"What a refreshingly honest blog about listening to music through hi-fi. So happy to see views based upon the enjoyment of music rather than so-called sound 'quality'." - Peter Comeau, Director of Acoustic Design at Mission / Wharfedale

Sunday 8 April 2012

Cyrus Power vs Linn Power - Decision Time

Finally I get around to writing about the comparison with Cyrus amps.

If you look at my system pictures in the images tab you'll currently see 4 x 8 Powers with 4 x PSX-Rs powering my tri-active Linn Keilidhs and bi-active Linn Centrik (with a pair of SmartPowers driving bi-active Tukans at the rear).

A quick re-cap:

- My system had been static for about 7 years
- I went through a few Squeezebox / DAC combinations before deciding to go for a Linn Akurate DS/0 Dynamik, selling my DAC-X and Linn LP12 to fund the DS
- I was using 6 x Rotel RB850 power amps to drive my active Linn speakers
- The listening room was being thoroughly re-decorated

So during the re-decoration I started collecting power amps to compare once the room was back in action, realising that the Rotels are now the weak point in the system.  My brother has Cyrus kit which has some merits (punchy, fast, excellent imaging, good bass depth) and obviously with Linn in the system I had to give those a try too.

Over the 3 - 4 months of listening room re-decoration I found 4 Cyrus 8 Powers, 3 PSX-Rs (I had one I had been using with the DAC-X to make a total of 4), 2 SmartPowers and the Linn C5100 / AV5125 listed earlier.  FYI, the C5100 is 5 x mono 50W amps in one box and the AV5125 is 5 x mono 125W amps in one box.  The Keilidhs need 6 channels of amplification and the Centrik needs 2 channels so its 2 Linn boxes or 8 Cyrus 8 Power / PSX-R boxes.

Wiring up all the Cyrus amps wasn't the fastest operation - 8 mains power cables (connected into 2 x Clearer Audio Copper Alpha distribution blocks), 10 interconnects and 14 speaker connections took a while, and the spaghetti behind the rack was a real challenge.  The 4 PSX-Rs with their 4 8 Powers on top all lined up on the lower shelf of the Quadraspire QAV rack looked pretty impressive (although many would complain about so many boxes).  Mrs Sunbeamgls is very tolerant!

Comparisons first with memories (3-4 months old remember) of the Rotel power amps.  The Cyrus amps sounded clearer, faster, imaging better and altogether more lively.  Bass wasn't really deeper, but it had more control.  In all the right hi-fi ways, it was a better sound.  But as local Naim enthusiast Richard pointed out, it wasn't really all the way it should be.  I left the system like this for a week - to allow it to settle in and to make sure there weren't any issues waiting for the system to warm up etc.  Still, I wasn't happy with the sound - I just didn't want to sit and listen to the music for very long - I wasn't captivated by the music.

So in come the Linn amps.  Fewer mains cables of course, but just as many of the other connections.  Initial impressions spotted some immediate differences.  I would characterise the overall change in sound as a huge amount more subtlety about the presentation of the music.  Its not something that hits you in the face as being entirely obvious, but its clearly very different to the Cyrus amps.  Bass notes are deeper, more controlled and exist in their own space.  One of the tracks I used suddenly had not just a kick drum, but a kick drum with a bass guitar layered over the top, which is playing a tune - the Cyrus amps just didn't resolve this as 2 instruments, hence not playing the bass line as a tune either.  Cymbals became stand alone instruments with sudden clarity of shimmer vs sparkle and its possible to distinguish how hard they are being struck. There's more - the Cyrus amps initially sound more exciting, but direct comparison with the Linns shows that the leading edges of the instruments are quiet edgy and grainy - they happen faster, but there's a roughness - the Linns again displaying some subtlety in leading edges that allow the music to flow more convincingly.  Its a weird mix of instruments being distinctly separate but the music flowing as an whole - difficult to describe but that's the best way I can put it.

So the Linn's win it for me.  All of this kit is secondhand with the AV5125 being around 8 years old, the C5100 about 5 years old and the 8 Powers and PSX-Rs being between 4 years and 6 months old.  If we consider the new price of the equivalent current models, the Cyrus ensemble comes in at around £6.5k and the Linns at £5k.

I'm almost disappointed!  I kind of like the idea of mixing and matching components, but it seems, in this case, that there could be some synergy happening.   Certainly not disappointed with the music I'm getting - its truly involving.  Since then the AV5125 has replaced the SmartPowers to drive the rear speakers and a current Majik 5100 Dynamik has taken up duties powering the bass drivers in the Keilidhs.  A Linn Akurate 2200 Dynamik is driving the Keilidh tweeters and the C5100 is driving the Centrik speaker.  Another advantage of the Linn amps is that the active crossover cards can be housed inside the amps, removing the need for the Linn Tunebox crossover boxes that are required when running non-Linn amplifiers.  So the crossover boxes have gone and for the front speakers I've gone from 4 Rotels and 2 crossovers down to 3 Linn amps - with Cyrus amps it would have been 10 boxes!  Fewer connections and interconnect cables are probably helping the sound too.

Oh, and one more thing - when watching a movie, because the Cyrus amps are driving only a limited number of drivers and they switch themselves off after 5 mins of inactivity, they were switching themselves on and off rather annoyingly - clicking as they powered up and down to the point of distraction.  Not acceptable!. Of course, it is possible to have the Cyrus amps constantly powered up, but that's not too convenient either.  The Linns are more patient - waiting for 15 minutes before powering down, so they work out just fine, staying active for the full length of a movie.

The Rotels are leaving the building...

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