Review: The Cyrus i9-XR looks like a well-trained athlete. The amplifier plays incredibly fast and differentiated, without appearing overly motivated.
Review: i9-XR Integrated Amplifier- The older I get, the more I appreciate compact, powerful devices. When it comes to amplifiers in particular, devices from Great Britain come to mind for good reason. No matter what nickname they have been given, one thing has always distinguished the “little ones” from Meridian, Naim, Nytech or Mission Cyrus, as the company was called before 2005: Top sound for manageable money. The sound has remained the same for the remaining brands, the manageable money has been put into perspective here and there. However, if you consider what the last incarnation of the Cyrus integrated amplifier can do and that it has long since outgrown its box existence, this is put into perspective. We have the Cyrus i9-XR here today (3,395 euros), the larger of the two integrated from Cyrus’ new XR series.
1977 saw the start of the company we now know as “Cyrus”. At that time, the company operated under the name “Mission” and in the first few years only produced loudspeakers that some of you will surely know. In 1983 the name “Cyrus” was added to the amplifier line, and in 1984 the Cyrus One and Cyrus Two were the first two iconic integrated amplifiers with a compact look. The first stabilized additional power supply soon followed with the PSX. So Cyrus can really claim to have been paying a lot of attention to the subject of power supplies for a long time – of course also due to the small size of their actual amplifiers.
Headquarters and production are still based in Huntingdon, England, which has been a strong heart of the British audio scene for so long – I’ll just say: Quad. Cyrus chief engineer Ceri Williamson wrote to me that the company has a very close partnership with SMS Electronics, a manufacturer of premium electronic components. In this way, the quality of the components can be maintained and monitored through local production. Also, and of course most importantly for Williamson, they have access to a world-class development lab. As a result, design ideas could be implemented very quickly, within days and not, as is usually the case, months. What is decisive for Cyrus is not the best values in the measuring laboratory, but a minimization of noise through a particularly careful circuit board design and the specific assembly of components. The boards are hand-drawn, Williamson says, key to the routing of the solder traces, some of which inadvertently act as “antennas,” and identifying the components that produced mechanical and electrical messes. And we know that the quieter, the better – namely against a black background – even the finest sounds stand out more clearly.
Experiment makes kluch and the incantation of hearing
Reinforcing wire, the supposed ideal of many engineers, doesn’t exist. That is and remains an illusion, which ultimately means that from the original musical event to its reproduction as little as possible should remain on the technical track. And what different approaches are there: simple and highly complex devices, tubes , transistors , class D– or hybrid amplifier. Unsurprisingly, Cyrus tries to achieve this goal with a mix of engineering and extensive listening sessions, according to Ceri Williamson. To this end, the Cyrus engineers regularly gain listening experience in live concerts of a wide variety of genres. We also reserve the right to change circuits again and again until all listeners are satisfied. Up to 50 different parts in all possible configurations have to be heard. In any case, Cyrus encourages free thinking and such design approaches in his employees.
Even if the Cyrus i9-XR integrated amplifier looks almost the same, its basic appearance has existed since 1993, it is a completely newly developed amp. It is the larger of the two integrated amplifiers from the XR series, the smaller is called Cyrus i7-XR ( 2,495 euros). XR stands for “Extreme Resolution”.
A word about the almost archetypal Cyrus case: an aluminum-magnesium alloy is cast under very high pressure and when it has slowly cooled, it is machined and sealed by hand. Such a compact housing can be a burden and an opportunity at the same time. burden, because the biggest challenge, apart from the limited space, is the heat generated in the device. Opportunity because you are almost forced to use shorter signal paths.
Derived from the new Cyrus Pre-XR preamp, the analog preamp of the Cyrus i9-XR is equipped with a relay-controlled input selector, which used to be FETs. In addition, a new gain stage was developed, which enables the shortest signal paths and lowers the impedance. The phono stage is said to have inherited some of the acclaimed Cyrus Phono Signature, which I couldn’t find out exactly. The DC-coupled class A/B output stage, which is not overly broadband, has a frequency range of 1-100 kHz and is intended to shift all phase shifts to areas outside the audible range. The DC servo, which previously ensured that no direct current was present at the outputs, was removed from their feedback loop because it had a negative effect on the sound. Changes in the circuit board layout made it possible to do without it.
The Cyrus team had already set up and compared all conceivable options for the first generation of their D/A converters: discrete R2R converters, FPGA DACs and various integrated components from well-known suppliers. Their ears chose a chip from ESS, in the case of the i9-XR the Saber ES9038, a 32-bit converter optimized for their amplifier. The converter stage of the Cyrus i9-XR designed in this way is based in principle on the second generation of the Cyrus QXR-DAC, supplemented by a super-fast, analogue buffer stage. Via USB-B can be up to 768 kHz and natively up to DSD 512 to be resolved. The analog filter and all supply voltages have been redesigned, which should further increase the dynamics. Better RF filters are also used to protect against external enemies such as 5G. Bipolar transistors now work in the input instead of FETs.
Because they find the sound of the Cyrus i9-XR so transparent, the engineers have given the amplifier seven digital filters. Ceri Williamson comes from the studio area, he is a qualified sound engineer and knows how recordings are made. So-called “brick wall filters” were used in front of the analog-to-digital converter in early digital recordings. That worked so far, but generated wild phase shifts. So he gave the Cyrus i9-XR this filter option to erase these phase shifts.
Does it work? And whether! Although the sound part is yet to come, I’m getting ahead of myself here. My oldest CD is Wes Montgomery (Album: Movin’ Wes) from 1986. I always thought it was unlistenable but kept it for sentimental reasons. What previously sounded compressed, lame and overcast gets a whole new energy through the Cyrus i9-XR, sounds so much fresher, more dynamic and only becomes audible in the first place. The CD still loses comparison with the LP, but still. Listening through the other filters is fun too – you can conveniently toggle them while listening – and are sure to make minor or major changes here and there. I have described the main difference.
Everything in, everything on
For me, the classic remote control in combination with the display on the Cyrus i9-XR is ideal, because I don’t always like to use my computer or mobile phone when I want to change something. The Cyrus has four high-level inputs including a tape loop, a pre-out for active speakers, for example , and a fixed-level output if you add a second amp. In addition to the usual connections for digital sources, a phono MM input is also missingnot. A USB mini socket brings updates to the device and of course there is a connection for the typical, optional power supply upgrade, which is not used for this test: Unlike the previous PSX-R2, the PSU-XR should be five distinguish independent stabilization stages, of which two are dedicated exclusively to the pre- and final stage.
It doesn’t help, I have to say a word about the speaker connections. If these sockets, which are reserved exclusively for hollow banana plugs (you need an adapter for others!) don’t sound significantly better than more universal types, I would exchange them immediately. From my point of view, that would otherwise be a typical British quirk that nobody needs. Okay, the solution is space-saving in any case, which in view of the compact housing of the amplifier might then pass as an additional argument.
Cyrus i9-XR: Sound Test & Comparisons
Remember the term PRAT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing)? These were criteria that Ivor Tiefenbrunn invented decades ago for his Linn LP12. With the Cyrus i9-XR, I feel reminded of this because I immediately notice its speed: The small power block practically does not smear impulses and transients at all, but implements them at lightning speed without appearing nervous. As in general: The Cyrus i9-XR seems to fulfill all the technical details that Ceri Williamson explained to me: lightning-fast dynamics, jet-black background and great transparency.
But I’m getting ahead of myself and I want to start with the stage. Anouar Brahem (Album: Souvenance) I saw live on the stage of the Prinzregententheater in Munich for the European premiere of this album. Although no live concert was captured on the double CD, ECM is famous for its atmospheric recordings. The Cyrus i9-XR allows me to delve deep into this space. Similar to what sometimes happens live, this recording seems to stretch beyond physical boundaries. All musicians appear holographically precisely positioned. By that I mean that these great instruments such as the Arabic oud or the bass clarinet together with the small string orchestra can be precisely located, you can almost touch them, the Cyrus i9-XR depicts space, music and musicians so transparently. And if you have ever wondered what is meant by the already mentioned jet black background, please listen to the Cyrus i9-XR with such a recording. Nothing distracts from the music, which is displayed pin-sharp against this background. For atmosphere and space I award: “douze points”.
subsonics and more
If I want to put a piece of equipment to the test in a single take, it’s an Emmylou Harris CD (The Wrecking Ball album). The production of Canadian musician and producer Daniel Lanoisis not only a real test of resolution and bass capability, Harris’ vocal mapping is also a major challenge. On “Deeper Well” a large drum sets the rhythm before the electric bass kicks in. Capturing the drum in its full size, not as a small conga, while allowing the texture of its skin to be heard is what it’s all about here. The Cyrus i9-XR does an excellent job here. My reference for this is a Tannoy Canterbury powered by an Ensemble Evocco integrated amp. This makes the drum even more powerful, more physically noticeable. Little Cyrus can’t do that. But what it can do for its size is impressive: authenticity, accuracy, color and more volume than such a small amp is usually able to reproduce.
Shortly after Emmylou Harris begins with her voice, which is difficult to reproduce, producer Lanois throws in some electronically generated, subsonic impulses that make many loudspeakers and amplifiers shake. Of course, our amp, which weighs only 6.5 kilograms, does not bring the very bottom octave, but is already amazing for its price range. If you want more, you have to use significantly larger and more expensive devices or external power amplifiers. And of course the additional PSU-XR power supply will presumably be able to go a step further. But how confidently the Cyrus i9-XR sails through these subsonic shallows, depicts the skin of the big drum in all its colorfulness and how the differentiation between the impulses shakes casually out of the transistors, that is very, very convincing and somehow reminds me of it the assets of significantly larger power amplifiers.
Emmylou Harris has a high pitched, almost awkward voice that tends to get a bit raspy, 100 grit if you get my meaning. The Cyrus i9-XR illuminates Harris’ flights of fancy as well as her small vocal roughness and imperfections and places them clearly in the room. The high-frequency resolution is so good that I can hear the breaks without finding them annoying, which is by no means the case with every amplifier. Even some more expensive amps sometimes leave an unpleasant acoustic aftertaste here because they create a mush of sound.
My Lavardin ISx Reference (3,700 euros) has a different resolution, it packs the treble in more cotton wool and does not show the same airiness and fine resolution as the Cyrus. The fact that he never becomes aggressive is shown not least in Bob Dylan’s “Every grain of sand”, where he perfectly depicts Harris’ soft, supple side, still with a “scratch element”. The ability of the Cyrus i9-XR to resolve this demanding production in all its complexity so finely points far beyond its price range.
PRAT and dissolution with the left
Through ball for Cream (Album: Best of). Most of the tracks by the cult band are poorly recorded and tend to sound hard and compressed. The Cyrus i9-XR traces the music exactly the same way: hard, dirty and with emphasis. And yet the voices of Clapton and Jack Bruce are precisely distinguishable. “Badge”, a lesser-known piece by Clapton and George Harrison, then shows a melodic side that lives on from Jack Bruce’s famous, wonderfully agile bass. Well, thanks to the great resolution capabilities of the Cyrus, the recording doesn’t seem that bad after all. Our guest shows that he can not only implement quickly, but can also turn even pieces that were not so well received into finely resolved enjoyment.
Finally, I come back to PRAT. Gerald Wilson ‘s Big Band is perfect for this (Album: Brass Bag). The music comes from records and the phono playback of the i9-XR is not inferior to the digital sources. It is a major task for every amplifier to not only reproduce such a big band in a spatially credible manner, but also to resolve it in a correspondingly differentiated manner. None of this seems to be an issue for the Cyrus i9-XR. It is a perfect representation of the Big Band sound body, both in its size and does not let the razor-sharp attacks of the horns disturb it for a moment: everything gets to the point, nothing is smeared, every accent is spot on. That’s how it must sound.
Compare to other amps
I compared the Cyrus i9-XR with the AVM CS 2.3, among others. The AVM is more expensive, but has a CD drive and all common streaming providers already integrated. With its potent Class D power amp, it sounds surprisingly fine, almost silky, but isn’t above giving it a go. It can definitely stand up to the Cyrus dynamically, but it doesn’t have its transparency and this crazy transient speed. My Lavardin ISx Reference, on the other hand, sounds slower in comparison and much softer at the frequency ends. The Cyrus clearly presents itself as a modern and incredibly neutral-sounding amplifier that never gets on your nerves and, in a figurative sense, always plays directly on the gas.
Conclusion Cyrus i9-XR
The Cyrus i9-XR looks like a well-trained athlete. The English amplifier plays incredibly fast and differentiated, without appearing overly motivated or becoming uncomfortable for the listener. If you particularly like it cozy and supple, look elsewhere. That doesn’t mean the Cyrus i9-XR can’t play smoothly, quite the opposite. But its most obvious characteristic is a fast, dynamic gait with excellent definition and great freshness. Think of a Mini in the most powerful version.
With its powerful, but rather sinewy, agile power amplifier, it is a suitable playing partner for many loudspeakers. I can imagine a small monitor like the JMR Bliss Jubilee or a smaller floorstanding loudspeaker like the Neat Acoustics Orkestra as a partner, just as well as a Magneplanar MG 1.7i or even a B+W 702 S2 Signature. With its connection and upgrade options, it is fully equipped and can take both analogue and digital listeners by the hand on its furious ride over the grooves and bit tracks of our sound worlds.
The Cyrus i9 XR…
- is a paragon of luminous transparency and plays as fresh as a spring morning.
- never loses track thanks to superior performance development and with this characteristic is recommended as a partner for many loudspeakers.
- inspires with a high-resolution high-frequency reproduction that is reminiscent of the view through a particularly clear window.
- can play smoothly from the middle when required, but is not exactly a cuddly bear.
- convinces with a cleanly contoured and colorfully springy bass, which does not reach the very last depths, but always provides structure in the music.
- draws an astonishingly large stage in front of a really pitch-black background, which enables a spatial illusion far removed from technical conditions.
- is fully up to date with the digital age with its further refined converter.
- has a phono stage that satisfies even critical analog listeners like me
- is with its very good features, its never annoying sound quality, the intuitive usability and last but not least its small size, a real tip for listeners who already had everything and are looking for the latest amplifier – and at an attractive price.
- Model: Cyrus i9-XR
- Concept: integrated amplifier
- Price: 3,395 euros
- Dimensions (WxHxD) & weight: 215 x 73 x 360 mm, 6.5 kg
- Power: 2 x 91 watts (6 ohms)
- Inputs: 4 x high level analogue; 1 x phono MM; 1 x USB B; 2 x coaxial, 2 x optical, 1 x USB upgrade; PSU XR
- Outputs: 2 x stereo speakers, pre-out, fixed out, headphones (3.5mm), MC bus
- Accessories: remote control
- Guarantee: 2 years