Cyrus Audio – home of the ‘singing shoebox’ – is synonymous with good quality audio at a fair price. Occasionally though, it knocks one of its products completely out of the park. That’s what happened with the Phono Signature. This is the best phono stage Cyrus knows how to build, and it’s possibly one of the best phono stages any company knows how to build, irrespective of price. That’s a pretty bold statement, especially from the Editor of a magazine that is not afraid of the upper limit in audio. Still, it stands.
The Cyrus Audio Phono Signature is a discrete, upgradable phono stage, featuring four completely independent inputs, a very highly specified passive RIAA de-emphasis filter with metallised polyester capacitors for the least damage to the sound, a low noise DC power supply as standard (with the chance to upgrade the signal path power feed with a PSX-R2 separate DC power supply), has the option of moving magnet, or highly adjustable moving coil inputs, and can output to either XLR or RCA line inputs. All in the distinctive cast half-width Cyrus case.
Cyrus has actively made the Phono Signature extremely adjustable in terms of cartridge resistance and capacitance, and amplifier gain. There are 160 different permutations of these three parameters available to the user. What’s more, instead of being accessible from a rear panel DIP switch block, these are user controllable on the fly, to the point where these performance aspects are controlled from the remote control or the front panel. This is an entirely conscious idea on the part of Cyrus, which doesn’t adhere to the idea of ‘fit and forget’ cartridge loading. Instead, Cyrus thinks we should tailor the sound of LP through the cartridge, applying a bit of extra capacitance here to take the edge off too bright a recording, or a bit of resisitance here to bring up the presence region of a recording. And it has done this while eschewing both EQ curves and tone controls, effectively using the cartridge’s relationship with the phono stage as its own combined equaliser and tone stack.
This is, er, odd-ball stuff… but it works. Coming very much from the ‘fuggedaboutit’ school of adjusting the loading and EQ of a cartridge, the idea of using the cartridge to compensate for the iniquities in recordings is about as strange as adjusting the colour balance of your TV set for each programme watched… but it works. Coming from someone who isn’t that bothered about different EQ curves because it effects the grand total of maybe five albums in my collection that I rarely play, this level of LP tweaking should be way beyond my ‘give a crap’ level… but it works.
Although the die-cast chassis looks remain close to the classic Cyrus Audio look of old, that distinctive light, slightly bright sound has all but disappeared. The Cyrus sound is as detailed as it ever was, but where that detail tipped over into brightness and a slightly etched quality that typified the traditional Cyrus sound, it’s now more rounded and even-handed, with more bass depth and authority, and greater dynamic range. This seems to be doubly so in the case of the Phono Signature, and is possibly Cyrus’ long-sought ‘break-out’ product to give the company some traction in the US.