Astrotec Lyra Nature: Budding Champion - B9Scrambler

Greetings!

Today we're checking out the latest entry into Astrotec's lineup of premium ear buds, the Lyra Nature.

Astrotec’s lineup of Lyra earbuds dates back a few years and was recently reinvigorated by the release of three models; the Classic, the Lyra Collection 32 ohm, and the Lyra Collection 150 ohm. The DNA making up these three ear buds can be found throughout the Nature, from the general shape to the distinctive copper ball filter found on the rear. Where the Nature moves things forward is in the addition of removable cables thanks to a tidy MMCX setup. This is something fans have wanted for a while now, and it was great to see Astrotec was listening.

The Lyra Nature slots into the lineup just above the Classic with a price of 169.00 USD. Is MMCX worth the extra 30 USD, or is there more to the Nature than just removable cables? Let's find out.


Disclaimer:

Thanks to Astrotec for arranging a sample of the Nature for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on time spent listening to the Nature. They do not represent Astrotec or any other entity. At the time of writing the Lyra Nature was retailing for 169.00 USD. You can check it out here on their Facebook page.

(This review was originally posted to The Contraptionist and Head-fi.org on 03-mar-2019)

Sources:

The Lyra Nature is pretty easy to drive but I found it sounded best when amped by my TEAC HA-501 with a ZiShan DSD acting on source duty. Running it unamped though the Shanling M0 was still a good experience, though at higher volumes it started to sound congested. Bringing the Auglamour GR-1 into the chain helped reduce this. Amping isn't necessarily needed, but I will recommend it.

Personal Preferences:

I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.

Specifications:
  • Driver Unit: 15mm Dynamic
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 40,000Hz
  • Driver Impedance: 32 ohm
  • Sensitivity:110dB/1mw (S.P.Lat 1KHz)
  • Cable: Silver Plated OFC Cable
  • Rated Power: 5m
  • Max Power: 20mW



Packaging and Accessories:

Like the Lyra models before it, the Lyra Nature arrives in some pretty nice packaging. The grey exterior sheath is adorned with silver stars meant to evoke thoughts of constellations. Along with this visual flourish is the usual branding and models information, as well as a Hi-Res Audio logo tucked into the bottom right corner. On the back your find a feature list along with specifications and contact information for Astrotec.

Slipping off the sheath reveals a textured grey cardboard box with Astrotec printed in silver foil. Outside of a security seal holding the magnetically sealed flap shut, the remainder of the box is free of accents. Cutting the seal and opening the lid you're greeted to a slender cardboard printed with the Astrotec brand and slogan, “Explore Real Music”, as well as a statement thanking you for choosing Astrotec. Lifting this out you find the ear pieces nestled in a foam insert with the remainder of the package taken up but the leatherette carrying case and a smaller cardboard insert containing the cable. In all you get:
  • Lyra Nature ear buds
  • Carrying case
  • MMCX Silver Plated OFC Cable
  • Silicone ear hooks (m/l)
  • Silicone ear guides
  • Cleaning tool
  • Donut foams x3
The carrying case is made from a very soft, smooth faux-leather that feels fantastic in the hand. The magnets that seal the lid shut are quite strong as well, so it's unlikely to open unexpectedly. The silicone ear guides aren't particularly useful with the stock cable because it already contains pre-formed ear guides, but if you swap to a third party cable without them the guides are nice to have. Plus the silicone used is super flexible and tacky and clings to the ear amazingly well. The ear hooks are useful with any cable and help get a more secure fit if you're having issues, or add additional stability of you decide to take the Lyra Nature out for a run. The silicone is plenty flexible too, so it won't cause discomfort. Lastly, the cleaning tool is something Lyra fans will be pleased to see. One thing people in the Head-fi forums always seemed to question was how to clean the back filter should it get dirty. Now Astrotec provides the solution. Good on them for addressing another concern potential customers had. Overall I think this is a fantastic accessory kit and a step up from the previous Lyra models.




Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

The Lyra Nature features all-metal shells with a classic design carried over from the Lyra Collection and Classic models. With a grey colouring and gold accent bands wrapping around the top and middle of the earphone, they certainly have a premium look to go along with the high quality feel. The Lyra Nature's design doesn't do much to restrain the driver thanks to a series of large vents around the base, and their patented micro-pore, copper ball filter at the back which gives the Lyra models their distinctive design. The protrusion where the cables entered on the older Lyra models has been enlarged on the Nature, necessary to be able to accommodate the new MMCX ports which are flawlessly integrated. Astrotec's Lyra design seems like it was always meant to have removable cables, and I'm so glad they've embraced them with the Nature. Overall the build of the ear pieces is about as good as it gets with materials that feel expensive and perfect fit and finish. Astrotec was really on their game when making the Nature.

Since the cable provided with the Lyra Nature is the same as the one Astrotec included with the BX70, I'll carry over those comments with some light editing. This cable is quite reminiscent of one of my favorite cables which you can find on the Light T2 and Penon BS1 Experience, both of which are now discontinued products. Within a very clear and dense sheath are four cores made up of a ton of individual strands. The metal 90 degree angled jack has a long, flexible strain relief and is very well tapered so it should slot in well to cell-phone and DAP cases. The Astrotec branded y-split is also metal but completely unrelieved. Normally I'd be against this, but given the similarity in construction to the other cable mentioned previously, I'm not worried. Astrotec's version is actually a touch thicker and more flexible, so I have no doubt it will be just as durable, if not more so. Sitting just above the y-split is a clear plastic chin cinch. It slides along the cable with less resistance than I prefer, but works well enough once in place. As you move further up the cable you find some performed ear guides that hold the cable securely behind the ear. They're plenty flexible though and as such do not cause any issues with comfort. Lastly, the MMCX plugs are also metal with colour coded bands, blue for left, red for right. I can't deny that I really like this cable. It looks nice, feels tough, is flexible, has low memory for bends/kinks, and is quiet when in use.

While the fit comfort of the Lyra Nature are good, they fall a small step behind the previous models for my ears, at least when worn the way Astrotec intends out of the box; cable-up. Since the previous variants were free of ear guides (unless you wanted to use them) I wore them cable down. Ear buds worn cable up simply aren't stable thanks to the shape of my ears resulting in constant adjustments to retrieve the excellent bass the Lyra Nature can output. I also experience a hot spot on my left ear after a brief period of listening. Using the included foams almost completely negates this though. Swapping over to a third party cable that allows me to wear the Nature cable down, all these issues go away and it's just as pleasant to wear as it's predecessors.

Isolation is more or less non-existent as is expected from 1. an earbud and 2. one that is as open as the Lyra Nature. If you're buying an ear bud for isolation, I'm sorry but you'll be sorely disappointed. Might want to check out iems for that.




Sound:

Foams: Without foams in place, the Lyra Nature still managed to provide deeper, more impactful bass than most other ear buds I've tried. That said, I usually ran them with the included donut foams which did little to affect the sound but made the Nature more comfortable to wear. Full foams made the sound a bit thick for my preference, but I tend to like a bud that trends towards a lean presentation anyway so be sure to play around with different foams to see what works best for you and your preferences.

The Nature is one of the few ear buds I've tried that provides a satisfying bass response without resorting to foams. It is well-balanced between lower-, mid-, and upper-bass avoiding mid-bass bleed and any feelings of bloat. It also has really impressive extension and provides a satisfying visceral punch on tracks that demand it, like Massive Attack's “Teardrop” and The Prodigy's “Thunder”. It is smooth but not lacking in texture and as such is well-suited to the lo-fi beats provided by Tobacco on his joint album with Aesop Rock, Malibu Ken. While not as bassy as the HE 150Po, the Lyra Nature is no less satisfying in the low end.

The mid-range on the Lyra Nature is forward and lush with a bit more meat to it than the other Lyra buds which run a bit lean in comparison. You can thicken things further with full foams, though it's a bit much for me so my thoughts are based on use of the included donut foams. Vocals here are light and nimble with impressive articulation and clarity. There is a fair of warmth present so it's not like the Nature is cold and clinical. Quite the opposite actually. Degs on Etherwood (feat. Anile) x Degs' “Bear’s Breeches (New Lanes Sprayout)” shows this off with his smooth, engaging vocals. Acoustic guitars also benefit from this sound as heard on Porcupine Tree's “Baby Dream in Cellophane” where they are light and textures but still have the appropriate bite at the start of each strum.

The Nature's treble extends well into useful ranges with a dip after 14k, though I can still barely hear it up to my limit of 17k. I'm sure it will reach the advertised 40,000Hz, though whether it does or not really shouldn't matter since humans aren't capable of hearing anything up there. Otherwise, most of the emphasis seems to lay in the presence region which gives the Nature it's excellent clarity. There is enough emphasis in the brilliance region to give chimes and cymbals an adequate amount of lustre without being peaky and uncomfortable, as heard on “Pure Narcotic” by Porcupine Tree. It also gives the Nature solid air and spaciousness between notes.

Sound stage on the Nature is about as good as you'd expect from an open-backed ear bud. It reminds me of a pair of full-sized closed backs like the AKG 553 Pro in the way vocals sit in a slightly more forward position with everything else spreading out behind it. A number of times while listening to music I've had to pause thinking I heard the cat nearby jumping up onto the table or knocking something over, only for it to have been an affect within the track. Sirens are particularly deceptive since they often sound like they're coming from outside. Imaging is spot on without any vagueness crossing over centre or at the very edges. Layering and separation are quite good, though if you crank the volume congestion starts to seep in. Running the Lyra Nature through a clean amp prevents this for the most part. Given the volumes at which I listen, not an issue, but if you like to crank it through an unamped source you might want to stick with tracks that aren't packed with layers and technical challenges.

Select Comparisons:

Lyra Classic (139.00 USD): The Lyra Classic is lighter and leaner sounding than the Nature with a cooler tonality. It places more emphasis in the upper treble giving it a more airy, vibrant signature than the Nature, though clarity is similar. The Lyra Nature's mid-range is warmer and more dense with a smoother presentation, yet clarity and detail is just as good, if not slightly better. Any mild sibilance heard on the Classic is gone in the Nature. Bass quantity is similar between the two and while the Classic digs deeper than a number of buds in my collection, it can't reach the same depths as the Nature and as such lacks the same visceral feel. Sound stage on the Lyra Classic is similar in size but feels wider thanks to the thinner note presentation, though channel to channel movement is more linear and natural on the Nature. The Nature's sound stage also displays more depth and as such I found it easier to pick apart tracks layers and separate congested sections.

Rose Mojito (259.00 USD): While it's getting a little long in the tooth, Rose's flagship dual driver, the Mojito, is still an impressive performer. Treble on the Nature is more energetic top to bottom with the Mojito providing a more balanced upper and lower performance that doesn't quite excite like the Nature. Personally I find the Nature's presentation a bit more realistic since the Mojito takes the edge of things when they should be harsh and aggressive. I also find it tighter and more precise. The Mojito's mid-range is more forward and warmer. I find vocals sound just that much more natural through the Mojito, and even more detailed. This really is the Mojito's bread-and-butter and what separates it from less expensive offerings. As impressive as the Nature's bass is, the Mojito takes it another step by offering even better extension, though texturing and speed is similar. The Mojito's low end is a bit more full though giving notes additional impact and weight. Both the Nature and Mojito have amazing sound stage presentations, though I'll have to give the Mojito the edge since it shows even greater depth, but similar width. Imaging is somehow even sharper on the Mojito.

Final Thoughts:

The Lyra Nature shows that Astrotec has been listening to feedback from their customers. What makes me say that? MMCX removable cables, a warmer sound, and a more useful and complete accessory kit. Was an airplane adapter really a necessary inclusion with the previous Lyras which isolate just as minimally? Definitely not, but a cleaning brush for that porous filter in the back certainly is. This is a quality product with a great sound that should appeal to ear bud fans around the world. If you like buds and want something a little more premium than your generic MX500 shelled model, you'd be doing yourself a favour by auditioning the Lyra Nature.
Thanks for reading!

- B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Some Test Tunes:

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)

Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)

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