Jonathan Carr is surely one of the world’s finest living cartridge designers. Along with his Japanese cartridge builder Yoshinori Mishima, and Norwegian business partner Stig Borge, together they form Lyra. The company has been going for nearly three decades now – launched in Japan at a time was vinyl was very much on the descent, and every company was leaving the market, it’s now one of the most experienced and respected cartridge brands of the modern age.
The Titan i was the fourth generation of Lyra flagship launched in 2009 (for £2,895 in the UK) – and shows all of Jonathan’s accumulated experience. The body is machined from a single piece of lightweight titanium alloy, shaped to minimise standing waves and thus resonance. The internal body structures are said to be, “too intricate to be formed by mechanical means”, and so a non-contact process known as electrical discharge machining is used. This makes for an extremely rigid yet light structure, which has a “clearly defined reference pivot” for the cantilever, meaning the body can ‘sink’ the vibrations from the stylus out into the tonearm, sparing the critical signal generator area and its magnetic gap and signal generator coils.
For similar reasons, the front magnet carrier of the Titan i is both non-magnetic and non-conductive. This prevents the formation of dynamically induced variable eddy currents that would otherwise interfere with the primary magnetic field and distort the signal generation process. Two symmetrical disc magnets are used in the generator system, The signal coils are wound from high-purity 6N copper over a chemically-refined high-purity iron core, which has been gold-plated to reduce eddy currents. The cartridge used a very short suspension wire, and the cantilever assembly of the Titan i has been mounted directly to the titanium body, obviating the need for intermediate mounting methods such as pole-pieces or subcarriers.
The cantilever is made from a “compound structure”, designed to speed the transmission of energy down it yet damp itself in other planes. It’s made of a solid boron core, an outer diamond layer and an additional metal jacket for reinforcement. Both it and the insides of the body have been shaped so that when the two components are joined to each other, a double-knife-edge system is created, which concentrates as much pressure as possible on the joint area and thereby achieves a type of cold weld, says Lyra. This minimises the number of mechanical joints between the cantilever and tonearm, and maximises mechanical energy transfer away from the stylus and generator area. The Lyra-designed, Ogura-made (3×70 micrometer) stylus rides at the tip of a low-mass diamond block. Internal impedance is quoted at 5.5 ohms, output voltage is 0.5 mV (5.0cm/sec., zero to peak, 45 degrees) and compliance is approximately 12×10-6 cm/dyne at 100Hz. The weight of the Titan i is 10.5g without its cover.
Tracking at 1.7g, the Titan i just did everything I could want from a cartridge straight out of the box. It is such a conspicuously gifted performer that, aside from marvelling at its amazing twenty first century high resolution analogue sound, you start wondering why you’ve never heard the rest of your system in this way before. Simply put, the Lyra has a wonderfully open, expansive and fast sound. But it’s not at the expense of harshness or lack of subtlety. Its trick is to give you everything that’s great about state-of-the-art, high resolution vinyl playback with absolutely none of the usual drawbacks. Normally a blindingly fast and incisive MC gets some of this character through an artificial edge, a certain ‘zing’ to give it some swing, if you like. Yet here we have a dizzyingly fast, spectacularly dynamic transducer that’s as sweet as a baby with chocolate around its mouth. Yes, you can have it all!
On a superficial level, it has immense clarity, but with that comes delicious subtlety too. Suddenly one can peer right into the back of the vocal booth, hear every last vocal inflection, languish in the grain of a singer’s voice and get behind what via most other moving coils sounds like a nasal wine. At the same time, the Lyra unfolds layer after layer of detail about the mix, and all the instruments used. It’s like you can hear right into the original multi-track, snapping your focus on to any one of twenty (or more) tracks and hear the musicians pound out their part. Cumulatively it’s a spectacular experience, as you realise you’ve finally got what the producer was hearing all those years ago. Via this cartridge, the rhythm is so infectious, the dynamic accenting so arresting and the overall feel of the performance so powerful. Yet despite this barnstorming delivery, the Titan i remains delicate and discreet…
Tonally, the Lyra is about as near to neutral as I’ve heard, but it there’s any coloration at all, it’s an ever so slightly silky patina to the upper midband and treble. There’s the faintest hint of chiffon across female vocals, for example. I found myself basking in the warmth and atmosphere of the music. It’s wonderfully tuneful, yet tonally just as rich as it should be. Indeed, it’s so neutral and detailed and open and expansive, yet is never cerebral or matter-of-fact. It’s so infectiously rhythmic and so expressively dynamic yet never unsubtle or clumsy and remains completely devoid of bluster. It invests the music with a delicious silky sweetness yet you couldn’t really call it coloured, and it’s so gifted at getting right into the tonal patina of an instrument or conveying the grain of the voice.
One of the finest moving coil cartridges I have ever heard, this is to my ears a profoundly special moving coil cartridge, which when given a suitably capable turntable and tonearm shows just how far digital has to go before it even comes close to what analogue is capable of. Its beautifully honed design shows that the venerable LP is capable of stellar sound.