PRISM SOUND LYRA 2
Singing the virtues of Prism Sound conversion isn’t hard. But as it becomes more affordable, it’s worth everyone listening up.
Review: Brad Watts
Prism Sound is a name synonymous with high-end audio reproduction. For years the company’s audio test and analysis products such as dScope, and the Sadie DAW application and hardware, have been go-to systems for audio recording and production specialists the world over. In more recent years, Prism Sound’s Dream range of AD and DA convertors, and Maselec analogue mastering processors have also risen to the top shelf of the recording and mastering chain hierarchy. However, access to this world of high– end capture and reproduction isn’t cheap, and in recent years the company has managed to squeeze its technology into more affordable units such as the much acclaimed Orpheus Firewire-based recording interface.
This year, Prism Sound has upped the affordability ante with the Lyra family of devices — two USB-based interfaces exhibiting the top-notch conversion abilities you’d expect from Prism Sound. In fact, the Lyra devices sport the same front- and back-end audio conversion quality as found in the Orpheus. Not bad when you consider you can jump in with the Lyra 1 for about half the price of the Orpheus, and the Lyra 2 for a couple of grand less (the Orpheus retails for around $4800).
For review purposes I’ve been furnished with the Lyra 2, which would certainly be my pick of thetwoas itoffers eight-channel optical ADAT/ TOSlink ports with SMUX support for four channels of up to 96k, as opposed to the Lyra 1 only supporting stereo via the TOSlink port. The Lyra 2 also offers RCA S/PDIF and the option to output this signal as AES3 using an RCA to XLR adaptor, and dedicated wordclock BNC ports. For the extra $800 or so I’d advise shooting for the Lyra 2 for expandability’s sake — especially if you intend to integrate the unit into a mastering setup. The Lyra 2 also offers two mic preamps whereas the Lyra 1 only offers a single microphone pre. The same applies for instrument inputs. Again, go for the Lyra 2 if recording is your game.
TO THE NTH PERCENTILE
Being the highbrow set of convertors it is, it’s worth recounting the specifications for the Lyra2. Firstly, the analogue line inputs offer THD of –111dB and an astounding noise/distortion level of 0.00028% at –0.1dBFS. That’s 28 ten-thousandths of a percent people. Like I said, an astounding figure. LF roll-off is –0.05dB at 8Hz, and HF roll-off is –0.05dB at 21.1kHz. Dynamic Range is 116dB. The microphone preamps are equally impressive, and are no doubt derived from the Maselec heritage. THD+N at +10dB gain: –108dB at –0.1dBFS (0.00040%). Gain ranges from 10dB to 65dB in 1dB steps, and unlike the Orpheus, the Lyra units include switchable –20dB pads on the mic preamps. In an era where microphone output levels are continually increasing, this addition is advantageous to say the least. No more resorting to in-line pads with additional connectors and components. Incidentally, the Lyra 2 includes an M-S matrix for direct connection of mid-side mics or non-matrix endowed mic preamps. And of course, there’s 48V switchable phantom power.
When it comes to output of the analogue variety, THD+N is –106dB (0.00050%, -0.1dBFS) and a dynamic range of 115dB with the same high and low frequency roll-off characteristics as the line inputs.
Lyra uses the same CleverClox dual digital phase-locked loop (DPLL) circuitry as the Orpheus so you could feasibly use Lyra 2 as a high-quality master clock for the rest of your digital gear. Analogue inputs also offer individually-selectable Prism Sound ‘Overkiller’ peak limiters — the same system employed as on the ADA-8XR and Orpheus. The Overkiller threshold automatically follows the operating line-up level selection (+4dBu or -10dBV). These are ideal when recording drums. Unlike many audio manufacturers, Prism Sound aren’t shy eight or nine years in the market. The thing is, with specifications, and you can soak up further I wasn’t expecting such a dramatic difference. technical information on the Prism Sound website.
Monitoring and routing is comprehensive. With Mac and Windows operating systems, a mixer control panel is provided. Apart from zero latency monitoring for recording scenarios, the mixer also allows instigation of the transient smoothing Overkiller, as well as some tasty features on the input channels such as channel phase, 80Hz high-pass filters and the ability to instigate an RIAA EQ curve for turntables. There’s no stone left unturned here — the Lyra 2 provides all the professional recording and playback features you’d expect from such a device. My only annoyance with the mixer control panel is with operation of the on-screen knobs. These require ‘rotational’ movement of your mouse pointer rather than linear movement, and there’s no preference box to change this. To my way of thinking this is a highly unprofessional mode of operation, requiring the operator to look at the screen while making panning or balance adjustments. I’d proffer Prism Sound change this as soon as possible.
SOUNDER THAN A POUND
Without question, the Lyra 2 sounds astoundingly good. And I really mean astounding. As much as I didn’t want it to, the Lyra 2 sounded light-years better than my ageing Benchmark DAC1. Obviously this is to be expected as the Benchmark is getting quite long in the tooth now — it’s been audio manufacturers, Prism Sound aren’t shy eight or nine years in the market. The thing is, with specifications, and you can soak up further I wasn’t expecting such a dramatic difference. technical information on the Prism Sound website. I was expecting a subjective 5% betterment in
reproduction, but to my ears the Lyra 2 goes a good 10-15% improvement in audio quality. That’s quite a leap considering the pygmy steps made in audio quality these days. The Lyra 2 positively shines, with clear, un-smeared and startlingly tangible top-end. The bottom end is resoundingly solid and forthright, and dare I suggest, warm. Consequently, the depth of stereo image is undeniably ‘real’ and I honestly heard more in some very familiar recordings than I’d experienced before. Snares were far more cohesive, without the ‘grain’ I now hear from the Benchmark, and vocals appeared far more ‘in-front’ of me. Oh, and cymbals, so much more detail. I was hearing anomalies in commercial recordings I’d never been aware of previously. In all honesty, you must hear the Lyra to appreciate just how much better audio reproduction can be.
To be fair, at this price point, the Lyra devices won’t suit everyone’s budget. But I believe Prism Sound has managed an extraordinary feat in bringing such high-end technology to this price-point. For those chasing a pristine recording chain, sublime reproduction for mixing and mastering and arguably the upper echelon of audio interfaces, the Lyra 2 should be placed at the top of your list. Audition immediately. You won’t be disappointed.