Cyrus i9-XR Integrated Amplifier/DAC Review
James Michael Hughes is seduced by this beautifully packaged new amplifier/DAC combination…
i9-XR Integrated Amplifier/DAC
This new £2,995 i9-XR integrated amp/DAC combination is part of an exciting new range of Cyrus XR components – one that introduces a swish new look and feel to the company's mainstream separates. Currently, there are six products available, with more in the pipeline. Offering a claimed 91W RMS per channel into 6 ohms, the i9-XR you see here is superficially akin to the Cyrus 82 DAC QXR, but there the similarity ends.
The headline news is that the XR series gets a classy “Phantom Black” paint finish, plus a new user interface that features neat capacitive touch buttons and a fine pitch LCD screen, which is adjustable for brightness and polarity according to taste. It's a real refinement over previous generations of Cyrus separates. Still, the brand has an ultra-faithful following, and it will be interesting to see what these folk make of the changes.
Internally the i9-XR is an entirely fresh, updated design. Power output is slightly increased over the 82 DAC QXR, and the i9-XR's power amp section offers a wider bandwidth – said to be from DC to 100kHz – to minimise phase shift. Cyrus says the i9-XR's internal power supply is more generously specified to deliver additional headroom for short duration peaks. And for headphone listeners, there's a 3.5mm socket on the back, driven by its own mini power amp.
The i9-XR's analogue preamp is derived from the high-end Cyrus Pre-XR preamplifier. It features input selection via relays rather than solid-state switches, with a new high-performance gain stage and Schottky diodes. Signal paths have been kept short to maximise detail and transparency, the company says. There are four line-level unbalanced analogue inputs, plus a moving magnet phono stage for vinyl playback. You also get four digital inputs (two optical, two coaxial S/PDIF) plus USB.
The i9-XR's DAC is a revised second-generation version of the company's QXR DAC and sports a new high-speed analogue buffer stage, plus a digital anti-aliasing filter with seven user-selectable settings. The USB audio input can handle sampling rates up to 768kHz, plus DSD (Direct Stream Digital) to DSD512.
The MM phono stage inherits many design features from the company's own Phono Signature product. Performance levels are said to be much better than usual for this class of product, with low distortion and a wide dynamic range promised for vinyl playback. Its RCA connectors and ground post form part of a crazily crowded back panel, as does the socketry for the optional external PSU-XR power supply that's projected to cost a cool £1,995.
The latter has five independent regulated supplies. Two are assigned to the power amp, with another two for the preamp and one for the digital circuits. Cyrus says it, “takes outboard power supply design to a whole new level.” It supplies up to three separate circuits on each host product and claims to deliver clean power at 256 digitally controlled voltage levels to ensure precise matching. It's said to provide sixty percent more power than the PSX-R2.
I look forward to reporting my findings on this upgrade at a later date; suffice to say that ever since the original Mission Cyrus Two in the mid-nineteen eighties, the company's offboard plug-in PSUs have made a big difference.
The i9-XR amp needs a bit of use before it fully burns-in and sounds at its best. Cyrus suggests leaving it running for about three days and nights playing music. It performed very well straight from the box, but the sound did ease-up and open out with extended use.
I used the i9-XR with a Cyrus CDi-XR CD player via its analogue outputs, and with a direct digital connection to evaluate the DAC in the amplifier. The two options sounded very close, but I had a slight preference for the digital connection. The Cyrus CDi-XR CD player arrived before the i9-XR, so I tried it in my own system for a few days and was enamoured with the clarity of its musical presentation. It delivered strong, firm bass lines, sounding focused and impressively expressive and articulate. Compared to my regular Audiolab 8000CDT, the CDi-XR reproduced CDs with more dynamic shape, plus a more comprehensive range of tone colours. Playing that old favourite One on One with Earl Klugh and Bob James, the Cyrus sounded immediate, tactile and musically more engaging. By comparison, the Audiolab was blander and more generalised. For example, on percussion, the CDi-XR imparted a greater sense of texture, reproducing the woody tonality of a leather-covered pad striking a bass drum, rather than just delivering a dull, heavy thud.
Focusing back in on the i9-XR integrated amplifier/DAC combo, it also created a favourable first impression. As you would expect from any premium-priced Cyrus product, the sound was crisp, clean, and immediate. I felt I could really hear the company's design benefits in terms of added clarity and lack of smearing. This was very evident on Compact Disc using the CDi-XR via the i9-XR's internal DAC. You get a powerful, confident, open and engaging sound, with no rough edges or obviously weak points to speak of.
One of the i9-XR's headline features is the set of seven user-selectable digital filters; they comprise Brick Wall, Steep/Linear, Gentle/Linear, Steep/Minimum, Gentle/Minimum, Apodising and Hybrid. This should make it possible to tailor the DAC to each digital recording more precisely, depending on the mastering. However, one can't be too scientific about this; as always it's very much a case of listening to the options and choosing the one you think sounds best.
I began my formal audition period using a CD of Bach Toccatas played on the harpsichord by Mahan Esfahani on Hyperion. With plenty of crisp, fast transients and bright overtones, harpsichord recordings can easily sound a bit harsh on CD. I hoped this would help me hear obvious differences with each filter, but the sound didn't seem to change much. I then tried a 1979 digital recording of Stravinsky's Petrouchka (Zubin Mehta NYPO) from one of the very first CDs pressed in 1982. Here, my hope was that the filters would add tonal warmth and body to the thin early digital sound, but had to listen carefully to hear any difference. Brick Wall seems to be the 'strongest' filter in terms of getting rid of high frequencies beyond 20kHz, while the others are progressively more subtle.
Going from Brick Wall to Steep/Linear, Gentle/Linear, Steep/Minimum, then Gentle Minimum, the sound grew a tad sharper and more open. Tonally, Brick Wall seemed harder, drier, and more closed in, while the sound appeared slightly freer with the subsequent filters. The Apodising and Hybrid filters sounded good too, but in truth, I could happily live with any of the seven options. Sure, there were differences but not game-changing ones. It's best to think of the filters in the i9-XR as a useful extra that make something that's already good, sound better still.
Moving to vinyl, and the i9-XR's phono stage produced excellent results. I used a step-up transformer for my low output MC cartridge and gave that old favourite The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett, a spin. My ECM pressing dates from 1975, the year the album was issued, but still sounds great. Jarrett's piano sounded bright and airy, with a lovely tonal bloom and lots of overtones. Audiophiles have long regarded this as one of the best sounding piano recordings ever issued. Yet, we now know Jarrett was seriously unhappy with the piano and almost cancelled the concert! Equally impressive was an Erato LP Harpsichord Concertos by Baldassare Galuppi – a wonderfully spacious analogue recording featuring I Solisti Veneti under the late Claudio Scimone. It sounded beautifully nuanced and airy, with excellent presence and holographic detail.
The i9-XR's volume control operates in discrete 1dB steps, which is okay but I'd have preferred 0.5dB steps for more refined control. For those not needing the i9-XR's 91W output, Cyrus offers a lower-priced reduced power option – the i7-XR – which delivers 52W per side output. I found the i9-XR had plenty of clean power to spare, but I use 95dB efficient speakers which does help a lot!
My regular amplifier is Musical Fidelity's Nu-Vista 800. The i9-XR costs about two thirds less, yet delivers comparable sound quality. However, the MF has three times as much power, and would doubtless show its mettle with inefficient speakers that really needed driving. However, within its power envelope, the Cyrus offers sound quality every bit as good – and the i9-XR's in-built DAC is hugely advantageous for digital sources.
It's never easy to introduce a new range of products, particularly if you're Cyrus and have a very well established customer base and distinctive aesthetic and ergonomic traditions to uphold. With the i9-XR I think the company is on to a good thing. This amplifier offers excellent sound quality at the price, but in a lovely, small and neat package with excellent build quality. Sonically it delivers impressive clarity, and dynamics and does so with subtlety and finesse. Factor-in its awesome digital capabilities and the option of that upgrade power supply, and it's all the more enticing.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!
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