Do you want to upgrade your system with a streamer or a DAC? Cyrus says why not both?
IntroductionIn case I haven’t made it abundantly clear over the last year or so of reviewing, I’m a huge fan of streamers. Being able to stop using the horrible little plastic boxes that CDs come in on a regular basis and start making use of the increasingly excellent world of lossless downloads is my sort of system. The control options from a well sorted app are also something to be relished. While there are still many people online convinced the quality of streaming is inferior to CD, after some extensive tests off my own bat and for work, I’m now happy that a well sorted streamer loses nothing over the original. I’ve been using two streamers full time for over a year and other devices in the house are also UPnP capable.
For many brands, their opening generation of streaming products are being replaced with second generation units that show evolution and improvement over their predecessors. What is equally interesting is that as some brands become more confident about their streaming range and how it fits in with the rest of their product portfolio, we are seeing more and more variations to the basic pattern of a UPnP streamer. This means we have preamps, DACs and all-in-ones joining the straight streamer/internet radio units.
A curious reversal of this process is Cyrus. The boys and girls from Huntingdon have been producing streamers for around two years but none of their three opening products was a ‘normal’ streamer. There was a digital front end that could be connected to a DAC, there was a preamp that had D-A on board but was designed to be connected directly to a power amp and an all-in-one system that was designed to be used as a standalone product. All of these have continued in a revised form but they have now been joined by the Stream Xa you see here that is a standalone, line level streamer. Having graced us with its presence, is the Stream Xa able to hold its own?
DesignThe Stream Xa is at the most basic level, a 24/192kHz capable UPnP streamer and internet radio. The earliest Cyrus streamers topped out at 24/96kHz which in reality wasn’t that much of an impediment to a perfectly happy life of listening to great music but as an industry it is all about the numbers and the Xa (as well the other Stream units) are now capable of playing back the limited 192kHz catalogue available. Decoding is carried out by a Texas Instruments/Burr Brown chipset and, like the rest of the family, the Xa should benefit from the extended test program that was undertaken by Cyrus to create the Anniversary system that was launched earlier this year.
As well as the UPnP board, Cyrus has kept the digital inputs that are fitted to the Stream XP which is a good idea. This means that the Cyrus can handle the signal from five other digital sources and act as both a DAC and an input collator for the other digital sources in your system. There are also - for reasons I’ve never been completely clear on - a pair of analogue outputs rather than the normal one that most companies fit. Although it will come in handy if you fancy trying a bit of multiroom at some stage. There is a digital output if you want to go all-in with an external Cyrus DAC at some stage. Last but by no means least is a USB connection that can read external drives and is also Apple compatible. The internet radio functionality is supplied by TuneIn via than the more common vTuner but it seems to work in much the same way although I did get more than a few dead links from non-domestic stations.
Other connections are also fairly distinctively Cyrus. Like many members of the range, the Xa can be upgraded with an external PSU if the fancy takes you and this could be a useful additional update as well as the DAC possibility. The other set of connections that come into their own if you go all-in with Cyrus gear is the MC Bus control system that means that when you connect large amounts of Cyrus equipment together, it can be controlled as a cohesive system. This is undoubtedly very clever but quite why Cyrus sticks it right next to the analogue outputs (that it looks identical to) is a bit of a mystery.
The other area where the Xa differs from some of the competition is in terms of control and whether this is a good or bad thing will largely depend on the equipment you already have to hand. From the outset, Cyrus took the decision to offer their Streamers with a two way remote that gave a better search and browse experience than would be the case for a simple IR remote. The n-remote is quite a clever bit of kit and means that control of the Stream Xa is not dependent on you having a smartphone or tablet. It is not the most attractive device that I have ever seen but it does work well and it is good to see a product being supplied with a control system that is not completely dependent on you having already purchased a tablet. It also works without a wireless network present, which might be a bonus too.
Of course, app control is a big deal in this day and age so Cyrus has also seen fit to provide the Stream Xa with an app called Cadence. First the good news; Cadence is free, fairly quick to use and very attractively and logically laid out. The not so good news is that at present it is only available for iPad which is somewhat limiting. I also had it fall over on me once or twice which is not something that generally happens with Naim’s N-Stream for example. That being said, it does allow for you to skip and scan within tracks which is handy and still not that common among the competition.
Unless you are recovering from an illness that robbed you of your sight for the better part of twenty years, you are likely to be fairly familiar with what Cyrus equipment looks like. The Stream Xa is built into the same half width ‘shoebox’ chassis that the rest of the Cyrus family uses and this feels as solid and well finished as the rest of range does. I’m not completely sold on the LED’s that indicate whether it is using the UPnP, iRadio or digital inputs but they aren’t hugely offensive either. The display is not exactly attractive but it is easy to read at distances where the Naim ND5XS I generally use is becoming illegible. The advantage of the small size is that the Cyrus could share a rack shelf with something else if space was tight. Setup is a cinch and the rotating jog dial makes entering passwords very easy to do.
SetupThe Cyrus arrived at much the same time as the McIntosh D100 and Yamaha A-S3000 so it was also connected to the big integrated amp for much of the testing via Chord cabling but I also used my Naim Supernait for testing as well. Speakers used included PMC’s fact.8 and my Neat Momentum 4i’s. The Cyrus was parked on my network over both wired and wireless connections and accessed by Western Digital NAS. A Rega Apollo R CD player was used to test the digital inputs and my Naim ND5XS was on hand to act as a fixed reference. Music used was generally lossless and high res FLAC but I also tested the internet radio functionality too.
Sound QualityDue to the way that Cyrus streamers have been designed up until now, despite having had two of them pass through before for review, actually describing what they sounded like wasn’t easy. The Stream XP was delivered with a pair of X300 mono power amps which added their own distinctive take to the performance and the Streamline all-in-one also came complete with an amp on board. As such the Stream Xa is the first chance to listen to a Cyrus UPnP device out of the comfort zone of partnering electronics. By and large the results are largely positive.
By chance, I kicked off listening with Aloe Blacc’s Good Things and throughout the rest of my testing, the immediate gut reaction gained from a quick blast of I Need a Dollar was basically confirmed. The Cyrus is like many other bits of modern digital in that it sounds very smooth and natural but unlike my resident Naim or the McIntosh D100, the Xa seems to have a slight but noticeable lift to the upper mid and top end. This little tweak gives the Cyrus a lively and engaging presentation that works very well with anything where voices and instruments are in this band. The clever and very welcome part of this is that is doesn’t wind up making the presentation of the Cyrus overly bright. Pushing it hard through a rousing rendition of LCD Soundsystem’s Disco Infiltrator (great record, less than great recording) showed that under provocation, the Xa can sound a little sharp but nothing too severe.
For the most part this well lit top end is a blessing rather than a curse and the Cyrus manages to sound detailed and involving rather than bright or fatiguing. With classical music especially, the Stream Xa sounded more convincing at lower levels than was the case with other digital sources to hand. There is simply a slightly greater sense of joy than can sometimes be the case with the slightly dark presentation that some modern digital items have. The detail retrieval is excellent and the Cyrus manages to sound fairly spacious as well. The tonality with voices especially is generally convincing and there is usually a genuine perception of a soundstage with both width and a sense of front to back depth (which can only ever be illusory).
Where the Cyrus has to give a little ground to the more expensive Naim and McIntosh designs is the bass. To be completely clear, the Stream Xa has a fairly well sorted low end response with commendable depth and no sense of confusion of overhang but some of the fine detail that is present with the other units can be lacking and the lower midrange can also suffer in these instances too. This isn’t a serious issue and there isn’t much I can think of at the £1,250 price point that the Cyrus pitches at that is decisively better.
The negative points to the Cyrus’ performance are more to do with the operation than the performance and how serious they are will depend on your setup. Cyrus make it very clear that they feel a wired installation is best for their streamers - even going to the effort of supplying a ferrite core for your Ethernet cable - with wireless a convenience feature. This is all well and good but many people will have no option but to use wireless and when I did so, the Stream Xa had a few instances where playback would stop and connection with the NAS would be lost. By comparison, the Naim (which also comes with documentation encouraging a wired connection where possible) and my laptop (that accesses its Foobar library via wireless) were not affected during playback of the same items. As previously mentioned, the TuneIn based iRadio sounded much the same as vTuner but took longer to connect and had more dead links than the vTuner one and the Cadence ap also threw me out once or twice. For the bulk of listening, the Cyrus was completely stable but it is only fair to point out that some of the competition is more reliable still.
- Lively and engaging sound
- Useful feature set
- Compact and well assembled
- App is iPad only
- Some dead links in iRadio list
- Works best when wired
Cyrus Stream Xa Streamer Review
As a ‘conventional’ streamer, the Stream Xa was always going to come in for more comparisons to the competition than the more specialised members of the family but the good news is that it acquits itself very well. Cyrus has been tweaking and evolving their streamer platform almost from the outset and the Xa feels like people have put some thought and effort into the design and functionality and this makes for a unit that is very pleasant to use. More importantly, it sounds capable too. I am sure that matched to very bright amplification and speakers it might be a bit much but partnered with any degree of thought, it has a sweetness and engagement that is hard not to like. If you have a desire to add a very capable streamer to your system, even if you have a whole shelf spare, the Cyrus is, at this asking price, a very good place to start looking.
Ease of Use7
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