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DAC XP Signature – Cyrus’ top pre-amp & DAC

Dual Mono Balanced Preamplifier & DAC

The Cyrus DAC XP Signature is a £2,995 premium audiophile pre amplifier and DAC in one box. It was developed from the DAC XP and DAC XP+ variants on the introduction of Cyrus’ 30th year anniversary system. The technology in the anniversary system, which sold in a limited run, became incorporated into the Signature range topping models.

The combined pre amp and DAC allows the convenience of not needing an additional DAC box. As a pre you can of course connect power amplifiers to it and pure digital sources such as streamers and CD transports. As a pre it’s a balanced dual mono design which means the two channels are independently separated with two DAC cards rather than one stereo DAC. It also has separated circuits for the DAC and pre stages. Separate high current toroidal transformers, mounted upside down at the front of the case, power these different stages.

The DACs are a 32 bit up-sampling design such that any digital source up to 24 bit/192kHz can be converted. The DAC XP Signature can handle various sampling rates from standard CD at 44.1kHz and lower, up to high resolution 192kHz source material which can be downloaded from the plethora of sites such as HD Tracks etc. The DACs are not MQA or DSD capable, being designed from the original DAC XP model which came onto the market well before these formats became popular. Regrettably Cyrus has not upgraded the DACs in this range topping model to serve these newer formats.

Signature badge differentiates top Cyrus models.

A port at the rear allows connection of Cyrus’ PSX-R power supply. You can either connect the old PSX-R, which is no longer sold but there are numerous units on the second hand market. Alternatively you can use the current revamped PSX-R2 offering (price £745). You still need to connect the DAC XP Signature to the mains. This power supply takes over the filter stages of the output electronics for considerable improvements in sound quality. Either of these power supplies is absolutely essential. Without it the sound is lacking in depth and presence and is dynamically flat.

The unit is simply programmed by assigning inputs and there are ‘roll off’ settings for the DACs which do subtly change performance. In addition you can set large or small display lettering. I preferred the fast filters in my tests as they had just that bit better balance.

Simple functionality in usage.

There is the facility to connect up 6 digital inputs; 4 coaxial, and 2 toslink/optical, so no difficulty here in not being able to connect all your digital sources. In addition there is an optical digital out and twin sets of unbalanced RCA pre-outs and balanced XLR pre-outs. You also get two sets of RCA inputs for connecting analogue sources and a fixed line RCA output.

Cyrus products utilise ‘MC-BUS’ connections in the form of twin RCA phono sockets. Forming a chain you connect the out socket of one unit to the in socket of the next, be it a power amp or source etc. Then turning the DAC XP Signature on or off does the same for other Cyrus components which avoids the need to turn other units on or off individually. If you use a Cyrus streamer with recent firmware and MC-BUS connections, you can also control volume with the Cyrus Cadence app. There is also a trigger output to switch on compatible power amps of other brands.

Supplied is a learning ir14 remote which can be used to control all Cyrus sources. It looks smarter in appearance then the older clunky Cyrus AVRS 7.2 remote. Using the ir14 you can turn off the DAC XP Signature’s display for night time use.

Design

There is no doubt having separate power supplies confers improvements in sonic performance, over and above the Cyrus Pre2 DAC which has a single power supply. In addition the Pre2 DAC has a single stereo DAC card of lower specification.

Also because the DAC and analogue pre amplifier circuits are entirely separate, this helps with improved audio performance and avoiding distortion or noise interference.

The DAC XP Signature uses the iconic Cyrus chassis, which is supplied in brushed black or quartz silver, which has been a feature of Cyrus products for some time now. It can get very warm because the stand by power consumption is high at around 20 watts. However this allows immediate performance when turned on. The chassis is designed to act as a heat sink because the DAC XP Signature doesn’t have fans. It’s clear there is no room for them with all the electronics packed into the case.

Limited real estate inside – Dual toroidal power supplies and DAC cards in dual mono configuration

To some the chassis may look a bit dated, however I like the retro brushed metal design which is appealing in an understated way. It’s what the bits in the box do that matter mostly anyway! That said the build quality is not exactly a luxury standard which you might expect at this price. Standardised cases across the range have the benefit to Cyrus and customers of helping to keep manufacturing costs down through economies of scale.

Unlike the Cyrus Pre 2 Dac, unfortunately the back panel doesn’t include a USB input for connecting computers and supplying digital content to the DACs. According to Cyrus, adding USB isn’t easy and would require a complete redesign. This is a big drawback of the DAC XP Signature given many DACs are optimised for USB nowadays. Also that the inputs of newer DACs are configured for computer source material such as DSD and MQA, and other very high sample rate PCM.

Cyrus say they have created their most stable circuit yet in the DAC XP Signature. Also that the unit has been tuned to produce the trademark Cyrus sound. There is also no headphone out socket unlike many pre dacs and in difference to the cheaper Cyrus Pre2 Dac.

In an all Cyrus System the DAC XP Signature works extremely well. Tri-arbor rack from Simon Little Furniture.

Sound

Having tried a Cyrus Pre2 Dac QX, one of the first things you notice is the added levels of detail and layering in the music. Where once the layers were closer together, they are now separated quite significantly.

Often sounds not heard in the Pre2 Dac QX are heard now, to the extent it makes your ears prick up at an instrument you have ‘discovered’ from a familiar track. Such are the levels of detail this amp dredges up! The levels of accuracy and speed are extremely good too.

Bass is tighter and it seems to come on much more when needed, again in keeping with this amps very good analytical ability. When lowering the volume all the ingredients in a track mesh together, much less so with the Pre 2 Dac QX, where relatively speaking the quality of the sound diminishes more as you turn volume down.

The layering gives a more realistic sound and instrumentation has more depth and timbre. There is also a bigger soundstage to its lesser Cyrus sibling. It’s very clear, as possibly might be attributed to the twin DACs, that each channel is much more unto itself in appealing to present a good stereo image. In other words that each channel seems much more independent and having more purpose.

Trying some well-known music these qualities are made obvious. So playing Nat King Cole’s  ‘When I fall in love’, the accompanying instrumentation is layered and realistic, the violins are strong and have more depth. Trying Richard Hawley’s ‘Darlin wait for me’ I’m hearing a much bigger soundstage and more exuberant bass. On Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ in 24bit, the synths are more detailed, and every grunt and intonation of his voice is more defined. With Mozart’s ‘Serenade for winds’ the oboe gets to a crescendo more dynamically. Finally, on Kraftwerk’s Tour De France album you notice how the imaging ability allows the music to speed between one speaker and the other. It’s very fast with music.

This unit is easily able to make good with compressed music due to the quality of its DACs and upscaling abilities and some MP3 content I have sounds like CD quality now. With the Pre2 Dac QX, these files did really sound like MP3.

So in summary of the positives over the Pre 2 Dac QX; you get a more accurate, precise, faster, detailed, fuller, bass responsive, layered sound with a bigger soundstage and better stereo imaging. You don’t seem to get a hugely more dynamic sound on first listen but dynamics are certainly improved, not only the high and low volume points in a track but within the instruments and vocal, for instance the speed of attack of a drum beat.

To reiterate, without the PSX-R the sound signature is lacking. I believed I had a problem with the DAC XP Signature once, only to the realise the PSX-R was not on, such is how obvious the sound difference is.

Being critical, the hugely detailed and analytical Cyrus sound and the ability to hear everything, might not be to everyone’s tastes. It does present its detailed image with a degree of airy treble, not overtly, but it’s noticeable in its sound signature if you switch to much more expensive DACs. This airiness or graininess becomes more marked at higher volumes quite obviously. I have tried stand-alone DACs such as the £1000 Chord 2Qute and it is noticeably deeper at dredging up detail in a more balanced and dynamic way compared to the treble sheen of the Cyrus. This is no real criticism of the DAC XP Signature unto itself, it’s just DAC technology moves on very fast and the DACs in this Cyrus are quite some years old now. Quite why Cyrus haven’t developed their DACs in recent years is surprising but there has been a new foray by Cyrus into lifestyle HiFi. This may account this lack of development in their premium products.

Pair with Cyrus Mono X200/X300 signature power amps for audio nirvana!

The Pre2 Dac QX has a much more relaxed presentation in regard to detail. With this in mind and as always, it really depends on the rest of your kit and speakers and your preferences, as to whether the DAC XP Signature will be a good match. For illustration I’ve found Cyrus works very well with PMC and Spendor due to the balance between the Cyrus detail and the PMC bass richness and smoothness, similar characteristics in Spendor speakers. The DAC XP Signature has been a stalwart reference pre-amp in my system for some time and it very much competes with the competition, as a balanced pre-amp certainly.

Having detail in an amplifier is not disadvantageous if the speakers are balanced, and it’s about the whole package. The DAC XP Signature has somewhat limited tonal warmth and maybe as if you have turned the tone treble control down to -1 if your amp has one. Possibly this might be a bit unfair in view of bass attack and response and depth being very good. The transients are good but it’s just the overall tone is a touch lean when bass is not in the music. Therefore depending on tastes this pre amp and DAC definitely works better with speakers that are slightly more rounded with bass and personally I’d avoid any lean speakers being partnered.

Conclusion

This is a very well-made, designed and engineered pre amp and DAC which majors in areas such as detail and speed. In this regard it is extremely capable.

It works very well indeed in an all Cyrus system and must be partnered with a PSX-R or PSX-R2 to get the best out of it.

Cyrus PSX-R

On the downside it doesn’t have a USB input, a headphone out, and to some used to the Cyrus Pre Dac’s it might be too analytical and clinical for the reasons already mentioned. It does err on the side of treble to plus one, rather than a neutral sound.

Its been out for a while now so for future proofing, potentially it would be nice to see some updates to the DACs or the design maybe, for a possible in casting upgrade. If MQA takes ground maybe Cyrus MQA variant twin DACs? Or DSD capability?

It’s about twice the price of a Pre 2 DAC with a QX DAC card (£1145 Pre 2 Dac + £475 QX card) and by my reckoning it is twice as good, but you will need suitably good power amps to partner with it, preferably Mono X300 Signature’s or a Stereo 200’s, if staying with Cyrus.

DACs are improving quickly and the Cyrus DACs are not it’s main strength, especially when one looks at the range of ESS Sabre pro and FPGA type dacs boxes on the market. As an overall package its got a very good pre amp in dual mono configuration, and this is one of its main strengths.

So if you are a Cyrus Pre2 Dac owner and want to go down a Cyrus upgrade route, this unit is a very worthy upgrade. Alternatively to anyone considering a tonally detailed and fast premium audiophile pre amp, for use with neutral, rich, or bassy speakers.

Specifications

  • Weight – 6.5kg
  • Standby power consumption c.20watts (c.22watts when on)
  • Dimensions – 215mm x 360mm x 73mm (WxDxH)
  • Inputs ; optical x2, coaxial x4, 2 pairs RCA phono
  • Outputs ; optical x1, RCA – 1 pair fixed, 2 pairs variable
  • PSX-R/PSX-R2 upgrade port
  • XLR Balanced or RCA unbalanced connections
  • MC-BUS for automatic powering on and off of Cyrus components
  • ir14 remote control supplied
  • Max signal resolution 24bit/192kH
  • DAC XP Signature – Cyrus Website
  • Simon Little tri arbour rack

Price

  • £2,995

Manufacturer details

Cyrus Audio
Ermine Business Park
Huntingdon
PE29 6XY
Tel : +44 (0) 1480 410 900
www.cyrusaudio.com

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an audiophile who likes faithfully reproduced audio and sharing experiences with others. I am primarily interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews are not overly technical and I don't use pretentious language, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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