Review: Lyra Clavis (1992) Cartridge

Category: Analog

Lyra moving coil phono cartridges have always had that special place among analog mavens. This early Lyra Clavis, of which two other variants of the Clavis were produced, which were the Clavis DC and Clavis Evolve 99. This review will deal with the original Lyra Clavis from 1991 or 1992, not sure about date of issue or how long the original remained in production. Perhaps some Audiogon members may have further information on the Lyra Clavis to post and it would be welcomed.

The Lyra Clavis can perform with its body attached or removed as evidenced by the photos. I have tried it both ways and later in the review I will comment on my findings with body on vs body removed.

Scan-Tech of Japan produces the Lyra line of cartridges and early on produced the Audioquest line of MC phono cartridges of which many of those remain highly sought after to this day. Scan-Tech may have produced other fine MC phono cartridges for other manufacturers, not totally sure on that.

When one moves into high end MC phono cartridges much is expected and over the top performance should be returned for the investment made. Lyra is one of a very few and select phono cartridge manufacturers that deliver the promise of a high end MC phono cartridge. Of course the turntable/tonearm configuration need to be up to the task of handling such a phono cartridge. But with the given that someone is looking for a MC phono cartridge in the price/performance ratio of a Lyra, it is assumed that their analog system is capable of such performance.

Listed are some of the LP's that were used for evalaution.

Music Used For Evaluation:

LP Playback:

Bob James - Hands Down (Columbia FC 38067)
Hiroshima - Self Titled - (Arista MFSL1-525)
John Coltrane - Blue Train - (Blue Note BST 81577)
Wes Montgomery - Bumpin' - (Verve V6-8625)
Rickie Lee Jones - Self Titled - (Warner BSK 3296)
Wynton Marsalis - Live Blues Alley - (Columbia PC2-40675)
Eric Gale - Forecast - (KUDU Records KU 11)(CTI Records)
Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr - (Blue Note BT 85106)
Earl Klugh - Finger Painting - (Blue Note MFSL 1-025)
Larry Carlton - Friends - (Warner 23834-1)
Sadao Watanabe - Autumn Blow - (Inner City IC 6064)
Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute - (Warner BSK 3193)
Santana - Zebop - (Columbia FC37158)
Pat Metheny Group - American Garage - (ECM 1-1155)
Frederick Fennel - Cleveland Symphonic Winds - (Telarc 5038)
Paul Desmond/Jim Hall - Complete Recordings - Mosaic(MR6-120)
Time Out - Dave Brubeck Quartet (Columbia CS 8192)
Paul Desmond - Self Titled (Artist House AH - 2)
Ahmad Jamal - But Not For Me - Argo LPS 628
Bill Evans - At The Montreux Jazz Festival - Verve V6-8762
Bill Evans - At Montreux II - CTI 6004
Sunken Cathedral - American Gramophone - AG 361
No Bass Hit - Concord Jazz Label - CJ-97
Oscar Peterson - Night Train - Verve V-6 8538
Gerry Mulligan Reunion Chet Baket - Pacific Jazz ST 90061
Rimsky-Korssakoff:Scheherazade-Berlin Philharmonic-Herbert von Karajan - Deutsche Grammophon 139022
Bach & Handel Harp Conertos-English Chamber-Garcia Navarro - Deutssche Grammophon 2531 114
William Russo:3 Pieces For Blues Band-Seiji Ozawa - Deutsche Grammophon 2530 309
Beethoven Symphony 7-Vienna Philharmonice-Carlos Kleiber - Deutsche Grammophon 2530 706D
Dvorak Symphony 9-Chicagp Symphony Orchestra-Carlo Maria Giulini - Deutsche Grammophon 2530 881
Ravel-Bolero Orchestra de Paris-Daniel Barenboim - Deutsche Grammophon 2532 041
Camille Saint Saens-Symphony No.3-Philadelphia Orchestra-Eugene Ormandy RCA Red Seal ARL 1-0484
Mozart-Piano Concertos No 17 & No 21 Soloist Geza Anda-Deutsche Grammophon 138783
Gershwins Rhaposdy In Blue-Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra- Telarc 10058

This was only a representative sample of LPs used for evaluation. More than I can list here were used as well.

Lyra Clavis Specifications:

Moving Coil

Output: (1Khz 50 mm/sec) 0.25mv
Freq Response: 10Hz - 50kHz
Output Impedance: 2 ohms
Load Impedance: <10 - 47k ohms
L/R Separation: 1kHz: > 35db
L/R Balance: 1kHz: 1dB
Stylus Tip: Line Contact
Cantilever: Ceralloy
Dynamic Compliance: 12x10 Dyne
Static Compliance: N/A
VTF: 1.5-1.7gm
Mass: 10.5gm

Milled from single piece of aircraft grade aluminum alloy. Linear twin magnets, cantilever directly anchored to main body structure & 6N copper coils.

OPTIONAL: For experienced audiophiles, it is possible to remove the two screws on each side of the transducer in order to remove its body cover. This should be done in step 1. when the cartridge is still on its back. Remove the screws completely and pull the body cover carefully up while watching the cantilever.

The cantilever is made from Ceraloy, a proprietary aluminum alloy with a ceramic component mixed in. This material was chosen purely based on listening tests, and because of its scarce suppy,we were able to obtain for use in audio.

For the coils we chose PC­OCC, large-crystal copper wire, which is the purest and most advanced copper material known today.

The diamond tip is an extremely well polished Ogura Jewel PA line-contact with the smallest (60 mikron) square shank availlable. Although this is the finest diamond tip made in Japan, and perhaps the finest made anywhere, it is rarely used by manufacturers due to its high cost. Also the dampers were carefully selected among the purest non-carbon types. Since the cartridge has a triple damping system, the choice of damping materials was extremely difficult and time consuming.

As mentioned earlier the Clavis can be used with the body on or removed. It was tested in both configurations. If you want to hear the last veil of music lifed by this cartridge then use it with body removed. However with that being said in its glider configuration it is so damn easy to damage the cantilever if due caution is not observed and then your out the expense of a costly and lengthy repair process.

I have preferred to use the Clavis with the body attached and that works best for me and adds a touch of security for me to use. The slight difference in sonic signature between having the body on as opposed to body off is a mute point for me.

Turntable of reference for this evaluation is a VPI HW19 MKIV in conjunction with the VPI SDS system and AQ PT 7 toneram, with AQ Emerald phono interconnects. Also used is a Pete Riggle counterweight on the AQ PT 7 to handle to additional weight of the Lyra Clavis. Preamp is the Coda 01p with on board phono section that easily handles the Lyra's low output.

This was and remains one of high ends luxury moving coil phono cartridges. At it's opening price of $1,895.00 in 1991 set a standard that many other moving coil cartridges could not attain from a performance point of view.When adjusted for inflation in todays dollars the Lyra Clavis would retail at $2,995.00,this is based upon latest inflation calculations from 1991 to 2008. On rare occassions these come up for sale in the pre-owned market and usually command prices from $700.00 to $850.00 depending on condition, and if one has the box and manual.

As far as the sonic signature of this cartridge, it is down right glorious in its presentation. One can use all the superlative adjectives one has at their command, and they all apply. The Clavis retrieves the music in the grooves with a total authority not often found at any price. Never harsh or overly analytical this is a cartridge that plays music with a solid verve and swagger that will mesmerize your senses. On jazz and classical LP's is where in my opinion the Clavis has few if any peers. The way the Clavis subtley layers in the various musical intruments is magical. The depth and sound stage put forth is holographic in nature. Music just abounds from this performer. Yes this is as close to a live presentation as one could hope for. It is like having the best seat in the house in a live setting, thats how good the Clavis really is.

Over the course of fifty years in this hobby business and having owned more turntables, tonearms and cartridges than the vast majority of members on the Audiogon site, The Lyra Clavis is nothing more or less than a mighty tour de force in the world of Moving Coil phono cartridges.

The equivalant of the Lyra Clavis today is the Lyra Helikon and the Lyra Skala which offer newer design parameters than the venerable Lyra Clavis. I have heard the Helikon and it is indeed superb. But in my opinion the Clavis holds it own in a straight ahead comparison to the Helikon, but not quite in the same leaque as the Skala. Other cartridges of merit to consider in this range would be the Benz Ruby,Dynavector XX2, Koetsu Rosewood and the Shelter 7000. Of course if these are not within your resources the entry level Lyra Dorian is a very fine choice, one does not have to make an excuse for owning, and it has a little higher output at 0.6mv which makes it decidely user friendly to a wide variety of preamps.

As for me, the Clavis remains a solid find and the search is finally over.

Associated gear
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I owned this wonderful cartridge for several years and cannot agree more with your thoughtful review. If the Clavis has a single shortcoming it would be its ever so slightly deficient bass. Unfortunately, I ran my Clavis with the case removed and while dusting my VPI I hooked a shirtsleeve on the cantilever and snapped it off. My clavis is currently with Soundsmith. I only hope the rebuilt Clavis retains the wonders of the original.
I have a '92 Clavis that has been my benchmark cartridge for the last 22 years. I decided to have it updated and reworked by Soundsmith this year, and as it was new it is even more glorious after the SS update.
I have the original Clavis and like the first commentator, removed the case (which improved the sound quite a bit) and eventually had an accident. I still have the cartridge and was thinking of either sending it back for a rebuild, or using it in trade for a new Lyra cartridge ... most likely a Delos. I agree with the OP in the sound quality of the Clavis ... its a wonderful, musical, transparent cartridge. One thing that really stands out with me about the Clavis is the way it reproduced piano. My gawd! This is a piano lover's cartridge if ever there was one.