Lyra Etna SL cartridge Page 2

Tonally, it is pure Lyra. This means it's highly neutral. The Human League's 'Sound Of The Crowd' [Dare; Virgin V2192], is a pretty chilly-sounding track with glacial production from the late, great, Martin Rushent. It starts with the bass synthesiser and drum machine pounding out a metronomic beat and the Etna SL takes you right into the studio. It's almost as if you're hearing a feed taken straight out of the mixing desk, such is the clarity of the sound. There's no sense of any added bass warmth – although it certainly has ample power – and at the other end things are as pure as the driven snow. The hi-hat sound, for example, is absolutely as it should be, and delivered with the certainty that you usually only get from high speed open-reel tape.

Music In Absentia
Between the frequency extremes, the Etna SL serves up a wide-open window on the world. Haircut 100's 'Kingsize' [Pelican West; Arista HCC 100] is a delicious slice of funk from around the same time as Dare, and really well recorded too, at arguably the high watermark of analogue. The Etna SL in effect 'absents itself' from the proceedings – it's as if it leaves the event and lets you and the music get on with it. It has a wonderfully delicate and detailed sound, bristling with filigree detail, yet this never comes over as forced or artificial.

The cartridge just seems to let things flow, putting you right there in the studio. I was beguiled by the beautifully etched guitar sound, the eerie smoothness of Nick Heyward's vocals and the cartridge's sense of unflappability even on dynamic peaks. Drums sounded supple and vibrant, the bursts of brass had a wonderful rawness and rasp, yet guitars were just as warm as the recording engineer intended.


This track was a great test of the Etna SL's mettle: it was revelatory in the way it managed to pull all these disparate strands within the mix into focus and deliver it all so coherently. Many other moving-coils that I've heard seem to trip over their own shadows when attempting to convey so much detail. Others simply give a plodding, workmanlike rendition of the music. Yet the Lyra Etna SL does neither of these things – it just sounds delighted to have been given the chance to get into the groove.

Everything it touches is rendered in an invigorating fashion. Suzanne Vega's 'Cracking' [Suzanne Vega; A&M Records CDA 5072] is a beautiful, lilting folk ballad with little in the way of accompaniment aside from powerfully played guitar. The guitar here dived right in and showed the subtlest accenting of the playing, and the beautiful phrasing of Vega's vocals. There's something about this song that can sound a bit plodding and laboured in the wrong system, yet here it was like being held in a Star Trek-style 'tractor beam'. The cartridge managed to pull me in and then keep me transfixed.

Gentle Caresses
At the same time, it's important to note that this isn't a showy cartridge – it doesn't add any artificial edge to the proceedings or puff things up in a bombastic way. That's why you can spin up some pretty lively uptempo rock such as REM's 'These Days' [Life's Rich Pageant; IRS Records IRS-5783] and it keeps a sense of poise and balance.

It has the ability to intuit what it's playing, rather than trying to editorialise and make every record sound the same. One of the reasons for this is the cartridge's delicacy – it's as if it's gently caressing the record groove in order to find out what's inside, rather than steamrollering through it. The result is that big, thumping rock is handled with surprising sensitivity, while music that is precisely the reverse still sounds upbeat and fun.

There are few, if any, cartridges that I have heard that track better than this. It's almost as if it was a waste of time inventing laser discs, if a mechanical interface can function so securely and consistently. Thanks largely to the fact that the Etna SL stayed in the record groove like a limpet anchored to the bottom of a boat, I found that it could track some pretty poor discs. Some of my 'had to buy despite the condition' LPs, often wrestled from charity shops, seemed to get a new lease of life. Isaac Hayes's 'Cafe Regio's' [Shaft: Original Soundtrack; Enterprise ENS-2-5002] is one such.


Despite being played to death by its previous owner(s) it seemed to acquire a new lease of life. Surface noise was spookily low and end-of-side distortion just fell away. This album was recorded in Stax's famous Memphis studio, and it has an amazing acoustic that the Etna SL proved exceptionally good at recreating in all its expansive glory, left to right and front to back.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
One of the finest MC cartridges I have ever heard, the Lyra Etna SL brings breathtaking delicacy and insight to vinyl LPs. It comes over as being absolutely unflappable – totally uninterested in the vagaries of the groove, yet so obviously in love with the music. The only downside – if you can call it that – is a lack of euphony. On audition however, most people lucky enough to afford this will adore it.

Lyra Co. Ltd
Tokyo, Japan
Supplied by: Symmetry, Herts
01727 865488