“The Etna is one of the new breed of harmonically enriched, full-bodied, yet ultradetailed and natural-sounding Lyras.”
Line-topping cartridge that reveals “the last ounce of music from a treasured record collection.”
What’s in a name? In the world of audio products, the most imaginative product names appear to be reserved for phono cartridges. That’s not to say that all cartridges are imaginatively named — far from it. The least imaginative are those named with a string of letters and numbers, like the Shelter S 901IIE, the Shure M97xE or the Air Tight PC-3. These names are better suited for computer pass codes or fighter jets. Slightly more imaginative are cartridges named after precious metals and stones, but these variations on Gold, Platinum, Diamond and Titanium sound more like credit cards than cartridges. Some manufacturers go for the obvious musical references, naming their candidates Stradivari, Concerto, Maestro or Aida.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.
Lyra Co., Ltd.
Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 155-0033, Japan
Call me a snob, but I like a product name that suggests a wee bit of culture. Judged by that standard, Lyra is in a class all its own. The company name, as well as that of each of its products, is firmly based in mythology. Are these names drawn at random, are they a mere affectation, or is there some intention behind the selection? Knowing the players involved, I feel fairly certain that the latter is at play. Lyra’s new top cartridge, the Atlas, is named after the Titan from Greek mythology who held up the celestial sphere. Clearly, Lyra has set itself a significant goal in creating a cartridge that will live up to that name.
Lyra’s large dose of attitude and erudition is not reflective of its size. It is a tiny three-man operation. Stig Bjorge runs the company operations, Jonathan Carr designs the products, and Yoshinori Mishima makes the higher-end cartridges by hand and supervises production of the less expensive models. Jonathan sometimes spends years agonizing over the design of a cartridge, and his attention to detail is reflective of how his mind works. Whether it’s a complex design concept or a relatively simple process, Jonathan brings the same laser-sharp attention to detail to every project.
Jonathan’s perfectionist streak shows up in the most mundane details. Everyone now takes for granted how important it is to keep the contacts of AC plugs and sockets clean using Q-tips and Flitz metal polish, but it was Jonathan who first recognized how critical this was and developed a procedure for doing it. I remember seeing Jonathan sitting on the floor demonstrating his technique ten years ago, and when I agonized over how to clean electrical sockets, it was Jonathan who had already come up with a simple solution: filing down the sides of the thin end of a wooden chopstick to use as a tool.
The first thing you notice about Jonathan’s newest creation, the Atlas (other than the striking green color), is that it is asymmetrical. Looking at the cartridge from the front, there is a protrusion on the left side with what appears to be a gold rivet sticking out the front. This asymmetrical design suppresses the formation of standing waves inside the cartridge body. The protrusion holds the front magnet carrier and its mounting system off to the side to allow a direct, solid path between the cantilever assembly and the tonearm”s headshell, so that vibrations from the cantilever can be quickly drained away after being converted into electrical signals, again suppressing resonances.
Another departure from the Titan design (and indeed from the design of the discontinued Olympos) is revision of the cantilever-assembly mounting structure to increase rigidity. Additionally the former of the signal coil system is in the shape of an X rather than a square, which Lyra says allows each channel to operate with greater independence, giving better tracking, tighter channel matching, improved separation and lower crosstalk distortion. Additionally, the generator coils have been modified to reduce the amount of wire used by 22%, while producing 12% higher output voltage than the Titan. The Atlas has an output voltage of 0.56mV, the same as the output of the Skala, compared to the Titan i’s 0.5mV, or the Titan Mono’s 0.25mV.
Lyra’s setup instructions have also evolved with its latest cartridges. In the past, Lyra would recommend a load of 100 ohms to 47K ohms, which of course covered the entire waterfront. Jonathan Carr has now constructed a detailed table, published in the instructions, helping you to calculate the ideal load based on the total capacitance, including the tonearm cable. The range of these options is quite small — between 104 ohms and 887 ohms. Thus, unless you have a phono stage with infinite loading adjustment, there will only be a few choices. Rounding off, the Audio Research Reference Phono 2SE has only four choices in that ballpark (100, 200, 500 and 1000 ohms). I could have determined the capacitance of the Nordost wire in my tonearm and calculated the ideal setting, but instead I followed the recommendation of Joe Harley of AudioQuest (Lyra”s US distributor), who suggested loading at either 500 or 1000 ohms. Joe uses the same phono stage that I use, and comparative listening confirmed my preference for the 1000-ohm setting.
The instruction sheet recommends that tracking force not deviate beyond the tight range of 1.65 to 1.75 grams. This is the same recommendation that Lyra has made for its cartridges for some time, but Joe Harley advised me that the Atlas was happiest with 1.72 grams, so, confirming with a digital scale, I went with that. In the past, dialing in tracking force with such precision on my VPI tonearms was excruciating, because adjusting azimuth can alter the tracking-force setting. However, having installed the Soundsmith Counter Intuitive on each of my VPI tonearms, it was a breeze nailing the 1.72-gram setting.
I’ve owned or cycled through many Lyra cartridges over the decades, including the Clavis, Clavis DC, Helikon, Skala and Titans. Examples of the last three are still in-house. I’ve had occasional romances with Benz and Koetsu, and tried cartridges from several other manufacturers as well. But for years, I’ve continued to find that Lyra cartridges usually provide the most satisfying blend of speed, midrange neutrality, and low-level dynamic contrast and detail for my tastes. For the money, the Titan i seemed pretty unbeatable, although it had been around long enough that other cartridges were matching or even exceeding it in some areas.
For years, I waited to see how Jonathan’s latest-generation top cartridge would compare with the Titan. Then my heart sank when I learned that the new Atlas was priced at almost twice the cost of a new Titan i. No way could it be good enough to justify that kind of money. Was I wrong.
The Atlas, like most cartridges, needs about 20 hours to settle in and perhaps 50 hours to be considered broken in. But fresh out of the box this cartridge clearly improved on the Titan i in every respect. It pulled out new information from records I’ve owned for decades and played with a wide variety of cartridges. In some cases, records I’d always assumed were deficient in the recording or mastering process, or the result of defective pressing, turned out to have merely been withholding their charms. While this sounds like a tracking issue, I doubt the differences can be adequately explained as better tracking by the Atlas (although this is one area in which it excels). The Atlas simply extracts more information and assembles it better than any cartridge I have heard. Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn was right — the most important link in the chain is the first one. If the cartridge cannot extract information from the groove, no improvement in tonearm, turntable or anything else is going to re-create what”s missing.
One of my favorite torture tests for a cartridge is Who’s Next [Track 2408 102]. The Who’s best album, mostly recorded by Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios in London, Who’s Next is loud and brash — a great recording on every level, but like a mysterious lover, it doesn’t give up its secrets without some coaxing. Some recordings sound great on any system, and using them to evaluate review products is just a matter of discerning if they sound great or greater. With Who’s Next, if you don’t have your front-end dialed in just so, it will really show. As with other great vintage albums, true Who fanatics will spend years searching for the perfect copy of the very earliest pressing. With Who’s Next, that means an early matte-finish Track label, with “MG 12888” etched into one side of the dead wax and A//1 and either B//1 or B//2 matrixes (the master tapes are believed to be lost, so it’s unlikely better sound will ever be achieved). The earliest covers have spines that are pinched along the top and bottom edges.
I have a couple of copies, and have played them with countless combinations of equipment. My favorite cuts on the album always sound musical and never fail to satisfy. Yet with the succeeding years, and improvements in equipment, they continue to reveal more secrets. Until the Atlas came along, I was convinced that some of the loudest passages concealed music forever lost to overdriven microphone preamps. With the Skala, the loudest passages seemed stuck in the speakers, with details sucked out. With the Titan i, there was a step up in the amount of detail retrieved, but I remained convinced that the microphones had been overdriven in some passages, and I assumed that Who’s Next wasn’t one of Glyn Johns’ greatest achievements. With the Atlas, it became apparent that this was one great recording just waiting for playback equipment to catch up. The timing of the musical information shifts ever so slightly and allows everything to fall into place. Instead of the loud passages congealing musical texture, the soundstage just opened up, enough to accommodate all the musical treasures crowded into the grooves. The low-level detail found its place on “Baba O’Riley” and was not smothered by Keith Moon’s drum kit. One of my all-time favorites fell into place for the first time.
That’s not to say that the Atlas can’t pull more from a recording that sounds great on every system. Perhaps Glyn Johns” best recording, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane’s Rough Mix, has never sounded less than amazing on any well-setup system. The UK release [Polydor 2442 147] or better yet the UK 45rpm promo [Polydor 2058 944] are go-to recordings to show off a system. They have acres of soundstage width and depth. Still, the Atlas stretched the soundstage a few more feet in each direction, and structured the detail within that space with greater precision — beyond anything I’ve ever heard.
However, lots of detail at the expense of musical texture is of little value, but here again the Atlas did not come up short. What set it apart from the Titan i, and perhaps most any cartridge around, was its ability to juggle all these balls at the same time, with the details extending just like a telescope being opened. Information that was stacked up and compressed one level upon the next (and thereby obscured) now expanded like a dry sponge taking on water, giving the details more space to breathe and make themselves known. In the process, the texture took on a delicacy made possible by the expanded palette. And you don’t need to listen to large complex music to hear this. I’ve listened to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue [Columbia CS 8163] innumerable times. What sets apart average reproduction of this record from the exceptional are two things. First, the level of definition on Paul Chambers’ bass. On some systems (and with some reissues) Chambers is barely an afterthought, a ghostly image of one of jazz’s great bassists. Yes, there is a hint of a bass making some sort of rhythm back there in some ill-defined place center stage, but it comes and goes in the mix and has little body or definition. With the Atlas, Chambers’ bass was better fixed in space than ever before. There was dimension to the instrument, and he really showed up for the session, sounding better integrated into the music than I’ve ever experienced.
Second, the drums are often not well integrated into the soundstage. With the Atlas, Jimmy Cobb’s kit was more obvious in the mix. He’s sitting there in the right channel, but despite the reputation of this recording for great sound, on less-than-stellar systems there is nothing about Cobb’s playing that suggests one of the best recordings of all time. Here again the Atlas is a champion. Cobb”s drum kit better matched this recording’s stature — I heard the brushes moving across the skins, and I could distinguish the unique sounds of wood, metal, animal skin and mylar, with the subtle clues coming together to produce sound more detailed yet more delicate than with most cartridges.
All of this talk of rock and jazz shouldn’t be taken to infer that the Atlas is a headbanger”s cartridge. All of the attributes that set the Atlas apart on rock music distinguished its performance on classical music as well. In one long afternoon, I treated myself to a run through Beethoven’s late string quartets with the Suske Quartet on Eterna. My personal favorite, Opus 130 [Eterna 8 27 454], is one of the most beautiful recordings in my collection, and with Lyra’s new cartridge it delivered as never before. For the first time, there was no harshness in the 2-5kHz range of the violin, and the balance of energy in the higher frequencies created a sense of air around the instruments that allowed Karl Suske and his quartet to appear fully formed in their chairs spread across my listening room. With a string quartet, the importance of low-level dynamic contrasts is paramount, and the Atlas succeeded here brilliantly. The little cues that are often missing came together with the Atlas on an almost spooky level so real that it sometimes startled me.
Yes, the Atlas, at almost $10,000 new and $5500 to rebuild, is a very expensive cartridge. But keep in mind that you don’t pay for system components by the pound (unless you are British). That same amount of cash barely embraces a single state-of-the-art amplifier, preamplifier or phono stage. One of the things you pay for in a cartridge is the level of skill it takes to design and assemble an extremely accurate electronic transducer on a micro scale. Notwithstanding this justification, it’s still a fact that the Atlas will likely be the exclusive preserve of well-heeled audiophiles — or the vinyl fanatic who will raise the finances somehow, just to release the last ounce of music from a treasured record collection. That said, if I could only keep a single component from my current system, replacing everything else, that new setup would be built around the Atlas.
In Greek mythology, Atlas was not just one of the Titans, he was the Titan. Atlas the cartridge has lived up to its namesake — it”s a super Titan and a truly exceptional cartridge capable of elevating the performance of any high-fidelity system.
- Analog: VPI TNT-6 turntable with rim drive and SDS speed controller, VPI 12.7 and Spiral Groove Centroid tonearms, Lyra Skala and Titan Mono cartridges, Koetsu Coral cartridge, Audio Research Reference Phono 2 and Reference Phono 2 SE phono stages.
- Digital: Audio Research Reference CD7 CD player.
- Preamplifier: Audio Research Reference 5SE.
- Power amplifier: Audio Research Reference 150.
- Loudspeakers: Avalon Acoustics Transcendent.
- Interconnects: Nordost Valhalla.
- Speaker cables: Nordost Frey.
- Power conditioners: Quantum QBase 8 and QX4.
- Power cords: Nordost Valhalla.
- Equipment rack, platforms and accessories: Billy Bags equipment rack modified with a 4″ maple platform, Stillpoints Ultra isolators, Stillpoints Component Stands, Furutec GTX D-Rhodium AC outlet.
The Truth Spoken Here
Harry Weisfeld, the manufacturer of VPI turntables, stared at me excitedly. “How much better can it be than the Kleos?” he said. “We’re all wondering.” Weisfeld was visiting the annual Capital Audio Fest in the Washington, DC, area and demo’ing his own spiffy VPI Classic 4, which was decked out with a Lyra Kleos cartridge.
I didn’t miss a beat. “A whole lot better,” I responded. Weisfeld and I were talking, of course, about the new Lyra Atlas cartridge, which has created considerable perturbation among those interested in high-end vinyl playback. In a crowded field of contenders, the Lyra Atlas may not be the leader of the pack— can any cartridge really satisfy everyone?—but it is indubitably jostling with its competitors at the front of it. The brainchild of Jonathan Carr, the Atlas has a number of features that contribute to making it the most exciting cartridge that I’ve ever heard.
The Atlas is the successor to two cartridges: Lyra’s popular Titan i cartridge, which was fast and dynamic but a little zippy on the top end, and to the Olympos, which was also resolute but a bit colored in the upper octaves. Now Carr has created a new design with the Atlas that solves that problem. The Atlas features what Lyra is calling an “asymmetric” design, which is another way of saying that it has nonparallel structures on the left and right side that are said to reduce resonances. The design also means, Lyra says, that the front magnet carrier is not in line with the cantilever assembly, which in turn means that vibrations from the cantilever can be quickly drained away. Nor is this all. The body itself is carved from a solid billet of titanium. Perhaps most importantly, the efficiency of the generator coils has been markedly improved. The Atlas is said to have an output voltage that is 125% higher than the Titan’s, although it also has almost a fourth fewer coil windings. The overall output of the Atlas is a healthy 0.56mV. You can load it down, but I’ve been running it unloaded through the Ypsilon MC-10 step-up transformer and phonostage.
One of the nice features of a higher-output moving-coil cartridge is that the noise floor seems to diminish. I was thus able to go from the MC-10 to the MC-16 step-up transformer, which has more windings for more gain. In the case of the Atlas, the noise floor doesn’t simply appear to be lower; it seems to vanish. Consider the famous Itzhak Perelman and Vladimir Ashkenazy rendering of Beethoven’s violin sonatas on Decca. I was not prepared for what I heard. On the Spring Sonata, Perelman dug into the violin with a ferocity that I have not heretofore experienced. The same could be said of the piano. The music seemed to acquire an agility and dynamism that lent it a quality of immediacy that was new to me on vinyl. To hear this duo negotiate hairpin musical turns with such alacrity and thunderous power is a thrilling experience. The Atlas offers a potent reminder that there really is more buried in the grooves than often seems possible to imagine.
The Atlas’ extension at both frequency extremes, bass and treble, is irreproachable. Nothing seems to faze it. On a recent trip to Munich, I happened to acquire a Jimmy Smith LP on Verve called Root Down—Jimmy Smith Live! slots that I’ve coveted for years. This isn’t the Jimmy Smith of the Blue Note era, but a more audacious one, ramped up considerably with Wilton Felder on bass and Buck Clarke on congas and percussion. The last cut, “Slow Down Sagg,” is a powerhouse number. In this howling inferno of music, the Atlas produced each instrument clearly, never losing the cymbals, which are crashing away. John Quick of Tempo High Fidelity and dCS, who was visiting, estimates that my stereo was routinely reaching peaks of 105dB on this cut (I should hasten to add that I do not usually listen at that sound pressure level). All of this suggests that the Atlas is also a superb tracker, adept at sailing through fiendishly complex passages without losing its composure.
But for all its dynamism, the Atlas also conveys shadings and nuances and slight tempo shifts with wonderful fidelity. Consider Count Basie and the Kansas City 7, the Impulse LP reissued by Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds on 45 rpm. Perhaps my favorite track is “I Want A Little Girl.” On it, the trumpeter Thad Jones, who had apparently forgotten his derby, had to use a Harmon mute to produce the wa-wa sound. The Atlas delivers, or appears to deliver, every last delicate overtone on Jones’ trumpet. And, oh, the black backgrounds on this nifty number!
It was possible to hear a similar rendering on an Erato recording of the French trumpeter Maurice Andre playing a fairly obscure but lovely trumpet and organ sonata by the 18th century composer Thomas Vincent. In the first movement, the organ and trumpet achieved a kind of lyrical unity that I’ve seldom heard, particularly on the soft passages. One of the things that becomes apparent as high-end equipment keeps improving is that the hardest things to replicate with utmost fidelity are the pianissimo passages. But when they are well reproduced, it contributes to the sense of dynamic range across the frequency spectrum. What I’m trying to suggest here is that, as one of my trumpet teachers told me years ago, if you can’t play at a whisper- quiet level—which means practicing your long tones as much as possible—then forget about trying to play loudly with any real impact. Instead, it will simply sound thin and etched. The same holds true when it comes to stereos.
Perhaps, then, it should not be surprising that the Atlas scales so well. On Laudate, a recording on the Proprius label, the chorus seemed to reach to the very back row on Stefano Fabri’s Laudate pueri Dominum. Admittedly, this was stacking the deck somewhat—Proprius is storied for its excellent recordings. This happens to be one that I snagged off eBay at a reasonable price. But it would be wrong to surmise that the Atlas only sounded good on stellar discs. Quite the contrary. One of the things that floored me was its ability to rescue a few LPs that I had viewed as sounding somewhat boxy and etched, whether it was a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic playing Tchaikovsky or a later Lyrita pressing of Malcolm Arnold. Both sounded entirely engaging.
So what’s the downside of the Atlas? Surely there must be a hitch somewhere? Well, I can’t honestly say that the Atlas sounds as ethereal as the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme. At this level you are getting into taste and choice. The new “Statement” version of the Clearaudio Goldfinger, which I have not had the chance to audition, also sounded quite formidable to me at the 2011 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Overall, the Atlas does not land on the Koetsu side of the spectrum. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not abrasive. Not in the slightest. It sounds liquid and emotionally engaging. But the truth, to the extent that we can know what it is, is spoken here. The Atlas seems to slow down the LP and extract more ambience, information, and dynamics than almost any other cartridge.
Having heard a number of Lyras over the years—and recoiling at the sound of some of them, such as the Helikon—I can unequivocally state that Lyra has handily surpassed its previous efforts with the Atlas. The Atlas is not a cartridge that will leave anyone shrugging his shoulders in indifference. Instead, it is likely to leave you most impressed with its fidelity, purity, and speed. If you possess a large vinyl library and a fine turntable, then auditioning the Atlas is a must. My guess is that Harry Weisfeld is in for a considerable shock whenever he receives an Atlas.
At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, I spoke with Lyra”s Jonathan Carr about the Atlas. He told me that, rather than having started as a blank sheet of paper, the Atlas is an outgrowth of the Kleos ($2995), which I reviewed in January 2011, when I thought it Carr”s best balanced design yet, even if it didn”t have quite the resolution of the Titan i. Like the lower-priced Delos ($1650, reviewed in August 2010), the Kleos included Carr”s New Angle technology, which mechanically aligns the coils to be perfectly positioned relative to the front and rear magnets when the stylus is in the groove. This is said to equalize out any discrepancies in horizontal and vertical compliance so that the coils can move with equal ease in all directions. I would have thought that any properly designed cartridge would properly position the coils relative to the magnets during playback at the recommended tracking force, but maybe I”m missing something here.
Carr said that, having been given a larger budget, he could experiment with a few engineering concepts he”d been considering, including using tuned resonators like the ones Finite Elemente uses in its equipment racks (and sells as discs for placing atop a component), to reduce resonance amplitude by converting it to heat.
Carr says he found that, along with material, mass, and tuning frequency, where you placed these resonance killers greatly affected the sound. After he”d designed the Kleos, it struck Carr that the structure that secures the front magnet carrier to the cartridge body could be made to function as a resonance killer. However, the magnet carrier was perfectly centered on the cartridge body, and Carr had found that that central location was not an ideal place to put a resonance killer.
So designing the Atlas became, fundamentally, an exercise in how to move the front magnet carrier out of the position it occupied in the Kleos. Thus was born the idea for an asymmetrically designed cartridge whose motor retaining screw would no longer be in a center position, but somewhere that Carr”s experience with resonance cancelers indicated it would be most beneficial.
The second design goal was to create a more solid, direct path for vibrational energy to flow from the cantilever to the headshell. Carr felt that putting a screw hole between cantilever and headshell would obstruct that path, so he moved the screw hole away from the vertical central line.
Carr also said that, in the Atlas, he tried to avoid using dimensions that were even multiples of other dimensions. Instead of using 2, 4, 6, 8, he used 3, 5, 7, 11, 13. If you look at the section of the body directly behind the cantilever of a normal cartridge, he said, the walls are parallel; in the Atlas, the walls form a V. Again, the goal was to avoid having parallel surfaces at any critical point in the cartridge. “The entire cartridge,” he told me, “consists of curves balanced against angles, nonparallel surfaces, nonmultiple dimensions.”
“So why do people make cartridge bodies out of wood?” I asked.
“Probably because they like the resonant character that wood imparts,” he replied. “If they enjoy it, great for them. Whatever makes them happy.” His tone was not sarcastic.
Carr told me that while the Atlas”s cantilever of diamond-coated boron is similar to the one used in the Titan i, and while the styli (a variable-radius, line-contact, nude diamond measuring 3 by 70µm) are identical, the Atlas”s mounting structure is stiffer than the Titan”s, and the coils are completely different. Instead of a square, the coils form an X, which he says produces better channel separation and tracking. The magnet former is chemically purified iron.
The Atlas retains Lyra”s yokeless dual-magnet system, and a unique construction that integrates the cantilever assembly into the cartridge body rather than simply installing a complete, standalone motor assembly inside a body. And, like the bodies of the Olympos and Titan i, the Atlas”s is machined from a solid billet of titanium.
The Atlas”s motor is more efficient; its output voltage is 12% higher than the Titan”s, while the amount of 99.9999%-pure copper coil wire has been reduced by 22%, reducing the moving mass. In my opinion, that”s as significant as any other improvement Carr mentioned. The cartridge outputs 0.56mV/5cm/s (using the CBS Test Record).
The Lyra Atlas costs $9500 [gulp]. If you”re Php Aide someone who looks at such a product, adds up its parts costs, and concludes that it”s overpriced, please consider what Carr told me: He devoted every working moment of the past year to its design. I”m just thrilled that anyone devotes this sort of time and attention to designing and making phono cartridges. I”m talking about not only Jonathan Carr of Lyra, but of Leif Johannsen of Ortofon, the Suchys of Clearaudio, Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith, and Matsudaira-san of My Sonic Lab. The fact that I could list even more is, in 2012, almost freakily amazing, don”t you think?
The Sound of the Atlas
Out of the box, mounted in the Kuzma 4Point tonearm on the Continuum Caliburn turntable, before it had even a chance to break in (but after I”d sorted out the SRA problem), the Atlas”s transparency and tonal neutrality were immediately evident. Jonathan Carr has managed safest online casino to combine the Titan i”s unsurpassed retrieval of detail, and transient speed and purity, with the Kleos”s well-balanced, velvety warmth and inviting smoothness.
While I never had an Olympos at home, I”ve heard it in familiar systems, and have always found it smoother and more polite on top than I like—though I can hear why some might prefer it to the Titan”s more revealing, more analytical top end. I”d say the Atlas splits the difference, but that would be selling it short. Tonally, it opens a window on the music, much as the Ortofon A90 does, but it”s dynamically superior, and the most dynamically revealing—particularly when it comes to microdynamics—that I”ve yet heard.
I played Analogue Productions” reissue of Norah Jones”s first album, Come Away With Me, and the speed with which the Atlas reacted to small changes in voice level, previously buried low-level inflections jumping from the speakers, made these very familiar performances new again—and I pulled out an original pressing to be sure it wasn”t just the remastering.
Like the Ortofon A90, the Lyra Atlas transmitted and released energy with alarming speed, leaving no residue to rattle around, repeat, cloud, or confuse the next musical instant. Images just “popped” in space. Bass, taut and nimble, dug all the way down—but only when it was engraved in the grooves to begin with.
The Atlas”s overall sound was positively effortless. It carved images precisely, without the sharp edges that the Titan”s critics accuse it of leaving. Vocal sibilants were clean and smooth, yet precise and sharp when they should have been.
I”d installed the Titan in the Kuzma 4Point tonearm, so I could go back and forth between it and the Atlas. The Atlas managed to be both far faster and more revealing than the Titan, as well as smoother and more detailed and more transparent. The Atlas”s imaging was more precise, and more finely rendered in sharper relief on an even blacker stage—and believe me, the Titan itself is no slouch in those departments.
Harmonically, there was no contest. It was sort of like the difference between Lyra”s Helikon and Kleos: the Atlas produced a greater profusion of harmonic riches, leaving the very good Titan sounding a bit drab by comparison. Helping in that determination was a nifty, revealing record, The Instruments of the Orchestra, arranged, presented, and conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent (LP, Decca Eclipse ECS 2102), as well as the always stupendous Royal Ballet: Gala Performances (RCA Living Stereo/Classic LDS-6065).
The Atlas is superior to the Titan in every way, and by not-small amounts—as it should be, given the differences in technological complexity and price. If I had to pick one parameter that most impressed me, it would be the Atlas”s almost unnerving transparency, and its ability to create an utter “blackness” that I could almost see behind the images it carved in perfect relief.
I haven”t mentioned soundstage width and depth, etc., but those go without saying. You might find this difficult to believe if you own a Titan, but compared to the Atlas, it sounded positively opaque overall, and its transient response was smoothed over—though it”s possible that the many hours of play I”ve put on my Titan have diminished its ability to trace high frequencies.
The Lyra Atlas is a complete success. All of the work Jonathan Carr has put in to diminish or eliminate resonances in the cartridge body, among other things, has paid off. If you can afford an Atlas, you won”t regret buying one, even if you”ve been leery of Lyra”s reputation—undeserved, in my opinion—for being overly analytical, and even if you listen almost exclusively to classical music. This past weekend I played Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen”s entire cycle of Beethoven symphonies, and it didn”t suck!