Cambridge CXN/CXA80: Its Brand Name May Have Been Shortened in Its Quest for a New Identity, but Cambridge's Network Player and Integrated Amplifier Are Long on Performance and Value

Gramophone, August 2015 | Go to article overview

Cambridge CXN/CXA80: Its Brand Name May Have Been Shortened in Its Quest for a New Identity, but Cambridge's Network Player and Integrated Amplifier Are Long on Performance and Value


Cambridge Audio is, in the eyes of some audio enthusiasts, very much a 'second string' hi-fi brand: due to its past concentration on low-priced amplifiers, CD players and the like, it acquired an erroneous reputation as a budget brand, when in fact 'bargain' would have been a more accurate description.

Things have changed a bit with the introduction of a flagship Azur 851 line-up, and there's a new identity, too: the latest CX range, of which the CXN network player and CXA80 amplifier are a part, carries a simplified 'Cambridge' name, along with new logos and corporate style.

'Great British Sound since 1968' is the slogan on the boxes, along with copious use of a stylised Union flag, and that flag and legend is also present on the start-up screen of the new-look display on the 700 [pounds sterling] CXN, as well as on stickers on the front panels of all the new models. Completing the CX hi-fi line-up, by the way, is the 300 [pounds sterling] CXC CD transport, designed to be used via the digital inputs of the CXN or one of the two amplifiers, both of which have onboard DACs, and the 500 [pounds sterling] CXA60 integrated amplifier, offering less power, a smaller transformer and lacking the balanced analogue and USB inputs of the 750 [pounds sterling] CXA80 amp we have here.

All four models are available in black or silver, and combine slimline styling with a sunken bevelled base to give what the company calls a 'floating aesthetic'.

The design and engineering process here is the familiar one followed by Cambridge parent company Audio Partnership: the R&D work is all done at the company's London HQ, and then the products are made by longstanding suppliers in China, working closely with the UK engineers. What's more, Cambridge is using its in-house talent to go its own way where other companies opt for off-the-shelf third-party solutions: for example, the CXN uses a streaming module developed by Cambridge, and known as Zander. This is said to be 10 times faster than some rival designs, and works in concert with a redesigned control app, Cambridge Connect: running on Android or iOS smartphones or tablets, this harnesses the power of the chosen device to do much of the hard work of selecting content on network servers, rather than leaving that work to the player itself.

As well as accessing network content and internet radio via either wired or Wi-Fi networking (with a plug-in active antenna being provided for the latter), the CXN has built-in Apple AirPlay, and can accept an optional 70 [pounds sterling] Cambridge BT100 Bluetooth receiver to give aptX wireless connectivity with non-Apple devices. It's also compatible with Spotify Connect.

In addition it has coaxial, optical and USB digital inputs, the last of these expanding its 192kHz/24-bit capability with the option of playing DSD64 files stored on a computer, and within it uses Cambridge's own second-generation Adaptive Time Filter processing to upsample all digital content to 3 84kHz/ 24-bit before passing it to the twin Wolfson DACs, thus reducing noise.

This processing runs on a 32-bit SHARC processor, which is also able to offer variable output to the phono and XLRs analogue outs, using a sonically superior resampling system rather than the easier 'bit reduction' method, and enabling the CXN to function as a digital preamplifier if required.

The partnering 80W per channel CXA80 amplifier also has digital inputs feeding Wolfson DACs, with coaxial, optical and USB sockets: the USB is switchable between the default USB 1.0 mode, in which it will accept content at up to 96kHz/24-bit, and USB2.0 for 192kHz/ 24-bit compatibility. It's also possible to use the BT100 Bluetooth 'dongle' with the amplifier.

Four line analogue inputs are provided, along with preamp-level outputs and a filtered subwoofer output, plus two sets of speaker outputs with individual switching.

Cambridge says the design here was all about component-reduction, to keep the signal paths as simple as possible for the best possible sound: after the input stage, all signals are converted to balanced working for optimum interference rejection, and the left and right channels are physically separated, but symmetrical, to avoid crosstalk and optimise stereo imaging. …

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