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Friday, March 21, 2014

Home Recording Review!
Prism Lyra One Recording/Playback
24/192 Computer USB Audio Interface




Brevis...
Price: $2,350
Likes: accurate A/D-D/A.
Dislikes: no RCA ins/outs
Wow Factor: UK-made for your computer
More info: Prism Lyra 


by John Gatski

  Since the late 1980s, UK-based Prism Sound has been making high-quality audio converters and professional recording products. A few years ago, they launched the flagship computer interface — the Orpheus. The FireWire connected, multi-channel based mic/line, A/D/D/A, complete with phono preamp, was an exemplary piece of premium gear (still in the line), but its $5,000 price tag kept it out of reach for those who were more budget inclined.
  To address the downmarket wallets, Prism came up with the Lyra series, a USB 2.0-based computer recording/playback interface that eschews a number of the Orpheus' bells and whistles, but still offers the essential converter performance at substantially less money.
  The Lyra comes in two versions, the Lyra One, priced at $2,350 and the Lyra Two, $3,225. Lyra One is the basic unit with two 1/4-inch TRS line inputs and outputs, a front-panel instrument DI input and a single XLR phantom powered mic input. The Lyra One also has TOSLINK I/O ports.


Listening to the playback through other D/As. confirmed my impression that Lyra A/D is about as accurate as I have ever heard.

  The Lyra Two gives you two high-quality, phantom powered, microphone inputs, two sets of line outs, one set of line inputs, the front panel DI, plus it can be used as a phono preamp on the two line ins (magnetic) or mic inputs (moving coil), eight-channel ADAT digital I/O connection via light-pipe, and SPDIF coaxial digital stereo input and output. Ethernet connection and clock sync ports via BNC also are included on the more upscale sibling.
**Prism sent me the Lyra One to review. Although I would have preferred the Two for the two mic channels, plus all the extra digital connections, the One still allowed me enough flexibility to record, as well as use the Lyra as an audiophile player for hi-res PCM.

Features
  Priced at $2,350, the Lyra One offers the already mentioned features, plus Prism’s SNS noise shaping on the digital output, highly accurate sample rate conversion and low-latency digital mixer and high quality clock.
  The attractive, gold-colored 1.5 RU Lyra One sports a neatly laid out front panel — with compact GUI, master volume control, headphone jack, headphone control and an instrument input. The back panel inputs include the balanced XLR microphone input (48V phantom powering), 1/4-inch TRS line-in and line-out jacks, and separate TOSLINK digital I/O ports. The USB 2.0 B female jack — for tethering the interface to the computer — rounds out the rear panel.


For the home studio operator who wants to step up in build quality and pedigree, the Prism Lyra should be at the top of the buy list. I have no hesitation in giving it an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award to the Lyra.

  The mic preamp section features premium op-amps, and the circuit delivers a claimed S/N ratio of -130 dB; the mic input also benefits from a software-engaged high-pass filter and -10 dB pad; the line inputs and outputs can be set at -10 dB, or the professional +4 dB level. Other goodies include Prism’s “overkiller” limiter circuit that allows you to push the mic level for that big sound, with no distortion.
  The key to operating the Lyra’s myriad of features is the digital interface software, which operates on Windows or Mac. Termed the Control App, the software integrates all the hardware routing, as well as engaging the various digital functions, such as Prism’s transparent sample rate converter.
**The virtual mixer can be used to route audio in and out from the computer work station, as well as provide panning, solo assignments and other normal mixing features. Even on the basic Lyra One, there is enough software layers that you need to take the manual for a read.


Lyra Two has more I/O but R/P engine is the same

  The icing on the cake is the excellent A/D-D/A converter section (Cirrus Logic CS5381 A/D-CS4398 D/A) with Prism selected analog components, which make the Lyra an incredible sounding computer interface. We’re talking about audiophile-grade specs with greater than 116 dB dynamic range and S/N, when doing 24-bit recording and playback.
  If you just want to use the Lyra as a standalone audiophile DAC with your outboard gear, you can set it up on the computer for solo DAC use with the TOSLINK or USB input. That mode allows it to be operated as a solo DAC without the computer. Link up to your favorite player that outputs high-res music, and sit back and listen to these smooth transparent converters.

The audition
  Although the Lyra One has limited analog inputs and outputs versus the Two, I used it in numerous configurations in the home studio. For example, I used it as a supplemental recording set up to bring in a vocal track and an acoustic guitar rhythm track to mix with an electric guitar rhythm stereo track that I recorded onto the computer during another session. Since the electric guitar tracks were 24 bit, I recorded and mixed the new tracks in the same mode.
  Using a Mojave Ma-300 FET mic in cardioid mode, I recorded the acoustic guitar track, a Martin J-30, into Apple’s Soundtrack software, then added a vocal track using the same Mojave mic, which by the way, is an outstanding performer that happens not to be that expensive.


The basic Lyra One offers a single mic input

  The mix of the two instruments, plus the vocal, sounded terrific through the Lyra — projected an audiophile transparency and ultra-smoothness usually heard with the more-expensive Prism converters. As I recall, it sounded the same as the high-brow Orpheus, as well it should, because the converters are identical. If you have not experienced a Prism DAC first hand, they are extraordinarily smooth, but still maintain the fine detail of the best digital conversion. To elaborate on my subjective sonic endorsement of the Lyra’s sound, my acoustic guitar recordings are the perfect illustration. My Martin J-40 acoustic is the perfect balance of a big-sized, six string — with its warm bass and ultra-detailed top end.
  The Mojave mic captured the guitar with just a hint of crispness that flatters the instrument and passes it on to the Lyra One A/D, which captures all that sonic info and reassembles it with precision through the D/A. The guitar’s wood overtones, string harmonics, and room reverb were played back as it was recorded. No hype or omissions.
  I also played the stereo mix through my pro/audiophile Mytek Stereo 192-DSD and Benchmark DAC2-D D/A converters; they also revealed the stunning recording quality made through the Lyra’s A/D.

Audiophiles will be proud 
  To see how Prism’s converters stacked up against some of the audiophile big boy converters, I moved the Lyra to my audiophile rack and played back a number of hi-res tracks from a USB thumb drive and DVD-As played through the Oppo BDP-95 universal player.
  On the Yes — Fragile 24/96 track, "Mood for A Day," the Lyra delivered the full width and depth of Steve Howe's classical guitar picking with all the bloom of the finger picked instrument’s dynamic transients and the subtle smoothness this recording is known for. Considering its vintage, this track has wide and deep stereo image. The Lyra One does it proud.
  On a 24/192 dub of Tom Jung’s infamous Flim and the BBs — Tricycle, the PCM-to-DSD SACD version, which I promptly dubbed via the Lyra and the Oppo at 24/192, again showed how good the A/D converter is in the Lyra. I could hear all the dynamic energy of the bass drums, piano and rich fullness of the saxophone that TJ captured in those early days of digital. Again, listening to the playback throughout other D/As. confirmed my impression that Lyra A/D is about as accurate as I have ever used, including the more expensive Orpheus mentioned at the top of this review. (Prism has three new USB computer audio interfaces that EAN plans to look at in the near future. Eventually, Orpheus will be no more since FireWire is no longer supported by Apple).
  Prism prides itself on its hardware and software sample rate converters, and the Lyra carries on that tradition. A menu click allowed me to convert several 24/192 recordings to 16/48 with dither, and the result was quite good. No harshness and plenty of detail and width could still be heard from the recordings. Those Prism boys know how their DSP.


Meter section shows Greek spelling of Lyra

  With the flexibility of the software routing and myriad of features, you can do a lot with just the basic Lyra One, but I also found myself using it as a quality-checking device for my stereo high-res mix-downs. Whether listening to the final tracks’ audio output through my Legacy Studio speakers, as driven by a Pass Labs X350.5 MOSFET amp, or headphone monitoring via the AKG K702SE or Shure SRH1840, the Lyra One became a quite useful tool for critical listening.
  And Its fatigue-free, neutral timbre character makes it an easy DAC to engage in long mix/monitor sessions. I have a similar interface from TC Electronic from 2007 (more channels and a very good A/D), but the D/A and audio output path is fatiguing over the long term listening. The Prism is easy on the ears.

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  Overall, I don't have any major complaints about the Lyra One. As with any computer interface, there is a learning curve in the set up, but once you figure your way around, it becomes intuitive to operate. The on-board screen is pretty small, but the software is easy to monitor the tracks and enable the functions. Since the Lyra is audiophile grade in its sonics, RCA jacks for high-end single-ended cables would be nice, but not  a deal breaker. Just get some RCA to quarter-inch adapters.
  As a recording interface, I would likely buy the Lyra Two because of the extra I/O, including the extra mic channel and the phono preamp (good for dubbing those LPs in 24-bit). Still, as a two in/four out basic tool, this high-standard, this made-in-Great Britain, Prism Lyra One is a serious tool that is not going to be relegated to Ebay in a few years.

The verdict
  There is stiff competition in this class of recording gear — Asian-manufactured USB recording interfaces priced in the hundreds of dollars are readily available, and some have good audio paths. These competitors are likely to attract the cash strapped or frugal recordists, but for the home studio operator who wants to step up in build quality and pedigree, the Prism Lyra should be at the top of the buy list. I have no hesitation in giving it an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award to the Lyra.



  John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio Network©Articles on this site are the copyright of the Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.


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