What Hi-Fi (UK)
INSIDER: CYRUS XR SERIES
We speak to Cyrus about its all new flagship hi-fi range, the XR Series
When a company develops a range of hi-fi components the next level up from one as legendary as Cyrus’s Classic Series, we get a little excited. At the start of this year, Cyrus announced its XR Series, a six-strong flagship range priced between £1995 and £3995. The XR Series sits above the brand’s acclaimed Classic offering, from which the multi-awardwinning CDI player, Stream Xa, Phono Signature, and many others, have spawned over its long history.
Cyrus’s latest series – comprising the I7-XR and I9-XR integrated amplifiers, CDT-XR transport and CDI-XR CD player, PRE-XR preamplifier and PSU-XR power supply – is some weeks away from entering our test rooms. So, we sat down with the company’s head of research and development, Ceri Williamson, and marketing director David Patching, to talk about how the
XR came to fruition and what we can expect from it in the future.
A clean break
“A system should create something real that conveys the emotion the artist in the studio was trying to lay down, without exaggerating it. It’s a sound that’s detailed and not overly bright – but the most important thing is that it’s enjoyable,” says Williamson when asked to define the ‘Cyrus sound’.
XR is Cyrus’s best representation of that yet, but rather than being an evolution of the renowned Classic range, XR has more revolutionary roots, having started from a blank canvas.
“It was a clean break, a new product,” says Williamson. “It wasn’t a rolling development of an existing range; it was all the blue-sky thinking that had accumulated over the past eight years that we hadn’t managed to shoe-horn in to the Classic range. This was the perfect time to go through ideas, test them and prove their merits. We built the architecture up from that point.
“We wanted its performance to be a good step above our Classic Signature products. As with any project, we were working to a budget, though we amended it to allow a wider choice of components. We could pick some top-shelf stuff that’s out of the reach of our Classic range,” he says. Patching adds: “Like using Schottky diodes, for example, and using relays on inputs to isolate the signal paths. There are some exotic bits in there.”
Williamson says: “One of the biggest goals was to get noise under control. When that system is in a room with speakers, and the whole system is playing music and vibrating a bit, you’ll get some eddy currents within the amplifier’s circuit itself that affect other parts of the circuit.
“So it was more working on controlling those areas so that we get as close as possible to the ideal signal-to-noise ratio that you measure on the bench.”
DAC: from first-gen to second
One of the principal improvements in such a digital-friendly range as this is at the digital-to-analogue conversion stage. Here Cyrus has built on the ‘first-gen’ DAC design it developed in 2019 and offered as a QXR DAC module upgrade to its amplifiers, preamplifiers and DACS of the previous decade.
“We saw the XR coming down the tracks and wanted a good DAC to go with it. We started with a blank sheet of paper and built a discrete R2R DAC, an FPGA DAC, and got DAC chips from various manufacturers; but ultimately we chose to go for one from a DAC manufacturer.
“This ESS chip gives me the best of both worlds: dedicated hardware that was much lower noise and better performance than an FPGA chip is, plus the option of configuring it and getting the sound I want. It was a no-brainer.
“In that earlier [first-gen DAC] project, the Cyrus listening team thought it was such a step-up over the Qx DAC we had at the time that it was worthy of providing as an upgrade. That’s why the Qx upgrade card became a customer option; it became the first-gen DAC.
“That was two years ago, and in that time, we’ve been developing it for the XR series. We changed the analogue filter section on it; we redefined the power supply to lower the noise. All incremental improvements that stack up to make this second-generation DAC quite different from the first one.”
It’s that openness to experimentation that led to the XR featuring userselectable DAC filters – a first for Cyrus products. “I come from a pro audio background, so have some time under my belt with studio mastering. Early digital recordings were quite heavily brick-wall filtered at the analogue-todigital stage, so what we tried to do for our brick-wall filter setting was to match it to the one they use at studios. In
“The XR Series has all the bluesky thinking from the past eight years that we hadn’t shoehorned in to the Classic range”
effect, we got two negatives to cancel each other out so that the in-band phase disturbance from the studio brick-wall is cancelled out on the playback brickwall,” Williamson explains.
“Various filters have been used over the years in studios, so we’re giving customers a couple of choices. There’s a front-panel button on the unit, so you can simply poke that button or change the filters from the remote.”
“Having all these options, it seemed wrong to impose a one size fits all,” says Patching. “This gives customers the option to tweak and change.”
Power supply redesign
Cyrus has enhanced the power supplies within its XR components. Using Schottky rather than standard diodes for the circuit’s bridge rectifier has, Cyrus says, reduced the [output voltage] drop when it’s fully under load from approximately 2v to less than 1v. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re working on tight margins every improvement adds up,” says Williamson.
But the core design of the range’s external power supply, the PSU-XR, which will arrive later this year for around £2000, has been thoroughly overhauled. The result is that it delivers 60 per cent more power than the existing PSX-R2 and is twice as efficient, according to the company.
“It’s different from the Classic range’s external power supply, which worked as effectively a 10x DC amplifier,’ says Williamson. “It was great as it was adaptable for many products. The
PSX-R2 we did a few years back was a refinement of that design – we pushed the noise down, but couldn’t change that full level of mode of operation. We felt that was the limit of that supply.
“So, with the XR, we went for a totally different control method. This time there’s full bi-directional communication between the two microprocessors [in the power supply and host product]. They can talk, set power-supply voltages for any of the rails – the new PS-XR can deliver five power supplies at once – report back to the host product how much power it’s using, and can control turn on/off delays. It’s a future-proofed system.
“At the Classic PSX’S design stage, we had to choose which part of the circuit we wanted the power supply to enhance. This one has five electrically isolated rails, so can give boost to more areas at the same time.
“The interface is so comprehensive that if we want to make it backwards compatible with the older products we can. The downside is they would only ever use two rails, which is a waste,” says Williamson.
A Classic update
But, as Patching says, Cyrus is trying to maintain everything within the Classic range and develop it: “We’re far from making the Classic range obsolete, it’s still relevant.” Its CDI integrated CD player is a current What Hi-fi? Awardwinner, seven years after it first hit the market. That said, we might expect the XR technologies and methods to pave the way for future Classic progression.
“The learnings from this will definitely trickle down,” says Williamson. “As an engineer, whatever you’ve learned from the last design goes into the next one. It might be at a different price point, but the fundamental learnings still apply.”
“Classic has evolved from the original Cyrus 6 amps to the DACS to the XPS, and we expect XR to go on a similar journey,” says Patching. “This range has a decade of evolution in front of it. But we didn’t want to just evolve stuff in the Classic range, we wanted to do something interesting and relevant. It just takes longer to develop a new design rather than evolve an existing one.”
“The Classic range has evolved from the Cyrus 6 amps to the DACS to the XPS. We expect XR to go on a similar journey”
Design language consistency
When Cyrus’s budget ONE Series hit the market with a contemporary aesthetic in 2016, it prompted thoughts of a style change higher up the product line. But, while Cyrus wanted the XR to look like a distinct series, it was important to keep the design language consistent.
“The ONE Series had a folded aluminium chassis because cost dictated it, but for the XR, we used a die-cast aluminium chassis for its benefits,” says Williamson. The XR is visually close to the Classic series, the biggest difference being the XR’S new Phantom Black paint finish. “One of Cyrus’s philosophies is the path of upgrades. We don’t expect customers to replace all their Classic boxes with XR series, but when the two products share the same rack, we don’t want them to look alien to each other.”
“When planning these products we always think about how people will live with them,” adds Patching. “Half-width is part of our DNA; we’re into small footprint and efficiency.”