CYRUS STREAM X NETWORK PLAYER
From Hi-Fi World - March 2012 issue
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The Stream comes in three different flavours. The Stream X we tested is the simplest and cheapest version. Priced at £1400 it is hardly ‘cheap’ and this version is a relatively simple home streamer that reads music from your computer, from iPod or iPhone via digital USB cable (not dodgy analogue from the headphone jack!), plays internet radio, or reads from six digital inputs: five S/PDIF and one USB, on the rear only.
There are no analogue outputs, meaning no on-board digital to analogue convertor (DAC), so connection must be made by the single S/PDIF digital output , an electrical connection via phono socket. Cyrus don’t even provide an optical TOSLINK digital output – always my preference for its slightly smoother sound – and S/PDIF does not support high resolution 24/192 stereo. So the Stream X cannot handle top resolution digital, Cyrus quoting 24/96 only in their literature, but more about this later.
There are two TOSLINK inputs, so a CD transport can be connected up via optical cable for example, but the signal is routed through to the digital output.
The absence of analogue outputs means connection must be made into a ‘digital’ amplifier, meaning one equipped with an internal DAC like a Cyrus 6XPd, or into an AV receiver, or into a stand-alone DAC. However, as the Stream X does not have an on-board digital volume control, such a DAC cannot feed a power amplifier direct; it must go into an amplifier’s Aux input, unless the DAC has its own volume control or a passive preamp with remote control of volume is used (oh, the options!).
A DAC and analogue outputs are fitted to the Stream XP (£2000), in both fixed and variable form. The DAC does handle 24/192 Cyrus told me. Then there is the Streamline, which has an on-board 30 Watt power amplifier that drive loudspeakers direct, price £1600. With less functionality than the Cambridge NP30, price £400, the Stream X looks costly, but it has some serious ability.
One big difference between these Cyrus streamers and all others are their lavish n-remote control that brings the interface to the user. Where with most other players a small screen on the streamer itself, usually far from the user on the other side of the lounge, offers the only view of what can be lengthy menu trees, Cyrus provide a remote control with a 40mm x 50mm colour display screen that is pin sharp, bright and crystal clear. So in the late night Stygian gloom of my lounge I had no trouble scouring my computer’s menus. As stepping through Windows style menu trees are a pet hate of mine, anything that makes their navigation easier gets a big thumbs up from me (OK, I was using a Mac so I can’t really blame Microsoft for the tedium of menu trees!). Trouble is, fancy screens like this need power, making an on-board Lithium-ion battery and a charging system for it necessary.
Well, at least you don’t have to worry about replacing AAAs any more. But there is a small penalty to pay. The remote must be left on a dock to recharge, or connected up direct to the USB charging cable that itself runs into a small wall wart power unit that Cyrus supply. Ours was a little shaky in its bayonet connection with a 13A plug interface so we used an Apple iPhone power unit that puts 5V down a USB lead in exactly the same way. The battery obviously has quite a large capacity because it takes 4-6hrs to fully charge it seemed – an overnight job. Whilst the Stream X has a yellow fluorescent screen that is as legible as that of most streamers, the n-remote was always preferable. Also, because it is ‘wireless’ (i.e. radio transmission) and not infra-red, it can activate the unit from another room.
Although the remote’s screen and clear text were a blessing, the control buttons could have been better arranged and sized. The Return button in particular was a victim to style consistency, looking the same as other less used buttons surrounding it, and Naim manage without a Return button, using Scroll Back instead. Button function was consistent and sequences logical, unlike Cocktail Audio’s X10 streamer for example.
There are many ways to set up a network streamer like this, as Cyrus note in their PDF owners manual (there is no paper manual, only a quick setup leaflet). Our system comprised both Mac and PC computers on a wired Ethernet home network, both with UPnP music servers. The Stream X fed a Marantz SR-8002 AV receiver, able to handle 24/96 over an S/PDIF digital link. Faced with 24/192 from a USB memory stick, however, the Cyrus reported ‘file error’ and remained silent so as I said earlier, this version of the Stream series cannot handle 24/192.
SET UP AND USE
Connecting up Stream X was simplicity itself because it needed just two signal connections. One was an Ethernet connection, which of course must have internet access via a modem for internet radio. You can connect via wi-fi but it will not support high data rates. The other was the digital output, which went to a Marantz SR-8002 receiver able to handle high resolution files.
Like most streamers the Cyrus takes time to initialise and read the network to see what is available. The MAC address is viewable under the Setup/Status menu on the remote control so the unit can be identified on a router’s client list, but a device name isn’t provided by Cyrus, unlike many rivals. There was no problem on our network, both Mac (EyeConnect on Lion) and PC (Windows Media Player 11) UPnP computer music servers coming up straight away.
Internet radio stations from Tunein (www.tunein.com) totalled 954 for the UK with most at 128kbps, but Absolute broadcasting at 192kbps and Paradise at 320kbps. With domestic network streams now running at 4600kbps it shows just what a gap has opened up between old standards where pigeons could carry info faster than the ‘net, to the expectations of today. Obviously, the ‘net cannot handle high resolution streaming in real time, but what was once acceptable now looks archaic. So don’t expect too much from internet radio in terms of quality, from the Tunein service via this otherwise quality streamer.
The Stream X played our 24/96 FLAC and WAV test files from a high speed USB LaCie WhizKey memory stick without difficulty. However, it would not play highest resolution 24/192 files, unlike Naim’s ND5 XS, giving a file error message. Surprisingly, it did play 24/192 AIFF music files from iTunes over the network, but at CD quality, data rate reading 1400kbps. Cyrus said the Stream X did not down convert, saying either the UPnP server or iTunes were responsible. However, as this combo did deliver 24/192 to Naim's ND5 XS, I wonder whether a CD signal was being sent for best compatibility in absence of hand shake status data, as happens via HDMI with AV receivers. Here, default output is a data stream that avoids a 'no signal' scenario, if the receiver fails to signal its capabilities.
At 24/48 resolution and lower, MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis and AAC test files were all played by the Stream X. An iPhone connected up to the USB port using its own lead was seen by the n-remote and played properly.
As always Cyrus use their long standing (small) cast alloy cases to house the Stream X. Where shoehorning a powerful amplifier in, especially in Cyrus 8XPd form with its potential heat production and digital convertors, is a daunting task but ensures Cyrus products have low domestic visibility, the Stream X is a far easier proposition. It’s incredibly light at 2.2kgs, 210mm wide and 350mm deep, but you must add 50mm rear room for connectors and USB memory stick; there is no front panel USB socket, an inconvenience for some users I suspect. A USB hub or extension cable would be needed to solve this by giving front access. There is no headphone output either.
If the Cyrus Stream X justifies its price it is through sound quality. Where streamed music usually sounds lacklustre and dynamically flat, this unit produced a pristine and dynamically lively delivery from CDs ripped to lossless AIFF in iTunes. Treble sparkled from cymbals in the Eagles ‘Somebody’ and I could tell straight away, as this is a much played test track, that sound quality seemed unusually good – too good!
Sure enough, making a direct comparison against the original CD, played in both a low jitter Cambridge 650BD Blu-ray player acting as transport, and a Cyrus CDt transport, against the streamed version, showed that some general congestion and turgidness had disappeared from the streamed copy, making vocals clearer and more intelligible. The bass line was a trifle more forceful, its presence just more obvious than being submerged in a general messiness. There was a slightly better feeling of general cohesiveness and even tonal balance from the streamed version too. Both transports seemed to upset things a little, the Cambridge adding most turgidness, the Cyrus transport adding a little mid-band shout, heard as an almost megaphonic effect to vocals. The streamed version was smooth and even in balance and a little fuller and more dense in its textures too.
As both sources (i.e. 2011 Mac Mini and Cambridge 650BD), under our measurements produce negligible jitter, and as the Stream X is one of the best sounding streamers I have heard to date, it would appear it is able to clean a digital signal to improve it. I noticed the same improvement to AAC compressed files on my iPhone that I never quite take seriously, such as Jackie Leven’s ‘Call Mother a Lonely Field’. As I have this on LP and CD the downloaded Apple version in 128kbps AAC is easy to dismiss but played through the Stream X it came to life. Again, the Stream X reduced the muddle and improved the sense of dynamism, adding life and zest.
Streaming 24/96 uncompressed AIFF files such as a live blues recording moved sound quality easily ahead of CD. In its ability both to handle high resolution uncompressed music files without stuttering, spitting or difficulty, and produce great sound quality from them, the Stream X is a very strong performer. Gorgeous stage depth, big resonant strikes on kettle drum and a lovely aura of smoothness and civility characterised Minnesota Orchestra playing Rimsky Korsakov’s ‘The Snow Maiden’. Whatever I played the Stream X had a taut low frequency performance that made for clean, powerful bass lines and impactful percussion. It brings music to life and 24/96 recordings were wonderfully enjoyable, a welcome move up the quality ladder from CD.
The Stream X was a delight to listen to. It was the best streamer I have heard to date by a good margin, bringing my computer music to life. Heavens, I even found listening to the computer enjoyable! OK, it isn’t going to match my Garrard 401 but where other streamers struggle with high resolution audio files and my AV set-up, headed up by a Cambridge Audio 650BD spinning 24/96 and 24/192 Blu-rays shades everyday digital sources, the Stream X fought its way into contention. Naim now have a serious rival to it, or the Stream XP at least, in the ND5 XS but the Cyrus isn’t out manoeuvred in terms of sound quality.
If you want to listen to high resolution digital that shades CD then the Stream X is a great way to do it. It even made me happy in the late night Stygian gloom of my lounge. Not only could I enjoy the sound, I could see what I was doing too! There are limitations, inability to reproduce highest definition 24/192 being the most obvious. But in practical terms this isn’t such a big issue, because this level of resolution is currently rare and, in my experience with Blu-ray to date, 192k sample rate is not a major step up from 96k sample rate.
The Stream X may seem expensive but with superb sound quality and a great remote control it delivers the sonic goods and is well worth hearing if you are in the market for a top quality network player.
Gorgeous sound quality, even from compressed digital music, but expensive and unable to exploit top resolution 24/192 recordings.
CYRUS STREAM X £1400 (UK)
+44 (0)1480 435577
- sweet, dynamic sound
- compact and light
- clear, illuminated remote
- no DAC
- rear USB port only
- no 24/192
With no analogue outputs there is little that can be measured from the Stream X. Random jitter from the digital output was very low, hovering around 10pS our analysis shows. A 1kHz, -60dB test signal induced just 25pS of signal related jitter, seen as a small peak in our Rohde & Schwarz analysis – and this is very low. Around 40pS or more is common with this test.
High frequency jitter noise above 10kHz was also very low, a feature of well engineered network players that lifts them above a majority of silver disc players.
Low rate clock drift, seen as a rise in the trace at far left, reached a low value of 40pS. Any value below 100pS is good; CD players with poor clock stability are terrible here. Premium hi-fi network players generally outperform most else in this area because of the emphasis placed on stability, low noise and jitter, and the Stream X matches the best, our measurements show. NK
JITTER (what it means)