Lyra Clavis DC
This review was written by Malcolm Steward in January 1995.
I first encountered the Lyra Clavis in the spring of 1991 and fell in love with it after hearing the very first notes it played. Even a subsequent spell with the more expensive Lyra Parnassus did nothing to lessen my respect for the Clavis; its portrayal of music simply had an innate correctness and a sense of occasion and passion that was unprecedented in my experience.
That having been said, the Clavis needed a little judicious tweaking before it came on song. For example, I had to remove its perforated metal body cover to obtain the desired degree of speed and control in the bass. Once this was done, however, it performed like no other, imbuing every disc I played with vitality and a profound but genuine transparency.
Having heard many products that have subsequently been ‘improved’ turn in disappointing performances, lacking the magic of the original, I approached the second iteration of this cartridge, the £995 Clavis DC, with a degree of apprehension. I’m pleased that my wariness was unfounded. Even before it had completed its eighty-hour run-in, the Clavis Da Capo proved to be more than a match for its predecessor. Furthermore, this substantially reworked design did so without needing any fine-tuning.
The DC, which also has a revised cantilever mounting and a new magnetic system, comes in a nude, one-piece body. This, I’m sure, is at least partly responsible for its superb articulation in music’s bottom registers. The low end sounded precise and full-bodied straight out of the box, putting it immediately on a par with the cartridge’s lightning fast treble and candid, open midrange.
I tried the Clavis DC in my usual turntable, a Mana Acoustics seven-tier table supported, battery powered, Pink Triangle-modified Linn Sondek fitted with a Naim ARO unipivot tone-arm. The only problem I found setting it up was in persuading the arm to apply sufficient tracking force. The DC tracks at around 1.6g – between 0.2 and 0.4g less than the original cartridge – and even the lightest ARO counterweight sat uncomfortably close to the end of its travel. Nonetheless, the cartridge tracked superbly, its performance never showing any signs of insecure contact with the groove.
Every aspect of the DC’s performance displayed a remarkable confidence and poise. Without appearing excessively analytical it peered into every nuance in the records I played, capturing the music’s gestalt and unearthing a wealth of pertinent detail that brought performances vividly to life.
Its ability to deliver the full quota of excitement within spirited tracks while remaining absolutely in control seemed outstanding. It swept through intricate recordings such as Richard Thompson’s You Don’t Say and Little Feat’s ebullient Rock and Roll Doctor capturing every note with calm precision yet never diminishing the music’s temporal urgency. The interplay between the band members that gives the Lowell George song its ‘intentional irregularity’ emerged with marked forthrightness. Where some cartridges merely hint at the song’s timing structure, the Clavis DC laid it bare.
The same acuity shone through in its portrayal of Art Pepper’s Red Pepper Blues where it captured the groove of Paul Chambers’ bass playing and Philly Joe Jones’ drumming with military exactitude. Jones’ drumming also allowed the Clavis to demonstrate its fine gradation of dynamics, switching from exploring the contrast between soft and explosive strokes with sticks to revealing the micro dynamics of his deft brushwork. It proved easy to be diverted by this cartridge’s attention to detail here: often I had to replay a track to appreciate the music because I’d previously been listening solely to one of the players’ contributions.
As I’ve already intimated, though, while the Clavis demonstrates enviable resolution and accuracy – along with other desirable hi-fi attributes such as ultra-low surface noise – it’s definitely not a cold, unemotional device. Its performance doesn’t fill you with admiration but leave you untouched by the music’s message. Hearing Mary Coughlan singing Seduced would quickly dispel any notion you might harbour that the DC’s insight was merely superficial. With this song it clearly unearthed the sub-text conveyed not by the lyrics but through they way they were delivered.
The Clavis is equally adept at handling the more obvious material frequently heard at hi-fi show demonstrations and those tracks you play purely to impress visitors: it’s an accomplished master of portraying musical pyrotechnics. The Stygian bass and vivid transients of Jeff Beck’s Behind The Veil posed no problems for this cartridge. However, despite delivering the full, hair raising impact of Terry Bozzio’s drumming and Tony Hymas’ keyboard bass with gusto similar to that displayed by acknowledged ‘exciting’ cartridges, its control provided a far deeper appreciation of the playing’s note shape, timing and dynamics than most manage.
The cruncher was that this enhanced perception was present with every album I played, regardless of the musical style or the quality of the recording. That factor alone marks out the Clavis DC as a very special transducer.
It would be easy but imprudent of me to finish with some hyperbolic praise of this superb cartridge, which is what my enthusiasm encourages me to do. Instead I’ll simply observe that I’ve yet to hear a cartridge that can match the Clavis DC blow for blow. There aren’t many capable of giving nearly as well balanced, complete and insightful a view of music as this one does.
It exhibits a rare combination of musical and presentational qualities that put it ahead of other cartridges I’ve greatly enjoyed, all of which had some weakness – however slight – that detracted from my complete enjoyment of listening to vinyl. It’s this even-handedness and overall competence that makes the Clavis DC so outstanding and rewarding a companion.
In short, anyone who remains in awe of vinyl’s potential should prepare themselves for a pleasant surprise and audition the Clavis DC as soon as they can.
Warner Brothers K66100
This album demonstrated the Clavis DC’s timing acuity, stringing together instrumental lines to convey the band’s inspiring rhythmic unity.
Across A Crowded Room
Tracks such as You Don’t Say showed how the cartridge’s articulation could bring out nuances of dextrous guitar playing, and separate the layering of a multi-track recording.
Tired and Emotional
Mystery Records (WEA) MRLP1
The expressive quality of Coughlan’s singing revealed that the Clavis tempered its precision with emotional warmth.
Art Pepper meets the Rhythm Section
The Clavis fully exploited the openness of recording, the instrumental timbre, and the wide ranging dynamics.
Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop
The Clavis handled this album’s taxing bass lines and explosive transients with unmatched ease and accuracy.