Introduction - what is the Cyrus i7-XR?
The Cyrus i7 XR is an integrated amp with a selection of both analogue and digital inputs. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise because this is the form that Cyrus amps have been taking for some years now… along with vast swathes of their rivals. The Cyrus products we have looked at in recent years have focussed on the ONE series of amplifiers (and the numerous variations of it that have subsequently appeared. With its Class D internals, clever selection of inputs and looks that are clean and modern while riffing on the original Cyrus integrated, the ONE is a fine example of a modern amplifier.
While all this was going on, the main range of Cyrus components has ticked along. There have been updates and single models have left and joined the family but the basics of what the range offered has continued relatively undisturbed. Now, Cyrus has turned its attention back to these models and embarked on the biggest range shape up in a very long time. A first wave of product has been released and this includes two integrated amps of which the i7 XR is the more affordable.
‘Affordable’ in this case though is £2,295 which puts it smack bang inside one of the most keenly contested product segments anywhere in the industry and includes the magnificent Naim NAIT XS3, our 2020 Editor’s Choice amplifier. Cyrus says that the i7 XR isn’t a refresh but is instead an all new design that has been created with the Accounts Department locked in the cleaning cupboard, unable to intervene against expensive components being selected. Does this mean that the i7 XR is able to storm to the head of the pack? Read on to find out.
Specification and Design
The i7 XR is not a replacement for any existing Cyrus amplifier and joins the range as a wholly new design. If you are the sort of person that chooses their devices on the shock and awe value of the specification, the i7 XR is possibly going to have its work cut out. The amplification stage of the amp is Class A/B rather than the Class D of the ONE series units and the headline figures are notable only for their relative modesty. Power is quoted at 52 watts into 6 ohms which is, let’s be honest here, faintly unremarkable.
The devil is in the detail though. The power supply that Cyrus has selected has the ability to supply more current than is technically required for 52 watts with the intention of making the i7 XR function in an unstressed and unforced way. Cyrus also claims that the amplifier section has a flat response for 100kHz. Again, the idea is not that listening to the i7 XR lends you superpowers but that, for the all important audio spectrum, the amp itself will be putting precious little of itself into the performance. The preamp that controls it is now relay switched and has an improved gain stage, with a view to being quieter and more linear than older designs.
This preamp oversees a significant collection of inputs too. There are four line inputs on RCA connections, a moving magnet phono stage (that Cyrus says takes design thinking from the Phono Signature phono stage; a device that I have owned for some years and still feel is the best sub £2k phono stage I’ve ever tested). This is then joined by a digital input board. This gives you two optical, two analogue and a single USB input for a total of ten inputs - no small feat on an amp this size.
The digital board is all new. It’s the second generation of Cyrus’ ‘QXR’ platform and, while the exact hardware is unspecified it seems to be based around the ESS Sabre family. The format handling is entirely up to spec for 2021. The USB input is able to handle PCM to 768kHz and DSD 512 (standard caveats that there’s next to sod all material available in these esoteric sample rates and what there is can generally be seen to be the audio equivalent of magnolia paint). There are also adjustable filters which is a first on any Cyrus product (equally standard caveats that if you are looking for giant differences in presentation, you’re going to be disappointed).
Again, it’s the details of the i7 XR that impress. The USB input is the principle connection but, some tests running a Chord Hugo Mscaler into the coax inputs, reveals them to be 24/384kHz capable; a 100% bandwidth improvement over what Cyrus claims they can do. This is more than plonking a chip in there and hoping for the best - this is a digital board where some care and attention has been lavished on it. Interestingly though, despite Cyrus doing some fine Bluetooth implementations in recent years, the i7 XR does not have one.
These revised internals are placed inside a chassis that is almost identical to every other Cyrus product dating back the best part of twenty years. This should not be taken as a criticism either. Cyrus is one of the brands where going ‘all in’ gives you an aesthetic experience that is a cut above almost anything else at the price; a sleek tower of uniform chassis that says “yeah, I do take my audio quite seriously thank you.” Nevertheless, in recent years, some of the details have started to look a little dated. I love my Phono Signature but with the best will in the world, the display is a mess; dated, congested and hard to read. When you want people to spend thousands with you, these things matter.
In the i7 XR, Cyrus has refreshed the details in a manner that - without messing with any of the basics - brought the amp bang up to date. The new display looks an order of magnitude smarter and someone ‘averagely blind’ like me can read it at twice the distance of the old one. The buttons have been replaced with pad sensors, including the standby button. It looks and feels so much better than anything the company has done up to this point. The chassis is also finished in a new ‘Phantom’ black that looks absolutely brilliant. All of a sudden, and with what are relatively small alterations, the i7 XR feels absolutely of the moment.
It is still a Cyrus though and this does mean that some of the company’s more ‘idiosyncratic’ design decisions are still present. The BFA speaker connectors (aka; ‘the worst connection ever devised’) have been dispensed with but the terminals in their place still need a hollow ended 4mm plug (which Cyrus does supply a set of but that are somewhat useless if you have pre terminated cables with solid plugs). The headphone socket is also still on the back panel which is going to make its effectiveness a little dependent on the the placement of the amp. It’s only fair to point out that the headphones can be connected all the time and switched in and out on the front panel but this is only useful so long as you aren’t hoping to use the headphones anywhere else. On a more positive note though, the system driving remote handset is a very good one - one of the nicer examples in its class.
In the i7 XR, Cyrus has refreshed the details in a manner that - without messing with any of the basics - brought the amp bang up to date
How was the i7 XR tested?
The Cyrus has been connected an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner and used connected via the USB input to a Roon Nucleus, via the optical input with an LG 55B7 OLED, via coax with a Chord Electronics Hugo Mscaler taking a feed from an SOtM SMS200 Neo running as a Roon endpoint. It has also been tested with a Chord Electronics Qutest into the RCA connections and an AVID Ingenium Twin with Rega RB330 arm and Goldring 2500 cartridge. Speakers used have been the Focal Kanta No1, PMC twenty5 23i and Spendor A1. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Qobuz and Tidal, on demand video services and some vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
Would it be anticlimactic after listing all the whizzy new technology and thinking that has gone into the i7 XR to start by saying it still sounds like a Cyrus? It does still sound like a Cyrus and I don’t feel that is a bad thing. There is a ‘brand DNA’ to Cyrus equipment, the amps in particular, that has been part of the sound for as long as I have been listening to it. That DNA is a fast, rhythmically engaging and effortlessly dynamic sound. Rivals often sounded warmer and richer but there was little that kept pace with a Cyrus amp running with a suitable pair of speakers.
The i7 XR is still a fast and exciting amplifier. The gloriously synth laden Another World by Talk Talk absolutely flies along. If you do not believe that different electronics possess differing skills when it comes to delivering time signatures and the intrinsic head nodding quality therein, I suspect an hour with this might change your mind. As fellow Brits Naim have gently moved their presentation, it leaves the i7 XR as the unchallenged speed king of this price segment.
In the old days though, this came with certain caveats that needed to be worked with for a truly great performance. What the i7 XR does incredibly effectively is handle those caveats and remove them one by one without losing that essence. First up, the upper registers are smoother and more civilised than some Cyrus designs of old. Without losing any energy or detail, there is a refinement to the Cyrus that ensures that all but the roughest and most compressed material is consistently civilised. Paired with the Focal Kanta No1 - a speaker that has no trouble in highlighting issues further up the decoding chain - the Cyrus is not completely free of an edge when pushed but you do have to go looking for it.
Bear in mind that this is with the Kanta No1, a speaker getting on toward being twice the price of the Cyrus and one that resides here in part because it is so forensically revealing. Move to the PMC twenty5 23i (a device still £1,500 more than the Cyrus) and things start to work very nicely indeed. The PMC is still not a ‘cuddly’ speaker but the balance on offer between the devices is one that handles excitement and refinement very well. Importantly, the 52 watts on offer feel entirely sufficient. Somebody somewhere reading this will have the means to exceed the performance envelope of the i7 XR but here - with neighbours, a sanely sized room and a floorstander that is adequately sensitive, I haven’t been anywhere near the design limits of the amp. It does suggest that the PSU arrangements are as good as suggested.
This is also borne out by the low end. Historically, some of the speed that you perceived in the Cyrus performance was down to there being a fractional lightness to the bass. This is no longer the case. Even via the dinky Spendor A1, there is a depth and texture to the bass that ensures that the deep notes of Emily Brown’s Forgiveness are convincingly weighty. That this has been done with no loss to the perceived speed is noteworthy indeed.
Finding fault with the Cyrus is not especially easy because of the success they’ve had in rounding off the perceived rough edges of the older designs. This is still not the most expansive and spacious sounding amp going. It unfailingly creates a believable stereo image but it’s not something that expands hugely beyond the confines of the speakers themselves. If you are looking for an amp that is going to take classical music and really convey the perception of an orchestra arrayed in front of you, the Cyrus is less effortlessly able to do this than some rivals. For plebs like myself where this requirement is secondary to that magnificent timing and urgency, it’s rather less of an issue but it’s worth noting. I also think that the digital board, while very good, is a little less forgiving than the amp stage. If you have a lot of compressed material from the loudness wars years, it’s going to let you know about it, although the filter settings do have some detailed effects on the presentation.
That new digital board is a serious piece of engineering though. Side by side tests with the Qutest results in a points victory for the Chord but it’s close. The digital section of the i7 XR has the same basic tonal makeup as the analogue section and the result is a pleasing synergy using the amp in this way. For reasons lost in a myriad of tonal niceties, I’ve found the Cyrus to be a fine partner for TV work, delivering dialogue with clarity and tonal realism and effortlessly handling even fairly large on screen events with a composure that has been very enjoyable. As bolting your TV to your Hi-Fi becomes more commonplace, rest assured that this is rather good at it.
I’ve also enjoyed the phono stage too. There’s enough of the qualities that I so respect and enjoy in the Phono Signature; the lack of noise, the transparency and compelling realism that has kept it in use here for many years. Crucially, it means the i7 XR would take something like the magnificent (and equally black) Vertere DG-1 and do justice to it. The Cyrus has the misfortune of being here at the same time as the iFi Zen Phono - a device that has somewhat redefined what I perceive sub £500 standalone phono stages to be capable of but, judged on its own merits, this is a fine device.
Somebody somewhere reading this will have the means to exceed the performance envelope of the i7 XR but here - with neighbours, a sanely sized room and a floorstander that is adequately sensitive, I haven’t been anywhere near the design limits of the amp
- Sounds consistently good across analogue and digital
- Excellent selection of inputs
- Great build and nicely revamped aesthetic
- Poor speaker terminals
- Oddly sited headphone socket
- Might struggle with truly demanding speakers
Cyrus i7 XR Integrated Amp Review
As mentioned earlier, the bald specification of the Cyrus may be slightly underwhelming for some people drawing up comparison tables. The reality of the situation should you sit and listen to one is rather different. The i7 XR is not a self-contained ‘crypto all in one’ like the Arcam SA30 and neither is it the ‘drive anything and connect everything’ flexibility of the Leema Pulse IV. The spec is comprehensive but not revelatory.
The reality is though, that the i7 XR gets very close to the Naim Nait XS3 and that’s still the best amp under £3,000. It does this while needing far less in the way of supporting hardware and, if you don’t already have this hardware, that makes it rather better value. Cyrus has carefully and diligently taken their long running recipe and brought it right back into contention and the result comes Highly Recommended.
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