Thanks to my colleague Jacob Heilbrunn this may be the easiest review I’ll ever write. See, Jacob did all the spade work when he reviewed the Lyra Etna SL in Issue 266, a cartridge to which the standard Etna is closely related. Since the two cartridges share so many sonic virtues, all I have to do is crib what Jacob said about the SL.
But first, what’s the difference between the two carts? With the SL Jacob reviewed, Lyra set out to lower the coil’s mass by using a single layer (thus the SL) of winding rather than the regular Etna’s two layers. Lower mass equals lower inertia, which translates to superior transient performance and tracking. As Jacob put it, “The reduced windings and lower internal impedance of the Etna SL are supposed to improve resolution and detail, though a step-up transformer or phonostage capable of supplying sufficient gain are musts.”
And there’s a rub. Physics decrees that fewer windings inevitably produce less output, which is why the SL manages to eke out just 0.25mV of signal. That’s too low for many phono- stages—including mine—to handle without compromising dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio. In contrast, the standard Etna produces a generous 0.56mV. Let me assure you that it’ll drive anything you put in its path.
Otherwise, the two cartridges are identical. As Jacob noted, the SL—and by extension the non-SL version—“uses a titanium center structure, but it also features an outer body constructed from aircraft-grade aluminum, which is supposed to help reduce vibrations. It’s a line-contact stylus with a diamond-coated boron cantilever.” So there you have it. Obviously, both versions are made from the highest-grade parts. Further, each unit, regardless of version, is hand-tuned by the same gentleman who tunes every Lyra.
Which Etna is right for you? Lyra’s guidance is that most people should buy the standard Etna. The company states that unless the SL model is used under optimal conditions, the standard version will deliver “considerably more energy, resulting in a much higher signal-to-noise ratio.” Nonetheless, in a situation like this, where you read about the hopped-up version first, it’s only human to wonder what you’d give up by buying the standard-issue cartridge. The latter’s higher output is assurance that you’re not sacrificing musical energy or dynamics, but what about other factors?
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a direct comparison because I had no way of listening to the two cartridges back-to-back. However, I can tell you that everything Jacob wrote about the SL rings true for the standard Etna. For instance, Jacob noted that the SL delivers “transient precision, a blackness to the background, (and) a creaminess to the midrange that seems to suppress noise while widening the dynamic envelope.” The SL also offers “(a) layering of the soundstage, (with) each instrument firmly located in its space rather than wavering, thereby adding a notable sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings.”