Precise isotope dilution-thermal ionisation mass spectrometry (ID-TIMS) documentation is given for two new Palaeozoic zircon standards (TEMORA 2 and R33). These data, in combination with results for previously documented standards (AS3, SL13, QGNG and TEMORA 1), provide the basis for a detailed investigation of inconsistencies in 206Pb/238U ages measured by microprobe. Although these ages are normally consistent between any two standards, their relative age offsets are often different from those established by ID-TIMS. This is true for both sensitive high-resolution ion-microprobe (SHRIMP) and excimer laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ELA-ICP-MS) dating, although the age offsets are in the opposite sense for the two techniques. Various factors have been investigated for possible correlations with age bias, in an attempt to resolve why the accuracy of the method is worse than the indicated precision. Crystallographic orientation, position on the grain-mount and oxygen isotopic composition are unrelated to the bias. There are, however, striking correlations between the 206Pb/238U age offsets and P, Sm and, most particularly, Nd abundances in the zircons. Although these are not believed to be the primary cause of this apparent matrix effect, they indicate that ionisation of 206Pb/238U is influenced, at least in part, by a combination of trace elements. Nd is sufficiently representative of the controlling trace elements that it provides a quantitative means of correcting for the microprobe age bias. This approach has the potential to reduce age biases associated with different techniques, different instrumentation and different standards within and between laboratories. Crown Copyright ?? 2004 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.