Publisher Profile

Lyra Atlas Lambda SL moving-coil cartridge Review

By: |

Roussel, Le Festin de L’Araignee Bacchus et Ariadne (2’ Suite), Andre Cluytens, PatheMarcone-Paris CVB 1001.

The music from Roussel’s ballet The Spider’s Feast is unfortunately much neglected. Yet, there are several excellent recordings available, most notably this Golden Age EMI/HMV. I only recently found this French copy of an early issue.

They were still using vacuum tubes in the studio when this was recorded and pressed, and it shows. The Atlas Lambda SL makes the most of it. As is always the case with the Atlas, the soundstage stretches from wall to wall across the speaker side of the room. The strings are warm and silky (unlike the later reissue). One might be tempted to describe the sound as “euphonic” in the sense that the sound is very musical. I would agree, but to the extent that the term is meant to suggest “insufficiently detailed,” it would be mistaken. The brassy edge of the trumpet is certainly there, as is the slight squawk of the French woodwinds, the pluck of the harp. The Atlas made the searching out of a vintage copy of this great record well worth the effort.

Walter Piston, The Incredible Flutist, Douglas Moore,Pageant of P.T. Barnum, Howard Hanson, Mercury SR90206 (color back).

This early Mercury is one of the good ones. While the acoustic is dry, as the Hanson/Eastman recordings tend to be, that is forgotten quickly, although not by all cartridges. The leading-edge transients can sound, shall we say, excessively crisp, even painfully knife-edged, with the wrong set-up. However, the Atlas Lambda SL handled the transients with great finesse; similarly, the music in-between, so to speak. While I might not rate this Mercury as the absolute best listening of the evening, the lyrical moments were effective and moving. The jaunty march halfway through, during which the players also shout and cheer, presented superb detailing and differentiation. The bass drum was fully present without being excessively gullet-rattling. And the orchestral colors were more fully presented than one might expect from such a dry hall.

While I was a bit more aware of the age and limitations of the recording compared to some of the older records discussed, I can’t say that I’ve heard a better presentation of this or any other similar Mercury. Its high moments were remarkable. And there were more than enough of those to cause me to be happy to have listened.

Albert Roussel, symphonie n’3 and symphonie n’4, Andre Cluytens, EMI French Columbia SAXF 1056 (dowel spine). Cluytens can fairly be credited with several of the best-sounding EMI/HMVs of the late 50s, early 60s. I understood that this was another of the same. Also, the Roussel 3rd is one of the underappreciated symphonies of the first half of the 20th Century (Ansermet does an excellent job of it as well for Decca). This early French copy of the record was, however, a bit odd. Moments of it were terrific, but the stereo tended to be somewhat left-right, with limited center fill, and the violins tended to be more dry and edgy than many of the best early recordings from this source, but not always.The bass, however, was excellent. The winds were appropriately piquant, the triangle cut through without being painful, and the brass sounded brassy.

I heard this same copy on another turntable recently, namely a Linn LP-12/ Koetsu, and was similarly somewhat disappointed. I must give a strong nod to the Atlas Lambda SL — it gave me the best presentation of this less-than-perfect recording of a fine performance of a great piece. Let’s face it: while we all appreciate the hardware, most of us are also here for the music. Not every recording that we want to hear will sound great. So, it is of real consequence to have a turntable/cartridge that will allow a listener to appreciate the best of a middling recording, while at the same time playing the hell out of an audio masterpiece. The Atlas Lambda SL fits that bill perhaps better than any other cartridge that has been in my system.


Rubisa Patrol, Art Lande, Mark Isham, ECM 1081.

This 1976 ECM production demonstrates Manfred Eicher’s ability to achieve a terrific-sounding production even relatively early in ECM’s history. He could also find great talent or help combine it into fine performing ensembles. Art Lande was, and is, a terrific pianist. Mark Isham is known less as a trumpeter than he is as a composer, but on this record at least, he did a terrific job as both. The second side is as strong an effort as one could want from ECM; great writing, very thoughtful and lyrical improvisation, and really well recorded. The older ECM sound can sometimes be a little generous with reverb and I’ve heard this record seem that way in a different system. With the Atlas Lambda SL, the reverb was there, but it was not in my face. I forgot about it. The bass was strong, with both the upright bass and the bass drum creating a very solid foundation. Isham’s trumpet can sound a little puffy around the edges — a less centered sound than Miles Davis, for example. Here, I could recognize it as Isham, but it was as solid a sound as I’ve heard from him,a few cracks notwithstanding, and I enjoyed his playing. And the grand piano . . .well, was it a grand?  It sure sounded like one, beautiful top, deep rich bottom, as good as I’ve heard on a jazz recording.The imaging is sometimes imperfectly vague. The piano is spread out over both channels, for example,a side-effect of multi-miking, though the placement of the percussion is pretty clear.

I don’t want these nits to sound like complaints. What I enjoy is that I feel like I can hear everything, but, overwhelmingly, what I hear is music. And I feel warmly inspired that what sounded good 45 years ago can sound really good now, can come across as the fine music that it is. The Atlas Lambda SL does a really fine job of knitting all of it together. How? In the end, it is a Lyra secret.


Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe / Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte / Alborada Del Gracioso / Rhapsodies Espagnole, Haitink, Concergebouw, Phillips (Hi-Fi Stereo label), 835 108 AY.

The early Hi-Fi Stereo Phillips are regarded by some to be audiophile material. This Haitink/Concertgebouw is a great example. The soundstage is as wide as one could ask for. The mics seem to be placed fairly close to the orchestra, while avoiding the screechiness that sometimes results from too close a placement. The presence is terrific. I’ve not heard a better demonstration-quality Ravel. The imaging is close to holographic, without losing the sense of a large mass of musicians sitting in the vicinity of the speakers.

A nice thing about writing reviews is that, in order to do so, I must listen closely, and think carefully about what I’m hearing, then try to translate that into words that will, I hope, make sense to the reader. This process seems to inevitably cause me to understand, eventually, the fundamentals of the piece of gear that I am reviewing. I’ve liked previous iterations of the Lyra Atlas pretty well, well enough to live with. I always appreciated the terrific detail that they offered my ears while still retaining a reasonable sense of the music. At times, however, I have to admit that the detail could sometimes — how can I best say this?— not serve the music so well.

What I am learning, as I seem to be finding less and less to say about what I am hearing, is that the detail is serving the music in a different and stronger way with the Atlas Lambda SL. This is particularly noticeable, on a moment by moment basis, with a record like this that is exceptionally well-done. There is some new, sparkling treat for my ears almost continuously, such as the lower string tremolos that just passed by as we led into the oboe solo. And the oboe sounds so good, so much like the oboe I heard in the concert hall only last week, as happened with the clarinet that appeared just after the oboe. And the trumpets that just squawked at us from the back right, with their mutes. I know there was more than one trumpet because I could hear the slightly asynchronous attacks, which wasn’t a bad detail to hear, not at all, it was human. That’s what I want to hear. The reality of the music making.


Victoria de Los Angeles, Ravel: Scheherazade / Cinq Melodies Populaires Grecques, George’s Pretre, Pathe Marconi – Paris, ASDF 775 (dowel spine).

Early French EMIs can sound spectacular. The problem is finding a really quiet copy. This particular copy has some tics, more than I like (a peculiarity of the ventilation system), but de Los Angeles sounded like she was in my listening room and she brought a rather large orchestra with her. It sounded quite a lot larger than my listening room could accommodate, but it sounded so good. Placement of the instruments —in the moments I noticed, meaning when Victoria was not singing —was rather remarkable. And I could hear the floor beneath them…my floor, come to think of it, a nice woody concert hall floor. The solo violin and even the squawky French oboe were so sweet and the harp . . .delicious!

Okay, so de Los Angeles is standing right there, and one way I know is that when she opens up her throat and gets loud, that’s all that happens. Usually, audio systems have a bit of trouble with that . . .makes the stylus quake in the grooves, or rattles the laser, or something. The sibilants are so sexy. What’s going to be tough is when this record is over, I’m going to open my eyes and turn on the lights and see the Persian rug and the speakers and the other gear and the record is going to be thumping in the run-out groove. The good thing is that I can keep the cartridge.

C. Debussy, Sonate Pour Flute Alto et Harpe / Sonate Pour Violin et Piano / Sonate Pour Violoncelle et Piano, studio-reihe neuer musik, Wergo, WER 60025.

Wergo is known primarily for its focus on contemporary music (think Ligetti). Perhaps Debussy was considered contemporary in the 60s when this deluxe edition came out. I picked it up on a whim — Wergo’s often sound good, and Siegfried Palm, the cellist, was quite a name in his day and, indeed, the sound was spectacular, an “in your living room” kind of sound. Probably impressive even on the Motorola console stereo of the day. Pinpoint imaging with the Atlas on my 21st Century set-up this evening. I’ve never heard a harp reproduced with this warmth and closeness.The flute, off to the left, is also beautifully breathy and warm. Much of her playing is in the lower register, which sounds positively sexy.

I can see why Palm was much admired as a cellist. I know his work from Zimmerman’s Cello Concerto, which is somewhat of a torture test. In this Debussy Sonata, he purrs right along with the flute, with incredible accuracy of pitch and sensuousness of tone, speaking with different parts of the bow. As with the other records heard with the Atlas Lambda SL, all of the detail is there as is the air of the room in which it was recorded, but more importantly, so is the music. Very satisfying.


Ry Cooder, Jazz, Columbia BSK 3197.

This was a great sounding record when it came out, and, not having heard it in several years, I’m pleased to report that it still is. The instruments have great presence — the “in the room with you” effect. The detail in Ry Cooder’s transcription of Bix Beiderbecke’s tune “Flasher” (2nd tune side 2) is remarkable. You can practically hear Cooder sweating over the toughest moments (of which there are more than one), which Cooder ultimately handles with remarkable aplomb. But, so is the detail of all of the various instruments in each tune’s ensemble. The saxophones and vibes are particularly wonderfully entwined. With the Atlas the transparency is such that if I worked at it, I could tell which parts are handled by which instrument, but why mess with the magic?

Indeed, the end result is best described as a transparency that allows the ensemble to sound like it is there with the listener. The same is true of the tonal balance. When I hear the term “transparent” used to describe audio gear, I wonder, does that means it’s bright and top-heavy? I want to be clear that I mean transparency in a musically neutral sense, in the sense that the whole sound reproduction process that allows us to hear the music seems to disappear. What’s left is the music, with very little of the artifacts of the recording process left.

Mahler, Symphony No. 4, Paul Kletzki, EMI Columbia SAX 2345 (first label).

A friend made me aware of this early 60s EMI Columbia SAX of Mahler’s 4th, apparently known as a wonderful audiophile experience only to the cognoscenti. The Atlas places the listener in a mid-hall perspective. The orchestra is widely spread. Kleitzki often emphasizes the almost chamber-like aspect of many episodes in the 4th, which gives the Atlas great opportunity to shine, both spatially and tonally. The location of the solo instruments is almost holographic, but no more so than a great concert hall would allow. Which is to say that the effect is very natural, and captures a concert hall experience, versus that of a recording studio.

The Atlas also allows for a full harmonic rendering of the instrumental palette. The instruments sound fully rounded. This is particularly attractive in the chamber-like episodes, but is also rewarding to the ear when the strings are fully engaged. The cellos and basses chugging along or thumping in pizzicato are especially rewarding. And there is nowhere a hint of harshness or dryness in the violins.


Ravel, Piano Concerto in G major /Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Ozawa, Seraphim EAC 30316 Stereo (Japanese pressing).

Although this is one of the better, if not the best, Ravel Piano Concerto recordings I’ve heard, it seems not to be terribly well-known and, according to Discogs, did not have a regular release in the UK at the same time it was released in the US. The review copy is Japanese and sounds terrific. Sparkling. This copy and the Atlas seemed tailor made for each other. I should be clear and note that when I say “sparkling,” I do not mean overly bright, but there is plenty of air. At the same time, the placement of the piano on the stage is never in doubt. Weissenberg handles the long solo in the gorgeous 2nd movement with complete absorption and Ozawa brings the orchestra in to match him with unusually supportive gracefulness. All of which is conveyed with great transparency.

The space of the hall in which the recording was made is rendered with great naturalness, more than is usual. I can sit back, close my eyes and be there. It’s almost as if I can hear the tension of the musicians communicating with each other, never disturbing the delicacy of the movement. I can hear the silence in the spaces.The exuberance of the final movement is initiated by the sharp slap of the four first notes announcing that the game is on. The transparency and the joyfulness of the music is fully rendered. A great experience.


Henze, 5 Symphonien, Berliner Philharmoniker, DGG 139 203/204 Stereo (first symphony).

Some may not consider DG to be the most audiophile of labels, but DG engineers could make super recordings, particularly among the early “large tulips.” This collection of the first five symphonies of the late German composer Hans Werner Henze is one of them. The recorded version of the first symphony is a revision for chamber orchestra and it plays well to the Atlas’s strengths of spatial and tonal rendering.  Much of what we hear is quiet and involves solo instruments either alone or with groupings of strings. Toward the end of the first movement, for example, a flute flutter-tongues quietly against the violins. The juxtaposition is unmistakable. Similarly, in the 2nd movement there occurs a gorgeous moment with a solo viola and flute, with interjections by others. Again, there is no mystery as to what we are hearing. I should note as well that this particular recording, via the Atlas Lambda, reveals real depth in the hall. I hadn’t heard this piece in some time, and did not recall how fine this recording is. I have probably never heard it like this.



The Lyra Atlas Lambda SL is a cartridge that has a sweet, harmonically complex midrange but does not sacrifice transparency or resolution, detail, or clarity for that midrange beauty and harmonic complexity. It is accurate in recreating what lies buried in the grooves, but is never edgy, cold or mechanical. Particularly on early EMI, Decca, RCA and Mercury recordings, the imaging is close to holographic, without losing the sense of a large mass of musicians sitting in the vicinity of the speakers. In many cases, those images have considerable body, weight and three-dimensionality. The effect is very natural and captures a concert hall experience, versus that of a recording studio. The Atlas Lambda SL excels at capturing the leading edge while at the same time giving equal weight to preserving the reverberant tail of transients. It does a phenomenal job of capturing the crash and decay of percussion instruments, the gut-wrenching shudder of the larger drums, and their unrestrained dynamics; yet without sounding artificial or “Hi-Fi.” Cymbals shimmer and decay naturally. It also has stunning dynamics, both micro and macro.

Not every recording that we want to hear will sound great. So, it is of real consequence to have a turntable/cartridge that will allow a listener to appreciate the best of a middling recording, while at the same time playing the hell out of an audio masterpiece. The Atlas Lambda SL fits that bill better than any other cartridge that has been in my system.



If you currently own an older Lyra Atlas or Etna that is approaching the point where it needs to be replaced, do yourself a favor and speak with AudioQuest about their trade-in opportunities, which will allow you to replace your existing Atlas or Etna cartridge with the Lambda version. You will be well pleased with the exchange. Likewise, if you are in the market for a new cartridge, make it a priority to audition either an Etna or an Atlas Lambda. In either case, you will not be disappointed.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

3 Responses to Lyra Atlas Lambda SL moving-coil cartridge Review

  1. Great review Fred. I own this cartridge and I hear pretty much the same things. Before I had the Atlas(standard version) and both Top Wings and some other cartridges. They are all fantastic. But for me, the Atlas Lambda sl is the Bees Knees. I was able to run it into my Pass XP 27 with no problem but, then I got a Thrax Trajan MC1 step up on loan and then ,Ka-Boom , a whole different story. I put in an order in the next day for that step up. Among the handful of great ones. Cant afford the big ANUK . I know, they are special. The thing is, I never believed in step ups. A well designed one will do the job. Yeah, depending on your Phonostage (some nice tubes), the standard Atlas Lambda will be awesome but, I love the flavor I get with the single layer into a fine step up. Awesome bass , solid wide open focused soundstage and the correct sweetness in the midrange. I know, people think we are crazy. These are really expensive items (jewelry) but, Damm, I love playing LPs. I just cant help myself . I am addicted .

  2. Fred Crowder says:

    In the time since I wrote the review, The Atlas lambda SL has continued to improve, primarily in the area of bass authority and a sense of mass, without loss of any of those things which made me love it. I do agree that this cartridge in most instances will significantly benefit from a properly impedance matched step up transformer. What is your turntable and tonearm?

    • Wow, sorry about taking so long to reply. Shame on me for not checking in on Dagogo.
      At present, my Turntable is a Musical Life Symphony Mk 3 with a Kuzma 4 point (11) Tone arm.
      The turntable is out of production. I am thinking about moving up to the Thrax Yatrus direct drive with Schroedr CB tonearm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By :