Cyrus is back. Well, maybe they never really went away, but it’s been a while since they had much of a presence in the North American market. It’s been almost four decades since the introduction of the Cyrus One integrated amplifier from this electronics brand offshoot of Mission loudspeakers. The two companies haven’t been affiliated for years, and Mission is now part of the International Audio Group (IAG), which has purchased a number of different brands, including Luxman, Wharfedale, Audiolab, and Quad among several others.
While I was getting acquainted with the Cyrus brand, I perused their website and counted 28 different products, including a wide range of electronics and even speakers and earphones. Their latest offerings comprise the the XR line of electronics, which includes a preamplifier, two integrated amplifier-DACs, a CD player, and a CD transport. I received both their CDi-XR CD player, the subject of this review, and the i9-XR integrated amplifier-DAC (review forthcoming). I was a bit surprised to learn that not only has Cyrus introduced the CDi-XR, the company also produces another CD player and two CD transports, none of which support SACD or any other optical disc format except the CD.
Compact disc, compact construction
To improve compact disc playback, Cyrus has developed its own CD servo mechanism, although it does rely on other manufacturers to supply the DAC chips, including ESS Technology in the case of the CDi-XR. However, the company states that the second-generation QXR DAC platform in the CDi-XR is optimized for CD data, and Cyrus has paid particular attention to the reconstruction filters and power supply. The CDi-XR is their top-of-the-line CD player; it’s priced at $2999 (all prices in USD).
Housed in the half-width, cast aluminum chassis common to all Cyrus components, the CDi-XR is a compact and solidly built unit. The circuit boards and other internal components are bolted to the top of the chassis, and the bottom is covered with a removable plastic panel that provides access to the interior. Heatsink fins are built into the back of the cast chassis, and the Cyrus logo is embossed on the top.
The front panel features an LCD display above the slot-loading mechanism and the control buttons for disc navigation and ejection located below this, along a panel that’s angled slightly upwards to allow for easier access. The power button and IR sensor for the remote are situated to the left of the display. While the contrast of the LCD display can be adjusted, along with the brightness and polarity (black on white or white on black lettering), the characters are relatively small and difficult to read from across the room, except for the track number, which is displayed in a larger font.
The back panel is sparsely populated, containing only two sets of analog outputs on RCAs and two S/PDIF outputs—one coaxial (RCA) and one optical (TosLink). A proprietary, multipin connector for the optional PSU-XR power supply is included as well as an MC-BUS input and output on RCAs for connection to similarly enabled Cyrus components. Finally, separate USB Mini-B connectors are provided for upgrading the UI and servo firmware in addition to a standard, two-pronged IEC inlet for the included power cord.
The player comes with a Cyrus iR14 remote that can be used to control Cyrus amplifiers, CD players, and streamers; it’s also a learning remote. It’s a good size, with easy-to-read, backlit keys, but because there are so many similar-looking buttons, I found it a bit difficult to use.
Inside the chassis, shielded from the rest of the circuitry, is something Cyrus calls the CD Servo Evolution (SE) engine. By designing its own optical disc mechanism, the company was able to optimize the CDi-XR for CD playback, whereas most optical drive units manufactured these days are designed for burning DVDs or Blu-rays. The CD SE mechanism is designed to run at only 1x speed so that it can read accurately rather than quickly as running at high speed during playback can induce read errors. Because the CDi-XR is built for accuracy rather than speed, the error correction circuitry doesn’t need to do as much work; according to Cyrus, this results in less electrical noise being introduced into the DAC. In addition to slowing down the drive to increase accuracy, Cyrus also paid close attention to the choice of disc loader, laser, and motors as well as the creation of the software that controls laser travel, focus, and tracking.
The second-generation QXR DAC board utilized in the CDi-XR incorporates an ESS Technology ES9028Q2M DAC chip, which is the low-power stereo version of their ES9038PRO reference DAC. In addition to the ESS silicon, Cyrus designs the QXR circuitry with high-quality reconstruction filters and uses high-quality power supplies, including a custom, low-noise toroidal transformer. The QXR DAC board is used in several Cyrus products, but in the CDi-XR, it has been optimized for use with the 16-bit/44.1kHz digital data provided by the CD SE engine. As such, the digital filter option is disabled and the filter has presumably been set to the one that Cyrus believes sounds best for CD playback.
Set up and use
With the CDi-XR, I had to dust off my old CDs and manually load them into the player individually, something that took a little getting used to after years of mainly streaming digital audio. I found that the slot-loading mechanism didn’t eject discs far enough out of the unit so that I could easily remove them with one hand. I needed to be very careful when removing the discs by their edges to avoid touching their surfaces or even dropping them. The backlit display was a little hard to read from a distance, and the shiny black buttons on the front panel were also difficult to differentiate, but I mostly used the remote to access tracks and quickly got used to operating the player.
Because the CDi-XR has only RCA outputs for analog signals, I used Nordost Quattro Fil RCA interconnects rather than the XLR cables I normally use to connect to my Anthem STR Preamplifier. The rest of my system remained unchanged and comprised an Oppo UDP-205 4K Ultra HD universal Blu-ray player, Anthem M1 mono amplifiers, MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 loudspeakers, and two JL Audio E-Sub e112 powered subwoofers. Cabling, including power cords and power conditioners, was a mixture of Analysis Plus, Clarus, ESP, Zero Surge, and Blue Circle Audio. I also made use of the ARC Genesis room-correction system and bass management built into the STR Preamplifier as it is part of the reference setup I use to integrate the JLA subs with the ML speakers in my system.
Reading the Red Book
While I often listen to standard resolution 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC files ripped from my CD collection or streamed from online music services, I hadn’t purchased a CD in several years and wasn’t really sure what to expect from extended listening sessions with a CD-only optical disc player. So, I found myself staring at my CD collection wondering where to begin.
To start, I decided to cue up the title track from an album produced during the height of the CD era, Madonna’s Ray of Light (Maverick / Warner Bros. 9362468472). The strings that open this track had excellent clarity, and when the drums kicked in at around 0:22, I was impressed by how tight and solid they were. Madonna’s vocals were crystal clear and tightly focussed with amazing presence. This song sounded about as good as I’ve ever heard it through my system.
Moving on to “Sky Fits Heaven,” the soundstage opened up a bit more with the synth effects flying across the space in front of me and extending outside the speakers. The mix is dense, but the CDi-XR was able to unravel the many overlapping layers of sound while maintaining a solid grip on the pounding bass, which was totally exhilarating. My favorite track on this album is “Frozen,” and the Cyrus player did a fantastic job of reproducing the haunting vocals, which are set back a bit with a slightly softer focus. The CDi-XR was able to extract an incredible amount of detail from this recording, spreading the sound beyond the speakers and well back behind them. Listening to this album on the Cyrus renewed my appreciation of the quality of playback that can be achieved with CDs.
The Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc II version of Robbie Robertson’s eponymous album (Geffen / Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 618) was one of my reference discs when the CD was my format of choice, so I dusted it off and loaded it into the Cyrus player. As with Madonna’s album, there was fantastic imaging with incredible amounts of detail and a deep but tight bass foundation. The rumbling drums that opened the first track were so precisely articulated that they sounded like heartbeats with the rise and fall of each of the three distinct repeating beats. Voices on this track were also well defined; Robertson’s lead vocals remained distinct from Peter Gabriel’s coinciding backing vox. On the even more complex “Somewhere Down the Crazy River,” the drum kit was spread wide from left to right; Robertson’s spoken words were placed dead center and had a striking palpability that contrasted with his more melodic overdubs and the chorus in harmony with Sammy Bodean’s very distinctive voice. All the while, the percussion imaged like crazy, creating a huge wall of sound as it combined with the multiple voices at different heights and depths within the soundstage.
The last CD I purchased was Mark Vincent’s Quartet Sessions (Sony 88765477702), after hearing it at an audio show and discovering that it wasn’t available on my streaming service at the time. The CDi-XR reproduced the pizzicato of the 2Cellos from the opening of “Book of Love” with an absolutely silent background. Vincent’s voice ranged from soothing and melodic initially to filled with power as he hit his peaks in the final chorus. The Cyrus was able to create an utterly convincing aural picture of Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser with their cellos located behind and on either side of Vincent. I felt as if I were seated in front of them and attending the performance at a concert hall with exemplary acoustics.
My longtime reference for a high quality, yet reasonably priced optical disc player has been the Oppo Digital UDP-205 ($1299, discontinued). Not only does it play CDs, it also plays SACDs, DVDs, 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays and most types of audio/video media files. In addition, the Oppo has multiple digital inputs and the ability to output up to 7.1 channels of analog audio; it also acts as a preamplifier utilizing the high-resolution, 32-bit volume control built into its ES9038PRO Sabre DAC chip.
I continued listening to more Robbie Robertson on the Oppo, this time Music For the Native Americans (Capitol 724382829522). “The Vanishing Breed” was lush and enveloping with its intertwining blend of traditional winds, percussion, and vocals punctuated by Robertson’s wailing electric guitar. Switching to the Cyrus, I found that the individual instruments now popped and became more dissimilar within the mix while maintaining a solid and contiguous image between the speakers. The drums were also now tighter, and the rise and fall of the beats were more clearly defined than they had been on the Oppo, which tended to reproduce the beats in a comparatively monotone fashion.
The Cyrus was also better able to differentiate the harmonies of the vocal performers—Ulali, a Native American women’s a capella group—on the track “Mahk Jchi.” During the chorus, the voices floated more freely, staying just slightly inside the speakers instead of being anchored to them as they had been with the Oppo. The bass was again tighter; this gave the traditional hand drums an articulate and authentic sound, but also allowed everything on the soundstage to snap more tightly into focus.
Closing the Red Book
The Cyrus CDi-XR is an excellent-sounding source component, even though it only plays CDs and lacks digital inputs. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my CD collection, something I haven’t done in many years, and listening to the Cyrus’s full-bodied, sophisticated character. If you’re an audiophile looking for an optical disc player optimized for CD playback, the CDi-XR would be a fine choice.
. . . Roger Kanno
- Speakers: MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9.
- Subwoofers: JL Audio E-Sub e112 (2).
- Preamplifier: Anthem STR Preamplifier.
- Power amplifiers: Anthem M1 (monoblocks).
- Digital sources: Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD universal BD player.
- Speaker cables: Analysis Plus Silver Apex.
- RCA interconnects: Nordost Quattro Fil.
- Power cords: Clarus Aqua, Essential Sound Products MusicCord-Pro ES.
- Power conditioners: Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 with X0e low-frequency filter module, Zero Surge 1MOD15WI.
Cyrus Audio CDi-XR CD Player
Warranty: Three years (varies by distributor outside the UK).
Cyrus Audio Ltd.
Ermine Business Park