Cyrus 6vs integrated amplifier
Then again, after installing and using the Cyrus 6vs, which is no larger than a box of cookies, there was no doubt that this integrated amp is a product of modern thinking. It has a standby switch on the front panel, so the amp can go into sleep mode when it's not being listened to, and that and all the other controls—even the volume knob, such as it is—are obviously tied to a logic circuit instead of a phalanx of old-fashioned pots and switches. The inclusion of a remote-control handset was another clue.
I was impressed, this being my first Cyrus and all. Like other American audiophiles, I've been aware of the brand for some time: Cyrus originated 20-odd years ago as a separate product line within the English firm Mission, and in the space of a few years carved out a reputation for stylish, good-sounding amps at budget prices. But those prices were always in pounds or francs or deutschmarks, almost never in US dollars—until last year, when Cyrus products were reintroduced into the US market.
European audiophiles may already know this model's predecessor, the Cyrus 6 (itself descended from the original Cyrus 1, a notoriously long-running show). Having won some awards for that model and its more powerful sister, the Cyrus 8, the company then devised a way to squeeze just a little more performance from their pat and proven formula: a circuit refinement they'd originally developed for the Cyrus Pre X preamplifier. Though the company guards the precise details as a trade secret, the vs (for virtual servo) architecture involves shortening the low-level signal path on the one hand and removing some coupling capacitors on the other, for a clearer, less hazy sound. Yet even without those coupling caps, the designers have found a way to keep DC offset from reaching the power amplifier's driver stage—but without a tracking servo. Hence the name.
The Cyrus 6vs is built into a neatly made light-alloy die-casting, with a logic board up front behind the fascia and all the other parts on a single PCB. Surface-mount technology abounds, and most of the amp's active devices are integrated circuits. Nevertheless, output power for each channel is supplied by a complementary pair of common discrete transistors (SanKen 2SA1386 and 2SC3519), which use cleverly shaped portions of the casting as heatsinks. The mains transformer is a hefty toroid, and the power-supply caps seem similarly robust.
Installing and using the Cyrus 6vs was straightforward. The rear panel sports a neat row of phono-jack pairs, for line-level inputs; a buffered tape loop of the normal sort; and inputs for a proprietary MC-BUS system, so the 6vs can be daisy-chained with other Cyrus products to allow one-touch system control. Output connectors are limited to 4mm banana sockets—which is fine with me, since I prefer those to spade lugs, anyway—and some hobbyists will appreciate the inclusion of an extra pair of sockets, for easy biwiring. Speaking of going bi, the 6vs also has a pair of preamp-out jacks, designed to drive an additional Cyrus power amp in the event that biamplification is desired. In a departure from common practice with these sorts of products, using the Cyrus 6vs's preamp-out jacks does not disable its own power amplifier.
The Standby control is also a departure from the norm. Cyrus wanted to avoid the sound degradation that can result when relay contacts age over time, so their standby uses an electronic control to "tri-state" the power amplifier, keeping it from passing current to the loudspeakers. That approach also allowed the Cyrus designers to engineer a "fade" into the system, for somewhat less jarring ons and offs.
The remote handset is the usual sort, and I wasn't shocked that only a few of its controls apply to a Cyrus integrated amp. But I was pleasantly surprised that the control logic includes a level-programming routine, so the user can match volume levels between various sources—including, of course, an outboard phono preamp, used with the line inputs labeled for same. (I used a long-loaned Linn Linto with very fine results.)
Cyrus offers an ostensibly generous upgrade service: If a 6vs owner decides down the road that 40Wpc aren't enough, the company will transform his or her amp into a full-spec, 70Wpc 8vs for little more than the retail price difference between the two, plus shipping to and from the factory. (The 8vs uses the same output transistors as the 6vs; I believe that the former's higher output power is largely a function of better regulation and higher voltage rails.)
I stayed with just the basic Cyrus 6vs for my review, and in doing so heard the humble amp respond to the same care and patience as some much more exotic amps I've had: The Cyrus definitely sounded better after being run in for a week, and it responded to being left on and warmed up all the time. (No reason not to, barring electrical storms: The 6vs ran warm to the touch, but never hot.) My sample also responded to being physically isolated from its surroundings, by means of an ancient Base platform. Would it be unreasonable to expect an equally ancient Mission Isoplat to work as well?
Readers are free to think that my positive responses to all those ancillary matters—the high level of care with which the 6vs has been designed, engineered, packaged, and sold—have influenced my opinion of its sound, much to Cyrus's benefit. Be that as it may, my impression of this product as a good all-rounder and a true bargain is nigh on unshakable: The 6vs was a perfectly nice little amp, with good timing, surprisingly good drama and scale for only 40Wpc (Haw! Listen to me talk about "limited power"!), and an open and clear if slightly dry presentation overall.
The 6vs didn't play with all the musical flow and ease of the best separates I've heard—that it fell short of gear costing several times its price is no shame, of course—but it was nonetheless good at making recorded music sound appropriately human. The spontaneity and generally high level of artistry captured from mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovsek and Graham Johnson on their 1993 recording of Schumann lieder (CD, Sony SK 57972) came across decently well, the little amp even tracking without complaint Ms. Lipovsek's occasional fortissimos (as in, eg, "Waldesgesprach" and "Der Soldat").
The Cyrus was also musically satisfying on solo piano recordings, and its apparently good freedom from pitch distortion kept my favorites—such as Witold Malcuzynski, Gyrgy Sandor, Jorge Bolet, and Valentina Litsitsa—from being tiresome or difficult to enjoy for long stretches. The Cyrus also respected the subtle note decays evident in the best recordings, and avoided exaggerating or inhibiting the natural die-away of the room sound. A good balance between note attacks and decays was also plain to hear in the Eroica Quartet's famously gorgeous recording of the Mendelssohn String Quartets (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907245). The Cyrus nailed the sound of that tonally rich recording and delivered excellent stereo imaging in the bargain: a surprisingly big, substantial sound with superb spatial detail and stability, and decent if not peerless depth reproduction.
The 6vs tended toward a dry sound, though it was never harsh or overly grainy. And it never sounded egregiously mechanical—although there are certainly amps that sound sweeter and have more natural texture overall, with better touch and a more natural sense of flow. Again, not an unreasonable distinction. Nor did the Cyrus amp's character prevent me from enjoying any sort of music or any caliber of recording. Thanks to its good level of clarity, the 6vs was truer than most other inexpensive amps to the distinctions of different musicians' tone, touch—and recording venue. For example, the Cyrus was especially revealing of Murray Perahia's pellucid sound on his fairly recent recording of Chopin Études (CD, Sony SK 61885), which is among the best-sounding piano recordings I own. (The Cyrus ran out of steam on only a few of the very loudest chords.) Yet it also allowed me to enjoy the thoroughly brilliant but indifferently recorded six-volume Fuzzy Warbles series by Andy Partridge (Ape APE 001 through 006), much of which is on the thin, flat, edgy side of the fence.
The 6vs seemed neutral in its overall timbral balance, and in my system it sounded neither darker nor brighter than it should have. The strings in the beautiful-sounding collection of John Dowland's music released as Seven Teares (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907275) had fine presence and were richly and believably textured. And "After the Fall," which is more or less Leonard Cohen as done by Elvis Costello, on the latter's Mighty Like a Rose (CD, Warner Bros. 26575-2), was compelling in a number of ways: the texture of the harmonium, the presence and placement of the nicely recorded voices, the attack of the plucked notes from the nylon-stringed guitar. What the Cyrus didn't quite pull out of that recording was all of the bass weight, a little bit of the scale (it still wasn't bad), and the last word in sonic feel and musical flow—which, again, one seems to have to spend a whole lot more money to get.
The Del McCoury Band's recording of Charley Stefl's "All Aboard," from Del and the Boys (LP, Ceili Music CEIL2006), showed off the Cyrus amp's rhythmic strengths: It was wonderfully propulsive and involving. With the 6vs driving the Quads, I heard just a shade less weight in the string bass compared with my regular setup, but the amp controlled the big panels quite well: The notes were quick and perfectly in tune, with absolutely no excess die-away. (I'll be curious to see what John Atkinson's measurements suggest about the 6vs's low-frequency speed and damping.) The Cyrus amp's ability to clearly "explain" all the individual notes in lines higher up in the register came through, too—it did an especially good job of showing off the light touch in Ronnie McCoury's mandolin solo.
The Cyrus 6vs left me wanting nothing that I consider crucial to good music playback, and while a Fi 2A3, Lamm ML2.1, or even Naim 250—three very different amplifiers—can all do a better job of, say, communicating the sense of humanness, of a hand pulling a bow across a string rather than a series of notes just occurring, the little 6vs got the basics right, and presented them in a reasonably natural way. Again, it was a little lacking in the flesh-and-blood department, but the 6vs was nonetheless emotionally communicative. As I wrote down on two occasions on two separate pads (blame aging): "This is a perfectly nice amp." And it is.
I have no idea how many people reading this are just starting out in perfectionist audio. (If that's you, welcome—and don't forget to ignore the sad old creeps who think everything sounds the same, and who try to stoke their egos by preventing everyone else from believing otherwise.) But like young people who are just discovering romance in this age of rampant STDs on the one hand and rampant Jerry Falwells on the other, yours is an innocence I do not envy. Like dating, putting together a really good affordable system must get harder to do with each passing year, thanks not so much to monetary inflation but to a deflation in what people expect from the home listening experience. Finding technically impressive ways to fill your living room, office, or car with a constant wash of background music is easy; finding a way to get connected or to stay connected as a serious listener is pretty damn hard.
Here's one that worked for me, and it costs little more than a decent TV set. The Cyrus 6vs is something I can strongly recommend to anyone shopping in this price range.