Peter Bartlett - Cyrus
Some audiophiles claim that one of the fundamental principles when selecting hi-fi equipment is simple - if you are going to buy a speaker, amplifiers or cable, check out how big is the factory where it's built - the bigger it is, the better the equipment. I honestly don't know where this comes from, because Bentley has a much smaller plant than Toyota or Nissan, but I would rather drive a Continental GT instead of an Auris or Juke. Smaller, highly specialized factories are able to chase or even outrun big corporations. Some say this may happen with speakers or tube amplifiers - stuff that doesn't need innovative thinking, but when it comes to streamers or digital amplifiers, large manufacturers will always be ahead. But is that necessarily the case?
One of the devices which recently amazed us was the Cyrus Lyric 09 music system, which combines pretty much everything you need in one, modern box. Yes, Cyrus is a brand with thirty years of experience and it's quite well known and respected by music lovers, but how can its products be converted into modern music systems without sacrificing the sound quality? That's why we interviewed Peter Bartlett - Technical Director at Cyrus who began his adventure with the audio industry in 1977, and has been working with the company for many years. He was also the founder of the buyout of Cyrus from the famous Mission speaker company ten years ago.
Many hi-fi manufacturers began their work by welding an amplifier on a kitchen table or selling speakers to friends. What was it like with Cyrus, can you tell us something about those early days of the company?
Cyrus was started in 1983 as a specialist amplifier brand to compliment Mission loudspeakers. It’s USP was to provide affordable, great sounding amplifiers, voiced in the style of high-end products with the main emphasis on an open soundstage and superb human voice characteristics. This voicing (tuning) philosophy remains 30 years later.
Nowadays you make lots of hi-fi products in similar enclosures, which are smaller than usual boxes. Is it hard to maintain these shapes and sizes, or perhaps it doesn't make any difference to your engineers?
The compact dimensions of our aluminium pressure die-cast chassis are chosen because we want our products to fit discretely into sophisticated consumer’s home decoration. Back in 1983 hi-fi was bigger and uglier so Cyrus was seen as incredibly forward thinking from the beginning. Making hi-fi fit into a 1/2 size chassis forces our engineers to develop bespoke designs as conventional elements and topologies just don’t fit. This enforced attention to even established design solutions means we have to consider absolutely every element of the circuit; this process always delivers more advanced and improved solutions while we are developing any new platform. For sure this need to miniaturise our layout makes our task much harder and it takes longer, but it does mean we consider every element rather than copy standard solutions.
Where are Cyrus products designed and made? How many people work at the company right now?
Cyrus designs, manufactures and supports our customers from our headquarters in Cambridgeshire. English people may have a reputation as being modest and reserved nation but the Cyrus team of 30 are, in my humble opinion, rightly proud to compete and often win over much bigger competitors globally. We are trying to make the best hi-fi in the world. Each of our team plays a vital part in this goal to make any product sound absolutely best in class.
Do you design your products with complete stereo systems in mind? Is there a system philosophy in it like with Naim products, or is it just so your customers have many models to choose from and so they can mix the models with one another, creating exactly the setup they need?
Defiantly we have a voicing philosophy. Our intention is to engineer our systems to create an event in a consumer’s home, rather than foolishly attempt to reproduce a perfect facsimile of the original as this is technically impossible due to the real world limitations of your home and the physics of dynamics. So instead we have researched how as humans we perceive the small low-level, but vital sounds that allow us to perceive emotions and subtle changes in pitch and timber. For sure audio enthusiasts like to experiment and mix and match. However when engineering audio systems at the high-end, every part of the circuit must be controlled. Therefore I voice every Cyrus product with the same sonic presentation so each supports the next. When consumers swap an interconnect they hear a sonic change, a difference. This effect is present when auditioning every component on a PCBA, the internal connector and even the chassis. Everything must be considered and voiced as a system or the consumer will not benefit from the detailed attention our voicing and testing delivers.
There are a couple of extension cards in your catalogue - Qx DAC and 6/8 DAC modules. Is it a good way to upgrade an integrated amplifier or preamp, or maybe it will always be better to bay a standalone DAC?
Our designed-in upgrade path allows consumers to expand an investment in Cyrus over many years. Some models provide two or more upgrade possibilities to enable highly cost effective ways to expand a components performance as the owner desires ever better performance. The very fact that Cyrus is engineered to last a lifetime (we often renovate Cyrus 1 amplifiers from 1983), means that pre-owned Cyrus products maintain unusually high value. This ensures upgrading from, for example, the 8 series platform to Signature Series is quite affordable. We estimate that more than 90% of Cyrus models made are still in use today. Maybe passed down the family from father to son, or sold to the next generation to enjoy.
Will the same kind of boards be available with streaming functionality?
We do not think we can offer a streaming board yet. We have developed a streamer 'platform' we manufacture as four different models to fit into a wide range of our customers systems. In this custom developed streaming platform we can manage the networking elements with correctly isolated ground and power solutions. In the Lyric design the streamer was considered from the start so layout to manage conducted and radiated issues was seamlessly engineered from the start for maximum performance.
One of the more interesting products is the PSX-R power supply, which can be applied to many different products. What is the idea behind that and are you planning to introduce more power supplies in the future?
We describe PSX-R as 'intelligent' because it adapts its power output to each component. In this way a PSX-R could be purchased to enhance, for example the dynamic performance of Cyrus 8 DAC, then if the amp is replaced with a mono amp (no PSX option), the PSX-R can be swapped to a CD player or streamer elsewise in the system. Benefits can include; running a preamp or digital stage where the highly regulated smooth power provides better separation and resolution. A power amplifier would gain stronger dynamics and better bass control. Remember that an amplifier does not make a signal bigger, it makes a copy. Therefore the quality of the power feed we use to make the copy will dictate the ultimate audio sound, therefore buying a dedicated power supply is clearly an advantage as the super smooth DC feed is stronger and quieter.
The first Cyrus product which we've reviewed is the Lyric 09 all-in-one system. It seems like a big step forward for your company. Lyric systems are different to what you normally make, so did it take long to design the whole concept and put it into real life?
The Lyric platform has been a three year project and was totally engineered in-house. Like all Cyrus components it was designed, engineered and manufactured in the UK. You are right that it is quite a departure for Cyrus as a design but the engineering inside comes directly from our world class CD engine, our Stream X and many other elements lifted from the purist range. The concept is to appeal to a different consumer. A customer who admires and desires our ability to provide best-in-class sound but who desires a system that’s able to fit into a family home. We are particularly pleased with the new Cyrus hybrid power amp section that will appear in our separates range next year. This is an exciting development where we have been working on an audiophile solution to class D output stages but we have added many bespoke solutions to overcome the digital sound that all class D amps suffer from. We use a classical Cyrus analogue power supply and an impedance matching circuit that overcomes the sensitivity to speaker load. Working as an automatic system, Lyric measures the impedance of connected speakers and adjusts the amps to match, thereby ensuring very high performance whatever the speaker. This is a big step forward for class D output stages and along with an analogue PSU the sound is truly audiophile. A high-end audio system in one modern package, providing hi-fi for the discerning consumer.
Are you planning to extend the Lyric line, perhaps make an even smaller model to be a competition for audiophile micro systems?
We can scale this platform in the future if customers tell us they would like other solutions. For now we offer two models 05 and 09. The 05 model is perfect for most owners as its power and quality will be more than sufficient for 90% of customers. Lyric 09 includes the audiophile tweaks I wanted for my home use and has a much more powerful amplifier so Lyric can professionally drive advanced high quality loudspeakers costing in the region of €15,000. Lyric 09 is our statement product and was developed with high performance audiophile attention to things like DAC and OP amps.
One thing that absolutely amazed us is the Cadence app, which is better than many similar applications. Is it hard to make for a company like Cyrus?
Thank you, I am really pleased you enjoyed using Cadence. The app was developed by our in-house software team and is intended to evolve to add features and functions. Like our Servo Evolution CD engine project, logically we possibly should not have attempted these projects. However we are perfectionists and are driven to try and make the best hi-fi in the world, and today that means delivering a great consumer experience as network audio is becoming a big part of our sales.
Another product which is really quite interesting is the Soundcan. Is it just like a gadget for people who buy the serious stuff, or perhaps you are planning to enter the market of small speakers, headphones, small laptop DAC's and so on?
We chose to make this because we want to reach down to younger consumers and speared the message that the Cyrus brand implies better sound in whatever market segment we appear. We are specialists and while the volumes for Soundcan are clearly enormous compared to a Mono X 300, we would like younger consumers to understand what Cyrus means.
Can you tell us something about your plans for the nearest future?
The Cyrus team are currently engineering our most ambitious high-end components ever. I personally enjoyed working on our Anniversary system launched last year to celebrate our 30th year. For this new project we have an ambitious plan to make something truly the best audio system. This is really exciting and although I have no details I can explain today, rest assured we will have an amazing story to share with you in about 18 months!