Lyra Atlas SL MC Phono Cartridge

Best Lyra Yet

Equipment report
Lyra Atlas SL
Lyra Atlas SL MC Phono Cartridge

Another jazz album that I found quite illuminating to listen to was a Blue Note recording in stereo called Open House. It features legendary organist Jimmy Smith, who recorded frequently for Blue Note, together with Jackie McLean on alto sax, Ike Quebec on tenor sax, and Blue Mitchell on trumpet. Several things stuck out for me on this album. One was the vast amount of black space that the Atlas SL reproduced. Each instrument was firmly locked down. On the title cut “Open House” Mitchell’s trumpet ripped into my listening space with an alacrity and searing quality that were unforgettable. Another thing that stood out for me was the seductive quality of the Atlas: on the mellow tune “Old Folks,” Quebec’s breathy tenor sax was drenched in harmonic richness with overtones galore emanating from my Wilson WAMM loudspeakers.

If soundstaging was impressive on these albums, it was also clearly evident on very delicate classical music. I often listen to Schubert songs and I whipped out an album that Jerry Gladstein, the publisher of Fi magazine, bestowed upon me a few years back after I visited him in his palatial Manhattan aerie. It’s a SAX label, highly prized by the cognoscenti, recording of the stellar mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig with Geoffrey Parsons on piano. The Atlas SL consistently placed the piano back in the rear of the hall with gobs of air between it and Ludwig. The apparent physical separation also made it easy to discern every syllable and trill that Ludwig enunciated. Spooky stuff.

There was no reduction of these qualities when it came to big orchestral music, either. One album that I’m rather fond of is a Decca SXL of blockbuster overtures recorded by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel. Here, friends, we are in vintage Harry Pearson territory. On Verdi’s The Force of Destiny, for example, the trumpets came blazing out of the right speaker without a hint of harshness. Ditto on Berlioz’s Roman Carnival. The power of the orchestra is simply massive, partly a product of the speed and precision with which the bowing of the string sections is reproduced, such as the repeated triplets on Berlioz’s overture, which are punctuated by jolting cymbal crashes. On Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus, the Atlas captured the unstoppable surge of the orchestra, a veritable cyclone of sound.

In stressing the high drama of the Atlas, its ability to build and resolve the suspense of orchestral crescendos, I don’t mean to suggest that it is anything less than a refined and elegant performer. The basis for the Atlas’ performance remains its ability to resolve minute musical details with a degree of finesse that simply eluded its lineal predecessors. Perhaps the clearest example of its ability to extract detail in a winsome fashion came on a recording that I have always regarded with fondness, a performance by trumpeters Maurice Andrew and Guy Touvron of Albinoni’s concertos for two trumpets on the Angel label. It was not always easy for record labels to capture the piccolo, which operates in the tessitura range. As a child I was often vexed by the inability of my father’s Dual turntable to reproduce brass instruments without fracturing the notes at critical moments. In this regard, digital has long had a leg up over analog. The equipment of yore simply wasn’t up to the job of conveying the delicate and fragile passages that soar above high C. The Atlas SL, better than any cartridge I have heard, is able to soar into the ether, producing not only various high notes but also a copious amount of headroom above them.

I don’t doubt that you can find more refulgent cartridges than the Atlas SL, and the tariff for this Lyra is steep. But the sonic results are hard to quarrel with. To my mind, Lyra has done a superb job of balancing transparency with purity, palpability with accuracy, to create a listening experience that is seldom less than mesmerizing.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Super-low-output moving-coil cartridge
Output: 0.25mV
Internal impedance: 1.52 ohms
Price: $12,995

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