HifiZine
The enthusiast's audio webzine

A Conversation with Peter Bartlett, Technical Director of Cyrus

It is without doubt that for some audiophiles, the ultimate dream is to build one’s own gear – not from a kit, but from scratch. For Peter Bartlett, owner of Cyrus, the dream became a reality. In reviewing the Cyrus 8 Qx DAC for this issue, I had the opportunity to have a long conversation with Bartlett and to discuss the history, philosophy and logistics of his company.

Bartlett’s initial career was that of a photographer, but as with many of us, he discovered an additional calling in the realm of hi-fi, working first for NAD, and then Mission on the distribution side before moving over to Cyrus, one of Mission’s portfolio companies. He quickly moved to upgrade the Cyrus brand from a budget component maker to an audiophile grade producer. Mission grew as an organization, eventually becoming a PLC (or corporation for our American readers). As it transpired, the company wished to spin off a number of the smaller hi-fi manufacturers that it owned, and it was this fortunate circumstance that led Bartlett to buy the company in 2005. As he comments, “There are not many ways in life to do things that are valuable”, and the new owner wanted to control the way that Cyrus developed, and to do so in a way that works for audiophiles. Bartlett insists that there is “Audiophile DNA” across the entire Cyrus team.

Product Development

At Cyrus, product development ideas are provided to the R&D team as a concept. The R&D team (divided into software and hardware teams) assists in creating a new product introduction brief, aiming to produce a competently engineered product. If the brief results in a product that looks saleable and affordable, it is prototyped and evaluated as an initial stage. There are five or six additional cycles in the development stage. Bartlett will listen for several months, assess and suggest improvements. He starts with power supply, capacitors, then further on through the circuitry.

He notes that Cyrus power supplies, for example, are constantly evolving. The core design of Cyrus amplifiers is ten years old but the company makes model changes biannually and platforms change every five years or so. Fine tuning allows the manufacturer to finesse the design. Bartlett feels that there are 10-15 different elements that can be tuned in a piece of gear, and the developers need to have the skill and acoustic memory to remember and tune each result. Peter and his listening panel (the head of R&D and the product designer) work collectively to create what Bartlett avers is the specific sound of Cyrus.

More evolution

Another example of the notion of evolution across the Cyrus range is the distinctive die-cast chassis shared by Cyrus’s electronics. The concept itself dates back to the early days of Bartlett’s involvement in Cyrus. Mission’s R&D department was looking into the interaction of speaker cones and frames, and the idea of creating a low-resonance chassis to which to bolt the transformers was born. For many years the chassis, which also acts as a heat sink for Cyrus amplifiers, was made of magnesium, but about two years ago this was changed to an aluminum alloy. Magnesium is difficult to work with and hard to recycle, and the heat dissipation characteristics of the new aluminum allow were superior. Copper was considered, but the idea was discarded due to the high cost. Raw alloy chassis are painted silver or black at the factory.

The evolution of Cyrus components over a period of time means that there is a well-defined upgrade/update path. Customers often start with base Model 6 amplifier. As Cyrus upgrades components, the customer can upgrade existing gear. Bartlett notes that 50% of customers are on an upgrade path, and that upgrades are executed at the Cyrus factory.

Manufacturing

All Cyrus products are assembled by the company’s 35 employees in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. UK-sourced parts are used with the exception of the die-cast chassis, which is made by a specialist die-casting foundry in Sweden. Raw chassis are then shipped to Birmingham for finishing. Note that this process is not inexpensive: each chassis costs Cyrus £150-200 ($240-320), but Bartlett feels that the beneficial audio quality and mechanical consistency are worth it. Another example is PCBs: Cyrus buys fully manufactured PCBs from a state-of-the-art specialist (formerly a part of Siemens) in Nottingham as well as from two other suppliers deemed capable of maintaining Cyrus’ quality audit standard. This is done for reasons of quality and efficiency: the investment required to build top quality circuit board assemblies is extremely expensive and needs to be updated regularly to cope with component development. It therefore makes economic sense to work with specialist PCB experts who commit to the latest plant in order to secure telecoms and military grade contracts, benefitting Cyrus’ specialist audio PCBs.

Bartlett also points out that, contrary to what is found in much gear these days, Cyrus does not use Chinese parts. The reasons are twofold: First, he does not believe that most Chinese components measure up to European quality standards, and he is uncomfortable with the lack of quality control inherent in outsourcing to the region. Secondly, the use of Chinese parts, or the manufacture of Cyrus components anywhere outside of the UK, is antithetical to the Cyrus brand. Cyrus is not a mass-market producer, and Cyrus customers appreciate and seek that. The consistency of manufacturing and the sound of the components is critical. As Bartlett puts it, “People who buy Cyrus want that quality.”

In summary

Cyrus is sold all around the world where the company has forged relations with distributor whom it trusts to explain why the company devotes so much energy to the sound performance. Ironically China is a fast growing market following huge success in Hong Kong. The good news for US readers is that the company is on the verge of appointing an American distributor now that Cyrus has invested in American type approvals. While it would be wrong to thus conclude that Cyrus is a “cottage industry” it is nonetheless true that when one buys a piece of Cyrus gear, one is tapping into a bloodline that is long and well-developed. Much as with a super high-end car, the manufacturer will continue to care for your acquisition through its entire lifecycle. Cyrus may be a small company, but don’t equate “small” with “unprofessional.”  As Bartlett notes, “All manufacturing businesses need to be run in a businesslike way.” How fortunate for the audiophile community that Cyrus is run thus.


Readers' comments

    A friend of mine was a dealer and also had Mission speakers.I really liked the cd player back in the old pre 2k days compared to the other stuff out there.He also sold Kinergetics which was also very good.

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