This week we’re reviewing three elements from the new CX range from Cambridge – the Cambridge CXA80 integrated stereo amplifier, the Cambridge CXN network player and the Cambridge CXR120 home cinema amplifier. During testing, we mainly focused on stereo listening.
Cambridge CXA80, CXN and CXR120: overview
The CXA80 integrated stereo amp is the most powerful of the two amps in the Cambridge CX series, with 2×80 Watts at 8 Ohms from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. It uses the same format as the Cambridge CXA60, i.e. Class AB amplification supported by a solid toroidal transformer power supply – a Wolfson WM8740 DAC, well known for its finesse and high quality volume control. With the 651 range no longer available, the Cambridge CXA80 is now the core range of the British brand. We listened to it over a long period of time and its performances contrast with previous models.
The Cambridge CXN network player replaces the Cambridge Stream Magic 6 V2 while maintaining its main features but with the addition however of aesthetical and convenient improvements. The player is equipped with a double Wolfson WM8740 DAC which can handle PCM audio stream decoding from different sources – USB B from a 24 bit/192 kHz computer, USB A from a flash drive or hard drive for audio file playback (MP3, FLAC, etc. up to 24 bits/192 kHz), S/PDIF from any audio source with an optical or coaxial RCA output (HD TV, Blu-ray player, games console, etc.) or network output.
There is a variety of streaming sources – local DLNA server, Internet radio or Spotify (Spotify Connect protocol).
Analog inputs complete the list of connectors. This list is very comprehensive (balanced and unbalanced). An iOS and Android app developed by Cambridge allows the Cambridge CXN to be handled for an even greater ease of use.
The Cambridge CXR120 home cinema amp is the first model in the Cambridge range. Unlike its competitors, Cambridge continues to produce home cinema amps with true hi-fi sound. That’s what we love about Cambridge. This amp has been fitted with a high rate of power, enabling it to deliver 60 Watts with 7 speakers all at the same time (from 20 Hz to 20 kHz with a TDH of 0.08%). Power can even reach 120 W per channel in stereo or 155 W if speaker impedance is 4 Ohms. The HDMI controller is compatible with HDMI 2.0 and the Bluray 4K HDCP 2.2 crypt protocol. In other words, the Cambridge CXR120 can handle 4 K video stream at 60 frames/sec and an extended range of colours. The handling of audio files and network/Internet streaming is identical to that of the CXN player (MP3, FLAC, DLNA servers, Internet radio, Spotify, etc.).
The three components are all comparable on this level. As soon as you open the packaging, you can already see the high quality. That may sound slightly daft but it’s rare that such sophisticated packaging holds an average quality product. If the manufacturer is trying to cut costs, it’s often packaging which bears the brunt. The amps and network player are packaged with special protective foam. The remote control and accessories are placed in a cloth pouch. When you hold the Cambridge CXA80, CXN and CXR120, you can see that for each device, the manufacturer didn’t cut costs. Each device is particularly heavy. When trying to reduce costs, some manufacturers choose components depending on their weight in order to lighten the load as transports costs are expensive.
As for design, the new Cambridge CX brand marks a departure from the previous series. You can’t help but find these devices elegant. We thought the Cambridge CXR120 home cinema amp was the best of the bunch and its large format is “almost” unnoticeable.
Cambridge CXN network player
While the price of this network player is above 1000 € and while some competing brands offer devices with similar functions for half the price, you may ask yourself then, what is the point of buying the Cambridge CXN. You’d be wrong as the functions which are missing in most low-cost streamers are precisely the ones integrated in the Cambridge streamer, starting with the high quality DAC with two 24/192 stereo DACs. In a double differential operation, each DAC handles a channel in order to optimise the conversion quality and in particular the signal/noise ratio. This structure is used in some top-of-the-range DACs and amps, where you can sometimes find an 8 channel DAC to process a stereo signal. The analog output stage is high quality with a double symmetrical and asymmetrical output, whose level can be fixed or variable for either an integrated or a power convertor.
Cambridge CXN network player: implementation, ease of use and functions
An initial positive point is the fact that the Cambridge CXN player can be controlled using the buttons on the front panel even if a remote control and mobile control app are available for users. On the LCD screen, menus are well laid out and the interface is highly responsive. Access to music shared on the network is instant, for both listing the available DLNA servers as well as accessing their content (MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, etc. files). The same goes for Internet radio which benefits from the large thumbwheel button on the right. Its swift rotation displays the letters of the alphabet to ease browsing. A simple push of the button allows you to select the track.
Cambridge CXN network player – very easy to use
We didn’t have any difficulty in playing our FLAC files (up to 24 bits and 192 kHz) in WiFi, despite the fact that our WiFi modem was quite a distance away. Internet radio was immediately accessible. Each radio station is nicely displayed with a thumbnail image as well as the audio stream rate. To listen to Spotify, you need to use the Spotify app for Windows or Mac OS or for Android or iOS. Cambridge offers the Cambridge Connect app for its player.
It’s worth noting that the USB port on the front panel is compatible with USB flash and hard drives. Type B ports at the back should be used for listening from a computer. The Cambridge CXN features a setting for this input. By default, it’s Class 2 USB audio mode which is active for playback up to 24 bits and 192 kHz. For this, install an ASIO driver for Windows. This can be downloaded from the Cambridge site. If you choose Class 1 USB audio mode, no driver is required but playback is limited to 24 bits and 96 kHz. We recommend that you choose Class 2 USB audio mode to benefit from the bitperfect ASIO transmission protocol (to be used with Foobar2000 or JRiver Media Center). The same applies for a Mac but in these circumstances, no driver is required even though specific software such as Audirvana is recommended for bitperfect playback.
Cambridge CXN network player: Listening impressions
We carried out our listening tests with the Cambridge CXA80 amp, via the Cambridge CXN’s RCA analog output using Viard Audio Silver HD RCA cables. We tested the digital connection with the CXA80 but we’ll detail our findings when discussing the amplifier. The direct comparison between these two connections is to the advantage of analog. The two Wolfson DACs and the Cambridge CXN’s very good output stage make all the difference. It’s not immediately perceptible but in hi-fi, excellence is usually a matter of a few minor details.
Paired with the CXA80, the Cambridge CXN really surprised us. Sound aesthetics from the 651 series have really moved on. Low medium is much better, resulting in clearer tones. The sound stage is generous and works particularly well with live tracks. On Foreigner’s Urgent from the The Best of 4 and More album, we are impressed with the clear sound placement, the realistic positioning of instruments and voices. The sound message is well structured. There is much more precision than with our faithful Hegel H80.
Cambridge CX electronics can make those, who blame the Cambridge or British sound for being somewhat redundant, change their minds.
Listening is admittedly controlled but it’s in the right sense of the term as the message is precise but lively. There isn’t a hint of excess in the treble range. We noted the same things with several different speakers – Jamo C109, Klipsch RP-280F, Focal Aria 906 and finally Klispch Heresy III, still formidable to discern the components particular characteristic (very high sensitivity).
Minnie The Moocher, Cab Calloway, FLAC – 16/44
Sparkling and light saxophone, gliding piano, superb voice, great audience response. This is a pure delight and we really feel like we’re at the concert venue.
San Francisco, Maxime Le Forestier, FLAC – 16/44
The two guitars are delivered with a lot of power. Drum echo is very realistic. The bass guitar is slightly to the right. Dynamics are remarkable, particularly on the left guitar. To be listened to at a high volume for even more pleasure.
Paranoid, Black Sabbath, FLAC – 16/44
We’re expecting a nervy bass drum accompanied by a raging bass. That’s exactly what we get. At high volume, the Cambridge CXA80 delights, never faltering in the slightest. Ozzy’s voice is a bit far away and has perhaps slightly too much echo but the track is mixed as such. The last bass note is long and hangs in the air. This is always a good sign.
Ne me quitte pas, Nina Simone, FLAC – 16/44
A lot of range in Nina Simone’s delivery. The vibrato is moving. The details in the low medium and upper bass range are significant and add to the overall warmth of the audio message.
Breathe Me (Lady Croissant, live), Sia Furler, FLAC – 16/44
Live version of this song which came to our attention in the final episode of Six Feet Under. The texture of the artist’s voice is easily perceptible and her phrasing is clearly stands out on our Kipsch Heresy III. The piano intro is mesmerising. Bass rumbles with regularity and doesn’t run out of breath. This sound stage is really good, both vast and ample. The second part of the song is symply hypnotizing.
Chandelier, Sia Furler, FLAC – 16/44
Completely different from the previous track (even though the acoustic version of Chandelier is full of emotion), the mixing of this track strenghened by loudness and dynamic compression in the style of Kanye West was a really good test. The qualities of the Cambridge CXN & CXA80 pairing are highlighted. The “sound avalanche” is well structured.
Stronger, Kanye West, FLAC – 16/44
In a last attempt to test the network player and the Cambridge CXA80 amp, we listened to this Daft Punk style Kanye West hit. As the song says, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (it is said that Nietzsche plagiarised West) and this is the impression the Cambridge pairing gives us. The different sounds and melodic layers find their balance. Big impact in bass, lightness in treble. All in all, it’s catchy.
Hotel California (acoustic version, Hell Freezes Over), Eagles, FLAC – 16/44
The toms during the introduction always put the equipment to the test. We specifically listened to this track with Jamo C109 speakers and the result is amazing. Impact, depth, distinctive play of the two toms. It’s all there and if you boost the volume, you can clearly hear the audience’s “ooohhs”. The strings of the guitars are silky smooth.
Cambridge CXA80 amp
The Cambridge CXA80 stands out from its predecessor the Cambridge 651A because of its integrated Wolfson WM8740 DAC with S/PDIF and type B USB inputs to listen to PCM 24 bit and 192 kHz files from a computer. The amplification section is, on paper, identical even though Cambridge has optimised all the components. The main highlight of this amp is its exemplary connectors with RCA/XLR analog and digital inputs which were sadly lacking in the previous range. This amp can be connected to an HD TV, Blu-ray player or CD player such as the Cambridge CXC.
Cambridge CXA80 amp: listening impressions
Using the Cambridge CXN as our source, the Cambridge CXA80 clearly proves itself to be musical, something which wasn’t as evident on the 651 series. It also works really well when the Cambridge CXN provides the audio signal in digital format (RCA S/PDIF connection) and if its own Wolfson DAC is working. Listening is less transparent and closer to the listener. We lose a DAC but the characteristics remain the same – fine treble, rich lower medium and firm bass. Tones are precise and that’s obviously what counts.
Cambridge CXR120 amp
We found this amp particularly charming, clearly contrasting with the codes inherent to its category. It’s rare to find such a bare front panel in a home cinema amp. It’s very pleasant to look at. A quick glance at the top panel reveals a significant number of openings to ensure that components inside are kept cool. You can also make out the huge toroidal transformer, which keeps the pace whatever the film in a large living room. The essential components are present with an HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 controller ready for future Blu-ray 4K or Ultra HD TV programs at 60 frames per second and a vast array of colours. Each channel benefits from a Wolfson WM8740 DAC which put this amp in a similar configuration to that of the CXN network player. The Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital, DTS and DTS HD Master Audio formats are handled as are stereo files (ALAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, WMA, MP3, AAC, HE AAC, AAC+, OGG Vorbis). The streaming section complies with that of the Cambridge CXN with the Spotify Connect support, Internet radio and DLNA servers.
Cambridge CXR120 amp: listening impressions
As we explained at the beginning, we focused on stereo listening. We listened to the Cambridge CXR120 with a pair of Klipsch Heresy III speakers and using different sources – FLAC files from a NAS, Spotify, Deezer Elite via a Sonos Connect player and some concerts and films via an OpenElec set-top-box (via HDMI).
The Cambridge CXR120 is a quiet force. Its sound gives an overall impression of serenity and control at all times. Sound isn’t, however, dull and bland as is often the case with home cinema amps used for listening to music. The power of the CXA80 integrated stereo can be felt. We were able to listen again to some of the tracks mentioned above with the same amount of pleasure if not more as the treble range, which is a little drier than with the Cambridge CXN and CXA80 combination, gives more room to the other ranges to express themselves. All this, however, is a matter of taste. We noted the same things in stereo cinema listening with films like Pacific Rim, Godzilla or Avatar which all highlight the strengths of the amp for delivering low frequencies and making an explosion sound like no other. This amp really explores a wide range of frequencies.
A few words now on its ease of use. The sober front panel features a 2 line LCD screen (which can be read from far away), a Direct control button (to deactivate any digital audio processing), two control knobs for FM radio stations, two others to change source and another two for the settings menu (using the remote control and OSD menu displayed on the TV is recommended for an easier use). The volume control can be pressed down for selecting and validating a setting. Cambridge has had the good idea to not pre-activate the sound levels, enabling thus the possibility of listening to Dolby or DTS streams without any enhancement. All the AV sources can be modified or renamed. Source 1 can be assigned to HDMI 3 video input and optical input 2 to sound. For each source, the HDMI passthrough can be activated to maintain the video signal (no upscaling for example).
The look of the new Cambridge amps and players is not the only feature that has changed. While technical characteristics haven’t really progressed (power comparable to that of the 651 series, the Wolfson DAC is used again), the sound signature has positively evolved. The overall sound is more precise, the low medium has been developed, there is better sound placement and energy. In short, the new Cambridge CX series is well worth trying out.
This post is also available in: French