Lyra Dorian Mono Cartridge Reviewed

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Lyra_Dorian_cartridge.gifCaution dictates that even the most fervent vinyl addict must contain himself when it comes to mono. For many of you, merely the purchase of a cartridge specifically for mono LP playback is about as relevant a move as buying an 8-track player. One fact, though, undermines such wariness: companies like Sundazed and Classic Records are still issuing brand-new mono LPs, so we're not talking solely about old vinyl. And are Classic and Sundazed doing this, beyond addressing the collector's fetish for different mixes? Simple: mono LPs can and do sound incredible...especially when the original was recorded strictly in mono.

Think about it: if the original recordings - say, all but a handful of Buddy Holly's entire output - were recorded in single-channel mode, it stands to reason that playing them back that way would be the sensible move. If you think I'm talking crap, then apply it to a more modern audio experience. What has caused you more dismay in recent years than the multi-channel remastering of releases originally intended for stereo?

Most of us, however, have conventional two-speaker systems, and we're not about to set up single-channel rigs, so we need modern, stereo-compatible mono cartridges, which is what Lyra, Decca, Grado and a few others are producing to satisfy the increasing interest in mono. Jonathan Carr has addressed this concern by designing Lyra's monaural cartridges with two separate mono coils wound on top of each other.

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Of course, the cartridge suspension, cantilever and stylus are identical for the monaural cartridges to their corresponding stereo versions, while Lyra's new proprietary line-contact stylus was developed to track with equal facility on both stereo and mono records. Lyra stresses that their mono cartridges, including the Dorian reviewed here, are 'totally safe to play any microgroove record from 1948 and onwards.' Dorian's stylus size is specified to suit all microgroove records, monaural or stereo.

Like all Lyras, the mono version of the entry-level Dorian is hand-built, then adjusted and tuned by Yoshinori Mishima. It is a low-impedance, low-output, medium compliance moving-coil, presenting absolutely no matching problems with the SME Series V tonearm nor the standard arm on the Trio L-07D, while electronically it caused no issues with a range of phono stages, including the AudioValve Sunilda, the Audio Research PH5 and the m-m stage of the McIntosh C2200 pre-amp with an Ortofon step-up.

Lyra fits its Namiki MicroRidge 2.5x75 micrometer, natural diamond line-contact stylus to a solid boron rod cantilever, the latter mounted directly to internal structure of the cartridge body. Its generator consists of Lyra's proprietary pole-piece-less, dual neodymium discs in a balanced, symmetrical-field magnetic system with a permalloy core and 99.9999 (6N) copper coils. To optimise it for mono, the core and coils are oriented at 90 degrees rather than the 45-degree orientation appropriate for stereo.

There are no surprises when it comes to set-up. Physically, the Dorian is a model of intelligent design, with a broad, flat top, solid and secure bolts hold it in place, and the pins are colour-coded and nicely spaced. Weight is a typical 6.4g and compliance is approximately 12x10-6 cm/dyne at 100Hz, so for most arms balancing doesn't require supplementary counterweights to achieve tracking force of 1.8-2.0g. The only caveat is that the cantilever is out there in the wide-open, so care is needed with handling - but then what cartridge doesn't warrant the hands of a surgeon?

As for the pre-amp settings, the Dorian's internal impedance is 3 ohms, its output voltage is 0.25mV and its frequency range is stated as 10-50kHz. Lyra's recommended load, directly fed into non-inverting RIAA inputs, is 100-47kohms, which you'll acknowledge is kinda broad. Being hardcore audiophiles, Lyra suggests that the user should determine the best impedance value 'by listening.' They also suggest a load via step-up transformer of 2-10 ohms and not more than 10 ohms, but there were LPs that sounded better with 100-200 ohms to my ears.

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