LYRA Etna λ Lambda SL

PW04.04.2021

Analog sources

Hardly is there a more technical subject in hi-fi than running a turntable. Collections of vinyl records, watchmaker precision of setting the parts of a table, materiality of playback rituals, and tons of accessories. The care that goes into a vinyl playback chain often exceeds the care that we take of ourselves – how often do we wash, de-stat, brush, and wash again? And then there is a cartridge, the heart of vinyl playback, where the needle feels the groove and sends the faint electric signal through elaborate yet in principle simple mechanism further up the playback chain.

100% reference

Function and form

99%
Sound

Japanese Lyra Connoisseur is a real cartridge specialist and yet I have not yet heard any of their designs in my own system. Until now. And guess what? It turned out to be the best and the most addictive cartridge I have auditioned so far. It killed my own Transfiguration Orpheus with ease and after I returned it, it forced me take a few days break before I could enjoy my turntable again without it.

Interestingly, although Lyra is based in Tokyo, the company is headed by Stig Bjorge from Norway, designs are developed by Jonathan Carr, who is an American engineer, and finally realized by Japanese master craftsman Yoshinori Mishima. Lambda is their latest upgrade of renowned Etna and Atlas cartridges. The website of Lyra is very informative so it is better to let them speak:

Etna λ Lambda SL employs a solid titanium core structure machined with non-parallel surfaces to inhibit internal reflections which is mated to an asymmetric, mirror-black anodized duralumin outer body. The core and body are augmented with bronze and stainless-steel resonance control rods, then pressure-fit together. Etna λ Lambda SL uses a yokeless dual magnet system, diamond-coated boron rod cantilever and Lyra-designed variable-radius line-contact stylus. Lyra remains the only cartridge manufacturer to mount the cantilever directly into the cartridge body to create a rigid, seamless connection between the cantilever assembly and tonearm headshell. Why? Linear transducers such as phono cartridges are inherently inefficient devices, on the order of 5-10%. In other words, of the vibrational energy that enters a cartridge from the LP groove, only 5-10% will be converted into electrical signal. The cartridge’s internal damping system will dissipate some of the remaining 90 to 95%, but much of the excess vibrational energy will reflect inside the cartridge, creating internal echoes and a general diminishing of fidelity. It is quite easy to hear this with many cartridges- play a highly modulated LP with the power amp turned off and bring your ear close to the cartridge. The “needle talk” that you hear is excess vibrational energy which is not being controlled properly. Etna λ Lambda SL’s direct-mounted cantilever helps conduct this excess vibrational energy into the headshell, where it is safely dissipated within the greater mass of the tonearm and turntable plinth.

Another design strength is Etna λ Lambda SL high-efficiency X-shaped signal coils. Compared to traditional square coil formers the X-shape allows each channel to operate with greater independence from one another, giving better tracking, tighter channel matching, improved separation, and lower crosstalk-induced distortion. Although there are and have been other X-coil cartridges, their benefits have been accompanied by poor efficiency (in converting mechanical work into electrical output), either requiring high internal impedance (the larger coils add considerable moving mass and increase noise) and/or having low output voltage (which stresses the phono stage). To overcome this weakness, Lyra has a very specific X-core shape and dimensions that exceeds efficiency of any previous X-core cartridge.

Lyra’s post-2008 (Delos, Kleos, Etna, Atlas) had tapered cantilever dampers to pre-load the cantilever downwards when it is in the rest position, so that the application of vertical tracking force (VTF) will bring the coil angle into alignment with the magnets when the cartridge is in the playing position. The new Etna λ Lambda continues to use this idea but uses new elastomer segments to improve stability and sonic performance.

The installation of the Etna λ Lambda did not differ from what I am used to and hexagonal leys are included in the packaging. I was ready to listen.

Bass management

As my time with the Lyra was limited to one week only I could not afford the luxury of lengthy burn-in, so I allowed the Etna λ Lambda to play around 20 hours before critical listening. The sound opened up and acquired more relaxed presentation during this period and continued to improve to the very end of the review period, which means that I might not hear the Etna λ Lambda at its best. One day I will because what I heard made me start saving for my own Lyra.

With the Lyra Etna λ Lambda I heard very solid and punchy bass that had a greater degree of control than any previous cart I had. This was surprising because at the same time the Lyra sounded ripe and full and complete in the midbass area which usually leads to certain bass momentum so the notes appear slower and heavy handed. Not here, the bass was incisive and wonderfully tight and both plucked and hammered instruments benefited from it. There was no sketchiness to the bass either – the sounds had textural bloom and emotional drive that reminded me once again why I loved vinyl at the first place.

Clarity & delicacy

With the Lyra Etna λ Lambda I heard very quiet background. There is always residual surface noise present of course, but the Lyra did not obviously add anything to it. It read the grooves almost contact-less or at least it sounded like that. This way the faintest sounds were contributing to the overall sense of great micro and macro dynamics. Compared to my reference cartridge the Etna λ Lambda’s dynamic swings are more impactful and more delicate at the same time. It’s as if the recordings had extra headroom with the Lyra which makes the music less processed and more relaxed.

Tonal accuracy

With the Lyra Etna λ Lambda I heard very organic sound with excellent retrieval of details. The transient attacks were accurate and fast and dynamics unconstrained. I was told “Look, Lyra cartridges are analytical and favour sonic dissection to enjoyment”. Perhaps they were like that before, I cannot say. Although the Etna λ Lambda actually was very analytical in the sense that no sound remained hidden in the grooves, the cartridge conveyed these details with elegance and charm that was highly addictive. Layers of violins in orchestral sound were exquisitely resolved down to the detail of resin on a bow, yet they were liquid and smooth at the same time, in lifelike front-to-back and left-to-right perspective

Spatial resolution

Technical data:

Type: low-impedance MC cartridge

Stylus: Lyra-designed long-footprint variable-radius line-contact nude diamond (3μm× 70μm)

Cantilever system: Diamond-coated solid boron rod, directly mounted into cartridge body

Body: Machined titanium central core, anodized aluminum

Coils: Single layer, 6 N high-purity copper, self-impedance 1.52 ohm, inductance 1.9μH

Output voltage: 0.25mV@5 cm/sec

Frequency range: 10 Hz〜50 kHz

Channel separation: > 30dB at 1kHz

Cartridge weight (without stylus cover): 9.2g

Distance from mounting holes to stylus tip: 9.52mm

Recommended tracking force: 1.62 - 1.72g

Recommended loads: discussed in the manual

Recommended tonearm: medium to medium-high mass arm

Price as reviewed:229 000,- Kč

Recommended resellers

Finale Audio, Praha, +420 605 419 162

 

Associated components

  • Sources: CD/SACD/DVD-A Linn Unidisk 1.1, TW-Acustic Raven One turntable, Graham Phantom tonearm, Transfiguration Orpheus cartridge
  • Amplifiers: Spectral DMA-150, Constellation Audio Pictor preamplifier, Constellation Audio power amplifier, phono Gruensch Reference Phonostage MCS
  • Interconnects and speaker cables: MIT MA, MIT MA-X XLR, MIT V2.1 Oracle, Stealth Audio Hyperphono
  • Loudspeakers: Magico M3 w/Mpods
  • Power conditioning: Shunyata Research Triton v2/Typhon, Shunyata Research Python Zi-Tron, Shunyata Research Sigma v2 XC and v2 NR

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