I have shared rather freely over the past few years how history shaped my childhood and how the trauma of the Holocaust has been part of my DNA since birth; I am the grandson of survivors and it had a profound impact on how I was raised and what types of media I have been drawn to from a very early age.

I won’t listen to Roger Waters, Brian Eno, or Annie Lennox anymore.

As I type this out, I’m sitting inside a Tim Horton’s outside of Sudbury, Ontario — our family is currently going through a major medical crisis involving one of my parents and we needed this time away at a cottage in French River to figure out a path forward.

Why am I working at a donut shop? That’s a good question. #rogersoutage

I will take a look at that issue later this week.

Back to the topic at hand in this installment of “The Audiophile System Builder.”

My grandfather was born in Lviv (when it was still part of Poland in 1892) and I’ve had Russian and Ukrainian friends since I was old enough to wear a Team Canada jersey and cheer Yzerman, Mario, and Wayne on against the Soviets.

History is a complex thing and as I’ve discovered recently — some wounds have never closed and may never close for my ailing parent who has begun to open up about his childhood and my family history in Eastern Europe.

The “we only care about audio gear” crowd can move on at this point if a little bit of history or perspective offends you.

My grandfather pretended to only own 9 records growing up; Doris Day, Stravinsky, Ellington, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Mahler, Dvorak, Bela Bartók, and Copland.

When he passed away at the age of 98, we discovered a series of boxes hidden in a loft above his garage. He had fought in World War I, World War II, and spent a few years in the French Foreign Legion in North Africa before he made his way to Palestine and then Canada.

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Most of it was junk but inside two of the boxes were 4 very well preserved albums that he has brought over from Europe which contained 78 RPM recordings. Based on the writing inside the albums, they were either purchased or stolen (hard to tell with him) in France post-war. One of the recordings was made post-1936 and he wasn’t killing Nazis until 1944.

If he played them while I was alive, it would have been in some secret room he never showed us in their bungalow; probably next to his organ, and some photos of the many women he charmed in Poland, Germany, or France.

Two of the 78 RPM pressings were rather noteworthy and currently in my possession.

A rather pristine version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and an incredibly rare mono version of “Hatikvoh” performed by Al Jolson on Decca Records. The Jolson recording didn’t come out until 1948 or 1949 and I suspect he played it more than a few times.

Why do I say that?

Al Jolson record

My grandmother’s side of the family was decimated during the Holocaust, but my great-great uncle, great-great aunt, and grandmother left Europe in 1917 and helped start Kibbutz Yagur outside of Haifa in 1921. They were indeed the lucky ones.

Her family were deeply involved in the Kibbutz movement, Irgun, and formation of the Likud party.

My grandfather (who lost most of his family as well in Poland) never discussed Israel. Never. Even with dozens of photos of Israeli relatives all over their walls.

He also never discussed his experience fighting in two global conflicts.

So when Anwar Sadat flew to Israel to meet PM Menachem Begin and speak before the Knesset in November 1977 (I was seven years old), it was a big spectacle on American and Canadian television.

I remember sitting next to him on his organ bench as we watched the historic gesture by the late-Sadat and how he burst into tears when Sadat walked down the stairs of his plane and stepped onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion.

Egyptian PM Anwar Sadat visits Israel, Ben-Gurion Airport

He left the room, came back with a record, and played the Jolson recording. He cried throughout and promptly returned it to its sleeve where it would sit for another 13 years.

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He turned to me at that point; he was the exact opposite of my Zsa Zsa (a Holocaust survivor) who was warm, approachable, kind, and always happy to hug me as a kid and teach me how to play soccer outside in the driveway.

“I fought in two wars in Europe. I killed a lot of people. There isn’t an inch over there that isn’t soaked in blood.”

As a seven year-old, I didn’t know how to process what he told me but I think his message was “war is terrible, it’s better to make peace with people, and never let your kids touch your records.”

Stand Firm

What Britain Needs is an Iron Amplifier…

Or heavy die-cast aluminum in this particular case.

Mention Cyrus Audio to any British or European audiophile and you are likely to receive a lot of positive responses. N. American audiophiles have not had the luxury of having a stable importer on both sides of the border until quite recently and that’s a very good thing.

My formal reviews of the $3,799 USD Cyrus Audio i7-XR Integrated Amplifier and $2,995 USD CDi-XR CD Player will be published this week but I wanted to spill some of the mushy peas in advance because this is some very serious kit — perhaps superior to a number of more popular audiophile brands that get a lot of tuchas kissing from the audiophile press.

Cyrus Audio i7-XR Integrated Amplifier Front
Cyrus Audio i7-XR Integrated Amplifier

Cyrus Audio are about to celebrate their 40th anniversary and it’s clear based on some industrial design changes and new partnerships with companies like Bluesound that the British manufacturer sees an opening with their ONE Series and the products from the XR Series that we are covering.

Did you know that Cyrus Audio have had a network streaming player in the market for almost 7 years? It’s become slightly long in the tooth but changes are coming and the company is investing heavily in streaming technology and network amplifiers.

It was all the rage in the U.K., but nobody on these shores deemed it worthwhile to cover.

One of the interesting things I learned during my interview recently was that the decision to integrate Bluesound’s BluOS in their digital streaming products was only part of the long-term plan.

If you surmised that Cyrus Audio saw the writing on the wall and realized that it was more economical and expedient to integrate an already proven streaming platform into their products — you would be correct.

I suspect we’re going to see some interesting collaboration between Lenbrook and Cyrus going forward and that’s a positive development.

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Cyrus Audio i7-XR Integrated Amplifier Rear
Cyrus Audio i7-XR

I don’t want to take away from the forthcoming reviews but I’ll state upfront that the i7-XR should be on the shortlist of anyone looking for an integrated amplifier that will take up very little space, has more than enough power for most loudspeakers in the same price range or below, and that it has one of the best phono stages for MM in the integrated amplifier category.

The elongated die-cast box is built like a tank and minus some weird binding posts, this amplifier is likely to last a very long time. It’s handmade in England and the form and function are excellent.

Having done some research on older Cyrus Audio designs, it’s clear to me that they have redesigned what was a somewhat clunky interface and I’m very keen on what they have done.

But what about the sound?

If you’re going to spend a few thousand dollars on an integrated amplifier, it better deliver a heart-stopping performance and make rival products from Naim, Cambridge Audio, and Rega start sweating.

Does it succeed in that regard?

The industrial design is definitely polarizing for some; the Rega Aethos and Naim SuperNait 3 are more attractive looking products but I’m not sure that they best the Cyrus Audio i7-XR when it comes to pacing, transparency, dynamics, or collar-raising gestalt.

Both the Rega and Naim are smoother sounding amplifiers; the Aethos is much warmer sounding than the Cyrus in the midrange but it’s definitely not as agile.

Same deal with the Naim which is rather amazing. Naim built its reputation on pace, rhythm, and attack — but does it sound less nimble and bouncy than the Cyrus?

That aspect is slightly closer, but the Cyrus is exceptional in that regard.

It definitely doesn’t sound like a tube amplifier. Not even remotely. It’s not razor flat because the bottom end has a fair bit of heft, texture, and impact, whereas the midrange is perfectly neutral sounding and the treble is superbly clean and detailed.

It’s not a sweet sounding treble; bad recordings with a hot top end get exposed really quickly.

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All of that means that system matching is beyond important with both Cyrus products.

It’s no secret that I enjoy my coffee black with some raw sugar and a tiny amount of cream.

Wharfedale Linton Heritage Loudspeakers

Wharfedale’s founder, Gilbert Briggs built his first loudspeaker in 1932 in his home in Ilkey, Yorkshire; the town was based in the valley of the river “Wharfe.” Briggs opened Wharfedale Wireless Works in 1933 supplying advanced loudspeaker drivers to the growing radio industry and the company became a leading supplier selling more than 9,000 units per year until the outbreak of World War II.

Wharfedale Linton Heritage Loudspeaker on Stands in Walnut
Wharfedale Linton Heritage Loudspeakers in Walnut

The company flourished after the war and became one of the first companies to offer a two-way loudspeaker in 1945 – the prototype for the modern loudspeaker. Briggs would be quite impressed with the Wharfedale Linton Heritage speakers more than 7 decades later. 

Wharfedale introduced the original Linton in 1965 and the model which utilized three drive units developed a strong following with its smooth midrange, punchy low end, and sense of scale. The model disappeared from their line-up in the 1970s but was recently reintroduced as the stand-mounted Linton Heritage. Wharfedale has also designed a custom stand for the Linton Heritage that puts the tweeter around 36” from the floor and includes room for records as well. 

The three-way loudspeakers are larger than most bookshelf loudspeakers making the stands a logical accessory to maximize their performance. The modern Linton feature an 8-inch Kevlar cone woofer, 5-inch Kevlar cone midrange driver, and 1-inch soft dome tweeter. Listeners may decide to ditch the woven grille covers, but we think they give the Linton that old-school look that makes them stand out. 

Wharfedale Linton Heritage Loudspeaker Rear in Red Mahogany
Wharfedale Linton Heritage Loudspeaker (Rear) in Red Mahogany

Wharfedale designed the Linton with two rear ports which requires giving these loudspeakers some distance from the wall behind them; the 8-inch woofer can deliver the goods playing Led Zeppelin with only 50 watts so don’t confuse old with polite. The Linton Heritage offer all of the midrange resolution and natural sound of the original, but with a lot more detail, speed, and transparency.

The Cyrus i7-XR is a 52 watts/channel integrated amplifier but that number is quite deceptive; it can drive these speakers quite easily.

They deliver scale and image rather well considering their boxy looking cabinet. If your budget can stretch to $1,800 USD which is an increase of over $200 since last year, the Linton should be on your short list. The new price does include the stands.

What I like the most about the Wharfedale Linton Heritage speakers is that you don’t need to spend a fortune on electronics to really enjoy them and they look great; some people are unhappy that they are manufactured in China but there is no way Wharfedale could manufacture these in the United Kingdom with this level of quality at that price. No way.

The Cyrus Audio i7-XR gets sold with a lot of PMC, ATC, ProAc, and Spendor loudspeakers.

I’m amazed that more people have not tried it with the Linton Heritage because the synergy is outstanding.

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And considering how expensive the aforementioned other British brands have become with supply chain issues and inflation — the Wharfedale loudspeakers are a bargain. $1,799 at Amazon (with stands).

Cyrus Audio CDi-XR CD Player Front
Cyrus CDi-XR CD Player

If you don’t need a CD player, you can leave the Cyrus CDi-XR out of the system but it’s well worth considering if you do own a sizable CD collection. Not buying it takes $2,995 USD off the system price.

Would it compare to any of the top Naim CD players (before they dropped out of the market to focus on streaming amplifiers) of the past 5 years?

I think it’s a fairly close race in that regard.

I’m keeping the system British with a Rega Planar 3 and suggesting that you go with something like the Sumiko Wellfleet, Ortofon 2M Bronze, or Nagaoka MP-200 phono cartridge.

Bluesound NODE for $549 and you have streaming covered as well.

Cyrus are not picky about cables but I’m comfortable suggesting QED or Chord Company for their neutrality.

Let freedom reign.

Total: $10,542 USD (which includes amplifier, CD player, speakers, stands, turntable, cartridge, and network player)

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