Consonance Cyber 211
Monoblock Tube Amplifier
Zen amplification redefined.
Review By Steven R. Rochlin
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My life has been filled with more than its fair share of audiophile exotica. Some days i thrive on the high value, low cost product that brings about countless hours of musical bliss. Other days i find myself saying, "Price be damned, i only want the very best!" The hard part is what is referred to as audiophile middle ground. How is one to find a hidden jewel amongst the nearly endless $3,000 to $7,000 products?
Once you get over $2,000, the investment appears more significant to many audiophiles. If you go over the perceived stratospheric $10,000 mark for a single component it becomes a very serious decision indeed! Because i having the ability to play both sides of the coin, and even the edge as it were, a longtime reviewer such as myself needs to carefully tread the middle with care and caution. A pair of these monoblocks will set you back a cool $5,000, precisely in the middle of 'the zone' as it were. So many products, so little time.
For many years i have personally reported on various Consonance products during shows. As the years went by my interest grew and Enjoy the Music.com ® 's reviewer Scott Faller fell in love with their Droplet LP5.0 turntable. In fact he enjoyed the unit so much, it was one of only two source components to earn appear within our Best Of 2005 Blue Note Equipment Awards . Shortly after receiving Scott's review i made arrangements to have the Consonance Cyber 211 monoblock amplifier shipped for review.
Suffice to say the amplifier piqued my interest during shows. The unit is available in either an 845 or 211 output tube version. Over the years i have read various people debate their preference for one tube over the other and will avoid all the details. Suffice to say my personal preference is for the 211 output tube with my rationale revealed below.
Visually, this unit has always put a smile on my face. The deep red stained wood side panels give a wonderful accent to the metal chassis. The front adds an additional beveled section at the bottom while the upper part features a Plexiglas rectangle etched with the Consonance name. When the unit is in full glow, the tube illuminates a wonderful radiance on the Plexiglas. To avoid an overly square look, rounded corners, rounded supports, and round tubes provide relief to the box designs generally available. All these small touches add up to a design that harks to a much higher price tag.
Digging deeper inside we find a circuit design that flashed back my memory. Where have i seen the same basic design employed by Consonance you ask? The highly prized Japanese-made Audio Note Ongaku in single-ended, zero feedback form. Many reviewers from all around the globe were stunned and amazed at the Ongaku's ability to covey the music's soul. It was akin to driving your dad's old Studebaker at a crisp pace and then getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa and trying the same roads.
Back then, the single-ended triode movement was years away from being a glimmer within the American marketplace. At the Ongaku's height, it was selling for a cool $90,000. To get the proverbial 8,000 lbs elephant out of the way, i am the only reviewer to have owned said audiophile exotica. Yes indeed, for years the unit was in my humble abode and brought forth an amount of joy only equaled by the same amount of proper road course racing within my specially prepared Italian road/track car.
Design specifics of the legendary Japanese made Audio Note Ongaku include many pounds of silver wire within the hand wound output transformers, Rubycon power capacitors, a pair of handmade silver foil signal capacitors (one per channel), and a tube compliment consisting of a GE VT4C/211, Mullard GZ1377/GZ34, E88CC/6922, and 5687. The Ongaku is a stereo integrated unit so it also had an input selector and stepped attenuator. On the other hand, the Consonance Cyber 211 features a 211, German made Siemens gold pin E88CC/6922, and USA Raytheon ck5687wa. The only basic difference thus far is the Ongaku's quartet of Mullard GZ1377/GZ34 for power rectification while the Cyber 211 opts for a solid-state design.
Digging deeper the difference and similarities became more apparent. Both the Ongaku and the Cyber 211 are single-ended 'Class A' designs with no global feedback. The analog input of the Cyber 211 directly feeds the E88CC/6922. The 5687 is a high mu dual triode and acts as one tube with drive stage. AC voltage applied to the input goes first to the E88CC/6922 and then to the grid of the 5687. The 5687 provides voltage gain and drives the 211/845 output tube. Of note is that the 5687 does not use an interstage transformer to drive the VT4C/211 output tube. The Ongaku has four stages: input, driver, buffer, and output while the Cyber 211 has the driver directly coupled to output stage through buffer so the Cyber 211 has a only three stages, one less stage than the Ongaku.
As for parts quality and construction techniques, the Cyber 211 has quite a few Rubycon power capacitors, a pair of M Caps, ceramic tube bases, high-speed rectification, and red paint. Because red was seen at the end of virtually every screw i felt the red paint may have been Loctite, a substance used by manufacturers to insure a bolt will not come loose unless very high heat is applied. This makes sense as a VT4C/211 generates a staggering high temperature as over 1,000 Volts operate across it compared to about half that for other output tubes. The red seemed to be paint, and not Loctite as my handy socket wrench was able to loosen and tighten things.
As for wire, parts, and circuit board layout, it was all neat and tidy. In the picture you will note the use of adhesive so that the capacitor does not have the ability to vibrate. Wire ties securely hold down the M Caps and the overall design appears to be well thought out with good placement. The rear of the unit appears an IEC power jack, power switch, plus a very sturdy gold plated RCA and three loudspeaker binding posts. Loudspeaker posts include negative, positive 4 Ohm, and positive 8 Ohm. This makes it easy to experiment for those of you with 6 Ohm loudspeakers or ones that have a widely swinging load.
Getting back to the all-important output transformer, sure the Audio Note folks played to the fact the Ongaku used many pounds of silver wire. In fact it almost appeared as though said transformers could only be wound by the proverbial 'man wearing a pointed hat with stars on nights during a full moon,' or at the very least made on the thighs of virgins. Consonance chooses to askew the frighteningly high price of such a practice and, instead, uses an output transformer design with a very special alloy cocktail. The dielectric material, instead of using modern polypropylenes or even Teflon, is a classical material of paper (purposely treated of course). At a price difference of $90,000 for the Ongaku in its glory days compared to $5,000 for the Consonance Cyber 211, the affordable choice for an overwhelming majority of audiophiles is abundantly clear.
Since the monoblocks that arrived here were demonstration models, there were quite a few hours through them. My review system comprised of the fave Hyperion Audio HPS-938 loudspeakers, Kimber Kable Select KS-1030 all silver interconnect, conrad-johnson Premier 17LS preamplifier, custom/modded digital front end, Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B phonostage, and VOYD Reference turntable with Audio Note top range silver wired tonearm and Clearaudio Insider reference or the Acoustic Solid Small Royal with Rega arm and Linn MM cartridge. Power filtering, though not necessary as my newish home has a dedicated and extremely large ground level power transformer, was the Furman Sound IT-Reference Discrete Symmetrical AC unit.
After a few days of settling in it was time for my first critical listening. My initial reaction was awe. My Ongaku aural reference is from about 8 years ago, in a different room, and with different components. Therefore a direct comparison would be impossible, but aural memories are such that the 'soul' of the sound is with us... always. The last time this type of awe was experienced was with a unit my review not only made famous, it also spurred a possible illegal activity of copy-cats and rip-off cones. Specifically, my review of the 47 Labs Gaincard back in September 1999.
The main caveat with the Gaincard was the lowermost frequencies and ability to drive a challenging load. Fortunately, the Cyber 211 has no such limitation. Also, no one will probably clone it due to the very complicated process of proprietary transformers. And with that said, back to the music ,
i distinctly remember when the Ongaku arrived. The delivery people were handling it with extreme care, as i am sure the insured amount more than equaled both employees yearly salary and they were informed of this fact! My first listen to the Ongaku was akin to losing one's virginity. Well, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, yet we reviewer types tend to be deeply involved in enjoying the music. My point being that no system at any price , even the then popular ultra-harsh and bright, overly detailed, highly fatiguing Wilson Watt/Puppy, Goldmund amplified, MIT cabled some reviewer called HP said was the best, could not come close. Some days it makes me wonder just what some reviewers are smoking... or drunk on!
Music through my then tweaked out KEF 104/2 loudspeakers, Theta Data II transport, Theta Gen III balanced DAC (both Theta units had single-mode laser option), VOYD Reference turntable, Audio Note IO-2 cartridge... was a revelation! This was not some subtle difference. It was like someone has brought the musicians into my home! Due to the insane price of the Ongaku, and perhaps the rarity combined with a mere 26 watts per channel when the print rags were all about 200+ watt behemoths, had people from all around the state visit my home. Every single person came to my home convinced i had gone insane spending by then recently deceased brother Max's inheritance on an integrated amplifier (and only 26 watts per channel at that!). When they finally left my home — "finally" as in some audiophiles nearly refused to leave because of the music — they were dumbfounded at how truly mesmerizing an event they had just experienced. Naturally i was glad to play software that other people had brought, though my then collection of only 5,000 vinyl records and 1,000 CDs had a few universal faves. So what does any of this have to do with the Cyber 211? Nothing... and everything.
Every musical journey through my current review system, as it is a system folks, was an elation! Am being short on details for the moment because... (read on). Being the diligent reviewer, the stock VT4C/211 output tube is very good, yet i felt it could be bettered. My experience with NOS RCA and GE told me the GE VT4C was the way to go. Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio is my favorite United States tube dealer. He is honest, has access to most of the very best tubes, and you get a fair deal from Kevin Deal (no pun intended). For those about to cry foul, Upscale Audio has never advertised within this Web site, so take your conflict of interest whimpering elsewhere.
Kevin sent me a pair of NOS GE VT4C tubes and after about 100 hours my listening once again commenced. Remember kids; the GE is the same tube supplied stock with the Ongaku. Only one other time in the over decade of Enjoy the Music.com ® , or anywhere else for that matter, have i said the following words (directly plagiarizing from my review of the 47 Labs Gaincard):
It was as though, as though... as though someone brought back my beloved Audio Note Ongaku! Ok, so maybe not exactly like the $90,000 Audio Note Ongaku, though there was so much rightness, so much freedom, so much musical soul. How can this be explained to those who have never heard this? The Ongaku is among the rare treasures on earth, which allow the recorded music to transcend time and space and bring the musicians' soul and intended musical message into one's listening room. It is more than transparency, more than correct harmonics, it is a freedom from what i call "beat" which is generally heard only during true live acoustic musical performances.
i will add more to this as there are differences between the 47 Labs Gaincard, that became hugely popular after my review, and the Cyber 211. In all fairness to the Cyber 211, unlike the 47 Labs Gaincard, the bass is deep and tight. Also of note is that the individual sounds are more solid. This is not a frequency or imaging issue, it is about the imagined solidness of the sound itself. It is hard to explain and, frankly, have been trying to find a way to better explain it. Perhaps it is because the 211 output tube can easily drive loudspeakers, unlike the Gaincard that may be on the verge during more challenging musical passages, or in the way the Gaincard handles less than stable and/or sensitive loudspeaker loads.
With the Hyperion Audio HPS-938 loudspeaker i feel this magic combination makes it a must listen! i purposefully left out mentioning loudspeaker cables in my system description near the beginning of this review. To date the most synergistic loudspeaker cables in my extensive collection are the Nirvana Audio Avantgarde Jumpers. These are pure copper cables made for the Avantgarde Acoustic loudspeakers, but work incredibly well with other systems provided your system can handle very short cable lengths. Because the Consonance Cyber 211 amplifiers are monoblocks, it is easy to place them very close while the 8 Ohm tap was my preference.
As for the soundscape, images floated about freely with astonishing ease. The recorded 'air' naturally unfolded within my listening room, as did the accompanying hall reverberations. This is especially true with such recordings as Chesky Records Westminster Choir's O Magnum Mysterium [CD083]. On Behold! I Build A House if you have an extremely quiet floor noise you can easily hear the very expansive 3D hall reverberation gently fade out to nothingness as it decays while passing behind you!
Masterfully created 3D effects on Roger Waters' Amused To Death [rare vinyl 468761 0 or CD CK53196] proved to be a journey in both time and space, just as it was with the Ongaku! Sure any good system call pull off a good rendering, yet with the Cyber 211 (or Ongaku) it is brought up to jaw dropping level many people may feel was not possible. This includes height tricks lost upon most systems on Too Much Rope where the sound is elevated past ceiling height that all begins at 3 minutes 15 seconds. On What G-d Wants, Part III my system easily rendered both clockwise spinning beginning at 55 seconds and gets more prominent during the guitar solo at 1 minute 447 seconds. Anti-clockwise spinning starts at 2 minutes 25 seconds for those who desire finding this out for themselves and have a system up to snuff. Brings about a new experience in taking a journey through the center of your mind (!).
...But the monkey's not watching
He's slipped out to the kitchen
To pile the dishes
And answer the phone
PRAT guys will not be disappointed and the Cyber 211 firmly boogies, but in a neutral sense. It will put out whatever the funk you put into it. There is no sin of omission nor commission. Deficient white guy trying to play the blues = deficient white guy trying to play the blues. Funkadelic in = Funkadelic out. Straight 4 in = straight 4 out. Classic alternative rock like King Crimson in = Discipline or Indiscipline out (or Lark's Tongues in Aspic).
Got no truck with the la-di-da
Keep my bread in an old fruit jar
Drive you out in a motor-car
Getting fat on your lucky star
Just making... Easy money.
Erotic City Can't U See
Thoughts Of Pretty U And Me
Let is be noted that i am fully aware, sane, and under no medication. Anyone who feels that there is any overblown hyperbole has not allowed himself or herself to try the same system combination. The above review, as are all my reviews, is 100% accurate and expresses my feelings and opinion. It is with many hours of listening, cable matching, setup, and of course some light tube rolling. There was some very careful listening over months to be sure of my findings, as it is with any review by Yours Truly. Yet when writing a review touting a component to this high a degree, one must be very diligent!
i did try other tubes for the manufacturer supplied E88CC/6922 and 5687, including those that were stock NOS with the Ongaku. The differences were more subtle with these smaller tubes. Tube rolling from stock 211 to the NOS GE VT4C output tube was a no brainer. While not cheap, i feel the investment is well worth the effort.
Other highly sensitive loudspeaker were also auditioned including Audio Note's AN-J/Spx , the Reference 3A MM De Capo-i , etc. with an outcome equally impressive. With the Hyperion HPS-938, the synergy was so obvious it did not take a hammer blow on my head to realize it. No worries if you do not have the Hyperions as owners of 92+dB/W/m loudspeakers seeking new amplification should audition the Cyber 211 because it's ability it truly amazing! The Consonance Cyber 211 is such a revelation that i am buying the review pair plus Upscale Audio's NOS GE VT4C output tubes! Of course in the end what really matters is that you...
Enjoy the Music (Roger Waters Amused To Death right now on vinyl),
Steven R. Rochlin
"...By the grace of G-d Almighty
And the pressures of the marketplace
The human race has civilized itself
It's a miracle"
Note: See follow up article by clicking here .
Type: vacuum tube monoblock amplifier
Power Output: 16 watt, RMS @ 1kHz
Vacuum Tubes Per Monoblock::
NOS Siemens gold pin E88CC
NOS Raytheon CK5687wa
Total harmonic Distortion: less than 1% (10 watt @ 1kHz)
Signal To Noise Ratio: 90dB
Frequency Response: 5Hz to 47kHz ( -3dB)
Input Sensitivity: 0.6V
Input Impedance: 100k ohms
Input Type: Unbalanced (RCA)
Output: 4 or 8 Ohms
Dimensions: 420 x 185 x 330 (LxWxH in mm)
Weight: 30kg per monoblock (packed)
Warranty: 2 years parts and labor, 90 days tubes
Price: $4,995 per pair
Opera Audio Co., Ltd.
C-1501, Building No.9 Kingdom Garden, Xiaoxitian
Haidian District, Beijing, China
Voice: 86 10 62220935
Fax: 86 10 62220935