Local upnp/dlna streamer with Tidal/Qobuz services
Cyrus products are like Marmite. It is a cliche but some people either love them and follow them ardently and others, I wouldn’t say hate them – in all fairness have probably never tried. The reputation they built up in the 80s and 90s for fantastic sounding HiFi products, particularly amplifiers, has mustered a following which remains loyal to this day. What about Streaming – so too this Cyrus Stream X Signature Review.
I must admit I have fitted into this aficionado camp and still do to some degree. Seeing the loyal supporters at roadshows, they have eyes only for Cyrus products. But this is typical and understandable of human buying behaviour. We buy a car and often stick to the same brand and if upgrades bring incremental improvements. Why not continue down the committed path because you know what you’ll get? Not to mention in an effort at system matching!
Of relatively recent we’ve had the Phono Signature and Cd Xt Signature CD transport in the Cyrus premium stable, which are very well regarded and revered. How does Cyrus’ top streamer fare?
Variations on a theme
The Cyrus Stream X has gone through various model variants to the current model Stream X Signature, which admittedly has been available for some time. It’s an upgrade on the Stream X2 model, having a modified power supply and being heavier with a bigger toroidal transformer which acts as balast. This apparently helps mitigate against resonances which can have detrimental effects on quartz clocks in DACs.
Cyrus dispensed with the rather fiddly n-remote which had problems scrolling through music and blanking once every so often, particularly with long classical music track names. If it can’t be done better on a tablet, perhaps don’t do it at all! The backplate n-remote aerial remains on older Stream X2s that are upgraded to Signature specification through the upgrade path. However the aerial is no longer present on new Stream X Signature models given its redundancy.
Various firmware updates have culminated in Qobuz streaming being added, on top of the Tidal HiFi CD quality streaming service at £20 per month. Qobuz does however require more commitment than Tidal for any sniff of hi-res content. It’s £220 a year for the sublime service as a one off payment for CD quality streaming like Tidal, plus hi-resolution downloads at discounted prices. This is compared to ‘sublime +’ at £350 a year, as a one off payment too, with all the aforementioned access, plus a hi-res streaming catalogue of music up to 24bit/192khz. It’s a shame this cannot be paid for on more palatable monthly payment terms.
The firmware upgrades to add Tidal and Qobuz functionality have to be undertaken by Cyrus dealers using the micro USB socket inside the case. It’s annoying to be driving units back and forth, but whatever, it no doubt helps maintain rapport with dealers. I’ve heard it said that retro fitting external micro USB ports to the streamers could have undesired audio effects if running sensitive cables in the unit. I’m somewhat dubious given the micro USB socket is at the front and an extension to a front socket would be short.
The Stream X Signature is well specced connection wise with 5 digital pass through inputs – 3 coaxial and 2 Toslink and a USB 1.0 input for connecting iPods and FAT 16/32 formatted USB hard drives. This USB detects music locally in this way but is not a digital pass through input to a DAC. There is the obvious digital out connection over coaxial and an Ethernet connection for connection to a router or server. Also ‘MC-BUS’ RCA connections which can be used to link Cyrus components together in a chain, such that units can be turned on or off together by relevant commands. MC-BUS also allows the volume of Cyrus integrated’s and pre amps to be controlled in the Cyrus app.
Talking of the app, the Stream X Signature is controlled by Cyrus’ Cadence app which I’m sorry to report, is by any standards, very poor indeed. It’s definitely something Cyrus need to work on to make the product more user friendly. For instance on an iPad you can’t add multiple playlists, only one long list, there is no ability to select tracks from your Tidal or Qobuz accounts and add them to playlists of music tracks located locally on a network attached storage drive (NAS). Also continual problems occur timing out of the network which you don’t find on many streaming products. Assigning a fixed IP address in the menus can help in this respect.
Cadence doesn’t work much better in its android guise with lots of bugs using playlists. A much better stable after market app alternative is ‘bubble upnp’ on the android platform. It has good integration of Tidal and Qobuz libraries into local ones. In this regard something like the iPeng app works well but that’s only available on squeezebox based systems. When you see what’s available now with software like Roon, Cadence is old school and very ‘2005’ by comparison. This said, it can and does work acceptably for simply playing albums and tracks, providing network integration isn’t problematic. Also you can just use Tidal or Qobuz favourite functionality within Cadence.
This Cyrus supports Tunein internet radio which has up to around 100,000 radio stations. Its main display is reasonably functional at setting inputs and accessing the network share of the NAS, if a bit clunky and dated looking nowadays. It supports main PCM formats up to 24bit/192khz. There is no DSD or MQA capability as Cyrus DACs do not handle these formats. As far as I know there is to be no change to the status quo here, so the unit is lagging behind more recent streaming arrivals to the market.
You can set it up as a wireless streamer or an Ethernet based one unscrewing the wi-fi aerial. I’ve found it doesn’t seem to get on that reliably when playing lots of hi-res content over wi-fi, where music can stutter.
Sound System matching?
The Stream X Signature works well in an all Cyrus system, perhaps unsurprisingly. It is considerably better than devices like Sonos Connects. Considering the disparity of price this is perhaps unsurprising. However the Cyrus is very close to the Bluesound Node 2 in overall performance which has a nice airy sound to the presentation. The Stream X Signature in Cyrus systems is more about balance in the bass and treble and a richer fuller sound with an acceptable midrange. It scores well for Tidal streaming being as good as playing similar quality local NAS files. I’m not making any comparisons here only to say the Cyrus does perform above much cheaper options as you’d expect at its price point. Fine, but maybe not so?
The problem with the Stream X Signature is that it’s designed to be used with PC peripheral type NAS drives and routers. At one stage Cyrus were recommending Western Digital NAS drives of the type you can buy in computer shops. With their noisy cheap switch mode power supplies and the susceptibility to high frequency noise which can pollute the AC supply, these network devices are far from ideal paired to premium price streamers costing £1595 like this Cyrus.
It is counter productive to do this now! The Cyrus Stream X Signature is of an ilk which was and is used with such NAS drives. This was when streamers were more in their infancy and it was acceptable to pair these streamers with electrically noisy PC network peripherals. Also when it was more a case of market demand for streaming functionality above sound quality. The streamer fitted around what people have as network gear, rather than the other way around. Nowadays this is no longer acceptable in audiophile circles, and when it’s seen what can be done alternatively.
Consequently it’s always a compromise and it’s why cheaper Cyrus CD transports like the Cyrus Cd-t perform similarly to the Stream X Signature, and why the Cyrus CD Xt Signature is arguably the best Cyrus source, but that’s another topic altogether…..
But gong back to the point, none so is it more obvious on what’s acceptable in streaming when you compare the Cyrus Stream X Signature to a reference streaming source like the Innuos Zenith Mark 2. Perhaps not so much ‘reference’ now since the excellent range topping Innuos Zenith SE has arrived, albeit in limited numbers at the time of writing. The reason being and to develop my point above, is the quietness of such server transports optimised for the audio chain. The Cyrus Stream X Signature isn’t and is compromised by what it’s designed to be used with. It’s even more true now in the digital domain and with great DACs, that quiet in equals noiseless and quiet out.
So if we spend £1595/$2000 on a Cyrus Stream X Signature and add a dual bay NAS drive from the likes of Synology or Western Digital, we could easily pay an additional £400/$500. We might then need a switch if our ethernet sockets are used up by the usual Apple TV, smart TV, and Amazon Fire TV sticks etc. Cyrus even recommend a switch too. When you add this on to possibly buying power-line connectors to hook up the unit to the router, which are of course never to be recommended for quality audio, we are not too far away from the price of the Innuos Zenith Mark 2. We have already exceeded the £1500 price of the Innuos Zen Mark 2, the Zenith’s cheaper sibling, whether comparable I’m not sure, but this is even before we account the Roon functionality, DSD/MQA, CD ripping and great interfaces the Innuos has. Not to mention that some stand alone CD transports are made obsolete by the Innuos ripping mechanism, creating an opportunity cost of a CD player.
The point is these noisy peripherals account the flattening of the sound in the Stream X Signature, relative to the reference source and in the process quite markedly affect dynamics and detail. We don’t have to put up with this. If Innuos is not your cup of tea there are plenty of other quiet servers like the Melco N1A/2, which could resolve this problem too. I’m not trying to present a marketing article for Innuos, but to point out what’s possible elsewhere. We could use such a good server with the Cyrus but that’s a very expensive option for the gains to sound quality – we might as well use a good server partnered to a good DAC, and for Cyrus fans, the decent DACs in their integrated’s amps and pre-amps.
The other issue is this unit certainly does not warrant a £595 price increase on the Cyrus Stream X2 which was sold for £1000. It’s very difficult to make a positive case for a difference in sound quality over the Stream X2, if anything at all. Also with functionality of the product almost the same as the older X2 model.
The AURALiC Aries LE with a linear power supply gives a better richer detailed and balanced sound to the Cyrus for similar money, which is more capable of dealing with network born noise. In comparison and relatively speaking, the Cyrus streamer is quite shrill with high frequency detail. This is none more obvious when feeding it into a reference DAC and pre amp like the Chord electronics DAVE I have been using. So the problem is that the Cyrus is at a premium price that makes no sense when you have to add on costs of network devices.
So if we are in the market for such a streamer, should we continue to be loyal members of a brand when we may first want to consider differences elsewhere, and what we are trying to achieve. Ask yourself is it a case of system matching for system matching sake? If it’s plainly better and works, sounds better and is more functional, any ‘matching’ doesn’t come into it. It would probably be an excuse of brand loyalty. I know there are better alternatives and regrettably this streamer isn’t Cyrus’ strongest offering. If it’s to be used for partnering in a Cyrus system then yes, but not if you are looking for the best on the market at the moment.
- Online Streaming services supported – TIDAL , Qobuz
- Digital Inputs : Optical / Toslink (2), Coaxial (3), USB A, Ethernet
- Digital outputs : Coaxial (1)
- MC-BUS connections
- Maximum file handling resolution : 24bit/192kHz
- File types supported : WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AAC, MP3, WMA, AIFF
- Weight : 4.7kg
- Dimensions : W 215mm, H 73mm, D 360mm
£1595 (as at 2019, revised from £1400)
Ermine Business Park
Tel : +44 (0) 1480 410 900