Spin Doctor #14: Lyra Atlas λ Lambda phono cartridge and fixing footfall problems

It has been more than a decade since 2012, when Lyra launched the original Atlas moving coil cartridge as the company's flagship, but in the intervening years, there have been a few updates. First, in 2016, Lyra introduced what they call the SL versions of the Atlas and also the Etna. These cartridges were designed to take advantage of a new crop of transimpedance phono preamps like the CH Precision P1 and the Sutherland Phono Loco, which boast exceptionally low noise levels but work best with cartridges that have very low impedance. Cutting the number of turns on each of the cartridge's two coils in half reduces the moving mass and inertia, allowing the stylus/cantilever assembly to respond more accurately to the tiny groove modulations. This results in improved tracking at the cost of a lower output level, which, thankfully, transimpedance phono preamps are well-equipped to handle.

Then in 2020, both Atlas and Etna versions were updated to new λ Lambda versions, with a redesigned suspension and damper system that Lyra says delivers enhancements in clarity and resolution. Visually, you can easily distinguish between the older and λ Lambda versions by color: Some parts of the structure went from bright emerald green to lurid purple.

When Shane Buettner of MIBS Distribution, Lyra's new US importer, noticed I was using an original Atlas cartridge as one of my references, he offered to upgrade it to the latest version so that I could hear the differences. To avoid introducing too many variables, we agreed to stick with the standard, higher output version (not the SL), which has the added advantage of being a better match for a wider range of phono preamps. While the standard Atlas λ Lambda ($13,195) does have more than twice the signal level of the Atlas SL, it is, at 0.56mV, very much a low-output cartridge, requiring a phono preamp with plenty of gain.

When I substituted the Atlas λ Lambda for the older version in my Brinkmann La Grange turntable with Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm, the improvement in resolution and lucidity was instantly obvious. Some of this could be due to wear on the older cartridge, but I'm sure I never had this level of clarity even when it was fresher. The original Atlas was famous for its world-beating dynamics and bass slam, but it could get a bit relentless at times with its "just the facts" presentation. The λ Lambda mixes in a little more beauty, not by softening the sound or adding an artificial sense of glow but by adding resolution, extracting and delivering more of the intrinsic beauty in the recording.

Comparing the sound of the Atlas λ Lambda into the voltage-drive input and current-drive input of the CH Precision P1 proved interesting. Both options sounded superb. The current-drive side gave the Atlas a more buttoned-down and tidy presentation, while the voltage-drive input was the freer and wilder sister, with a more open and expansive sound. On the voltage side, Lyra's loading recommendations often make me giggle; the Atlas's guideline—somewhere between 104 and 887 ohms—is a perfect example. Those figures were calculated based on the total load inductance and capacitance—but wouldn't it have been simpler to just say 100–1k ohms? I guess it's just Lyra designer Jonathan Carr's way of giving us a little smile. After some listening, I settled on 475 ohms, same as the older Atlas.

On the Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian trio album Segments (DIW 7034), drummer Motian's deft touch with his brushes on the standard "You'll Never Know" displays the Atlas's improvements as clearly as anything I found. The contrast in tonal signature between each drum and cymbal was vividly on display, with a little less smearing at the top end. The high-frequency detail took on a security that reminded me of a master tape, making the listening experience a little more relaxed.

To check that the Atlas's famous slam and bass power remained intact, I played "Airhead" from Thomas Dolby's Aliens Ate My Buick (EMI Manhattan Records E1-48075) and was relieved to find that the pants leg–flapping bass was as powerful as ever, with some newfound additional clarity. The Atlas λ Lambda changes are all on the upside.

Few cartridges are as expensive as the Lyra Atlas λ, but fewer still can match its performance. It still has the same tell-it-like-it-is sound as the original Atlas, but now with even further enhancements in resolution and clarity. When current Atlas owners send their cartridges to Lyra for a rebuild, the λ Lambda enhancements will be added for no additional charge.

Footnote 1: Lyra Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan. Web: lyraaudio.com. US importer: MIBS Distro LLC, Gig Harbor, WA. Tel: (253) 209-6792. Web: mibsdistro.com


Glotz's picture

The pragmatic info given here is awesome. Addressing sprung floors is a serious need for turntables.

I cannot imagine living a few hundred feet from a subway! That guy must meditate ALL the time... lol.

Thanks Michael, this column is so key!

JohnnyThunder2.0's picture

I will confirm, as an owner of an LP12 that was prone to footfalls on a springy wood floor, that the Target wall shelf eliminated these issues and also was the single biggest improvement in the sound of my LP12. Professionally bolted into wall studs, the difference was startling.

Glotz's picture

I have been wrestling with the SolidSteel Turntable Wall Shelf for a minute now... I must get it.

While it's not a confounding issues right now, the parasitic vibrations from 2 subwoofers 5 feet away dictate I really do need a wall shelf (despite herculean vibration control in place).

AnalogueFan's picture

Great article, because we already know that DOS LOCOS by Sutherland Engineering, with trans impedance input stage, are among the best current mode Phono Preamplifiers.
Thank you!

supamark's picture

Vinyl is the only format where you can't compress the living crap out of music so you get actual dynamics because physics. No interest in modern, cut from a digital file vinyl though - I'll just listen to the best digital version with my preferred DAC if I don't already have the original AAA version. I was smart, and never sold my vinyl collection so I've got 600+ records from the 60's to early 90's. The only ones that sound bad are the DMM stuff and anything that used digital lookahead - ADCs and DACS were awful in the 80's

Oh, and Eric Clapton's Crossroads collection on vinyl is the worst sounding POS vinyl remaster I've ever heard. Greg Calbi, the guy who did it, can't hear worth a damn and has no business working as a mastering engineer. It was remastered digitally through the worst converters that Greg could find in the late 80's and is unlistenable on vinyl. Just grey with serious phase issues due to the crappy ADCs and DACs.

Glotz's picture

Way childish trolling dude.

Glotz's picture

Thanks for another childish rant that has zero substance.

My mommy thinks you need a nap.

And a hug.

Indy, I doubt you listen to ANY music...

you're too angry & rageful at everything.

It prevents you from making a sound opinion.

Jim Austin's picture

I'm often unimpressed with comment threads. But this might just be the most infantile I've ever seen. I get a lot of pushback whenever I point out disadvantages of anonymous/pseudonymous posting, but I feel certain that if "ChrisS" and "IndyDan" were posting as themselves--taking responsibility for their comments--this embarrassing crap would never have polluted the Stereophile website. Shame on both of you.

Jim Austin, Editor

David Harper's picture

Good thinking Jim. The internet always brings out the worst in people. They post comments that they would never be man enough to say face to face in person. It's a cowards paradise. It's why I quit social media.

ChrisS's picture

Anonymous or not, this is who we are...

Just calling out IndyDan on his rude remarks.

I have no problem with you deleting all those comments.

They should be.

supamark's picture

But I sense the ban-hammer will be out soon...

On a somewhat related note, what happened to TonyKaz? Banned or deceased? You know he used to run a hi-fi store in Michigan 45 years ago before working for GM. Sold a lot of Electrocompaniet.