be accurately described as "super": Is there an actual point, including a position in between, in which a specific level of fidelity, exposes a serious enough quantity of sonic downsides, to then judge, and characterize, the total net audio/musical experience as negative? If so, this would have to mean the respective audiophile would then immediately stop their efforts to improve the system at that exact point and, to be consistent, may even go back in time* (and in fidelity)!

*This latter depiction is not just a theoretical scenario. While unusual, during my two decades operating an audio store, I observed some audiophiles make the decision to go back to their "simpler systems", which were, unquestionably, less accurate, because they simply enjoyed them more. In fact, many audiophiles prefer less accurate systems when listening to recordings made prior to the early 1950s.

The Broader, and more Profound, Philosophical Perspective and Issue

We thus arrive at the true bottom line question, which all serious audiophiles must eventually answer, only to themselves, and to no one else, because there is no universal answer: Do you want an audio system, which is so truly faithful to the source, that basically everything on the recording is revealed and exposed, including all of those many faults and imperfections you may rather not want to know about? When seriously contemplating this specifically audio related question, it's almost inevitable that some even broader and more philosophical questions will also arise...

How much knowledge do you really want to know? Ultimately, philosophically, is it always preferable to "know everything" (aka omniscient), from the sublime all the way to the horrific? Further, can you even personally deal with knowing everything? Realistically, can you be like a proverbial "God" and still keep your sanity? Or, alternatively, does it all still come down to the long-held and common belief that "Ignorance is bliss" (Publilius Syrus/Thomas Gray), as it does with so many serious and complex subjects inherent in life on this planet? (Sadly, for an extreme illustration, PTSD mainly occurs with people whom are not physically injured.)

I believe that to answer this question honestly, you must first fully appreciate the scope of this question, so consider just a minimal set of subjects, all of which though are integral parts of human life and societies, but rarely examined in true depth by most people: The entire process of dying and the later unseen decay, and/or cremation, of the corpse; The unimaginable atrocities and realities of war, both modern and ancient; The complete process of the production of meat for human consumption (aka the slaughterhouse); and the full brutal realities of violent crimes and prison life.

Further, on just a purely personal level, how much do most people really want to know about the most private and intimate details of the lives of their family and close friends, including their pasts? Even on a public level, investigating the actual private negotiations of most political agreements ("like making sausages") is distasteful for most people. Finally, I am convinced it's elementary to make a serious argument that a fundamental foundation of "modern society" is knowing as little as possible about the various subjects I've listed above, as well as many others, for obvious reasons.

Where I Stand on this Issue, For Now

As for myself, I've thought about this subject, on and off, for many years, though only in theory of course. I also believe that one's answer is strictly personal, thus making it "correct" for that individual alone. My own position has always been the same: I want to know everything, regardless of the results. To me, there can be no "negative" in audio, only knowledge and reality. Maybe this perspective will change one day in the future, but I am very far from that point.

Why am I so comfortable with my position? Simple. I'm an ultra-curious person. I am almost obsessed with knowing everything about something which I'm interested in. Alternatively, and to be consistent, I'm also almost phobic about ignorance. Finally, if something profound ever happens to me, which changes my current perspective, I will let everyone know. However, if it ever does, I will be the most surprised of us all. After all, it is not some accident that the quote below is on this website's Home Page...

"The unexamined life is not worth living" - Socrates

One Specific Example (among countless others to choose from)

A reader requested that I provide one specific recording as an example, arguing it may illuminate the issues discussed above. I agreed with the reader and, after a short search based on some recent listening sessions, I chose the "classic rock" recording Crosby/Stills/Nash/Young "Deja Vu" LP (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-088), which is generally considered to be neither an "audiophile" nor a mediocre (or worse) recording.

I chose "Deja Vu" because its sonic positives, and its sonic negatives, are usually both obvious, and relatively close to equalling each other out, with every system improvement. Further, the various cuts almost all have different arrangements and, consequently, also sound very different from each other. Accordingly, each individual track requires somewhat different system strengths to maximize its inherent sonics. So, in practice, with a performance upgrade, a simple solo voice and guitar cut ("4+20") will sound noticeably better, while a track with a complex electronic crescendo ("Country Girl") will also have its audible distortion even more exposed then before (though still not nearly enough for me to regret making the upgrade!).
The Bottom Line - I believe that most serious audiophiles will agree with this perspective.

Addendum Five - A "Black Background" is Only an Intermediate Step!


During my occasional visits to those audio related websites, with discussions/threads on various topics dominated by the readers, I have regularly noticed a common, if not ubiquitous, shared experience*, which is always enthusiastically described as very "positive" by the posters. Upon reflection, and with many related experiences of my own, I felt all these specific observations deserved a serious comment, so thus came to be this specific Addendum.

*This is in stark contrast to the earlier topic of Addendum Four (see above), which is rarely, if ever, discussed.

The "positive common shared experience" I'm specifically referring to is any improvement in the system which directly results in achieving a "black (or blacker) background". The cause of the improvement is usually a successful change of traditional components, but sometimes it's a superior cable and/or some other accessory directly related to the A/C power delivery. Another common (if not universal) element of these posts is the audiophile's joy while sharing their belief that this specific audio "problem" has now been essentially and finally mitigated, short, of course, of an even "blacker background". It is this "joy" and, more importantly, the common and foundational belief/theory which it is based on, that this addendum is meant to address.

I, of course, have also experienced a "black background" countless times, over many decades, with all types of systems, my own and many others. However, over the last two decades or so, and based on a growing number of direct observations, I've also gradually come to the realization that, in most instances, a black background is not the final audio and musical destination which it's commonly assumed to be, but simply a critically important intermediate step/stage, with the final, and most satisfying, step (achievement) yet to be realized. And, while I wish it weren't so, to best explain my "black background theory" requires, unavoidably, utilizing a considerable amount of subjective audio terms, but I'll still attempt to be as focused and specific as possible even in this unusual and trying circumstance.

Reproducing the Soundstage Background - A Three-Step Process

It is my theory, based on countless experiences, that optimizing the reproduction of the "background" of most modern recordings (mostly stereo, 1950s to present), from mediocre to outstanding, takes a course of three slowly evolving steps or stages, mostly difficult to describe, mainly because the lines between most of them are almost always somewhat nebulous. The achievement of a black background, in broad or general terms, is the second of the three steps.

Further, while we are currently focusing on the background alone, the final results, like all musical reproduction, are seriously dependent on the combination of the quality of the recording and the quality of the audio system. Accordingly, there may be some success with an outstanding recording reproduced on an average audio system, while only the finest audio systems will have the capability to reproduce any subtle musical information still residing in even mediocre recordings (assuming it even exists in the first place). Below are the three steps (or stages):

1. Creation - This first step is the original creation/reproduction (from absolutely nothing) of a nebulous and formless mass of random noise (or "something") in the background. By definition, the very audible existence of any "background" in the recording means that the 1st (and easiest) step of the three has now been accomplished. Unfortunately, the second step, which is the central focus of this addendum, is much more difficult to achieve or fully accomplish!

Accomplishing Step 1 also means that the respective audio system is at least "decent" in quality, though admittedly with all of the finer reproduction yet to be achieved. It is also important to note that, at this early level and stage of reproduction, the respective audio system should be only comprised of the "best for the money" components. If, instead, the system's components are already relatively expensive at this point, that would be definitive evidence that there is an unfortunate, and serious, discrepancy between its cost and performance, which should be immediately addressed.

2. Transformation - This is, without question, both the most common and important step. It is also the most encompassing and, obviously, the most commonly discussed (as mentioned above). This stage encompasses the slow and steady transformation of the random noise (Step 1) into a better defined sense of space, while also simultaneously accompanied by a steady reduction of the same random noise to (hopefully) utter darkness. The entire process almost sounds contradictory, but it isn't, as countless audiophiles can attest to, using their personal experiences as best evidence.

While Step 1 has an almost binary definition and/or experience (existence or non-existence), in stark contrast, the 2nd Stage is almost a countless, and endless, series of minor audible transformations, with each one of them reducing the amusical artifacts which adversely effect the reproduction of the recording. Unfortunately, even though each individual transformation and/or reduction, no matter how small, is obviously an audio and musical event to celebrate, it is also true that, for many (if not most) dedicated audiophiles, even after many years of serious effort and monetary investment, accomplishing the final (and most difficult) third step is still yet to be realized.

3. Re-Birth - This is, without question, the most difficult step/stage to accomplish and, accordingly, the rarest to actually experience. This is because even a single audio mistake or misjudgment may sabotage the entire project. It may be described as the re-birth of the (previously lost) musical and spatial information, originating from utter darkness, while the surrounding space is usually increasingly enlarged and better defined. As I admitted above, the process is very difficult to describe, but I'll try...

As the background becomes increasingly dark, and the exposed space better defined in Step 2, it also slowly becomes an integral/seamless part of the forefront. This is the end of Step 2. Then, in the subtle transition to Step 3, musical decays and small sounds first appear and then slowly become increasingly easier to hear. Eventually, if present, actual instruments, including voices and even related sounds, become increasingly illuminated, audible and even musically meaningful to the whole. To be clear, "meaningful", in this context, means that if this same musical information suddenly became absent again, it now would be missed by the listener, and the recorded musical event accordingly compromised.

Further Thoughts - As with Step 2, and unlike Step 1, Step 3 is also a continuous process. While this is definitely not inevitable, over time and at best, Step 2 may slowly transform or evolve into Step 3, first by sense alone, then by direct hearing. Unfortunately, there is also no guarantee that any particular recording has actual and relevant musical and spatial information within the background. However, it is our experience that most modern recordings, analogue or digital, do have enough important background information (even without instruments or voices) to make the serious effort to reproduce it.


If all this discussion about the 3 Steps appears to be extremely imprecise and subjective, that's because it is. However, I have personally experienced these 3 Steps, as have my guests, and on many occasions. So, appropriately, I felt this required a serious report on my part, and at this time.




CAVEAT-Please be advised that the readers’ letters posted on this site are solely the opinion of that reader and may not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions of Arthur Salvatore. These letters furthermore, are not to be taken as being endorsed by Arthur Salvatore. They are posted because they may be edifying, thought provoking or entertaining.

Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the November 2021 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.


Nothing This Month.



Quick Updates

2022 was a highly unusual year in my home. Two house-related crisis, inside and outside, precipitated a major renovation project (previously delayed by the pandemic), which has completely dominated my home life since August 2022. Accordingly, my original 2022 listening schedule was setback for months. Fortunately, as this is written, in early January 2023, the project is now nearly complete. This means that I will soon have my home back all to myself, which will then allow me to once again schedule and conduct all of the interesting experiments that I've been so looking forward to over the past year.

However, despite all the chaos surrounding me, I've still been at least somewhat productive. With the outstanding performance of the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma as a catalyst, I began meditating about five audio related "issues", which I felt were important enough, on their own, to create an Addenda. As of early February 2023, all five topics have been written and posted. They can be found in the November 2022 Recent File. I now intend to move on to the components discussed just below, scheduling the earliest posts beginning in late February.

ZYX UNIverse Premium & III - I have now finished a second "shootout" of these two cartridges, the two finest I've ever heard. This time the two cartridges were compared to each other using the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma combination, and with the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme II/"Doubles" speakers which, in total, is a much more revealing system. The results, which were different from the 1st comparison, will be posted sometime in the first quarter of 2023.

"The Truth" T5x Line Stage - This model, which had arrived damaged earlier in 2022, has now been repaired and sent back to me. It is working this time, though a critical evaluation will have to be delayed until the end of January 2023, due to prior commitments.

"Ultimate Lenco" by Jean Nantais - I will be purchasing an AC regulator, probably sometime in the first quarter of 2023, which has been designed to optimize the speed stability of the Ultimate Lenco (and any other turntable which uses a similar drive system). The device also eliminates the basic speed variances caused by changing AC voltages, commonly experienced during the day and evening.


This important article will be reposted & updated annually...

Building a Great Audio System

This article is a summary of the cumulative observations and recommendations included within this website explained as concisely as possible. Below is the best advice I can provide as this is written and it will be updated if and when necessary. This summary will be relevant if the ultimate goal of the reader is to maximize the natural, accurate and complete musical communication that is possible with modern audio components. It is designed to work with the largest variety of musical software available to us today, and particularly if it is acoustical in nature.

I obviously realize that there are other serious alternatives, and with easily noticeable sonic advantages to my approach. However, in my experience, they all have a larger number of serious sonic compromises with a greater variety of music. Further, none of the recommendations I make below have to cost a huge amount of money, and all the steps can be made over a period of time.

The Fundamental Structures of a Great Audio System

1. The Analogue source(s) should be an Idler-Drive turntable (and/or a Reel-To-Reel Tape Deck)

Explanation- Idler-drives have a fundamental sonic advantage over belt-drive turntables; speed stability, which is grossly under appreciated by most audiophiles. Idlers' inherent sonic disadvantage, noise transference, has now been reduced to insignificance by using modern plinths, bearings and improved motor isolation. In short, idler-drives have overcome their original problem economically, while belt-drives have not and (apparently) can not. (Direct-drives are still an unanswered question.) Reel-to-reel tapes have even greater sonic potential, but they're a serious hassle to use for most audiophiles and good software is also extremely limited.

2. A Moving-Coil (or Strain-gauge or Optical?) cartridge

Explanation- Moving-coils have several technical advantages due to their low-mass and low inductance combined with higher overall energy output, making them worth the extra expense under most circumstances. Strain-gauge and/or Optical cartridges may have even greater technical advantages, but I haven't heard a modern version of one of them in a controlled environment.

3. The Digital source should use the highest quality (OEM) Esoteric Transport that is affordable

Explanation- Every outstanding digital player we have heard has used an Esoteric transport. Until computer audio is finally mature, an actual digital disc player is still the best and safest approach, which means an Esoteric transport should be part of the equation. There are usually many used Esoteric players for sale at large discounts. They are also incredibly well built and reliable, which is another important factor. Esoteric (OEM) transports are also used in non-Esoteric players as well. The DAC, after it inevitably becomes obsolete, can always be updated.

4. The Electronics should be Separates, and using Tubes, with the one possible exception of the bass amplifiers

Explanation- Tube electronics still have noticeable and important sonic advantages over even the finest transistor models. Separate components offer both the greatest potential performance and flexibility, including mono amplifiers.

5. The Speakers must be HIGH-EFFICIENCY AND BOTH Bi-ampable AND SET-Friendly

Explanation- All the finest systems I've ever heard were bi-amplified (with subwoofers). This is not a coincidence. When the amplifier driving the midrange and tweeters is not effected by the (sub)woofers (which would have their own dedicated amps), there are important (if not fundamental) sonic advantages that any audiophile can hear. Even if the bi-ampable speaker can not be bi-amped when first purchased (for whatever reason), that option is still available in the future.

SET amplifiers have important and fundamental sonic advantages in the midrange and highs over any other amplifier design in my experience, especially with acoustical music. They have the lowest sound-floor and also are the best "organized" (and music is simply "organized sound"). Even if a SET amplifier is not used at first, the SET-friendly speaker will provide that option in the future.

Bonus Suggestions:

1. The SET amplifier, in a bi-amplified system, must use NO FeedBack, allowing it to become "Dedicated" with a simple capacitor modification

Explanation- Some audiophiles may consider this as more of a refinement, but I don't feel that way. The cumulative sonic improvements, discussed in the article linked to below, are easily observed and much too important to ignore.

2. Audiophiles should experiment with a Passive transformer, or a LDR, line stage/volume pot BEFORE utilizing a serious active line stage

Explanation- Most systems require an active line stage for optimum performance, but a passive line stage, or volume pot, can be used if the source has the required energy to directly drive the amplifier(s). If successful, there will be both improved performance and money saved, so an experiment is always in order. See the Link below.

3. Audiophiles should experiment with high-quality Super Tweeters

Explanation- Most systems require a good super tweeter for optimum performance. Proper set-up and implementation are critical for success, so time, effort and patience are required. See the Link below

4. Dedicated Digital Systems should always have the signal remain in the "Digital Domain" for as long as possible

Explanation- Digital's most noticeable sonic weaknesses occur during the unavoidable conversions: A/D + D/A. Thus the most rational strategy is to reduce these conversions to the bare minimum; only one A/D and one D/A if possible, by remaining strictly in the digital domain from the first conversion (software) until the second and final conversion. This strategy also minimizes the length of the analogue chain as well, which is another sonic benefit.

The Refinements of a Great Audio System

Individually, most of these refinements will be subtle in effect, but collectively they will almost always be significant in their effect. They are usually the difference between the "Excellent" and the truly "Great" Systems.

1. All Signal and Power Cables- As short as possible

2. Capacitors - Teflon in the direct signal path and all film (metallized) in the high voltage power supply

3. Exact speaker set-up and Room treatments

4. Acoustical Isolation of both the Sources and the Electronics

5. AC filtering and even AC regeneration if necessary

6. All records should be cleaned first with an Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning Machine

Relevant and Related Articles and Essays

These are the articles and essays which describe and explain, sometime in great detail, the respective experiences and reasons why I specifically chose each of the "Structures" and "Bonus Suggestions" mentioned above:

"Reference" Lenco L 75 Idler-Drive Turntable (#1 "Structure")

DIGITAL SOURCES (#3 Structure)

Coincident Frankenstein 300B SET Amplifier (#4 & #5 Structures)

Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers (#5 SET-Friendly & Bi-Amping Structures)

Dedicated SET Amplifier Capacitor Modification (#1 Bonus Suggestions)

LINE STAGES (Active or Passive? #2 Bonus Suggestions)

Acapella Ion TW 1S Super Tweeter (#3 Bonus Suggestions)

Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning (#6 Refinement)



A related article to the above, that will also be reposted & updated annually...

The Single Most Important Audiophile Choice

I decided to both expand upon, and yet still further simplify, my earlier article, seen above, titled: Building a Great Audio System. This time I will argue that there is a single most important choice an audiophile can make when creating a great audio system or, at the least, creating the finest audio system for the least amount of money invested. That critical choice is unambiguously simple:

Purchase a High-Efficiency, SET-Friendly & Bi-Ampable Speaker

There are several practical reasons why this is the best choice a serious audiophile can ever make, as well as actual science to support it. First we'll focus on the practical reasons, which almost all involve maximizing the flexibility and the unlimited options resulting from this initial choice:

1. This choice provides the flexibility to choose any amplifier you prefer and can afford; low power/high power, tube/transistor, feedback/non-feedback, SET/non-SET or Class A or A/B or D. All these amplifier types are compatible with this choice of speaker. The amplifier choice thus becomes strictly one of audio quality, not quantity, which eliminates the frustrating compromises that other audiophiles must accept and live with.

2. With a high-efficiency speaker, other formerly impractical options now become possible. The system may no longer require the extra gain of an active line stage, which means a passive line stage, or a hybrid model like "The Truth", is now an option. Low output (analogue or digital) sources, which may sound "dead" with normal/average efficiency speakers, are now also options.

3. Bi-amping the speaker is also an option; now, later or never, with the added benefit that the speaker can utilize any combination of amplifiers, based on your own musical preferences and budget. Remember- Bi-amping is a "Structure of a Great Audio System".

4. Lower power, everything else being equal, also means lower cost, so there is even a monetary advantage to this important choice. (Passive line stages are also less expensive than equivalent active line stages, obviously.)

I have now lived with high-efficiency speakers for over 25 years and I have never looked back. It is the most positively consequential choice I have ever made in my audio life. Countless other audiophiles have done the same, both before and after me, and it is unusual to learn of anyone who later reversed themselves. There are good reasons why these audiophiles remain "faithful": The advantages when using high-efficiency speakers are far too important in sonics, component flexibility and savings, to ever give up. Then there's the Science. It's all about Energy...

The Fundamental Scientific Advantage of High-Efficiency Speakers

I am NOT a "scientist", though I do have a basic understanding of the science underlaying audio. Many other audiophiles can make the same claim as I, while others know far more about (audio) science than I ever will, but what I am about to theorize is something anyone can understand. My theory is based on an indisputable reality. Further, I believe it is rational, logical and thus irrefutable. Once again, it is founded on a simple truth and fact: High-Efficiency speakers require less energy to perform at the same level as "normal" efficiency speakers. Further, serious Audio is just about recreating, as closely as possible, the original energy, of the original performance, in your listening room.

High-Efficiency (HF) is the most important and critical advantage in audio. Why? HF speakers require less energy from outside sources to achieve the same level of performance. The energy from those "outside sources" is always imperfect and compromised. Accordingly, the less energy from "outside sources" included in the total energy created by the system, the less compromised the sound will be. And, to be clear, "outside sources" specifically mean electronic phono stages, DACs, active line stages and power amplifiers.

All of these electronic components are imperfect and "enemies" of music, though all of them are also unfortunately necessary for the reproduction of music using modern technology. In short, the less energy (or "influence") required from "outside sources" (electronic components), the higher the quality of total energy created by the system, everything else being equal. It's the classic "quantity versus quality" compromise and quandary.

To make my point as clear as I can, I need to use a highly unlikely scenario: Imagine a speaker with an unbelievable high-efficiency specification; let's say 130 dB/1 watt and, further, an ultra-low current requirement (while ignoring noise and other issues). Such a theoretical speaker could be driven by the preamplifier alone (or even the source*)! This scenario would actually eliminate power amplification all together. This is just a fantasy for now, but I'm arguing that even minor steps taken in this direction will have positive results.

*The ultimate scenario would be the phono cartridge directly driving the speakers, with the no electronics in between them. Only an attenuator would separate the two components. Anything else is a (necessary for now) compromise.

A Simple Conclusion

The less energy an audio system uses from "outside sources", the better the chance that particular system has to be natural and faithful to the original musical source. So, the goal for serious audiophiles is simple: Reduce the energy required from your compromised outside power sources (AC), to the greatest degree possible. High-Efficiency speakers, more so than any alternative audio choice, achieve that goal.




CAVEAT-Please be advised that the readers’ letters posted on this site are solely the opinion of that reader and may not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions of Arthur Salvatore. These letters furthermore, are not to be taken as being endorsed by Arthur Salvatore. They are posted because they may be edifying, thought provoking or entertaining.

Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the December 2021 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.


Ultra-Sonic Record Cleaning Formula

A reader sent me some information concerning the cleaning agents which are commonly used with many ultra-sonic record cleaning machines. Here's his letter, with some minor editing and my bold:

"(A) possible correction. I saw the cleaning formula for the ultrasonic cleaner*. I am quite familiar with the ingredients in the cleaning solution, but I think Hepastat 250 should actually be Hepastat 256. I don't think that there is a Hepastat 250.

Also with regards to Hepastat 256, if that is actually the correct material. People should use thick nitrile gloves and safety goggles when mixing the concentrated material. It isn't just acutely toxic orally; it is also acutely toxic dermally, which means it can absorb through the skin. There is some ethylenediame materials that make it readily absorb into proteins. I worked with some diazo compounds that have a somewhat similar structure. You have to be careful with handling when they are concentrated."

*The reader is referring to the cleaning formulas discussed in the dedicated Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning File.



A Second Comparison and a Re-evaluation...

The ZYX UNIverse Premium & III Phono Cartridges

I first compared these two phono cartridges directly to each other in Summer 2020. Those comparisons were a necessary and critically important part of the UNIverse III review. I was completely alone at the time, with none of my usual associates to assist me (because of the Pandemic). I accordingly took extraordinary measures to make certain that the comparisons were fair (see below for the details). I also made a serious promise and commitment at the very end of the lengthy UNIverse III review. To quote myself...

"When the new Lenco/Kuzma turntable/tonearm combination is finally set-up..., I will directly compare the Premium and the III to each other once again, even if it's only for confirmation, though there could always be some surprises...There will also be an added bonus, in that the entire system will be more revealing (I expect an improved phono source and speakers)."

This current review is the fulfillment of my Summer 2020 promise and commitment.

Introduction and History

The UNIverse III was introduced in 2017, replacing the II (my long time "Reference" from 2012). The III also retains the plastic body of both the UNIverse I and II. In a significant contrast, the (now discontinued) UNIverse Premium cartridge has a metal body/frame.

I received the ZYX UNIverse III in January 2020, but I wasn't able to install it in my system until March. The delay was caused by the longer than expected break-in, and the subsequent evaluation, of the UNIverse Premium, which I had received in the fall 2019. After a long break-in, waiting for the III's performance to finally "plateau", I decided it was time to directly compare the III to the Premium. This was now in July 2020. To be fair to both cartridges, I also created a protocol at the time which may have been unprecedented.
To again quote myself...


To make certain the comparisons between the III and the Premium were both fair and comprehensive, I not only duplicated the same reference records for audition (which is obviously required and routine), I further duplicated their exact order of play. I then undertook what I now believe was the ultimate (and maybe even unprecedented) process required for fairness. It was a procedure which I had never used before, even with all of my prior decades of making direct comparisons...

On the final evening of auditioning the III, I noted the exact time I began playing the last three records, to the minute. I later duplicated those specific times when I eventually played the same final three records with the Premium. I followed this new routine to make certain that the time of the evening would have no (or minimal) influence on the outcome. Why did I go to such lengths? I felt this extra step was necessary, at least in my case, because my system consistently sounds increasingly better from between 11 PM to 1 AM.

For the purpose of full disclosure, here are the last 3 reference records, and their respective start times, that I auditioned, originally on July 28 with the III, and later duplicated on August 2 with the Premium:

Kodaly/Hary Janos/Kertesz/Decca/Speakers Corner Reissue; 11:45 PM

Villancicos/Paniagua/Harmony Mundi/Original Pressing; 12:00 AM

Mobile Fidelity/Pictures Exhibition/Firebird Suite/Muti; 12:30 AM


So, what were the ultimate results of all these comparisons? To quote myself yet again...

"...(To)...answer the most important, and inevitable, question: Of the two best (UNIverse) cartridges I've heard, the Premium and the III, which would I prefer to live with, if I could only choose one of them?

The ZYX UNIverse Premium. Here are the reasons for this choice, which are both purely subjective and relatively objective:

Consistent with my observations, the Premium is superior to the III in a larger number of sonic categories,... Just as important, the Premium's sonic advantages are larger in degree, and thus more obvious and noticeable than those of the III."


The full review, which is considerably more comprehensive, can be read using the link below ("Reference Phono Cartridges"). However, this is a new comparative review, using a different (and superior) turntable and tonearm, and also superior speakers ("Doubled-Up" Coincident PRE II), so we must now try our best to ignore the past results of 2020 and instead focus on the present 2022/23 system. In fact, in a surprising and completely unexpected development, one of the two cartridges isn't even the same...

A Shocking Experience

In November 2021, just after we (Jean Nantais and I) had performed the initial adjustments to optimize the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma combination, we experienced an event that shocked me twice:
1. That this event actually occurred in the first place and
2. When we later observed the related, and highly unexpected, sonic results.
This admittedly cryptic event can only be explained, and understood, by going through all of the details, even if some of them are frankly tedious, so here they are...

Immediately after confirming the positive sonic results of removing the Kuzma 4Point's Vertical Damping Trough (see review), I decided to further tighten the two brass cartridge bolts, which, of course, secured the UNIverse Premium to the Kuzma tonearm. I've made similar cartridge bolt tightening adjustments literally thousands of times in the last 5 decades, though this time something was a little different; I thought I also heard a slight sound while doing so (in my ultra-quiet room), which I ignored at the time.

Later that day, Nantais (who had been out on an errand) showed up. We soon began discussing our next series of potential system adjustments, as we both stood close to the turntable. While explaining a specific adjustment to Nantais, which required me to get up close to the Premium, I noticed something that literally shocked me, to the point that I was virtually speechless. Nantais immediately noticed my strong reaction and, after asking me what was the matter, I asked him to look closely at the Premium. He did and noticed nothing, at first. I told him to look closer and this time he noticed what had shocked me, and now him; the Premium's surrounding metal protective body had cracked!

At the time, I was inconsolable and close to tears. Something like this had never happened to me in 50+ years of phono cartridge set-ups. My mind then immediately began racing: How would this "catastrophe" affect the evaluation and review of the Lenco/Kuzma? And, maybe even worse, what would I tell the owner of the Premium, my close personal friend and associate, who had generously loaned it to me? Meanwhile, Nantais had quickly gotten over his shock and was already quite calm. He advised me that we should still attempt to play the Premium that evening and see what actually happens. Well, I followed Nantais' advice, and the results of that listening session ended up being a second shock for me.

So, what happened that evening? The Premium not only still played, it was even better!! (My contemporaneous notes that evening: "Sounds magnificent tonight!! All types of music.") While I was experiencing both relief and even ecstasy, Nantais was much more stoic. In fact, he was not even that surprised at the positive results. Meanwhile, I admit that I didn't immediately understand the technical reasons for this shocking (to me) turn of events (though I should have).

In contrast, Nantais felt the reason for the positive sonic results was actually quite simple; The UNIverse Premium had been "transformed" when its metal outer body cracked open. Nantais explained that the Premium was now, in effect, "a naked phono cartridge". Upon reflection, Nantais' explanation made logical sense to me, especially since I had had considerable experience with various "naked phono cartridges", back in the 1990s, when they were popular for a short period of time. However, unlike Nantais, I hadn't used a "naked" cartridge for over 20 years.

Important Explanation - A "Naked cartridge" is simply an ordinary phono cartridge without its normal outer protective body, which is ordinarily removed by the cartridge manufacturer (though I witnessed some courageous and extreme audiophiles make the modification themselves). Further, there was no question, with everything else being equal, that a naked cartridge would outperform its full-bodied equivalent, but at the downside of being highly vulnerable to (if not inevitable) "accidental" damage. In fact, Nantais had some recent experiences himself with naked cartridges, all of it negative, when the customers broke them and then wanted the repairs at no cost to them. Accordingly, Nantais wanted nothing to do with naked cartridges at this point in his audio business career.

The next day I made two phone calls. The first was to Mehran, of Sorasound, who imports the ZYX product line. He was surprised when I informed him what happened to the Premium. He told me nothing like this had ever happened before. However, Mehran was not surprised that the Premium sounded better after it cracked, because he also realized that it was now a naked cartridge. Mehran then informed me that he (and ZYX) were fully aware that naked versions of the ZYX line would sound better, but they all agreed they would not sell naked cartridges, under any conditions, due to their extreme vulnerability and the resulting inevitable disputes, after they broke, as to who was then responsible for the cost of the repair. He did inform me that the Premium could be repaired, but it wouldn't sound as good, which led to the second phone call.

My second phone call, which I dreaded making, was to my associate/friend who owned the Premium. Surprisingly, he wasn't that upset, even at first, and when I told him that his cartridge now sounded better, he became really excited. He told me the sonic improvement made some sense, since the metal body was similar to a "bell", and when it broke, the "circuit shorted", which thus ended any inherent "ringing". Later on, he informed me that he felt lucky, and that the entire Premium incident was the "surprise of a lifetime".

Further, upon reflection as a reviewer, I realized there was another lucky element to be grateful for; There was no other simultaneous system change at the same time as the Premium incident, which would have obscured both the audible effects of the Premium "modification" and the other change.

Finally, and most importantly, I highly advise not attempting to duplicate what happened to the Premium, though I realize how an enthusiastic audiophile may be tempted to take the chance. I believe this incident was a fluke occurrence, which I'm reporting now for various reasons, and not something to ever emulate. From my perspective, the risk of serious and irreversible damage to the Premium is just too great. Below is a picture of the "cracked" Premium, which should infinitely better illustrate what actually occurred than any of my descriptions above.


This brings us, finally, to the direct comparisons between the UNIverse Premium and the III, though we must always keep in mind that this particular Premium is no longer stock.

The Results of the Second Direct Comparison

The UNIverse III was installed in my (Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma) system on March 27, 2022. It sounded superb from the very first LP. I assume this was because the III had already been fully broken-in almost 2 years earlier (Summer 2020). However, I was still able to elicit some further sonic improvements with two minor set-up changes during the first evening's listening session: The VTA was lowered around 1 complete "notch" on the Kuzma (compared to the Premium), and I also slightly increased the VTF to 2.2 grams (the Premium's VTF was 2.176 grams). (A week later, I lowered the VTA another 1/2 of a "notch" and I haven't changed it since then.)

My first sonic impression was that the III was incredibly clean and immediate, which was basically exactly the same as my first (and final) impression in 2020. The III's tracking of complex (orchestral) passages was outstanding. The III also had natural body, a large image and was delicate, all at the same time. I played a variety of music and labels that first evening, including Decca; Harmonia Mundi; DGG and the "Cowboy Junkies" (which I hadn't played for years). To state that everything was "impressive" would be an understatement, because it was much more than that.

Eventually, after a little more than a week of listening, I realized that I had to admit something to myself which I did not expect. Unlike what had happened in 2020, this time I did not miss the Premium. Further, and even more important, I even had to acknowledge that the more I listened to the III, the more I preferred it to both the original "stock" Premium and even the current (accidentally improved) "naked" version. In short, the relative sonic and performance hierarchy of the two cartridges had now switched.

The Bottom Line - Both cartridges still had sonic advantages over each other, as was the case in 2020. However, the UNIverse III now had a greater combination of strengths than the Premium. The III now had a similar amount of decays and harmonics. It also had superior outer and inner detail, while it retained its previous sonic advantages in immediacy; "aliveness"; precision; purity; intelligibility; separation and lack of homogenization; overall deep bass; and uninhibited dynamic expansion.

Further, I felt the III was even slightly more natural on the best recordings, though the Premium sounded better on leaner recordings. In the deep bass, the III had extra control, better enabling you to hear the instrument still vibrating after the note. The III also had a slightly wider and more convincing "sense of space", equal image focus to the Premium, and was also able to reproduce larger differences between cuts, which is a critical test of accuracy. My dozen or so "Reference Records", which are both highly challenging and highly diverse, never sounded as good.

There was also a group of related LPs, while not part of my "Reference Records", which still deserve special mention: Harmonia Mundi - Carmina Burana #3/4/5. These three records were all shockingly "alive" and immediate, like an excellent direct-to-disc. Further, these three records also had an amazing degree of "real body", maybe as realistic and natural as I've ever heard, and with minimal "fat". In fact, it was the unprecedented solidity and tautness I observed that really impressed me.

Accordingly, the reproduction of "body" on these 3 Harmonia Mundi records forced me to re-evaluate my earlier thoughts and observations on this specific subject of "natural body". Just below are the subjective numbers I previously used to help clarify the amount of "body" I observed from the 1st UNIverse Premium/III "Shootout", performed in Summer 2020:


UNIverse Premium - "Natural Body" Frequency Range 8/10 + Resonances 1/10 = 9/10*
UNIverse III - "Natural Body" Frequency Range 7.6/10 + Resonances .9/10 = 8.5/10*

Explanation - The III has noticeably less natural body than the Premium, though, in my opinion, it is not large enough to be described as "dramatic". This is why the III's total body is reduced by .5/10; from 9/10 down to 8.5/10. Further, the III also has a slightly lower amount of "Resonances" than the Premium; It goes from 1/10 down to .9/10.

...I believe the primary reason why the III has less body than the Premium is because its frequency response is slightly attenuated in the body/bass frequency range (8/10 - 7.6/10 = .4/10). The III's further reduction of added resonances (1/10 - .9/10 = .1/10), even though it's relatively subtle overall (and a sonic positive as well), makes this body/bass attenuation slightly more noticeable (.4/10 + .1/10 = .5/10).

*10/10, or the reproduction of a "perfect body", and with no resonances, is not possible with current technology.


So, what has changed in 2022/23, with both cartridges now installed in the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma 4Point combination? There have been small changes in both absolute and relative performance, along with their related numbers:

UNIverse Premium - "Body" Frequency Range 8.1/10 + Resonances .9/10 = 9/10
UNIverse III - "Body" Frequency Range 7.9/10 + Resonances .8/10 = 8.7/10

Both the Premium and III have changed, and for the better, though the III has changed to a slightly greater degree. The Premium's "Frequency Range" has increased just a touch (+.1), and its "Resonances" have also been slightly reduced by -.1 (so it's a sonic net "wash"), all obviously caused by the superior performance of the Kuzma tonearm. These specific numbers mean that while the overall "quantity" of body has not changed since 2020, the "quality" of the Premium's reproduction of body has improved since 2020, because there is now less "fat" ("Resonances").

Meanwhile, the III not only has the same exact improvement of a .1 reduction in "Resonances" (which reduces "fat"), it also has a further improvement in its "Frequency Range", a .3 net increase (from 7.6 to 7.9). Accordingly, what started in 2020 as a net .5 overall body gap (9 - 8.5) is now a net .3 (9 - 8.7) gap. This means that the III not only has a greater overall quantity of body, when compared to 2020, the quality of the III's 2023 body has now also been improved. So, what does all of this mean in actual listening?

The III has noticeably closed the performance gap between it and the Premium in the reproduction of "body". In fact, I now prefer the III's body on the finest recordings. However, both are still slightly leaner than "Perfect". Caveat - Don't take any of the (crude) numbers I've used above, strictly for illustration, as some sort of "absolute". To be clear - I've deliberately exaggerated the amount and degree of their sonic imperfections, in both the "Frequency Range" and the "Resonances", in an attempt to better clarify the relative differences between them.

Conclusion and Advice

If I wasn't clear enough above, I want to be clear now: As of 2022/23, with my current audio system, I prefer the UNIverse III to the UNIverse Premium (and any other phono cartridge I've ever heard). The III is now my top "Reference". The details are posted above, but I still feel I have the further responsibility to clarify my reasons for reversing myself almost two years after the 1st "Shootout" and direct comparison:

Unlike in 2020, the III is now superior to the Premium in a larger number of sonic categories, as per the descriptions above. Also, in another reversal, the III's sonic advantages are now slightly greater in degree, and thus more obvious and noticeable, than those remaining advantages of the Premium. If I were to, once again, use numbers for greater clarification, there is another (partial) reversal to the 2020 results; The III may still have a 2 to 3% advantage over the Premium in its strengths, while the Premium may now have "only" a 1 to 2% advantage over the III in its strengths. In short, the III's sonic advantages are now greater in both their number and their degree, though I must also emphasize that the III's current 2023 sonic advantage is smaller than the Premium's former 2020 sonic advantage.

Further, what do I believe happened, technically, to cause this highly unusual reversal in performance? That's Simple: The only obvious and logical explanation is that, of the two cartridges, the III had the greater overall amount of noticeable sonic improvements when it was installed in the Ultimate Lenco/Kuzma combination. This then is the "relatively objective" reason for my personal choice of the III. As for the "purely subjective" perspective...

There isn't any "tough and cruel" performance choice at this time. Yes, naturalness (or "completeness"), the Premium's greatest strength, is still ultimately more important to me than immediacy, the III's greatest strength. However, the Premium, unlike in 2020, no longer has its own unique "magic", which the III lacks. There is still a performance gap in "completeness" (in favor of the Premium), but it is now too subtle to overcome all of the III's other unique sonic advantages and unprecedented strengths. (Note - My associate, who owns the Premium, still slightly prefers the Premium to the III.)

The Bottom Line - Unlike Summer 2020, both the Premium and the III now have basically the same amount of "magic" in my audio system. Accordingly, what I would normally consider "secondary" (though still highly important) audio parameters had to ultimately decide the final outcome of the second "shootout", which they did, and they were in favor of the III.


Despite my personal reversal, due to the changes in my own system, my advice, to serious audiophiles, remains basically the same as what I provided in the 2020 review (which I strongly suggest reading if you are seriously considering purchasing either of these phono cartridges). Both cartridges still have sonic advantages over the other, yet they may actually sound more alike now than before. Their basic "characters" remain the same as I earlier described in the 2020 shootout, though the relative degrees and gaps of their respective sonic performance have now changed somewhat.

The III has more ultimate sonic potential, which is my highest personal priority, but the Premium will still be a better fit for many serious audio systems, and also for those many serious listeners with somewhat different sonic priorities than mine (such as my own associate).

Relevant Links:

Sorasound - ZYX (New Generation) UNIverse Cartridges


My Audio System




CAVEAT-Please be advised that the readers’ letters posted on this site are solely the opinion of that reader and may not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions of Arthur Salvatore. These letters furthermore, are not to be taken as being endorsed by Arthur Salvatore. They are posted because they may be edifying, thought provoking or entertaining.

Further- Almost all of the Readers Letters that are removed from this file, after the standard 12 Month posting (such as the January/February/March 2022 Readers Letters), are subsequently posted in their respective Reference Component Files: Amplifiers, Cartridges, Speakers etc. They can be found under "Readers Letters". If the reader's letter discussed more than one type of audio component, I will place that letter in the file of the component that was the most discussed.


Sempersonus Rim-Drive Turntable

A reader sent me some information and links about an interesting new Rim-drive turntable, manufactured in Portugal, which I had never heard about. Here are the links:

Sempersonus (An interesting new rim-drive turntable from Portugal) NEW 4/23

Audiogon Sempersonus Review (An excellent and thorough review of the Sempersonus idler-drive turntable) NEW 4/23



Some Sad News...

Tom Tutay, of Transition Audio Design, died on July 16, 2023. Tom dedicated his life to audio and he will be seriously missed by the audiophile community. His many technical contributions, to the advancement of audio, will remain posted indefinitely on this website. I was privileged to know Tom.


More to Come!

"The Truth" T-5x Line Stage



These are the most recent LPs to join The Supreme Recordings. They are too new to place in one of the two upper categories, and there usually aren't any detailed descriptions ready either at this time.

JUNE 2022




*Slightly veiled compared to earlier reissue Golden Imports SRI 75093, but is otherwise outstanding.




Updated Turntable/Tonearm for 2022 (see April 2022 for the details).



Nothing new at this time.

Important Note - My most recent column was devoted to a late critic of this website, Charles Hansen of Ayre Acoustics, who disclosed his true thoughts and feelings about Stereophile, John Atkinson and the audio press only one month before his death. This is important reading and should not be missed: CHARLES HANSEN'S FINAL POSTS ON AUDIO ASYLUM.



Nothing at this time.




Future Audiophile (A new audio website with reviews, news and reports) NEW 12/22

JULY 2023

Aries Cerat ("State-Of-The-Art" horn speakers, electronics, DAC etc.) NEW 07/23



Nothing at this time.



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