Old amplifier vs new amplifier: does the best hi-fi stand the test of time?

Old amplifier vs. new amplifier: Which is better?
(Image credit: Future)

Back in the early 1980s, Cyrus Audio was founded as the electronics offshoot of Mission Loudspeakers. Indeed, in its early years the brand was called Mission Cyrus. It launched its first products in late 1984, two half-width integrated amplifiers called, simply, the Mission Cyrus One and the Mission Cyrus Two. At launch they cost £130 and £230 respectively, the equivalent of about £600 (approx $700, AU$1000) and £1000 (approx $1200, AU$1800) today.

They were essentially two versions of the same amplifier, sharing the same plastic casework/steel chassis and main circuit board. The Two had a more generous power supply that raised power output to 50W per channel (double that of the cheaper amp) and a more sophisticated moving coil section in the switchable phono stage.

Old amplifier vs new amplifier

Outwardly there was little to differentiate them bar the badging and the Two’s input for the optional PSX outboard power supply.

The PSX supply added extra muscle and scale, raising the Two’s power output to 70W per channel. By leaving the amplifier’s internal supply to feed just the preamp section, it also improved sound quality across the board.

Both amplifiers continued to be developed during their lives, gaining classy alloy cases in late 1987.

So, how do they compare?

Old amplifier vs new amplifier

We managed to source a Cyrus Two of this era and take advantage of the company’s ability to continue to service many of its earliest products. It's admirable that Cyrus can still support products that are into their third decade of life and bring them back to full working order. There aren’t many audio companies that can do the same.

The paintwork on our Two is a little faded and marked, but even by today’s standards it’s superbly made. We’re astonished that Cyrus managed to specify their entry-level amplifiers with such an elaborate die-cast chassis.

This casting also doubles as a heatsink for the output transistors, saving on parts and assembly costs. We can’t think of a current amplifier below the two grand mark with such an exotic case design.

Old amplifier vs new amplifier

Look inside and you’ll find a relatively simple circuit packed with components of a surprisingly high standard. The preamp section is pretty much a passive design with just the phono stage needing power to work.

Even now, the upward-facing connections look exotic and make adding the Two into a system easy thanks to their clear, easy-to-read markings. The downside is that they also collect dust without much encouragement.

Once thoroughly warmed-up, the Cyrus Two puts in an astonishingly good performance for something made over 30 years ago. It sounds clean, crisp and immensely detailed. So detailed that the Rega Brio hardly manages to do any better when it comes to sheer resolution.

Old amplifier vs new amplifier

We try the amplifier with a range of speakers from a relatively sensitive pair of Audio Note Type Js (a design originating in broadly the same era as the Cyrus) right the way through to our reference ATC SCM50. And we like what we hear.

We’re impressed by the Two’s control and the way it bends the speakers to its will. We play Prokofiev’s Romeo And Juliet and are pleased by the amplifier’s insight and precision. In comparison, a similarly aged Arcam A60 amp sounds blurred and soft. Clarity is of a high order as is the way it delivers dynamic changes; there’s subtlety as well as punch when required.

Tonally, as with all early Cyrus amps, things are a little lean and lacking in natural warmth and authority. It’s as if the outline of each note is immaculately drawn but not quite shaded in properly. This is an area where the new Rega amplifier pulls ahead, delivering almost as much precision, but with a greater sense of richness and weight.

Old amplifier vs new amplifier

Stereo imaging is crisply layered with the classic Cyrus amp. It’s smaller in scale than current standards, but pleasingly clutter-free. The soundstage stays stable when the amplifier is pushed too.

We move to Radiohead’s In Rainbows and the Cyrus proves right at home. It’s superbly articulate and agile, punching out the hard-charging 15 Step with real venom. We love the punch on offer as much as the way this amplifier communicates the almost unstoppable momentum of the piece.

We can’t ask for anymore when it comes to clarity, every instrument and sound is crisply rendered. Take care with partnering equipment to compensate for the lean and analytical balance, and even by current standards it’s an impressive performer.

Old Cyrus vs new Cyrus

We have a listen to a current Cyrus One, something that shares the half-width size of the original designs but little else. It has remote control, Bluetooth and a power output of 100W per channel, thanks to Class D circuitry. 

The two products couldn’t be more different in sonic character. The current amp sounds massively more muscular. Its presentation is bigger, richer and more authoritative across the board, but particularly at the low-end.

Yet in comparison we miss the old timer’s responsiveness and clarity. The 1984 Cyrus Two communicates the music’s message with more skill, and ultimately (rather surprisingly) turns out to be the more transparent of the two.

Cyrus stopped producing the Two (along with the original One) in the early 90s, replacing them with more sophisticated designs which added remote control and microprocessor control.

Yet we feel the classic Cyrus Two still has plenty of appeal today, and if you’re willing to put up with a hands-on approach, remains surprisingly capable by current standards. If you can find one in good condition, you won’t be disappointed. It just goes to show, the best hi-fi products really do stand the test of time.


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  • Mr. C Nation
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    In 1984 an affordable stereo amp arrived that blew away the competition, but can it beat the best modern amps?

    Old amplifier vs new amplifier: which is better? : Read more
    I had a Musical Fidelity B1 from very early in its production run. I bought it because it was reviewed in the hardware review section of The Gramophone, an august mag that was 80% reviews of recordings and 20% reviews of hardware commensurate with the quality of the music.

    The comment that summed up the review was that this amplifier was "unnecessarily good". And it was very good. I had it for 25 years.

    I saw no reason to 'upgrade' - ever. For the class of speaker I had - Rogers, Mordant-Short, Monitor Audio, it was, along with that other all-time great, the Marantz CD63 Mk 2 K.I. a wonderful reproducer of music. I got so worried that it would fail permanently that I 15 years later I bought a spare. I never needed that.

    I'd still have it today if it had the digital connections I now need for my present set-up, with optical out from the TV. and BuRay.

    I don't know because I never A/B'd them as you have A/B'd the Cyrus pair but I bet it would have kept its end up or perhaps surpassed the 'default' Marantz 6006 series that is its successor.

    I see that the original Mission Cyrus 2 can be had for about £350 s/h. As the latest amp doesn't have digital connections, owners of the original won't be buying the new one, if they need digital. Would the additional £650 needed to buy the current amp be justified in terms of the quality of sound? I doubt it.
  • aysil
    That's very fascinating. I have experienced many times in my audio life that a higher priced or a newer model from a certain brand is not necessarily better. I discovered lately, for example, that the original Mojo from Chord is better than the new model: https://forums.whathifi.com/threads/best-british-dacs-of-all-time.128232/
  • Rui
    in the 80´s having two sets of speakers from Mission and very happy with them i choose to buy a entire Mission cyrus system ,the cyrus amp. ,tuner, cd player and turntable also other set of speakers the 707, all sound perfect but only in diferencies between diferent productions in cds or records ,sometimes one feels like needing some tone controls but it´s okay ,the Turntable, it as a nice cartridge and stylus (like they used to make them)with a lot more hours of listening and a deep sound , i had sold it fast to a friend but recentelly bought it from the same person i sold it, at a lower price ,i´ll keep it as today i have all components closed in their boxes but the speakers are in use , i have a SA-608(78/79) from Pioneer (integrated amplifier)with a set of 761 speakers at 4ohms ,anyone who listens to it say that it sounds perfect ,the later released speakers with similar look or reference are far from the original 761 speakers quality, i do like Mission brand , About the new released receiver i don´t think i´ll be better by having it ,i heard it in a store and it sounded ok but not enough to think in buying it, the tone controls are the problem or the non existing ones