Lyric AudioTi-200 Integrated Amplifier
Do Not Turn Your Dial, This Is The Correct Review
Just so no one gets confused at the outset, this is indeed a review of the Lyric Audio Ti-200 tube integrated amplifier. But as usual, I’m going to ramble on about some other stuff first, so don’t get impatient.
The State of Things
When we moved into our current house almost three years ago the only request I had was that I’d get to set up a dedicated listening room. In ordinary family life, in a modest home, this would probably be a pretty big ask, but it was – I believe – a reasonable tradeoff for the stratospherically expensive kitchen that also came along with the package. Besides, my better half is a seamstress – you want to talk about a hobby that fills up lots of space with tons of useful but esoteric tweaks and gadgets? Besides, she got her own room too.
And the kid’s bed fits nicely in the cupboard under the stairs.
Fortunately, the space I commandeered really didn’t require much of an upfront investment. Beside the carpet, the only out of pocket expense was a four-shelf vertical Mapleshade rack, yet another IKEA Expedit bookshelf for records (I’m up to seven now), a dedicated 20 amp line, and a few assorted trips to Home Depot for odds and ends. The room is 15’ by 18’, open on one side to – you guessed it – the sewing room.
Atop the new rack sits my gracefully aging series III SOTA Star Sapphire turntable followed by, in descending order, my CD player (complete with a thin layer of dust), my preamp and step-up transformer, and, at the very bottom, my amplifier. The rack also has heavy duty steel cables lag-bolted to the wall behind it in the event that my five-year-old daughter – who knows better – or her equally five-year-old friends – who may not know better – decide that it looks like it would be a fun thing to climb. The latter is a byproduct of working in insurance: There is liability risk in every room.
Recently, after about three years, I made some minor tweaks to the room, moving a record shelf from behind the right speaker in favor of a lower console cabinet to provide a solid platform for my newly restored Rek-O-Kut T12h idler drive turntable. This really is the big addition of 2018. I rebuilt the mechanicals myself (except for the coffee-can sized motor and the idler wheels which I sent out to a professionals) and added a 12” Karmadon uni-pivot arm with a Miyajima Spirit Mono cartridge, all installed into a massive plinth built from nine bonded layers of birch-ply. Someone suggested that this might have been overkill, but the thickness of the plinth was dictated by size of the motor, which hangs down a full eight-inches from the top plate. The rebuild had the dining room table occupied for months.
Aside from sounding lovely, the Miyajima cartridge is also noteworthy as an excellent example of how audiophiles can successfully practice matrimonial compromise. I bought it at Capital Audiofest last November and shortly thereafter also purchased a new sewing machine.
One of the things on the table that I was particularly excited about is the swing arm that holds the Karmadon arm. Swing-arms for this purpose are not uncommon, but the one we built comes from the ‘too much is never enough’ school of hi-fi tweaks. Originally I’d intended to make it from some sort of hardwood, primarily because that’s what I had the capacity to make myself with the tools at hand in the garage. But then a long-time hi-fi buddy reminded me that he has a CNC machine at the office, which created some interesting options: What kind of swing-arm could you make with state-of-the-art milling technology at hand? After all, my friend uses it to make replacement body parts – knees, hips, that kind of stuff. I’ve seen some of their products and it’s amazingly complicated machine work. Surely my little soap-bar shaped swing arm couldn’t pose much of a challenge?
What we ended up with is a solid, one-inch by three-inch by six-inch piece of milled navy brass with a cam-lock underneath that bolts it to the plinth. Mechanically, it’s very simple. But it’s also the sort of thing that you can’t just cook up at home unless you happen to have a Bridgeport mill in the garage, and I don’t (but I really want one). Needless to say, with all of that mass the swing arm makes for an exceptionally stable, non-resonant platform for the tonearm. It also makes cartridge setup a breeze. I used a Dr. Feikert’s protractor to set the spindle-to-pivot distance to the appropriate 270 mm, rotated the swing arm until it was spot on, aligned the cartridge, and that’s it: a very simple, highly effective way to accurately mount a tonearm.
Generally, the T12h sounds great (with one big caveat, which I’ll come back to in a moment). The brass bar provides a very stable platform, as you’d expect, and the Karmadon arm is a very heavy 12” design of solid magnesium, all of which provides an excellent base of operations for the low-compliance Miyajima cartridge. With all of these elements combined the table throws a large, wide mono image. It’s definitely not the narrow vertical stack that you sometimes hear when playing mono records on a stereo cartridge. It’s way bigger and more natural sounding than that.
But of course, nothing comes out perfect on the first try. The aforementioned caveat to excellent sound is speed stability. The T12h was in the Rek-O-Kut catalogue from 1948 to 1956, or thereabouts, so it’s now between 60 and 70 years old. Although it’s massively overbuilt – the main bearing spindle is three-quarters of an inch in diameter! – it’s certainly not up to modern standards of precision. In fact it’s probably not even up to its own original published specifications. After listening to it for a while I pulled a strobe disk off an old Lenco and discovered that there’s a momentary speed increase that is clearly visible on every revolution of the idler wheel. This is plainly audible as a wavering vibrato, particularly on pianos. On the other hand, horns, drums basses and guitars all sound great. This is one of those things you don’t know until you put it all together unless you have some sophisticated measurement equipment, and – like the vertical mill – I don’t.
I kid myself into thinking of this as truly vintage sound. It’s not – it’s a defect – but I built it, I’m proud of it, and God dammit – wobble or not – I’m going to keep listening to it, though I’ll mostly stick to records that feature a lot of horns, at least until a good Garrard 401 comes up. (There’s an additional postscript note about the wobble at the end of the article)
Anyway, with that mess up and running towards the end of April it was time to buckle down and get back to some reviewing, and the first thing on deck was the Lyric Audio Ti-200 integrated amp.
But First, The Return of The Lyric Audio PS-10 Phono Vorverstarker
In discussing a review of the Ti-200 integrated amplifier with Lyric’s U.S. distributor, Alfred Kainz of High-end Electronics, I also requested another go at the matching Lyric PS-10 phono stage, which I reviewed last year. I was particularly enthusiastic about its simplified, user-friendly set of features, with two inputs – switchable between moving magnet and moving coil – and then only adjustments for moving coil cartridge loading. The moving magnet input is fixed.
Functionally, as an unrepentant non-techie, the thing I appreciated about PS-10 is that it takes the somewhat arcane science of boosting cartridge signals and boils it down to its essentials. With the loading knobs hidden on the back, this is not a phono stage for obsessive switch twiddlers who insist on compulsively adjusting their cartridges in real time. Adjust the load on the PS-10 to where you think it sounds its best with your cartridge and forget about it – a simple to use, really great sounding piece of gear.
I was anxious to hear the PS-10 again for three reasons: first, (and this is purely selfish) since my review of the PS-10 I’d bought a new Cary SLP-98p pre-amp with a built in MM phono stage that I use with an external step-up transformer to run my Audio-Technica OC-9III cartridge. The combination is wonderful. I was very interested in hearing how the Cary/SUT combination would compare to the PS-10 using the same cartridge. Second, I’m generally of the opinion that components that are voiced together have a built in synergy, so I thought it would be worthwhile to see how the PS-10 would complement the Ti-200. Finally, and most importantly, I knew from the prior review that, excluding the Cary/SUT combination, the other two stand-alone phono-stages I have on hand – which I might have needed to press into service for this review – are inferior to the PS-10. I was concerned that without a better stand-alone p-stage I wouldn’t be getting the most out of the amplifier. Alfred Kainz obliged and graciously sent the PS-10 along with the Ti-200.
The Lyric Ti-200 Integrated Amplifier
Similar to the phono stage, the Lyric Audio Ti-200 Integrated amplifier, which retails for $14,690 with KT-120 power tubes, is a very simple to use piece of equipment. Functional simplicity is not nearly as noteworthy in an integrated as it is in a phono stage, as minimalist controls in the service of short, uninterrupted signal paths have been de rigueur for many years now, but the Ti-200 is easier to use than many tube amplifiers I’ve encountered. In this, it shares good design with its sibling phono stage.
Setup is about as easy as can be had in a tube amp. Install the tubes, attach the power cord and follow the simple instructions for setting the bias. Then, all that remains is to attach the source and your choice and speakers. Total setup time, including biasing was under ten minutes.
After, that is, you use a forklift or a team of stevedores to maneuver the thing into place.
My Cary V-12r power amplifier weighs a not insignificant 70 lbs. or so. The Ti-200 bests it handily, coming in at a kidney busting 80.5 lbs. – yes, the same weight as a bag of ready-mix concrete – all in a compact chassis measuring about 17 x 15 inches, which is about standard component size. Most of that weight is stuffed into the three big transformers at the back of the unit. Believe me, there’s no danger of the cat accidentally knocking this thing off the shelf.
The entire unit, including the transformers, is encased in the same thick milled aluminum plates as the PS-10. Fit and finish is similarly high: very industrial chic with battleship solidity. A nicely constructed tube cage spans the front, covering the four power tubes and four additional small signal tubes.
My review sample of the PS-10 last year was the natural aluminum finish, but I noted at the time that the black version was really sharp looking, too. This time, the Ti-200 integrated amplifier (and the second copy of the PS-10 that Alfred sent along to keep it company) came in black and it looks even better in person than it does in pictures. A few small lights on the front panel break up the Darth Vader aesthetic with just a red LED ring around the power switch and a few green or red pinpoint LEDs to indicate input selection or mute. A big volume knob sits in the middle of the faceplate. Overall it’s a very clean, purposeful looking piece of gear.
The Ti-200 also offers power tube versatility. It can run EL-34/KT77s and KT88s, as well as KT120s and KT150s, but output power varies enormously depending on which tubes are being used. KT120s and KT150s put out 40 watts per channel, which seems modest at first blush, but is enough juice for many real-world speakers. From there, however, the Ti-200 drops straight into single-ended triode territory. The stated specification using KT88s is a modest 16 watts per channel and EL34s or KT77s produce a mere 8 watts per side. There is a four-place rotary switch on the top panel to select tube type. There are a number of integrated amps on the market from Audio Research, Cary, and Prima Luna that at least double the Ti-200’s output with a similar tube compliment, so Lyric has deployed the bottles very conservatively which may bode well for longevity.
The review sample came with KT120s and an additional set of Lyric re-branded Tung-Sol KT150s arrived latter. Lyric also took the time to identify the specific location for each power tube, suggesting that they may have been tested at the factory prior to shipping. The small signal tubes include two 12AX7s and two 6V6s. Although I had both on hand, I did not attempt to run the amplifier with either KT77s or KT88s.
Biasing the amplifier is strictly old school but simple, with individual screwdriver pots located in front of each power tube. Start with the bias turned all the way counter clockwise which will leave a small red LED lit. Slowly turn the screw clockwise until a second, green LED also lights up. Proper bias is achieved when both the red and green lights are lit together. With either the KT120s or the KT150s bias was stable throughout the review period.
There are five RCA inputs on the back, one pair each of variable and fixed RCA outputs, and two sets of speaker outs – with both 4ohm and 8ohm taps – that accept bananas, spades, or bare wire (Does any one use bare wire anymore?). There is also the ubiquitous IEC jack for the power cord of your choice. The review sample came with a relatively hefty power cord, which I used throughout the review. There is also a nicely turned out aluminum remote – very solid feeling – that I did not use for fear of smearing it up. The Ti-200 also has a soft-start circuit that automatically mutes the amplifier for thirty seconds or so on startup until all of its bits have stabilized.
While the Ti-200 does not include features like balance or tone controls – many high-end components these days do not – it does have an unusual six position rotary switch on the rear panel to adjust feedback. Settings 1-3 are for 8 Ohm speakers while 4-6 support 4ohm loads. Position one seemed the cleanest with my 89dB speakers (although the differences were negligible), so that’s where I left it during the review period.
Also, someone with a small room in a cold climate might appreciate that the Ti-200’s tubes run pretty hot. For whatever reason they seem to throw more heat than my V12r. None of that new-fangled, class-D, cool operating temp nonsense here, no siree.
Is It Enough Juice?
In considering whether or not to review the Ti-200 with Alfred, one of the concerns I shared was whether the amplifier could adequately drive my Verity Audio Fidelio Encore speakers. Canada’s finest are 89dBs efficient at 8 ohms, with a minimum impedance of 6 Ohms, so they present a relatively benign load. But I’ve never driven them with less that 100 watts and wasn’t sure how they’d perform with only 40 watts coming in. We consulted with the manufacturer who gave his blessing on the pairing so we went ahead, and indeed there was no cause for concern. The Ti-200’s forty watts was plenty to drive my speakers, if perhaps not quite as loudly as with my own amp.
How Tubey Are Those Tubes? Is ‘Tubey’ Even A Word?
I don’t make any bones about loving the sound of vacuum tubes, and the gear I keep in my system reflects this. The Cary V12r amplifier and matching SLP-98p preamp, which are now twenty-year-old designs, are pretty tubey sounding pieces – tube lovers tube gear as it were. They have – in aces – all of the qualities that people often associate with glass bottles: full rich saturated tone colors, rounded three-dimensionality, and a deep wide soundstage. Neutral? Not especially. But that’s never been my focus. I just want my music to sound great.
Tradeoffs? Yes, there are a couple: bass, while full and ripe, is generally a little softer and less muscular than one could achieve with a solid-state amp or, as we will see, with a more modern tube design. The notes are there – and the bass certainly isn’t blobby – but it doesn’t arrive with the gut level slam that can be achieved with other amplifiers (although this can be somewhat ameliorated by choice of tubes). Also, the V12 is not the last word in state of the art fine detail, although it is still quite detailed and, in particular, spacious. On the whole, although I’m aware of its slightly exaggerated euphonic qualities, I remain quite enamored with its sound.
In contrast, the Lyric Audio Ti-200 moves much further toward contemporary neutrality, with some variation depending on which power tubes are installed. With KT-120s it sounds a little riper – more tube-like if you will – though nowhere nearly as colorfully saturated as my V12r. With KT-150s it becomes significantly tighter, more finely detailed overall, and much more modern sounding. With either tube there’s nothing dry sounding about the Ti-200 – they’re still tubes after all – but it’s definitely more in line with contemporary offerings that have tried to minimize colorations. It emphasizes different qualities than I’m used to with my own gear, but – to cut to the chase – the Ti-200 is a great sounding amplifier.
You Get More With Less
When the Ti-200 initially arrived, it bore a set of four Tung-Sol KT-120 power tubes. Firing it up for the first time the first word I wrote down was ‘punchy’, referring specifically to the bass. The lower regions moved air with noticeable physicality, which I was not expecting given its modest output. Plucked basses came out of the aural image with full rounded body and soundstage dimensionality. When they arrived, I switched to the KT-150s and did the majority of my listening with them installed.
The last time I had my V12 to the factory for a couple of updates and a checkup it was bench tested at 130 watts per side with EL34 tubes, exceeding its published specs by 30 watts. The Ti-200 delivers a mere 1/3 of the V12’s measured output but the bass was consistently at least as defined and palpable, and sometimes more so. Unexpectedly, with the KT-150s installed the bass actually seemed a tad less powerful than with the KT-120s, though there are a host of other compensating qualities that come with the larger bottles. I’ll elaborate on this phenomenon shortly.
The other thing that was noticeably absent was noise. The Ti-200 is a very quiet amplifier. I’m not running any particularly exotic power conditioning equipment, just an old Tice Power Block (which actually works pretty well considering its age), and I didn’t feel as though I was handicapping the amplifier in any way. Soundstage depth, which in my system is always the first casualty of background grunge, remained good even with the stock power cord.
Music. After All, That’s Why We’re Here.
I have this longstanding belief – an opinion really, for whatever that’s worth – that people would listen to a wider variety of music if they had the opportunity to listen to it through a really good hi-fi. I often wonder if more folks wouldn’t expand their horizons from mass produced pop – of any genre – and maybe listen to more jazz or classical or roots or whatever if the average pair of ear buds or car radio didn’t suck so badly. We’ve all heard the unfortunate results: high treble gets painfully screechy and mids distort, and don’t even get me started on pointlessly thundering, blobby bass. I firmly believe that when people are given the opportunity to really hear how good music can actually sound in the home – what’s actually on a good recording – they’d begin to embrace music they otherwise might not have.
To wit, with the Ti-200 in my system I found myself listening to a great deal more classical music than usual, a change in focus from the jazz that usually makes up the vast majority of my listening. Not that I disliked classical music previously – far from it. It’s just that the performance of the Ti-200 was so compelling that it drew me in. I found myself taking the time to seek out new symphonies, chamber works and sonatas at least in part because they just sounded so good. As if I needed any additional excuse to buy more new records.
Over the past couple of months I’ve been having a bit of a fling with Haydn symphonies, though really with 106 to choose from you could make a lifetime commitment out of it (Charlie Parker, forgive me). I recently found a 1971 London-Decca four-disc boxed set of symphonies number 73 through 81 with Antal Dorati conducting the Philharmonia Hungarica. I’ve been especially captivated by Symphony 81 in G Major, which has notably lovely melodies. Paraphrasing Duke Ellington, among good music and bad this one is really good. It’s a majestic piece of music.
On this specific recording the imaging spread of the instruments is particularly precise and the Ti-200 reproduces it with virtually no crowding around the speakers. The center fill of the second violins, violas and small woodwinds begins to splay around the conductor in the middle, flowing outward and back to the oboes, cellos, and basses – all of it clearly audible. Pizzicatos are precisely placed immediately adjacent to bowed strings with no smearing between the two. In passages with deep bowing by the lower register bases there is perfect continuity of sound. This is the first tube amp I’ve had in the house that could present all of those complex instrumental and spacial elements so precisely. Come to think of it, I don’t recall the last time I had a solid-state amp here that did it as well as the Ti-200, either.
Switching to solo piano is a 1975 London Phase-4 stereo recording is Rudolf Firkusny playing Beethoven’s Moonlight, Pathetique, and Waldstein piano sonatas. I have a few recordings of this music, and depending on the performer they can occasionally sound as though the pianist is trying to interpret the music by beating it into submission ala PDQ Bach’s legendary sportscast of Beethoven’s 5th symphony (It’s tutti all the way, folks!). Sometimes pounding the keys comes off as just that – pounding – without adding anything to the music, though in fairness, I’m sure any one of those performers would tell me to bone up on my piano skills before I shoot my mouth off.
That is not the case with this recording. Firkusny’s performance is always lissome, never sounding as though he’s trying to compete with the music he’s playing. His prodigious technical facility is deployed with such grace; he never outshines the music’s extraordinary beauty. Even in the most demanding, powerful passages there’s an innate delicacy to his touch on the keyboard that firmly serves the music. I could imagine someone who’s either used to, or even likes, a more bombastic – that is to say, loud – performance of these works might find this record a little dull, but not to my ears. Firkusny’s performance is as elegant as I’ve heard.
It’s a great recording, too. Notes have weight and depth where they should, and treble is never hard (It may be that the instrument was selected specifically for a more delicate treble. The liner notes are mum). Most importantly, the subtle overtones and sustained resonances across the entire range of the piano are wholly evident and gorgeous. Those are not qualities that you’ll capture with a sloppy or muddy amplifier, not by a long shot.
To reinforce my perception, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I went upstairs and played a few heavy chords on mom’s Steinway, just for a reference. Of course the real thing offers more of everything – texture, dynamics, resonance, weight – but it was an instructive comparison nonetheless. The Ti-200 can’t overcome the fact that it’s reproducing music, as opposed to creating it – very few components can – but it came a lot closer to capturing both the piano’s weight and subtle harmonic details than a lot of electronics I’ve listened to, and that’s a sincere compliment.
Getting Funky With The Tubes
I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a direct comparison between the two sets of power tubes – KT-120s and KT-150s – that were supplied with the amp. As I alluded to earlier, they each highlight slightly different qualities. The previous two musical notations were done with the KT-150s installed, as is the following:
Perhaps incongruously, another record I’ve been listening to a lot lately is Parliament’s 1975 classic Mothership Connection. Yes, that’s about as far from the Moonlight Sonata as you’re likely to get in a single article, but it’s a good record to use for equipment reviews because the different elements are very precisely placed in the soundstage, and it’s actually a pretty good recording. The bass drum is tight all the way through, the vocals – lead and backing – have great clarity, and there’s even a bit of soundstage depth, with the backing horns deeply recessed into stage-right on some tracks. Aside from it’s basic musical awesomeness – and it is awesome – it’s also clear that the record was engineered by someone who both knew what he was doing and who made the effort to do it right. It’s not all just silver lame’ space suits and five-inch platform heels folks, although those are integral to the recording as well. Christ! It’s even got the Brecker Brothers in the horn section. How could you go wrong?
The KT-150 “super tube” is a relatively new monster released upon an eager public over the past five years or so. It was designed to be more linear, offer more clarity and higher power than any of the other tubes commonly in use and it has quickly been put to work in a number of first-rate components. If its stated intent was to move tube gear towards the detail and neutrality of solid state while preserving the textural benefits of valves, in general, it works as advertised.
With the KT-150s installed all of the musical elements of Mothership Connection are clearly delineated, highly resolved and distortion free. The weird synthesizer noises ricochet around the soundstage and the ride cymbal taps out in perfect metallic clarity, slightly right of center throughout. But it’s the basses of Bootsie Collins and Cordell Mosson that hold this record together and it’s those same basses that offer a good step-off point for a comparison between the tubes.
The bass lines on this record are complex, tight and a bit more nuanced that one might expect. On many of today’s pop records there seems to be a pathological insistence on having monster low-tone bass notes – often synthesized – throughout every track. That was not the case when this record was recorded. The bass guitars use their entire range on the fret board, sometimes providing seriously deep thumping bass, but just as often providing midrange reinforcement. It’s an element of the music, not simply a low-end footer. With the KT-150s installed, anywhere in the bass guitar’s range, there is no slop whatsoever; no fuzz, no mud, just great tonal clarity everywhere.
Swapping out the tubes changed the perspective a little. With the KT-120s installed the same tracks still had great clarity, but the bass seemed a little fuller and a little less perfectly defined. I’m not talking blobby or diffuse here, just a little less perfectly distinct – more ‘tubey’, as I described it earlier. The rest of the spectrum was a similar story. All of the elements were there, but a little less cleanly etched into the soundstage. The backup horns that were so clearly recessed with the KT-150s were more integrated into the wall of sound with the KT-120s. Instead of sounding like a stage with individual instruments placed precisely around it the soundstage itself seemed a little more unified. Another way to think of it might be that the KT-120s offered less of the recording while preserving all of the music. Personally, while it may have been a less perfect presentation from a hi-fi point of view I thought the KT-120s may have been a bit more natural sounding, but that would purely be a matter of personal preference.
The important point to make here is that there aren’t any wrong answers. Both tubes sound great, though the left-brainers will definitely go for the KT-150s. Either way it would be hard to go wrong. The Ti-200 is a terrific sounding amplifier, offering modern state-of-the-art tube sound in a beautifully turned out piece of equipment, an easy piece of gear to recommend for an audition.
Last weekend at a local record show I found a nice, clean Columbia two-eye promo copy of Thelonious Monk’s Underground – his last record for the label – that I’ve now listened to a lot over the past few weeks. I’ve had a CD of this album for years, but never really spent much time with it. Beside the fact that the CD doesn’t sound all that good, by the time it was recorded if seemed as if Monk was fading a little, the lineup of his band seemed static and a bit tired.
Having it on vinyl changes my opinion of the record. It’s still not up to the creative brilliance of his Prestige and Riverside recordings of decade earlier, but Monk’s piano playing is much better than I recall on this date. In the end it turns out to be a very good record.
Through the Lyric Ti-200 integrated amp and the PS-10 phono stage Monk’s playing has serious power. The chords on tracks like “Boo Boo’s Birthday” positively slam with authority, and the music, while derivative of things that had come before, is still wonderfully Thelonious, energetically delivered by a well-rehearsed band.
The amplifier threw a large, detailed presentation, especially the piano in the middle, which carries on thundering full sized chords as Monk heads far down the left end of the keys. Rouse’s silvery, almost breathy horn floats in front on the right. The panning is a little awkward, but the instruments are very well captured. Most importantly the Ti-200 captures the genuine musicality of the performance. Other than the bit of over-emphasized left/right placement everything sounds fully scaled and natural, and of penultimate importance, wonderful to listen to.
If you’re in the market for an integrated amplifier, or even separates in this price range, it would be well worth your while to check out the Lyric Ti-200. Don’t let the relatively low power rating put you off. This is a muscular sounding amp capable of delivering as much quality sound as most people would ever want. Highly recommended.
Encore! Encore! – The PS-10 Phono Stage
Since I have the PS-10 phono stage on hand I thought I’d take a moment or two to revisit it. In my original review I had it paired with an Audio-Technica OC/9 III moving coil cartridge and this remains a potent combination.
This time around, in addition to the OC/9, which I used to play all of the records highlighted in this article, I also took the opportunity to use the PS-10 with my Miyajima Spirit monaural cartridge. This too was a potent combination, and one that allowed this unusual cartridge to reach further into its capabilities than anything else I’d previously used to amplify it.
Many monaural cartridges on the market today are stereo pickups with strapped wiring for mono output. The Spirit is a little unusual in that it is a true monaural cartridge. It only has two coils and they only pick up signals in the lateral plane (stereo would use four coils and use both the lateral and vertical planes). It has some other unique features that I’m going to save for a future review, but suffice to say it’s not constructed like most modern moving coils and even if I didn’t own it I’d always remember it, as much for its mechanical attributes as for its excellent sonic performance.
I’ve played this cartridge through two other phono stages, but the PS-10 – by a county mile – got more music out of it than any of them. The monaural image is wide and full – not stacked in the center like you sometimes hear with a stereo cartridge on a mono record, and the tactile qualities of instrument timbres, strong dynamics and overall musicality are first rate. This combination might have been custom tailored for mid-fifties Van Gelder recordings. Joe Wilder’s trumpet on Wilder n’ Wilder (Savoy 12063, 1956) is so clear and natural sounding, it simply pops out front, large and colorfully brassy. It sounds magnificent.
Likewise, Benny Golson’s New York Scene (Contemporary C3552, 1958), recorded by the equally adept Roy DuNann, has an enormous image with great, clear reproduction of a larger septet. With both records, even in mono, there is audible layering of the instruments in space. No, these monaural records don’t offer wall-to-wall sound-staging, which is arguably a hi-fi construct in many cases anyway, but it does offer a compelling image of a musical performance in its place, and that’s an equally valid perspective on reproduction.
Moreover, the PS-10 was equally at home whether I was playing it through Lyric’s own Ti-200 integrated amp or my own Cary gear. It didn’t matter. The Lyric PS-10 phono stage was exemplary no matter what it was hooked it up to. Similar to the Ti-200, and echoing my sentiments when I reviewed it last year, if you’re contemplating a high-quality phono stage with a simple to use feature set and absolutely first-rate sound the PS-10 should be on your short list of auditions.
Postscript: Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!
There is a happy postscript to the speed instability issues on the Rek-O-Cut T12h turntable and having experienced it first hand I’m sure things like this were a contributing factor to the death of idlers in favor of belt and direct drive tables. The good news: it’s fixable. The idler wheels on this table are a little unusual in that they’re two tiered, like a wedding cake. The motor drives the lower, larger portion of the wheel, which is about two inches in diameter, while the upper portion, which is about one inch in diameter, drives the platter.
In yet another attempt to fiddle with it to improve the stability I was running the motor and idler wheels with the platter off the table when I noticed what appeared to be a slight eccentricity in the upper 33 rpm wheel as it spun. Sure enough, it’s got a bit of a flat spot, which is surely the culprit. The wheels (there are two – one for 33 and one for 45), which had already been rebuilt as part of the restoration, will shortly be going out to be re-rebuilt, which hopefully will resolve the problem. Needless to say, I’m pleased to have finally and positively identified the source of the wobble, and I’m looking forward to hearing working properly.
Lyric Audio Ti-200 Integrated Amplifier
Output Power: 2×40 (KT120/KT150), 2×16 (KT88) or 2×8 (EL34 or KT77)
Output Impedance: 4 or 8 Ohms
Signal to Noise Ratio: 96%
Mode: Class A (Ultra-Linear Parallel Single-Ended)
Frequency Response: 15Hz to 35kHz (-1dB)
Inputs: 5 single-ended line inputs
Input Impedance: 100 kOhm
Input Sensitivity: 450mV
Cabinet: Black or Silver Brushed Aluminum
Dimensions: 440 x 382 x 223mm
Weight: 37kg (as stated in manual)
Price: $14,690 (with KT120 tubes)
19593 Roanoke Road
USA – Apple Valley, CA 92307
Phone +1 (760) 4902410
Stereo Times Masthead
Frank Alles, Mike Girardi, Key Kim, Russell Lichter, Terry London, Moreno Mitchell, Paul Szabady, Bill Wells, Mike Wright, Stephen Yan, and Rob Dockery
David Abramson, Tim Barrall, Dave Allison, Ron Cook, Lewis Dardick, Dan Secula, Don Shaulis, Greg Simmons, Eric Teh, Greg Voth, Richard Willie, Ed Van Winkle, and Rob Dockery
Carlos Sanchez, John Jonczyk, John Sprung and Russell Lichter
Site Management Clement Perry
Ad Designer: Martin Perry