REVIEW: TRIANGLE ART ZEUS PHONO CARTRIDGE
Based in California USA, Triangle Art is a boutique designer and manufacturer of high-end turntables and analogue products.
Tom Vu, owner of the company, has an extensive background above and beyond his own audiophile interests. A student of physics, metallurgy, acoustics and electrical engineering, it’s this combination of education and experience, teamed with a personal passion for great sound that perhaps qualifies him in the turntable manufacturer world more than most.
With a range of bespoke turntables that are worthy of accolades in engineering excellence alone, Triangle Art has, in a short time, attracted a small but loyal following of discerning enthusiasts.
“After years of researching materials, suspensions, bearings, platters and motor designs, we have invented a better turntable”, Vu tells us, referring to his Reference SE turntable (shown below).
It’s no surprise then, that after setting what could be considered a benchmark for turntable design and manufacturing, Vu has turned his efforts towards arguably the heart and soul of the record player, the cartridge.
The ‘Zeus’ is the first commercially released phono cartridge wearing the Triangle Art name; a dynamic moving coil cartridge, built to Vu’s exacting specifications in Japan.
Vu says, “the Japanese artisans in my opinion, are some of the best cartridge makers in the world, with the likes of Koetsu, Lyra, Shelter etc. – the list goes on and on”.
Zeus, Greek God of sky and thunder, and ruler of the Olympian gods, rose to power conquering the Titans, including his own father. Zeus was also known as the keeper of oaths, exposing liars and dishonesty. Perhaps this is where Vu drew inspiration from for the name of his cartridge, one that is superior to all others, yet remains honest, faithful and true to its design? At least that’s my interpretation.
By chance, Tom Vu offered me the opportunity to review the Zeus cartridge shortly after its release and just as I had been reading about it in reports from hi-fi shows overseas. The timing coincided well with my own vinyl journey that started only last year. A steep learning curve indeed, as it is for all enthusiasts beginning their exploration into the analogue medium in what is now, a very digital-focussed world.
As I progressed through the countless upgrades from entry-level turntables, higher spec tone arms, phono stages and of course cartridges, I had arrived at a combination that for me, yielded the fidelity I desired.
Having already embarked somewhat happily on a digital music journey in the world of high-res music and formats, streamers, DACs and cables, I was still yearning for the engagement and emotion that I had as yet only heard in ultra high-end vinyl systems.
My own turntable that began life in the VPI factory, but has since evolved with a custom heavy mass plinth, custom bearing and platter, and fitted up with the Univector tonearm from Golden Age Audio, would be the bearer of the Zeus cartridge.
Arriving in a small timber case with “Triangle Art Zeus” etched (by hand!) across the lid, one is reminded of the small scale, hand crafted production and nature of the Triangle Art brand; no mass-production here.
Whilst I have been fortunate to hear many high-end turntable systems at length, some with cartridges costing many times the price of my first car, I hadn’t had the fortune of owning and living with a cartridge of this perceived calibre.
To put that in perspective, Tom Vu’s belief is that the Zeus is so good it outperforms carts double, even triple, the price of Vu’s USD $3,995.00 asking price.
When it comes to ‘voicing’ of a cartridge, while the fundamental design and intricate methods of doing so are beyond the knowledge of this enthusiast, Vu was quite adamant in his explanation to me about his goal with the Zeus.
The Japanese could produce a cartridge for Triangle Art that conveys the tone and the delicate detail of the midrange frequencies, but Vu wanted the Zeus to be more than that. The Zeus also needed to convey the air and intricacy of the highs, and the subtle yet controlled impact of the lower regions; and do so perfectly across all genres of music. After many months of continued development, Vu was finally satisfied he had achieved the right voice for the Zeus MC cartridge.
SETUP & AUDITION
Armed with my Acoustical Systems SMARTractor, and the Pure Audio phono preamp on standby, setup was completed as per Loefgren A DIN standard, and the 100 ohm suggested input impedance configured via the rear jumpers.
Reviewing has taught me first-hand about the importance of burn-in and phono cartridges are certainly no exception. Vu suggests 80-100 hours of run time before the Zeus really starts to reach its optimum performance.
Two weeks later, armed with an array of my favourite vinyl, it was time to validate if what I had been hearing during the break-in was just as good with the ‘critical ears’ engaged.
Canadian artist, Anne Bisson’s Blue Mind [Fidelio Music – 2009] is a beautiful album and a stunning recording that I know intimately. From the moment ‘Little Black Love’ begins it is clear the Zeus, the vinyl and the recording are one. Bisson’s breath and the room ambience are projected in a three-dimensional story that is both emotive and deeply involving.
The mostly laid-back tracks that follow continue to portray Bisson’s sweet, melodic voice, with the sincerity in which she wrote the story. The delicate vocals of ‘Dragonfly’ showcase the perfect midrange tone of the Zeus cartridge. The cartridge remains just as composed with the more moderately paced ‘Do What You Please’.
‘September in Montreal’ on the flipside is a great all round example of the capability of the Zeus. The fullness of the kick-drum without being overbearing, the extended decay of the cymbals and Bisson’s breathing and mouth noises are clearly evident; a great track for critical listening.
Wolfgang Bernreuther’s I Wonder Why [Clearaudio – 2003], is a blues album recorded in 1994 covering many classic tracks. The cover of the famous ‘Crossroads’ by Robert Johnson, with detailed crisp male vocal tones and the precise lower tones of the alto saxophone are reproduced beautifully by the cartridge.
Berneuther’s cover of James Taylor’s ‘Fire & Rain’, with acoustic guitar, viola, double bass, snare and tambourine all sharing the stage, there is a clear separation of instruments and pinpoint soundstage placement.
'Stalker Blues' (Golly), takes the listener on an instrumental musical journey that conveys a sense of curiosity and voyeurism that, despite your best efforts to critically audition, you find yourself drawn into the music and forgetting about the gear itself. That has to say something about the products themselves.
Bernreuther’s follow-up album, I’m Waiting For You (Clearaudio – 2004) and in particular the title track, allows the Zeus cartridge to show off its wide dynamic range. The timing, finesse and complicated, mesmerising plucking of the guitar strings by Bernreuther are very accurately portrayed, as if live and unamplified.
So far I’d auditioned male and female vocals, blues and jazz, with slow to moderate tempos. Upping the stakes to something more recent with a faster tempo, I opted for Swiss electronic band Yello’s Touch [Polydor - 2009], an album often found playing at StereoNET events. The most famous track is of course ‘Oh Yeah’, which featured in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Sadly, the track was left off the 2009 vinyl release.
Opening track ‘The Expert’, is a ‘70s groove that exhibits great control on the bass sweeps at the beginning of the track. The male vocals on ‘Out of Dawn’ are crisp, but the highlight is the realism of the plane at the conclusion of the track, reinforcing the “and you will always fly” lyrics of the track.
‘Bostich (Reflected)’ is a rehash of the original version written by Yello in 1979. With an underlying electronic beat, loads of effect and voice layers and overlays, the track is quite complex and can challenge a cartridge and components down the chain, particularly at higher volume levels. The speed and attack of the Zeus cartridge is really showcased on this track.
It was about this point that it occurred to me that I had not really found anything to criticise about the Zeus cartridge. It shines across both male and female vocals and projects a truly three-dimensional sound stage with pin-point accuracy. With ease, it plays superbly across the blues, jazz, and electronic genres. For interest’s sake, Joe Satriani’s Surfing with the Alien, Metallica’s Black and Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire albums all got a look-in just to vary the genres and to try and challenge the cartridge. The challenge was accepted and the Zeus did not disappoint.
There is no doubt that the Triangle Art Zeus cartridge is something very special. It shines in its midrange reproduction, perhaps with just a slight leaning towards added ‘warmth’ that some would technically categorise as coloration, while the highs are reproduced with detail, finesse and precision. Many ultra high-end cartridges are worthy of the same description, however, while the Zeus shines in those areas, where I feel it really stands out from the vast majority of its competition is that it also reproduces bass effortlessly.
It’s not biased towards any one genre, nor is it overwhelmed by any, as can be the case with many other cartridges, where they might excel with acoustic and simple vocal material but then struggle to perform equally when push comes to shove with some highly dynamic or complicated pieces of music. It’s obvious that Triangle Art’s Tom Vu has done extensive testing to finalise the specs and ‘voice’ of the Zeus cartridge.
At $3,995.00 (~$5,500 AUD) this would be considered an ultra high-end cartridge to the majority of enthusiasts, but I suspect with a known Japanese branding, the Zeus would be many times the price based on performance alone.
I’ve enjoyed my time with the Triangle Art Zeus so much these past few weeks that it has proudly become my reference cartridge. A standing I’m certain it won’t give up too easily.
For more information visit www.triangleart.net
- Bespoke Turntable (inc. Golden Age Audio Univector Tonearm)
- Pure Audio Phono Preamplifier
- DEQX HDP-4 Pre Amplifier (DSP Bypass)
- Primare A32 Power Amplifier
- Lenehan Audio ML2 Limited Speakers
- Audio Metallurgy GA-O Interconnects
- Custom Power Cables
- Type: Moving Coil (Dynamic)
- Output Voltage: 0.3mV (3.54cm/sec,1KHz)
- Frequency Response: 10Hz-50KHz
- Channel Separation: 30dB (1KHz)
- Channel Balance: <0.5dB (1KHz)
- Tracking Force: 2.0 grams
- Trackability: >70um / 2.0gr
- Compliance: 12 x10-6cm / dyne
- Internal Impedance: 4ohm
- Load Impedance: >100ohm
- Coil Wire: 6N Copper with acryo
- Cantilever Material: Boron solid / 0.28mm
- Stylus: Micro-Ridge Solid Diamond
- Contact Radius: 3um x 70um
- Net Weight: 11gr
StereoNET's Founder & Publisher and still buried deep in the review room auditioning everything from docks to soundbars, amplifiers and headphones. Marc is also the founder of the annual International HiFi Show.
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