The Mission System Mission Cyrus Two amplifier
Mission Cyrus Two amplifier: $599
Now some three years old as a product, the Cyrus Two is a very compact integrated amplifier, considering its 50Wpc output, as wide but a little longer than an "A4" sheet of paper. (For those unfamiliar with international standard paper sizes, A4 is the same size as the popular RadioShack/Tandy 100/102 laptop computers, if not quite as thick, of course.) The shorter sides of the paper comprise the front and rear panels of the amplifier; the front carries a volume control, a source selector marked "Listen," another selector marked "Record," and apart from an on/off switch and a red Cyrus Two logo (illuminated when the amplifier is on), that's it. No tone or balance controls to disturb the signal's flow from source to loudspeaker. (Frankly, I don't find the omission of either to be any kind of hindrance, particularly the balance control. Contrary to opinions expressed previously stated in these pages, the balance control seems to me to be about as useful as teats on a bull; if you find that you have to use it to render soundstaging symmetrical, then there is something the matter with your cartridge, speakers, or room, and the cause of higher sound quality would be better served by attacking those problems at source.)
The source selector switches are idiosyncratically labeled: P, O, D, T, T. It takes more than a moment's thought to realize that these stand for Analog Disc, Off, CD, Tuner, and Tape. The manual warns about setting both Listen and Record selectors to Tape; the result will be an unpleasant oscillation. I think I would have preferred the two controls to be linked in some manner to make this impossible. Trusting the purchaser's common sense is, I am sure, an unwise business. (Even audio reviewers forget to read the Owner's Manual on occasion!)
The back panelOh joy!has the RCA jacks pointing upward, significantly facilitating the connecting of leads. (Would you believe that my equipment rack has a rearview mirror behind the SP10?) It also means that the sockets can be mounted directly on the printed circuit board. Though these nickel-plated sockets appear to be relatively inexpensive, they gave no trouble in use, and are conveniently labeled. To the right are two pairs of 4mm sockets for speaker connection (these will only take banana plugs), again mounted on the pcb, a headphone socket (which doesn't switch off the speakers when in use), and a covered receptacle for connecting Mission's optional PSX auxiliary ±40V power supply. Costing $449, this last separately powers the power amplifier circuitry, allowing the existing supply to be wholly dedicated to the disc preamp circuit. In effect, adding a PSX to the Cyrus Two gives the equivalent of a traditional preamp/power amplifier set-up, but with a significantly gutsier power transformer for the preamp than is usually the case. It also does away with the need for additional cables and sockets, with their potential for degrading the sound, between the two.
On the left rear, two pairs of phono sockets adjacent to a grounding post handle MM and MC cartridges; a switch selects whether the internal MC head amplifier, based on the popular LM394 "super-matched" transistor-pair chip and a Signetics low-noise NE5534AN op-amp, or the MM input circuit, again based on a 5534AN, is in circuit. The RIAA equalization circuit is based on an LF353 dual high-speed, FET-input op-amp, the massaged signal then going to the selector switches.
Inside, the layout is both rational and designed to give the simplest possible signal path. Line-level inputs are taken via a single-strand ribbon cable straight from the sockets to the source selector switches, these mounted on the pcb and connecting with the front-panel knobs via plastic extenders. The volume control follows, again connected to the front panel by an extender but I wasn't happy to see that though the control is sourced from the respected Japanese company ALPS, it was their "cooking" pot. Though this will not adversely affect the sound to any significant extent, its channel matching at low levels will be less good than I would have liked.
The center of the large single pcb contains the power-amplifier circuitry. Based entirely on discrete transistors, each channel is very compact, occupying a mere 7 in.2 of board space. The direct-coupled class-A/B output stagestanding bias current is a healthy 60mA per channel, the amp running quite hot as a resultconsists of two pairs of small TO220-cased bipolar transistors per channel bolted to a reasonably large, finned aluminum heatsink on the right-hand side of the chassis. These wide-bandwidth transistors are apparently exclusive to MissionI believe they are made by the French Thomson companyand are said to be exceptionally linear. Measured DC offsets at the output terminals were low, being between 1 and 7mV on the three Cyrus Twos I had to hand; this shows good quality control on the part of Mission.
The pcb is cut away behind the front panel to accommodate the 200VA toroidal power transformer. The only component not mounted on the pcb, it is sourced from the well-respected Scottish Holden and Fisher company, who also supply English manufacturers Naim and Exposure, as well as Mark Levinson in the US. The power supply proper has separate diode bridges for the disc and power amplifier circuitry, with ±10,000µF reservoir capacitors feeding the latter. The preamp reservoir is less hefty, of course, but low-impedance LM317/337 voltage regulators supply a generous ±18 volts to the op-amp circuitry.
Obviously an audiophile has been at work on the selection of passive components: high-quality, metal-film resistors and polypropylene-dielectric capacitors are abundantly present. In addition, the front panel, top, and sides of the box are plastic moldings, a good sign. With the exception of Audio Research, who sticks with steel for the top and bottom plates of their preamplifiers, there does seem to be a good correlation between good sound and a lack of ferromagnetic material near signal-carrying circuitry. Mission hasn't carried the idea through to its logical end, however, as the bottom tray of the Cyrus Two is pressed steel.
The sound: In addition to being used with the other Mission components, the Cyrus Two was used extensively for the speaker reviews in this issue of Stereophile. Some areas of performance stood out. The bass was quick, the midrange detailed, and high frequencies were clean, though the extension was a little curtailed in the extreme HF. Soundstaging was good, with excellent depth, though the image seemed a little confined to the loudspeakers. Others took time to make their presence felt. There was a sense of ease to the sound, despite the relatively low power, and the excellent transparency rendered reproduction always musical.
On the minus side, low-frequency extension was noticeably lacking when compared with the similarly powered (but four times as expensive) Krell KSA-50. The rather forward midrange meant that some records reproduced with a little too much aggression, and the treble was ultimately thought to be a trace soft. The MC input appeared to match the Linn Troika well, noise being very low (though not approaching the Stygian darkness achieved by Ben Duncan's op-amp DIY AMP-01 preamplifier published in HFN/RR in 1984). All in all, however, this is excellent performance for what is a very compact, relatively inexpensive product aimed at the mass market. Certainly, I find it hard to think of a combination of preamplifier and power amplifier costing $600 that would rival the Cyrus Two. (It's even hard to think of any $600 pre/power combination, the only candidates being the NYAL SuperIt, NAD 1130, or Hafler DH-100 driving inexpensive power amplifiers such as the Hafler DH-120 and NAD 2155.) The only real competition for the Cyrus Two, in my opinion, comes from other English integrated amplifiers, the Audiolab 8000, British Fidelity A1, and Naim NAIT (the latter two being significantly less powerful, however.)
I am told that when it comes to the real hi-fi market in the US, integrated amplifiers do not sell in any great number. This is a shame, as I find it hard to think of a more cost-effective way of entering the high-end arena than Mission's Cyrus Two. It may not be perfect, but any compromises in performance to keep the price competitive have been well-managed. Its compact and unusual styling may be a strike against it in the 19"-rack-oriented US; however, the Cyrus Two provides a taste of high-end sound at an affordable price, and can be recommended to those with shallow pockets but expensive tastes.