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Cyrus Assembly Process hi>fi+ issue 5 February / March 2000
© hi>fi+ issue 5 February / March 2000
Cyrus products have always had a slightly ambiguous relationship with their parent company Mission. Whilst the speaker brand has competed aggressively in the most crowded of hi-fl market places, supported by substantial marketing efforts and a huge and constantly changing range of product, each seemingly with more to offer than its predecessor, the electronics brand has ploughed a separate and entirely different furrow Whereas the Mission speakers, which could reasonably be described as all box and drivers (often giving an impression of the more the merrier'), have become firm budget favourites, the Cyrus products adopted a compact, minimalist, and all together more serious approach, aimed firmly at the audiophile listener. The problem is that the disparity in marketing budget combined with advertising hyperbole and Mission's occasional forays into the higher price levels has blurred the distinction. Until now.
Recent events at Verity group night have further marginalised the Cyrus brand. After all, they recently acquired Quad, Wharfdale and Roksan, just to further confuse matters. In fact, this was part of a strategy to turn those failing companies around and revitalise them through the application of centralised design and purchasing, all co-ordinated through the auspices of a single entity, V Labs. At the same time, Verity itself was overtaken by the potential of its investment in the NXT flat panel speaker technology Renamed NXT group, it has sold on Quad, Roksan, Wharfdale, and surprisingly Mission loudspeakers as well, leaving Cyrus all on its own, satellite to a 500 million pound parent. Meanwhile, many of its senior managers have been added to the NXT team, along with much of the design expertise that went to make up V Labs. What remains is a new management team and the audiophile element of V Labs, keen to stamp their personality on a new range of products. The first fruits of their labours are the Q24/96 upgrade for the DAD3 CD player, and of course, the Cyrus 7 amplifier.
What makes the 7 so fascinating is the way in which it represents the product of both a new design team and a maturing technology. History has turned full circle. The story really began something over fifteen years ago with a compact and costly shoe box of an amplifier, the Mission 778, which in turn begat the Cyrus I and 2 (the decision was taken early to separate the speaker and electronics brands). Since then, the amplifiers have evolved into a complete range of modular electronics, and the production techniques have developed too, to such an extent that the Cyrus products represent a model example of what goes into a range of modern hi-fi. Let's take a closer look.
The production facility itself is surprisingly small, reflecting the fact that it relies on external contractors to supply the boards and sub-assemblies that are combined to create each product. This really means the circuit boards. The number of companies that wind their own transformers or produce their own metalwork are very few and far between. There are arguments both ways when it comes to stuffing boards. Doing it in-house gives you tighter control over the process itself. On the other hand, as Cyrus are quick to point out, the benefit of using external contractors means that you can gain the benefits of technological advances without having to face (and amortise) the investment costs, which makes considerable sense when you are dealing with a relatively small volume, specialist product. The down-side is that you need to be right on top of your inspection and quality control procedures, which is a time consum-ing business. As with most things hi-fl, the bottom line is that it's not what you do but the way that you do it that counts. Both approaches can work, as long as you do them right.
The real heart of the Cyrus range isn't so much worn on its sleeve, but is the sleeve itself. Each and every product is built into the same pressure die-cast chassis, a common moulding which carries all the fixing, heat-sinking and locating hardware for the transformers, boards and front and rear panels that make up each individual model in the range. This modular approach to construction (as well as system building) is critical to the cost effectiveness of the process. With a tooling cost of around £200,000, it would be impossible to justify such an expensive component for each model. By making the component universal it makes the approach viable, bringing the benefits of mechanical integrity feel, fit and finish to the whole range. You only have to look at other ranges to see manufacturers adopting a similar modular approach to their more conventional casework. What sets the Cyrus apart is the dramatic nature of the casting itself, and the way it acts as a monocoque onto which all the other parts bolt, rather like a car.
The first stage of the production process is the inspection and construction of the sub-assemblies. In the case of the 7 that's the front panel with its buttons, volume control and the micro-processor to carry out their commands, and the rear panel with all the appropriate labelling. These are then combined with the unit's casework and toroidal transformer, which bolts directly to the casting, separated by a circular neoprene pad. Next comes the main PCB which arrived at the inspection station as a single board along with the front panel control circuit. Those are separated, and the main board is then checked to ensure that the surface mount components are properly placed, of the correct type, and come from the correct manufacturer. This is then passed to the assembly line where it is married up with the chassis and transformer. The final stage of assembly is to power the unit up and set the various standard voltage values within the circuit.
Each unit is accompanied by a card which lists the jobs that need to be carried out, so that they can be ticked off. Each stage in the process also checks the stages before. Also carried on the card is the identity of the software used in the amp, the PCB batch number and the week in which the unit was produced, so that any batch or component problems that emerge can be traced right through to individual units. These cards are retained after the products leave the factory, acting as a permanent production record.
Once a unit has been fully assembled (all but its base plate), it is ready for testing. This involves a menu driven, computer regulated process which uses a single multi-way 'brick' to connect the entire range of inputs and outputs to the purpose built test station. The computer is then able to cycle through all the amplifier's various functions, diagnosing any problems that might emerge. Obviously there's a separate 'brick' and test program for each different product. Units that fail to meet spec are examined on the line by test engineers to further ensure that the problems are isolated rather than contagious. Having passed muster, a unit finally gets its base plate, complete with adjustable rear feet for levelling, and goes off to soak test.
Cyrus go to great lengths to ensure that the products that they produce are as consistent as they can make them. Contractors wishing to change the specification of any component must submit test examples for exhaustive listening before any modifications are passed to the line. Likewise, carefully regulated listening tests are carried out on random samples to ensure that they really do sound the same After all, what is the point of spending months on the final voicing of your products if the ones that people buy don't sound the way they should.
As I mentioned to begin with, the Cyrus process is just a highly developed example of what happens on most hi-fi assembly lines. But what must be mentioned is the exemplary care that goes into the inspection and assembly of each component part. Looking at rejected casework it's often impossible to detect the offending blemish. In fact, the paint work is so carefully applied that it looks almost like a plastic finish. Until you pick it up!
Back at the main office we were treated to another surprise. A limited run of CD, amp and tuner systems in a silver finish. Strictly a one off the 300 sets will go for export, and they look really special. Whilst they don't herald a weakening of the Henry Ford approach to aesthetic diversity they do signal a series of new Projects which will use the silver finish. First up will be a modular CD player/amp with room for a tuner module as well.
For the main range, expect a new digital pre-amplifier and surround processor, and also a stand mounted speaker project which embodies that distinctly different Cyrus touch. New management and the technological and financial backing of a massive parent make these exciting times for Cyrus. The poor relation is about to spread its wings.