Consonance Cyber 10 Multifunctional Tube Amplifier
The proper balance between detail and involvement.
Review By Scott Faller
L ike it or not, the face of the audio landscape is changing, quickly. Those of you clutching onto your CD players are about to go the way of the horse and buggy. Hold on to your knickers boys and girls, here is one of the first (if not the first) USB driven, single ended amps with an integral DAC on the market. I have no doubt, this is just the first in the line of many, many offerings that will start blazing the Hi-Fi the trail over the next five or so years. I doubt seriously that this will be restricted to high end audio, this one is going to spread across the industry, most likely like wildfire.
Now, the idea of a USB driven amp isn't exactly new. There have been a number of Tripath based offerings on the market for a couple of years. Opera also offers a 100WPC solid state version in their Forbidden City line. I've also seen a number of USB based DACs and headphone amps out there too. Some of which are very cool offerings, especially Gordon Rankin's 71A based, directly heated triode, USB DAC, but that is for a different article. If you remember, I wrote about the very fine sounding Hagerman Chime (all tubed) USB DAC a couple of years ago. Now, Consonance has taken USB and DAC one step further. They have married the two and created the new Cyber 10 Multifunction Tube Amplifier.
Most everybody has heard of the Opera/Consonance Audio Company by now. If not, Opera has been around for over 14 years now on Mainland China. They have been exporting fine sounding, affordable and extremely reliable gear to audiophiles and music lovers worldwide. That isn't to say that they don't offer some expensive gear too. I own uber cool LP-5 Droplet turntable and a friend of mine has the tubed and upsampled Droplet CD player. In general, Opera offers extremely good sounding gear at all price levels.
When you surf through the Opera-Consonance website, you will see a heavy presence of tube based designs. We've all heard the horror stories about the imported gear. Even though some of that still exists today, it isn't a worry from the large established manufacturers like Opera. Opera has a long track record of reliability, not to mention the US distributor is now offering a full 5 year, transferable warranty on each piece of Opera gear purchased. Obviously, tubes aren't included in that offer but this is a telling sign that should let everyone know just how reliable the Opera gear is.
The basic design of the Cyber 10 is a single KT-88 wired and switchable to either triode or ultra-linear mode. The driver tube compliment is a 12AU7 driving a 12AT7. When you look under the hood you'll find that the circuit layout is on a thick, printed circuit board with heavy traces. Most of the resistors used in the circuit are metal films. The coupling caps in the signal paths are Wima MKP metalized polypropylene. The power supply and the rest of the onboard caps are very nice Rubycon electrolytics. Rectification is provided via standard solid state in lieu of a vacuum tube.
On the front of the Cyber 10 you will find the volume control, dual headphone jacks (1/8 and 0.25 inch TRS), the headphone selector switch and the source selector switch. The headphone circuit can handle cans between 10 and 600 Ohm impedance. The source inputs, located on the side of the amp, are three sets of standard gold plated RCA's and the USB Type A connection (this is important).
The reason I draw attention to the USB connection is that on the back (or side) of most of your computers, you will find a Type A USB connection. The typical USB cord is Type A to Type B. This goes for anything from the 1 to 5 meter USB cords. Finding a Type A to a Type A USB cord is nye on impossible. Fortunately the Cyber comes with a 2-foot Type A to A USB cord. This way I was able to use a 5 meter A to B to a USB hub and then use the A to A cord. This allowed my to have my laptop along side of me so I could easily scroll through and choose the music without having to get up and walk to my computer which would have had to sit next to the amp. I let Opera know of this minor faux pas and they said that they would be shipping all future units with the 5 meter Type A to Type A USB cord in the future. That's what I call responsive.
Now for those of you that know wire makes a difference, there are ample sites out there that sell raw USB Type A connectors so you can make your own DIY (and likely better sounding) cable. Here, your imagination and pocketbook are your only limits. You could fashion the custom cables from silver plated copper with a Teflon dielectric. You could use solid, or stranded wire. Heck you could even fashion one out of CAT6. The possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to play with DIY USB cables and settled on what came with the Cyber 10 and in the end, it sounded just fine. Oh, and for those that don't believe in wires and cables, forget I just wrote that paragraph. Use the stock USB cable, you will be happier.
On the back side of the Cyber ten you will find the power switch and a standard IEC power connector just waiting for your favorite power cord. Also you will find a single pair of standard, gold plated five way binding posts. On the bottom are some nice squishy rubber isolation feet. On the back deck between the tubes you will find a switch that allows you to change from Ultralinear to Triode mode. Doing so, you will see a reduction in overall wattage but this will definitely give you a completely different presentation of the sound.
The casing is a nice, heavy gage steel with a hammered silver paint finish. If you are familiar with their Reference line, the Cyber 10 has the typical Consonance look of the machined aluminum faceplate, machined knobs and the very attractive light finished cherry wood, slatted top. The amplifier comes equipped with a remote volume control. The remote takes the usual form of a small plastic case. Though there are additional buttons for switching sources on the remote, all but the volume control are non-functional. This particular model takes up a much smaller footprint than its larger brothers. The Cyber 10 is only 12 wide by 10 inches deep and a little over 6 inches tall. This one is quite compact in comparison to others in the line. The fine folks at Consonance call this line the Mini Reference line.
USB DAC Design
Now, I'm not going to sit here and try to fool you guys into thinking I know anything about DAC design, because I don't. To coin an old adage my dad used to say, what I know about DAC design you could shove in your eye and never know it was there. That pretty much sums it up. Rather than me butchering or misinterpreting the folks at Consonance, I'm going to do a direct cut and paste from the promotional literature they sent me about the DAC design.
Linear technology and SpAct memory architecture have been applied in the whole USB and DAC section. Linear technology result no smearing effect caused by digital filter, superb transient response without any over-shooting in sound. SpAct memory architecture is able to recover the audio clock of signal through USB, analog pulls with SpAct memory architecture enable playback with very low clock jitter.
There is a Burr-Brown DAC chip, BB2707, set right followed with USB interface, it's a special chip featured USB input and DAC up-sampling output. For normal design amplifiers, this chip was used entirely as DAC chip, digital processing system, simply convert to FIFO analog signal for the digital signal input through USB interface.
However for new Cyber 10, it is only part used as a ROM drive to receive USB digital signal from computer, the received data is checked, clock corrected and decoded to I 2 S data only, not the analog signal. Within the data path is a SpAct memory architecture establishing smoother data flow so that the final audio has the lowest possible jitter. These steps all ensure that the latter set TDA 1543 DAC chip is able to be fed with precise recovery of data. From leaving the BB2707 chip as smooth I 2 S data without error, the information is in the hands of Linear technology DAC circuitry to give both higher data integrity and lower jitter. This is the real DAC section, using our famous Linear technology developed originally for the well received CD120 linear CD-player, that converts I 2 S data to analog signal.
Linear technology (refer to the following link and works please):
- Non-over-sampling DAC(TDA1543), no digital filter
- J-FET/Transistors filter, no op-amp at all
- Passive I/V conversion In progression
- Short pass length, minimal number of parts
So, from what I've been able to glean from that is, Consonance has chosen to utilize a couple of different DAC chips in this design. First, the USB input from the computer hits the Burr Brown 2707 chip. Rather than using this chips ability to upsample the digital signal then convert it to an analog signal, Consonance uses the BB2707 to receive the raw digital data, buffer it, perform error checking and time correction, then converts it to I2S data and then sends that data to a non-oversampling TDA 1543 DAC chip. From there, something else unique happens, the gain stage downstream of the 1543 DAC. (Guys, if I got that wrong please don't crucify me, as said I know zip about DAC design).
The gain stage from the TDA1543 DAC is the SK170 JFET followed by the low noise Toshiba 2SC2240 transistor. This is one fact about the Cyber 10 that I simply love. The elves at Consonance didn't take the cheap and easy way out and use an opamp as the gain stage for the DAC. They took the old school route and built a proper analog gain stage with transistors. Bravo to them for not cheapening out and having the Lemming mentality. As you will read, the end result is having a far more analog sounding piece of audio gear (which is a very good thing in my book).
After the gain stage, the rest is just solid thermonic design. Nothing overly new or innovative, just good design. One item of note, you can use different types output tubes in this amplifier. Besides KT-88 tubes, it will accept EL-34, 6L6, 6550 and 6CA7 with a simple re-biasing. Though it might be more convenient if placed elsewhere, Consonance has opted to position the single bias adjustment underneath the bottom panel.
Overall, this is a very nice looking and very well made piece of audio gear. Pretty much what you would expect from a company like Consonance.
Now, some of you might be curious what operating system (read=ASIO or KMIX) I used during my time with the Cyber 10. To be honest I used both in conjunction with Foobar. What I did was read my established music library on an external hard drive connected to my desktop in a separate part of the house. I pointed Foobar 2000 v.9.4.5 to this shared wireless network drive to read the hundreds of gigs of FLAC files I have stored there.
I played with the native Windows KMIX driver and the latest version of AISO v.2.8 beta 2. Honestly, ASIO wins on the sound quality without a doubt but there is always a but….it is a real live, honest to goodness pain in the sphincter muscle. The initial installation was pretty painless. All was well until I tried letting it play music in the background and then began multitasking on my Windows based laptop (a newer Gateway (Windows XP Pro, Service Pack 2, AMD Athlon 64 3700+ processor with a 1 gig of memory). All would be well and then ASIO would unload itself forcing me to (no matter how many different ways I tried to reload it) reboot my machine to bring it back to life.
Since I tend to listen to music, surf and write all at the same time on my laptop, ASIO simply didn't work for me. Sure it definitely sounded better but couldn't live with its instability. I even went so far as to do the three finger salute, bringing up the task manager and I set Foobar's processing Priority to Realtime. That still didn't work. I even (researched first then) messed with the ASIO setting in the Offline Settings program that comes with it. Bottom line, if you insist on using ASIO, maybe you'll have better luck or just maybe you need a true dedicated machine for ASIO to run properly without crashing. Who knows, maybe the issues I had with ASIO stemmed from something in my wireless network and the flow if data or bandwidth. In my opinion, ASIO still needs work. But then again, it's free so I really shouldn't complain.
So the moral of the story is, KMIX works and sounds just fine. Don't let the online guys scare you away from using it. It is completely stable (at least on my machine). Sure, it doesn't sound quite as open or defined as ASIO but it does make fine music. Plus, it works... every single time I hit the play button and decide to multitask. You guys that are about to make a post about how this idiot writer can't even figure out how to work ASIO then do a quick search on certain audiophile board of 'Insanity' and count the number of Inmate threads of people who have had issues with this program. Computer based music shouldn't be difficult. It should be easy, convenient, stable and sound good on top of it. Foobar with Windows KMIX does that pretty well... and that's all I have to say about that.
As usual, all of the break in rules apply here, especially for the DAC. On the tube amp side of this mix, a hundred hours or so should do you pretty well in the break in department. On the DAC side, plan on a few more... quite a few more. I'm approaching 400 hours on the DAC and it is just now settling down. The issues I had during break in are pretty common, they ranged from closed in to having a hard bite in the midrange plus the usual graininess. Thankfully those have all but disappeared with time.
This go around, the Cyber 10 made the rounds to just two of my rooms. First the Redrum where she saw the ultra cool Teresonic Ingeniums and my pair of rebuilt Altec A-7's. Finally she ended up in the Grape room mated to the Revelation Audio Vega's (formerly known as the Odyssey Audio Epiphanys).
Before I get going, let me explain why I didn't play with the Cyber 10 in the Blue Room and with my open baffle Lowthers. Since this is an integrated and has a USB port, there is no way to power my vintage woofers in that room since I actively bi-amp that system. As luck would have it, John verHalen of Lowther America sent me a pair of the uber-cool Lowther PM2T's to play with. The T stands for Ticonal. Ticonal is an extremely rare form of magnet used on the Lowther drivers in the days of yore. Unfortunately, this magnet is extremely hard to come by. In fact John mentioned that there are only dozen or so pairs of these in existence. John wanted me to try these before they got away and boy I'm glad he did because they sound absolutely marvelous. Watch these pages in the coming months as I'll do a more formal write up of them.
So, what I decided to do was mount the PM2T's in the Teresonic Ingenium cabinets and then let the Cyber 10 drive them. After some time playing with positioning, I finally settled on corner loading for the Lowther loaded Teresonic's. With over 100dB/W/m efficient, super accurate sounding drivers and 12 watts of power, there should be nothing standing between me and my music.
After sitting down and finally being able to get into the music, I was in for a shock. Most everybody understands how revealing Lowthers are but in these true full range, single driver cabinets they sounded stunning mated to the Cyber 10 amp. And yes, as delusional as some people think I am, the Teresonics with the PM2T drivers actually do bass (and with no notch filter or swamping resister either!). And not little bits and pieces of weak flabby bass. I'm talking about room shaking, pant leg flapping, holy shit did you hear that , kinda bass. One caveat though, quality recordings need only apply.
Some of the first music popped on was Rachelle Ferrel's fantastic release Individuality. Although the album cover is a bit weird, don't let that scare you off. This girl has got a serious set of pipes. Not to mention this release is extremely well recorded and has some crushing bass lines. On the second track Sista, as the synth bass started to play, I cranked the hell out of it just to see how the Cyber 10 coupled to the Teresonics would respond. I'm here to tell you, I've never heard the Teresonic sound so good before. They absolutely came to life and made me sit up and pay attention.
The combination of the Lowther PM2T drivers and the bass capabilities of the Cyber 10 were more than stunning. The bass coming out of this combination was amazing! This was repeated and evidenced by a number of local audiophiles who heard the exact same thing as I did. One of which was a well known manufacturer whose comment was, "That is the best sounding single driver, full range speaker I've ever heard". This guy is a bass head too. After listening to the rest of Individuality plus several other bass heavy CDs like Me'Shell Ndegeocello's Peace Beyond Passion and Angelique Kidjo's Oremi told me that the Cyber 10 won't have any issues in the bass department which is usually the biggest issue with any SET amp. That is extremely telling of how well build the transformers are especially since Consonance is only using about 3dB of feedback on this amp.
Working my way up the scales, the midrange and treble of the Cyber 10 were quite good also. After looking at the inside of the amp and seeing the Wima coupling caps, I... well... prejudged how this amp might sound. Lets put it this way, I was wrong. The Wimas, though not as revealing as other caps I've played with did not sound bad at all, at least in this design. Sure, they aren't near as revealing as the Teflon V-Caps but they were anything but dark and ‘tubey' sounding. They let the music come through without significant amounts of veiling. The treble was clean and extended without being crunchy or brittle. The midrange was quite clear and reasonably revealing. Each of my test tracks that I use to determine low level detail faired quite well. Sure, I didn't pick up the minutia that my Welborne DRD and PM2A are capable of but for an extremely inexpensive SET integrated amp, I felt the detail retrieval was extremely good.
When it comes to the audiophile things we all love, the Cyber 10 faired quite well also. Using all of my usual test tracks I found the soundstage well on par with most other amps. Playing Signs of Life from Pink Floyd I found the lapping water reaching three to four feet outside of the speaker boundaries. That isn't as wide as on my reference system but still better than the average. When it comes to depth, here the Cyber 10 faired pretty well too extending the virtual stage about four or five feet behind the very forward sounding Lowthers. The placement of the performers was quite good also. As I listened, the focus was nice but a little rounded, not quite as sharp as my DRD but I guess that was to be expected as the Welborne Labs units are a very exacting amp. Overall, not bad at all.
When it comes to overall coloration, I was quite surprised. Though the Cyber 10 isn't the most transparent amp I've listened to with Lowthers, I felt the overall clarity was quite good. Sure, I've heard and own more defined amplifiers but the Cyber 10 never left me with the feeling that I needed more detail or clarity. I am extremely sensitive to that factor in amplifiers. If I come across an amp that is veiled or undefined, I can't bring myself to listen to it. After living with some of the best amplification available (in my opinion), I can't tolerate a dead, lifelessness or a heavy veiling to the sound. The Cyber 10 never failed to make me happy regardless of what speakers were hooked up to it.
As if the Lowthers weren't efficient enough, I recently re-commissioned my pair of Altec A7-500B loudspeakers. Well, they really aren't true A-7s, they are the Altec 416-16Z woofers in a 6.5 cubic foot vented enclosure and a pair of 511A horns with the 802D compression drivers mounted in a separate wood cabinet and filled with sand to damp the entire horn body. I guess these are really more like the Barcelona's or maybe the Model 19's than the A-7's but the VOTT units are where the drivers and crossover came from. As far as the crossover goes, I've got a new one that I'm building on the bench. In the meantime I tweaked the N-500G crossover a bit to increase its transparency. Though I really wanted to take out the crappy inductors, especially on the woofer, I settled on a nice capacitor upgrade for the dividing network. That and I removed the screen on the horn mouth. This really cleared the sound up quite a bit. They don't sound half bad at all now, especially since I installed and dialed in a super tweeter above the horn to fill in where the 802/511 horn rolls off. When it comes to efficiency, lets just say I can play music comfortably on these with the output of a headphone amp. When you look at the owners manual and they rate the horns at 98dB at 100' with just 30 watts, you know we are talking about a speaker that can be driven by almost anything.
This is where the Cyber 10 really started getting fun. With 12 watts of power (in ultra-linear mode), the Altec's can be made to peel paint from the walls. Not to mention, deliver bass by the boatload. Even though the Altecs are super high efficiency, they can sometimes present an ugly load to an amplifier. When you model the 416Z woofer, it has a really nasty impedance peak at its Fs, I mean really nasty. Though I'm not a fan of Zobels, the N500 has one to tame this severe impedance rise and it needs it. In turn, a lesser amp with wimpy output transformers will make the bass sound like flubbery sonic goo. Am happy to report that the Cyber 10 doesn't suffer this same fate. After listening to tons of Rock and heavy bass tracks, the Cyber 10 really showed its authority when it took command of the big 15-inch Altec woofers. This confirms my thoughts that the Cyber 10 has quality output transformers.
Though I wouldn't say the bass was as solid as a couple of push pull amplifiers that I've used in front of the Altec's, it was far firmer than my Handmade Audio 2A3 Deluxe which uses (just) average Hammond output transformers. The Cyber 10 showed more than sufficient authority to take command of everything I threw at it. Even though much of the music chosen was really abusive, I couldn't help cranking the hell out of the Cyber 10 and the Altec's. Even at really high SPL's, the Cyber 10 held its own not giving up an inch on control or headroom. Sure, on occasion I pushed it a bit too hard and drove it into clipping, especially on heavy bass passages but for the most part, the Cyber 10 kept its focus quite well. And quite honestly, very, very few people will ever listen to music this loud.
After spending quite a bit of time with the Cyber 10 and the Altec combination, I feel pretty confident saying the Cyber would be a great match to nearly any of the vintage and current horn speaker designs. As you Hornies out there know all too well, front loaded horn speakers can be picky about amplification. To get the best sound out of a speaker like this, it takes an amp that provides good bass control yet isn't too harsh and forward sounding to get the best sound from your speakers. The Cyber ten fills the ticket quite well in fact.
Don't let what I just wrote limit the possibilities of speakers you can mate this with either. Those Lowther and Fostex fans amongst you using quarter waves, rear loaded horns or even bass reflex designs will find the Cyber 10 equally up to the task. The Cyber will absolutely take control of the bottom end and also provide ample detail throughout the rest of the sound spectrum to keep you extremely satisfied.
The Grape Room
As most realize, with low(ish) efficiency, tube friendly speakers you can get some really fine sounds out of a fleapowered amp. Even with the Cyber 10 amp seemingly puny 12 watts in ultra linear mode, she was capable of driving my 86dB/W/m sensitivity Revelation Audio Vega (Epiphanys) above 95dB without a hint of clipping in this small room. Though I didn't have great expectations for this matching, it really took me by surprise. The magic of single ended simplicity coupled with the absolutely wide open sound of the Vega made for some extremely pleasurable listening. Best part was in this tiny room with a flea powered amp, I could really rock out. That always makes me happy.
Besides the bass reinforcement this small room provides, Foobar gives you a little more flexibility to compensate for nasty room modes or even nastier poor recordings with its integrated DSP (read=equalizer). Sure, for the purists among us, EQs and tone controls of any sort are taboo and never to be used. But for those of us who want to enjoy every single piece of music in our collection, adjustments must be made sometimes.
A good example, if you could hear Machine Head by Deep Purple on this system in this room EQ'ed you would never go back to the old way of listening to again. It is big, bold, defined and extremely involving. I for one am not the least bit interested in the common belief that the original pressing is the way the recording engineer wanted you to hear it. What if I think he was half deaf as most classic rock recording engineers seemed to be? Recordings like those create a nasty forwardness in the midrange and treble that make an extremely large portion of my music collection completely unlistenable on an ‘accurate' sounding high end system. So I'm supposed to never listen that a piece of music on my system again? Forget that. I want to enjoy everything I own. With computer based music and DSP's (or to a lesser extent active crossovers) I'm able to play and enjoy all but the most hideous recordings on my systems. Unlike passive tone controls and external equalizers, altering the signal in the digital domain doesn't mess with the phase angle of the signal (at least as far as I've read).
Here is another perfect example. I defy anybody out there with a "flat" system to play Oingo Boingo's Dead Mans Party above 95dB and not have to run from the room screaming in pain. With Foobar you can EQ some bass into this release to even out the sound (which is absolutely dreadful on the original recording). Sure, Danny Elfman is sort of an acquired taste but for me this album is sooo much fun. Every time it spin it up, I find myself wanting to get up start bouncing off the walls, singing at the top of my lungs. Same goes for some of the B-52s and Ramones releases. After all, isn't the total enjoyment of music what this hobby is all about? Boy I wish I could get my hands on those master tapes and remix them.
And for those of you thinking this writer has just lost all perspective of the high-end industry, you couldn't be more wrong. Give me some credit, I know what flat is, I know what real instruments sound like. Hell, half of the local guys I hang out with either play for the St Louis Symphony (or used to) or one of the other local Philharmonic or smaller ensembles. I'm not some young kid with six 15-inchers in the trunk of my hooptie that is clueless when it comes to sound. I simply want to enjoy all of my music not just those amazingly lame audiophile approved recordings of the little girl with a guitar (or piano, take your pick). You guys that only listen to those are the ones who have really lost all perspective. If you can't crank The Who, Led Zeppelin, Robin Trower or any of your other favorite classic rock bands and listen to them on your system really loud, you are the ones missing out on what (likely) got you into music in the first place.
Wow, talk about getting off track. Sorry about the rant. Anyway, back to the flat settings before my audiophile membership gets revoked. Playing with the Cyber 10 in the Grape Room I was more than pleasantly surprised at how well it mated not only to the Vega's but this room. Sure, there isn't much power to drive these tube friendly speakers but what was there, was more than adequate. Since the Vega's have a ‘back hall' sound, they tend to perform best with upsampled digital. In turn for much of my session with the Cyber 10, I used my upsampled and tubed AH! Njoe Tjoeb for this portion of the evaluation.
As I tossed all kinds of well recorded music at the Cyber 10/Vega combo I heard some of that single ended magic that you just can't get with a push pull or solid state amp. It's sort of hard to explain but there is a certain effortlessness to the music, a big wide open sound that is unencumbered. It also as a simple purity to it. Granted, what I experienced here isn't anywhere near what I hear on my main reference system but it is most definitely the open I've heard the Vega units.
Song after song the sound was open and extremely inviting. The frequency extension for this pairing was quite good. The bass was solid and there were minimal issues with loss of control in the lowest frequency except when I really started pushing the speakers. Even though these speakers are more difficult to drive than my Lowther's or possibly even the Altecs, the midrange frequencies came through as well as I've ever heard them on these speakers. All of this reinforces my belief that the Consonance output transformers are quite good.
Now this is really weird. I'm not sure how to interpret what's going on but playing with the Cyber 10 in this, my smallest of rooms coupled to a simple pair of Vega's and a flat screen LCD TV, I decided to watch a few movies using the Cyber as amplification. Quickly discovered that emotion begins oozing out of this system. I've not experienced this before from my far bigger and exponentially more expensive solid-state home theater. On occasion when my wife may be interested in a show on the big home theatre that I'm not into, I'll grab a DVD and slip off into the Grape Room and watch a movie on this 2.0 system. On this rainy, early fall afternoon and since my lovely wife was napping on the couch in the home theater, thought I might do the same thing. So grabbed a quiet movie, City of Angels with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan, plugged it in and grabbed a soft pillow and snuggled up on the Futon for 40 winks. Little did I expect that there was no nap in store for me this gray day. Each and every song on the soundtrack of this great little movie had me in awe of the sound that flows so effortlessly into this tiny room. There is an unmistakable ease and smoothness to the sound that I don't get when I have solid state in this room. Experiencing the Cyber 10 in a set up like this makes me truly yearn for a full five channels of this type of sound. Lovely, simply lovely.
The Cyber 10 As A Headphone Amplifier
Since the beginning of my audio journey dating back to the 1960's, I've always been a fan of headphones. The total isolation from external noises allowing you to be totally immersed in your choice in music has always lured me. Unlike many of the headphone fans out there who lean towards the warm and wooly sounding headphones, I prefer the more exacting sound of the extremely affordable Grado SR-80 headphones. I've strapped on some damned expensive, highly lauded cans in the past and have been completely underwhelmed by their sound. It really makes me wonder about the people who write accolades about those things.
When it comes to can amps, I've got a couple in house. First is my trusty old Graham Slee Solo. Granted, since I purchased mine back in 2003 the price has risen a fair amount, I still consider it one of the best headphone amps I've listened to at nearly at double its current price point. The other can amp I have in house is the ultra affordable, tubed Little Dot II+ borrowed from a friend.
Using the Cyber 10 as a headphone amp is as easy as the flip of a switch. On the front panel. Be aware, if you are in USB mode, you will need to trim the volume setting within Foobar back a bit before you strap your cans on for the first time. The USB gain within the Cyber 10 is more than substantial in the headphone circuit. Enough that by just cracking the volume knob on the face of the Cyber 10 can provide ear splitting SPL's. Again, this isn't an issue if you crank back the volume within Foobar.
Much as you would expect from a non-oversampling DAC coupled to a tubed gain stage, the sound provided by the Cyber 10's is extremely smooth. Mated to the more exacting sound of the Grado SR-80's, it makes for a very nice balance. From top to bottom I found the sound that the Cyber 10 provided via the headphone output very nicely balanced. Unlike the Little Dot II+ which tends to exaggerate the lows and midbass with the Grado's, the Cyber 10 exhibits far better control of the lower end of the frequency spectrum. The mids and high frequencies are reasonably transparent and defined with good extension on the top end.
When it comes to audiophile things we often look for in a headphone amp, the Cyber 10 did a fair job. Though its presentation of a wide open soundstage was better than the Little Dot II+, it did fall short of the Slee Solo. In the dynamics department, the Cyber 10 fell right in the middle again, surpassing the Little Dot II+ but coming up a short of the Slee Solo. I found the leading edge of notes and decay a bit subdued in comparison to the better headphone amps. Guess this was to be expected since the Solo was developed as a dedicated, hi-end headphone amp. Not to mention, it retails for almost as much as the Cyber 10.
One thing I did notice when I connected the headphones was the presence of the slightly lower signal to noise ratio. Though never intruding on the music, between tracks I could hear a very slight low level hiss. This could have been attributed to my choice of tubes. As mentioned, I never found it intruding on any of my music choices. The other thing, this slightly higher level of noise experienced using cans, I didn't hear on my high efficiency speakers unless I stuck my ear right up to the speaker.
Overall as a headphone amp, I found the Cyber 10 quite pleasurable to listen to. The slightly subdued sound of the Cyber was a welcome to some of the overly bright Rock music I truly enjoy listening to. When it comes to the better recordings we all own, the Cyber 10 provided plenty of detail to keep most people happy providing you live on the non-oversampling side of the fence.
In The End
As most who read my articles know, I am a huge single-ended triode fan. I know their limitations, their quirks and exactly how sensitive they are to mating with a proper set of speakers. That said, even though the Cyber 10 doesn't use a directly heated triode (read=300B, 2A3, 45 and so on), I am quite impressed with the sound and especially the versatility of this little amp. The Cyber 10 can easily be switched from pentode to triode mode as your mood or listening habits change. You can also install a number of other output tubes to change the presentation of the amp. The differences in the amps character change quite dramatically based on the tube of your choose. Then you have the ability to use it as a nice sounding headphone amp at the flip of a switch. Let us not forget the USB input as this is the future of digital audio.
Overall, I'm quite impressed with the sound and features of the Cyber 10. It is very well built, compact and works extremely well with high and lower efficiency speakers (within reason of course). Of the different rooms and speakers I played with, I think I preferred the more forward sounding Teresonic's the best when mated to the Cyber 10. Even though the Teresonic's were a bit picky about the music I chose, the combination of their forward nature and the slightly laid back sound of the Cyber 10 made for a great pairing. Knowing this amp is geared for the single driver/high efficiency guys like us, it should be a great match for nearly any speaker we decide to mate to it, from Lowther's to Fostex's to front loaded horns or any number of other Hi-E designs.
When it comes to its onboard non-oversampling DAC, as I've mentioned numerous times before, NOS DAC's are likely not for you detail freaks. The notable exception being if you have an overly forward sounding set of speakers that need some taming. If that is the case, the Cyber 10 with its NOS DAC might be just what the doctor ordered. Those of you that are already in the NOS camp, the Cyber 10 brings to the table an extremely nice and very balanced sound. The DAC design with its JFET gain stage comes as a further refinement to further rid us of the dreaded digititus most CD players thrust upon us. Even though I've heard (and own) some very nice sounding gain stages that use OpAmps, some of them can have an aggressive, un-natural sound. The JFET gain stage downstream of the DAC eliminates that sound.
Remember, high-end audio is all about the proper balance between detail and involvement. Without one or the other, music simply becomes background noise, or worse yet, an annoyance. Pairing the Cyber 10 with the right electronics or speakers, you will find yourself extremely happy that you decided to make the Consonance Cyber 10 your amplifier of choice.
Please keep in mind this rating system is used to compare the Consonance Cyber 10 against absolute perfection, or a money no object amplifier design. If you see what you think may be a low(ish) score, it's because there are amplifier designs that are even more refined but consequently cost considerably more. To top that off, if I assign 5 blue notes across the board, I've just painted myself into a corner leaving no room for that ‘ultimate' amp. You won't see me handing out many 5s. In turn, feel I need to leave room in the ratings system to accommodate those amplifiers.
On behalf of Opera Audio/Consonance, I want to take this opportunity to thank Scott Faller for the Herculean effort put into reviewing our new Consonance Cyber 10 Multifunction amplifier. We feel humbled by the generous praise such a product positioned in terms of both functionality as well as price could earn! And, obviously, we are quite ecstatic!
It's rare a manufacturer finds themselves privileged enough to have their components explored in terms of all of their respective capabilities and functionality, and, in such detail; let alone one with as much as has packed into this product. As Scott has laid out, this amplifier represents a watershed product for the high-end audio hobby. It's truly a Swiss army knife of amplification -- be it used via its USB input, as a headphone amplifier, or in a conventional audiophile setting.
While we stand in agreement that a component such as this may not attain the same sonic performance as a lights out, cost no object design, it's equally clear the mark has not been missed whatsoever. Of course, there IS a bit more the product will give, via some judicious tube rolling. How much more? Well, we will leave that to the users out there to discover...
Finally, with our newly introduced 5 year fully transferable warranty which Scott described, you can rest assured that the build quality of this product will prove a perfect match for its performance.
Again, my humble thanks to Scott Faller for such a terrific review of the Cyber 10 Multifunction amplifier!
Type: Stereo integrated tube amplifier with USB input DAC
Power Output: 12 watt ( Ultra linear ) or 8 watt (Triode)
Vacuum Tube: two each KT88 / 6550 plus one ECC82 and ECC81
Inputs: three stsreo pairs (RCA) , one USB port
Outputs: speaker terminals and pair of headphone jacks
Total Harmonic Distortion: less than 1% (5 watt 1kHz )
Frequency Response: ( -3dB points at 5 watt ) 6Hz to 60kHz
Input Sensitivity: 280mV
Input Impedance: 100k Ohms
Output Impedance: 4 and 8 Ohms (speaker) and 10 to 600 Ohms (headphone)
Signal To Noise: 90dB
Control Functions: Volume, Mode Switch, Power On/Off and Triode / Ultra linear Switch
Overall Negative Feedback: 3dB
Dimensions: 320 ( L ) x 260 ( W ) x 150( H ) mm
Weight: 30 lbs
797,No.2 Jiuxianqiao Road