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Dead Wax Cafe

The Lyra Lydian Beta Phono Cartridge

By Gary Markowitz



"Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
Soon he sooth’d his soul to pleasures."

Alexander’s Feast
John Dryden (1631–1700)

Prelude

The Lyra Lydian Beta arrived earlier than I expected from Immedia Sound, the US importer for Scan-Tech Co. Ltd. My wife neglected to mention that the package arrived. When I got home to sit down in front of the computer to deal with the evening's email, I noticed the box from Immedia. Well, the hell with the email, I'd rather open this puppy up.
The box contained the cartridge, mounted to a mirrored plastic protractor, provided by Immedia (nice touch, Allen). A three page document is included, which provides specs, warrantee information, and a rather clear and concise discussion of proper setup along with tips on how to get it right. Loading information is also given for phono preamps as well as transformers and active headamps.
The Beta's looks are quite striking and attractive. It has no body, and all of the parts usually internal to the cartridge are visible, except the coils themselves, which are obscured by what appears to be a fibrous cloth protector. The five-nines pure iron pole piece is gold plated, and the cartridge base, used to mount the cartridge to the arm, is a rich green, with the Lyra logo front and back. This base is threaded, and the cartridge comes with three sets of hex head mounting screws of various lengths and an allen wrench. Scan-Tech cautions against substituting other screws, as the threads may be damaged. If you need to use screws of a different length than those supplied, check with either Scan-Tech or your country's distributor for appropriate dimensions.

Click Here for more technical details on the cartridge by it's tallented designer, Jonathan Carr.
The cartridge also comes with a plastic protective shield. It slides onto the cartridge via slots cut into the sides of the base, and protects the entire cartridge from damage. The excellent documentation recommends that this guard be used whenever the cartridge is not in use. This seems a very prudent suggestion with this nude cartridge.

Mounting And Setup

The supplied protractor was a very nice and useful touch.. First it the requires that you line up an etched line with the center of the tonearm bearing. Thanks to a tip from Allen Perkins, this was easy. Just tie a string around the spindle, and run it over the center of the tonearm bearing. Then align the reference line on the protractor to the string. The one issue I found with the protractor was that it's too thick, roughly 3 times thicker than 180-gram vinyl, which may also result in small overhang errors. Now, overhang errors tend to be less critical than errors in azimuth and zenith, simply because slightly different overhang results in changing the location of the null points, and there is no single "correct" setting for these null points anyway. But being on the obsessive side when it comes to analog playback, I leveled the arm using the thickness of the protractor, and set the overhang and zenith. I then lowered the arm so that it was parallel to a 180-gram record. I verified the settings with a couple of other protractors I had on hand and found that no further adjustments were necessary.
So I set the stylus force to 1.7 grams, between the recommended 1.6 and 1.75 to start with, and used the HFNRR test disc to verify tracking ability and anti-skating, which with the SME was set to 1.6 for even mistracking on the torture tracks.
When I was satisfied with the settings as an initial starting point, I spun some vinyl to break the cartridge in.

The sound

So after roughing in the settings, I knew I needed to let the cartridge break in. I was working at home for a few days, and luckily, my listening room doubles as my office. So I put on some music for background while I worked.
Ordinarily, I don't pay much attention to the sound of components while they're still breaking in, but the sounds coming from my system with the Lydian Beta caused me to pick my head up more than a few times over the course of the break-in period. I couldn't wait until this cartridge was ready for some serious listening.
So, after about 25 hours of playing over about a weeks time, I couldn't detect any additional changes happening with the cartridge during casual listening, so I decided to plan my first critical listening session. But first, I pulled out the HFN&RR test record to try to help finalize the settings. Azimuth was dead on (luckily, as my SME V doesn't allow for proper azimuth adjustments), and VTF, anti-skate and zenith settings were set. I did some quick playing around with VTA to get a good average setting using some records of different thickness.
As a note, this cartridge is extremely sensitive to VTA adjustments and zenith adjustments.. To get the absolute best out of each recording, it almost demands that you change the VTA for each recording. If you have a tonearm capable of making repeatable adjustments and are willing to take the time and mark each record with the setting once you've spent the time to find it, you will be rewarded. However, it was fairly easy to find a "set it and forget it" compromise setting that worked well with all but the most extremely thick or thin (or bizarre cutting angle) discs. But whichever method your madness forces you to choose, spend the time to properly set up and refine the other parameters, such as VTF, anti-skate, and azimuth.
Time is at a premium as of late, so I decided it would be a series of late evening listening sessions, so as not to get the wife too pissed-off :-).
I chose and set aside some very familiar material for the first session. Dorati/Mineapolis Scherezade, Mercury SR90195, Brubeck Quartet Time Out, Columbia CS8192 6-eye, Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here, CBS MasterSound, Beethoven's 9th, Solti/Chicago on UK Decca (thanks Richard J), and Eric Clapton Unplugged.
Immediately, it was evident that I was getting more detail than from either of my two previous cartridges. Surface noise seemed to be reduced, perhaps due to the line contact stylus used in the Beta. Or perhaps it was more than that. The crescendos on the second side of Scherezade were surprising in their magnatude, even though this was a very familiar performance to me. I was able to detect no noticeable grain or glare, and I felt the midrange, although not as lush as the Grado, was more accurate. The cartridge did a very good job in portraying the up-front presentation of the Mercury sound on this album. The Grado's laid-back upper registers, in comparison, put you a few rows back in the hall.
On Take 5 from Time Out, the drum set simply came alive during Joe Morello's solo, and Desmond's horn was as sweet as I've heard it in my system. The bass line, shared by Brubecks piano and Eugene Wright's bass were clear and distinct timbres, where the Grado, or the Supex for that matter, in comparison seemed to meld the two into a not-quite-bass, not-quite-piano. Instruments were solidly placed in the soundstage, which was slightly larger and deeper than I'd heard before. The Apogees did an even better job of disappearing than usual.
Moving on to Wish You Were Here, the guitar solo that segues Have A Cigar into Wish You Were Here was amazing in it's clarity and realism. I could not only close my eyes and "see" the guitar in the listening room, I could easily figure out exactly how far I needed to move to walk up and touch it. In the transition between Wish You Were Here and Shine On You Crazy Diamond, the fadeout of the Wish theme into the electronic waves had a sudden and distinct ending, way down in the mix, rather than the indistinct fade-out from either the Supex or the Grado.
It was getting late, so I skipped the first movement of the 9th and set the arm down on the second movement in anticipation of those tympanis. The Decca pressing sounds wonderful, and even more so on the Beta. This cartridge is no slouch in the bass department, as the tympanis had impact, power and good timbre. The bass was tighter, and better defined than either of my other cartridges. Nor was there any congestion to be found, even on the hardest attacks or loudest crescendos. I was enjoying the music, and had to go back to listen to the side a second time as I got lost in the music and forgot to take notes. The fourth movement would have to wait for another session.
I skipped ahead to the Fourth movement, to see how well the Beta fared on the vocals and massed choir. The one adjective that kept creeping into my notes was glorious. There was no congestion or hardening anywhere in the musical range, even in the loudest and most complex passages.
Over the next few weeks, I tried it with several preamps and phono stages I had on hand. My DIY Toccata and a Supex SDT-722 MC transformer, a DB systems 1b/2a, and a PS Audio 5.0. When using the PS audio, I felt the cartridge sounded most neutral playing into a load of 100 ohms. Running it into 47K gave the sound a more exciting quality, but also added a touch of hardness to the upper midrange and upper registers. While some might prefer the added shimmer and air this provided, I felt it artificial. I had similar results with the DB systems gear, with a loading of 100 ohms preferred there too. But the best sound I was able to get was using the transformer. Lyra recommends a primary resistance of 3 ohms for the transformer with this cartridge, which the Supex matched exactly. Regardless of preamp, I preferred the sound from the tranny over the active gain stages, finding the sound more dynamic, the perceived s/n ratio greater, and an absence of any grain or glare to the sound.

The bottom line

The Lydian handled just about everything I threw at it with a sense of ease, almost challenging me to find something to make it sound like it was working hard. The overall balance of this cartridge is fairly neutral, with the ability to convey powerful bass and sweet and extended highs, and a natural midrange. I can listen to it for hours without fatigue. What surprised me most was that this cartridge presented as much detail as anything I had heard in it's price range, along with as much musicality. Though nothing I've yet heard near it's price presents the balance of music and detail as well as the Lyra Lydian Beta, It is this ability I feel that the Lydian Beta competes well with cartridges I've heard costing twice it's asking price, including it’s more expensive siblings.
If you couldn't tell by reading the above, I just loved this cartridge. It's spent many months in my system, and I have no desire to change it, or anything else for that matter, for fear that I'd lose some of the magic. Although there are probably better cartridges on the market (albeit at a much higher price point), the Lyra Lydian Beta forces me to ask the question, are they really worth the extra cost? To me, at this point, I'd have to say no. Happy listening!

Manufacturer:   Scan-Tech (Japan)
Website:           http://www.lyraaudio.com/
Email Address: scantech@gol.com
U.S. Importer:   Immedia
Website:           http://www.immediasound.com/
Email Address: aperkins@immediasound.com


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