Cyrus has a singular approach to casework design, new products are always shoe-horned into the cast aluminium half-width boxes that have become the company's signature.
The new Cyrus CD Xt SE transport is distinguished by the addition of two letters printed in white on silver on its lower lip, which must be cause for confusion from time to time.
Having said that this particular unit is easily differentiated from its predecessor, at least by virtue of a slot – rather than drawer-loading mechanism.
This move has occurred across the Cyrus range and is related to the reason for the revision of the transport itself, which is indicated by the SE suffix. This stands not for special edition, as is usually the case, but for servo evolution, Cyrus MD Peter Bartlett, claims that his company's development of its own servo software makes it unique in the hi-fi universe.
A servomechanism, to give it its full title, is a device which (in a CD player) controls the motors which operate the laser mechanism that reads the disc. Cyrus has the advantage of employing Jonathan Green, an engineer who used to work in Philips' optical engineering department and thus a chap with a deep knowledge of how optical disc systems work.
Along with the Cyrus engineering team he designed the servo software that allows all current Cyrus players to operate in a fashion that is dedicated to getting the most information from the disc with the minimum of data corruption.
This involves spinning the disc at 1x speed and operating the drive for maximum data retrieval with less reliance on error correction and improved laser control accuracy. The claimed result is up to five times fewer data errors, better signal-to-noise ratios and improved jitter levels.
Operationally the CD Xt SE is pretty straightforward, there's the new disc loading system to master, but that's really just a matter of avoiding putting fingers on the playing surface.
We had a few glitches with discs not playing properly, but these were overcome by ejecting and re-inserting. The remote handset is designed to control anything in the Cyrus range and as that range includes a multichannel processor, there are quite a few legends and buttons that are not relevant to CD playback.
Fortunately, the operational keys are bright green and, therefore, easy to find but things like the next track take a bit of scanning for.
The DAC XP is a 24-bit/192kHz oversampling digital to analogue converter and analogue preamp combined. It has six digital and two analogue inputs alongside two pairs of outputs in both balanced and single-ended form. It is a fully balanced, dual-mono preamplifier with input naming from a given list and alternative display options.
On the digital side, the DAC XP has an intelligent receiver that treats signals according to their quality. Thus it re-clocks high-quality signals using a close tolerance circuit with triple quartz reference, but when it receives a low accuracy signal from a PC, for instance, it relaxes the re-clocking precision to ensure reliable signal recovery. As it stands, however, there is no USB input which would be useful for PC sources.
The sound of this pairing has clearly changed since its first incarnation. Audio memory can be a fickle thing, but on this occasion we are pretty certain that the goalposts have moved.
This is immediately obvious in the quality of high-frequency sounds, such as female voice and percussion, which are unusually well reproduced and have a clarity and depth that is rare. It's also a highly detailed sound that delivers uncanny amounts of low-level information, which means that the soundstage is never less than full size.
The downside to this exposure is that less than sweet or clean recordings tend to reveal their shortcomings. Pianos, for instance, can harden up if a recording has been compressed. This proved to be the case with solo piano on Esbjorn Trio Svensson's Live in Hamburg disc, but when the band got going as a whole, the coherence and solidity of the low end balanced things out nicely, the result being very strong on atmosphere and the low-level cues that help to recreate the excitement of a live event.
The pairing appreciates a good digital interconnect. We started with a somewhat aged Furukawa cable, before moving to a Chord Company Signature which tidies things up appreciably and lets you hear much further into the music.
It's hard to find anything to directly compare these components to, there are few if any other standalone transports under a grand and DAC/preamps are hardly commonplace. We did, however, have a Russ Andrews HP-1 preamp and DA-1 DAC, which when combined are a bit like the DAC XP, albeit in two boxes and with far fewer features.
Next to these the Cyrus solution offers a big upgrade in resolution thanks to its greater overall transparency. This helps to give the sound its room-filling scale and to fill in the fine detail in voices for instance, that the more affordable Russ Andrews combo struggles to reveal. That said, the treble is easier to live with, probably because it's less revealing.
With a great recording such as Cornelius's Sensuous album, instruments like small bells and acoustic guitar are produced out of thin air with magical realism. And when more elements are introduced to the mix it just gets bigger and better – the Cyrus brings its crisp precision to the whole bandwidth so that the bass is as tight and shapely as you like.
Usefully, this detail resolve does not get in the way of the musical message. In fact, it reinforces it with an excellent grasp of timing that enables easy access to complex rhythms.
Another successful title is The Trentemøller Chronicles, which is a bit like the Orb, but in a contemporary style and without the samples. It's essentially an entirely computer-derived sound, but one that has real shape and scale. We put it on for background purposes but were distracted by the way the Cyrus pulled out so much deep lush bass and a pulsating elastic soundstage that got bigger and better as the volume was pushed.
To experiment, we combined the CD Xt SE with the DAC in a Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player and fed the output to a Music First preamp, about five-and-a-half grand's worth of kit in all. It sounds more relaxed and better focused than the DAC XP, but lacks its scale and tight precision.
Cyrus has done a phenomenal job with the CD Xt SE; it is a transport that's as close to any reference product we've come across. In combination with the Cyrus DAC XP, it produces a remarkably well resolved and musically coherent result that, while a little on the exposed side for some material, makes most of our music even more real.