From the outside, the Cyrus CD8 SE closely resembles the old CD8x, except for one important respect.

With the SE giving freedom to build up the mechanical parts of the system to taste, Cyrus has opted for a slot-loading mechanism instead of the former tray loader.

Welcome improvement

We're not sorry to see the rather rattly old Cyrus tray go, though we do have one niggling reservation about this slot loading replacement. When it ejects the disc, it doesn't push it quite far enough out and gripping it without touching the playing surface is distinctly awkward.

Even worse, if one accidentally ejects a disc and wants to reload it, simply pushing it back in achieves nothing except making it completely impossible to grasp, unless you actually end up grabbing the playing surface.

If Cyrus could use its omnipotence over the CD replay experience to fix that, we'd be delighted!

Top-quality components

Looking inside the CD 8 SE, it certainly has a familiar ring – indeed, Cyrus is quite happy to admit that the audio electronics are unchanged from its predecessor, which seems sensible enough as the results we got from it were always on the impressive side of decent.

Power is derived from two tiny toroidal transformers, one on each side of the case, while the audio board effectively hangs from the top of the case: the new servo board is stacked underneath it. Components throughout are good-quality, with a DAC chip of recent vintage and high- performance op-amps.

At the rear, two sets of audio outputs are provided, plus both flavours of digital output and Cyrus's 'MC-Bus' control system in and out. There's also a socket for a PSX-R external power supply for upgraders.

The features are the usual set and operation is slick and simple, with moderately fast disc loading.

Unremarkable first impression

Obviously we're always very interested in the performance of a much-trumpeted new model, but in this case the stakes seem to be higher than ever for Cyrus.

The thing is, the CD8x was a very good CD player, so in order to avoid a damp squib at this point the SE has to achieve something pretty splendid.

So, we plugged it in and cued up a familiar disc... but weren't really blown away. Very nice, but nothing remarkable.

Interestingly, and not for the first time in recent memory, this turned out to be part of this player's strengths. You don't necessarily want a CD player to sound remarkable initially, that could very easily imply that there is something not quite right.

Deviating from the norm

Yes, some players do stick out from the herd in even the quickest demonstration, but they don't always wear well and can be very much a question of taste in the long run.

The majority stick close to a straight and narrow path for the simple reason that they're technically highly competent and give the same analogue output from the same digits, within close limits.

All the same, small deviations exist between them and this is exactly the sort of thing which only becomes fully apparent after a few tracks'-worth of listening.

Sometimes one realises that the balance is a little unusual, or perhaps imaging a shade better or worse than most.

Superior resolution

In this case, the distinctive feature proved to be resolution. We seemed to be hearing more of the detail between the notes and between the performers in space, than we are accustomed to, certainly from digital sources in this price bracket.

We'll give an example of what we mean by that, by choosing as a test, a disc we've used to evaluate literally hundreds of hi-fi products for more than a decade.

It's of solo voices, chorus and small orchestra and it was recorded quite simply in a nice acoustic, with good equipment, giving it some of the most lifelike sound quality we've ever heard.

It's proved invaluable for analysing the finer points of performance, especially among CD players and DACs, precisely because of the sheer amount of information that seems to be available.

Detailed performance

In this case, we soon became aware that the sound of each instrument was exceptionally well defined.

One could hear the individual decay of oboe, violin and harpsichord, none interfering with another, but each beautifully portrayed in terms of tone, space and indeed time.

Voices, too, had superbly stable tone and timbre, unaffected by anything else within the music texture.

It often seems that instruments and voices somehow 'modulate' each other in the replay process, leading to subtle but surprisingly disturbing mix-up and muddle between them and in avoiding that the CD 8 SE shows itself on a level (or very nearly so) with some of the finest digital replay devices we've heard, including very upmarket kit from the likes of Meridian and dCS.

Improved rhythm

So it's certainly a very civilised player. But what of its performance with music of a raw, visceral nature?

Once again, we can find little but praise. We haven't always been vastly enthusiastic about the rhythm and timing of Cyrus digital sources, but we can't help feeling that the CD 8 SE offers a small, but significant improvement in this area over its predecessors.

While there is no suggestion of a tonal imbalance, bass is very strong and clearly defined, with plenty of attack when needed.

It may not be quite as extrovert as some we've heard, but then it seems to be an unavoidable compromise that the most overtly rhythmic hi-fi components are not the most detailed. One size, indeed, does not quite fit all!

A competent CD player

All the same, this is one of the most assured all-rounders we've come across, certainly if one discounts the esoteric and expensive high end.

It is more than merely competent with any musical style we could throw at it, adapting adroitly to everything from punk rock to the infinitely gentler tones of Mozart string quartets.

While its tonal evenness and extension, combined with its lack of grain and harshness, make it an attractive choice for long listening sessions.

Superb control

Arguably, there are some great CD players around at the moment and the Cyrus CD 8 SE is definitely one of them.

From top to bottom of the range, it has superb grip and control over the sound without ever being in danger of strangling the life out of the music.

Its technical prowess is clear, too: we ran our usual batch of tests and confirmed that jitter, noise and distortion are all among the very best we've seen from any 16-bit digital source (though once again the digital filter allows some aliasing, unfortunately).

Imaging and detail are first-rate and sounds are invariably solid and almost tangible.

You'd have to spend truly frightening amounts of money on an amplifier and speakers before you could say that the CD8 SE was putting a brake on overall system performance... and we can't say fairer than that!