by Oliver Amnuayphol
Remember the Lyra Delos I wrote about way back in the March 2010 edition of All Things Vinyl? Try as I might, I couldn't stop thinking about it: Just reading about all the new-tech hotness that went into the design of the Delos made me really, really want one. And once I saw the line drawing detailing the New Angle damping system? Forget about it--I was smitten. Hooked. Sprung. Completely whipped. I was so consumed by the thought of this golden-hued beauty I actually had a dream about it: The Delos was calling out to me, begging me to liberate it from the distributor's shelf upon which it sat. I mean, I couldn't just ignore it, could I? Allow it to remain confined by some packaging for any longer? That would just be cruel, and I am not a cruel man. I decided the decent--nay, the humane--thing to do would be to allow this cartridge to fulfill the promise of its birthright by letting it trace the groovy contours of as many licorice pizzas as possible. Determined to set free the Delos of my dreams, I ordered one for myself in January of last year and received it in no time at all. I eagerly went about mounting and aligning it on the gorgeous Ortofon AS-212s tonearm that's part of my fully-restored Thorens TD-124 turntable, carefully ensuring I properly dialed-in every set up parameter.
After letting the Delos run-in for a few hours, I cued up Classic Records' reissue of Reiner and the CSO's recording of Scheherazade and sat down for a listen. Almost immediately, the Delos put my ears at ease with its well-balanced and clear yet colorful sound. Tonal colors were spot on, and the Delos' fundamental neutrality always served the music in an honest yet natural fashion. Listening to the second movement from Scheherazade, "The Story of the Kalender Prince," every instrument possessed a richness of timbre, and I could easily distinguish the individual musical threads that were interwoven within the orchestral tapestry. Imaging was also first rate: The soundstage was wall-to-wall huge, with a fine sense of depth and scale to it. Each solo musician's acoustic space and placement was also easily distinguishable, and the sense of being in front of the CSO was uncanny.
I proceeded to spin all different kinds of records, including "Minnesota, WI" from Bon Iver's latest eponymous release. All it took was hearing the first few opening bars to confirm the Delos was neutral enough to do justice to both classical and modern music and everything in between. Listening longer, I could easily hear into what specifically the Lyra cartridge was doing right: Bass was taut, nimble, and weighty; guitars sounded appropriately "crunchy" and distortion-laden; horns had an accurate presence and brightness; and cymbals possessed a fine, bell-toned shimmer and decay. Indeed, the Delos displayed no obvious sonic deficiencies of its own, ticking all of the audiophile checklist boxes: "you are there" realism and imaging; outstanding macro and micro dynamic range; and an overall detailed, highly-textured, yet naturally-presented sonic picture. And perhaps it's that last bit that's really telling of just how far Lyra has come: Never once did the Delos sound artificially "hi-fi" or austere in any way, having an organic wholeness to its sound that's absent from its progenitors. So if you're familiar with Lyra's house sound of yore and weren't exactly sweet on it, it might be time for a fresh listen: This latest Lyra retains all of the detail, precision, and incisiveness of its forbears while never sounding the least bit cold nor analytical--an impressive feat for sure.
Of course, all the sonic wizardry in the world would be for naught if the Lyra Delos didn't make music as well as it made sound; thank goodness then, it does. Listen to something where the melodic line is the central focus, like Johanna Martzy and Jean Antonietti's recording of Franck's Violin Sonata in A major (Coup d'Archet 001), to hear how effortlessly Martzy imbues every note with a pitch-perfect yet non-clinical precision; or how she moves between playing with grand power or delicate subtlety where called for; or how she deftly combines technical prowess with emotive sincerity to create a sound that is uniquely her own. All of these musically significant cues came through cleanly and clearly and made for the most enjoyable session I've yet had with this record. I've played many, many other records since this Martzy LP, and no matter what, the outcome is always the same: The Delos consistently brings out all of the color, drama and emotion from every one of 'em, underpinning its delivery with a tunefulness, rhythmic stability and momentum few cartridges can match. The net result? A cartridge that's eminently listenable, one that simply gets out of the music's way to uncover more of the musical goodness hidden within the record's grooved walls.
So how did this Lyra compare to the discontinued Ortofon Jubilee I cherished for so long? Very, very well. In fact, in my system, I preferred the Delos in every way: It just seemed to let more sonic and musical splendors through, as if there was less haze between me and the music. "Veils were lifted," as audiophiles used to say back in the day, and every record I played sounded as if it "snapped" into a tighter auditory focus courtesy the Delos. I suppose given the age of the Jubilee it could simply have been past its prime (even with the retip I wrote about previously), but there really was no comparison: The Lyra Delos was the most musically convincing cartridge I'd yet heard in my own system--no small feat considering the Delos costs noticeably less than the Jubilee ($1649 vs. $2199), and that the latter still handily bests many pricier cartridges.
So if it wasn't obvious by now, I couldn't be happier with my Lyra Delos: It's unquestionably the best-balanced, most sonically coherent, musically communicative sub-$2k cartridge I've yet heard. Its neutral yet expressive character results in a highly engaging, insightful sound that moves far beyond the audiophile sonic checklist, allowing one to better connect with the music contained on his or her records. Rarely do modern phono cartridges convey the essence of music like the Delos does, let alone without any obvious sonic shortcomings. It's that good. It's so good in fact, I can't imagine there being a better cartridge anywhere near its price. So a huge "Thumbs up!" recommendation for music lovers of any stripe.