Cambridge Audio

Quality entry / mid-range Blu-ray & CD players, DACs, Integrated amps, Phono stages, AV Receivers, Network player, from England
products that perform astoundingly yet offer incredible value.

Cambridge Audio is about much more than reproducing music and movies, it’s about maximising your experience through products that perform astoundingly yet offer incredible value. As much passion is injected into the development of Cambridge Audio products as owners have for the music and movies they treasure; whatever format they’re stored on. Developed in the UK since 1968, Cambridge Audio continues to set new standards in the research, development and manufacture of hi-fi and home cinema entertainment systems.

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CA 01 AI MINX XI
NZ$ 795.00 (incl. GST)
Minx Xi Digital Music SystemWith a Wolfson DAC and a class AB amplifier, the Xi will stream an unlimited selection of music including Spotify Connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and make it sound...
CA 10 NS CXN
NZ$ 1,595.00 (incl. GST)
HARNESSING THE POWER OF CAMBRIDGE CONNECT: The CXN is our fastest, slickest network player yet, and this is helped by the processing power of our bespoke new Cambridge Connect app. The app,...
CA 12 IA CXA80
NZ$ 1,695.00 (incl. GST)
DUAL MONO DESIGNSeparate transformer taps for left and right channels, twin rectifiers and separate PSUs give dual mono operation of the left and right power amplifiers. TORODIAL TRANSFORMERSWe use a...
CA 18 PS CP2
NZ$ 365.00 (incl. GST)
Make the most of any turntable, including the most high-end audiophile models with this Moving Magnet & Moving Coil phono preamplifier. DESIGNED FOR PURITY
Phono pre-amplifier with moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) input stagesBalance control for...

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All-in-One amplifiers

CA 01 AI MINX XI
NZ$ 795.00 ea (incl. GST)
Minx Xi Digital Music SystemWith a Wolfson DAC and a class AB amplifier, the Xi will stream an unlimited selection of music including Spotify Connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and make it sound...
All-in-One amplifiers

CD / SACD / Blu-ray & Multi-Format Players

CA 02 CD CXC
NZ$ 795.00 ea (incl. GST)
Designed specifically for the new CX Series, the Cambridge CXC delivers stunning CD playback and works in perfect harmony with the Cambridge CXA60 and CXA80 integrated amplifiers, as well as other...
Audiophile grade toroidal transformer delivering ultra-low low noise and distortion  Twin...

DACs

CA 06 DACMAG PL
NZ$ 599.00 ea (incl. GST)
DacMagic Plus works by taking a digital audio signal from your PC, digital iPod dock or TV which it analyses and upgrades using our clever ATF2 algorithm. It’s totally flexible and supports digital...
DACs

Music / Media Network players, Streamers & Servers

CA 10 NS CXN
NZ$ 1,595.00 ea (incl. GST)
HARNESSING THE POWER OF CAMBRIDGE CONNECT: The CXN is our fastest, slickest network player yet, and this is helped by the processing power of our bespoke new Cambridge Connect app. The app,...

Integrated amplifiers

CA 12 IA CXA80
NZ$ 1,695.00 ea (incl. GST)
DUAL MONO DESIGNSeparate transformer taps for left and right channels, twin rectifiers and separate PSUs give dual mono operation of the left and right power amplifiers. TORODIAL TRANSFORMERSWe use a...
Integrated amplifiers

Phono Stages

CA 17 PS CP1
NZ$ 249.00 ea (incl. GST)
Enjoy the unique warmth of vinyl and all the depths of fine analogue detail on offer with this high quality moving magnet phono preamp DESIGNED FOR PURITY
Phono pre-amplifier with moving magnet (MM) input stage Single-ended ‘Class A’ gain stage with...
Phono Stages
CA 18 PS CP2
NZ$ 365.00 ea (incl. GST)
Make the most of any turntable, including the most high-end audiophile models with this Moving Magnet & Moving Coil phono preamplifier. DESIGNED FOR PURITY
Phono pre-amplifier with moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) input stagesBalance control for...
Phono Stages

Reviews

the Cambridge combo allowed you to enjoy a great sense of depth and detail.
John Bamford
“If ever there was a combo deserving of garish ‘Buy Me’ stickers on the fascias it’s these latest Azur components. As is so often the case with products from Cambridge Audio, what you’re getting in the 851C and 851A is cutting –edge technology for substantially less than high-end prices. Add the best speakers you can afford and this CD/DAC and amplifier will deliver a taste of hi-fi heaven.”
Now six years in service, Cambridge Audio's innovative Class XD technology is refined and re-housed in a new amp urq partnered by a giant-killing DAC-plus-CD player
 
When is a CD player more than a CD player? When it has inputs. Then it's a standalone DAC - with an in-built CD drivefor added  convenience. No separate  disc transport  and connecting  cable required!
 
Enter Cambridge  Audio's new 851C disc spinner,  replacing  the EISA Award-winning 84OC  in the company's  prestigious  Azur component  line-up. As in the outgoing model,  the 851C uses on-board DSp for 24-bitl384kHz  upsampting,  employing a customised  version  of Anagram Technologies'  Q5 and Adaptive Time  Filter (ATF) systems, licenced by Cambridge  from the Swiss  firm.
 
This  has been refined over the  years, the 851C now featuring the latest ATF2 upsampling and de-jittering technology. The machine has full dual- differential architecture, using twin Analog Devices AD1955 DACs, and offers a choice of steep roll-off, linear  phase and minimum  phase filters that can be selected via a button on the fascia or the remote  handset and, as before, it has digital inputs for hooking up external sources. But where the g40C 
had only RCA and Toslink S/pDlF inputs  this new 851C adds an AES/EBU (XLR) and an XMOSbased asynchronous  USB input. Cambridge supplies driver software for pC users, enabling the USB port to accept media files up to 24-bitl192kHz.
 
I can't recall the first CD player that came with a digital input, but I suggest such a feature was of only minor interest at the time. Wind  the clock forward to today and, due to the ubiquity of computer audio and increasing availability of hi-res downloads, standalone DACs are fhe hot ticket item in the specialist  hi-fi industry.
 
This year we've witnessed  Cambridge replace its bargain-priced DacMagic D/A converter wilh two affordable models, the DacMagic 100 and DacMagic plus.
But make no mistake, it's this 85lC that represents Cambridge's top-of-the-line, most sophisticated digital-to-analogue converter. Where the DacMagic  models are powered by plug-top  power supplies, under the bonnet of the 851C is a custom toroidal transformer feeding a substantial power supply with independent  regulation for the transport, digital and analogue sections. 
 
So I'll say it once more: it's a standalone DAC with a CD transport built-in  as a bonus...
 
NO MERE AFTERTHOUGHT
 
Mind you, CD replay isn't just an afterthought. Cambridge's engineers have specified a CD-only transport mechanism employing a rubber-damped laser block sourced  from Japan, along with a new ARM-controlled  CD servo of custom design dedicated to getting the best possible performance from Red Book media. lt
proved pleasingly  slick in operation. The 851C also displays CD Text information.  A selectable volume control is included (with channel balance too) so you can even  use it as a preamp in a digital-source-only  system - although there's no volume knob  or up/down buttons on the fascia  itself.
 
Meanwhile,  the 851A amplifier replaces Cambridge's 84OAv2. As before, it's a powerhouse integrated rated at '120w/8ohm featuring refinements to its proprietary Class XD technology 
 
The 85  1 A has a new volume control, the resistor ladder and relay design previously used replaced with a balanced silicon gate control. Seven line inputs
are provided. Those labelled lnput 1 and lnput 2 have both  single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) connections. There's a tape in/out as well. Selecting  lnput l (or tnput 2) chooses its RCA input, while selecting it a second time switches to its XLR input.
Consequently you could connect ten sources to the 851A - enough  for most of us, surely!
 
The 851As second balanced input has replaced the multiroom connectivity of the outgoing 840A, although custom installations are still catered for by RS232  and lR ports, while two sets of speaker terminals provide A/B/ A+B switching. Other niceties include input gain trim and selectable bass and treble controls that can be set individually for each input  via a configuration  menu. A preamp  output (single-ended  only) is included; moreover, any of the inputs can
be configured as a power amp input and its fixed level custom-set. Inputs can be named on both the amplifier and the 851C DAC/player.
 
Frankly, the feature-set of the 851C and 851A is the stuff of high-end audio dreams, but packaged in sensibly-priced components thanks to economies of scale in Cambridge's  Far Eastern manufacturing.  They're more expensive than the products they replace, but chassis and bonnet construction is a little sturdier
than  before  and they have improved LCD displays that provide better contrast and a wider viewing angle for improved legibility.
 
HARD TO FAULT
 
Used to drive the Monitor Audio P1100 standmounts reviewed this month the Cambridge combo sounded deliciously insightful, the'open' and ultra-vivid PL1 00s showcasing  the transparency of the upstream source player and amplifier. The speakers'fabulous ribbon tweeters revealed the smooth refinement of the Cambridge  duo, instruments and voices set against an eerily silent background and clearly  differentiated even in dense sound mixes.
 
I threw a bunch  of familiar  audiophile 'reference' recordings at this combo. All the usual suspects: Diana Krall's'My Love ls' from Love Scenes [lmpulse 
lMP1234Z)i Dire Straits''Private lnvestigations' from Love Over Gold 11996 remaster, Mercury 80008821; various tracks by Patricia Barber... you get the picture. What  they proved  was that these components are more than merely competent, rather they deliver truly excellent sound that challenges products costing megabucks. They seem to tell it like it is, revealing texture,'character' and space in recordings without imparting an obvious sonic thumbprint of their own.
 
lmaging was tremendous, Patricia Barber's piano remaining rock-solid in its location in the soundstage with no siearing of focus during dynamic shifts 
in her playing. With top drawer recordings, the Cambridge combo allowed you to enjoy a great sense of depth and detail.
 
ENTER SIR GALAHAD
 
Muting the amp, I disconnected the PLl 00 speakers to hook up my towering Townshend Sir Calahads using such 'humble'components as the 851s to drive  thirty-odd  grands' vorth of high-end monitors?  Well I kid you not, but I was taken to places I haven't been to for a long time by this Cambridge combo!
 
Playing 'Bop'from The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble's Mr Machine album highlighted the amplifier's immense power reserves and confidence.
 
This galloping, Steve Reich-esque composition lays out a hypnotic, electronica-type backdrop of piano and drums between the speakers. Against this, startling percussive elements leap out of the mix. Nothing seemed to faze the Cambridge duo: the cracking sounds of wood blocks and bells ricocheted
around the listening room; leading edges of transients appeared  fast and dynamic. All the while the position of the piano and drums never wavered in the image - even later on when synthesizer sound effects delivered shockwaves of bass energy in this eclectic  marriage of electronic  dance  music with sampled classical instruments.
 
No matter  how challenging the music, the system kept a tight grip on proceedings while appearing calm and unflustered. I mixed and matched the 851s with other components to assess individual merit. I concluded that the amp is explicit and vivacious, sounding open-mouthed and airy while also delivering the sort of stellar bass common to solid-state muscle  amps such as big Brystons and the like.
 
It's the 851C DAC/player that brings a quiet composure to the party, sounding subjectively'dark' if a little dry and matter-of-fact. Although it would be churlish  to criticise it, I could describe it as slightly soulless and lacking charm. But this would be in absolute terms, comparing it against most-no object audio esoterica. Whether unintentionally or by design, however, the 851 combination is a marriage made in heaven.
 
The 851A is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a muscular amp that grips the speakers and serves up tight, powerful and extended bass.
 
Torture tracks  such as Crace Jones' famous 'Slave To The Rhythm' or 'Big Wheels ln Shanty Town' from David Sylvian's Rain  Tree Crow [Virgin  CDV 2659]  were handled with aplomb, bass lines reproduced with gusto while midrange and hlgh frequencies remained polished and squeaky-clean thanks to that quiet composure of the 851C source.
Sorry if we’re gushing, but we’ve fallen in love with the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD in a big way.
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Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD – Verdict
Sorry if we’re gushing, but we’ve fallen in love with the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD in a big way. Yes it’s super expensive for a Blu-ray deck, but we guarantee that anyone parting with £800 for this bad boy will not be disappointed.
The reasons are numerous – its build quality is nigh-on faultless, it plays every format under the sun and there are more sockets than we’ve ever seen on a Blu-ray deck. There’s also some serious circuitry under the bonnet alongside some tasty features like network file streaming and YouTube. Its Smart content won’t give Samsung any sleepless nights but that’s not a top priority for this deck’s target audience.
More importantly, its picture and sound quality are superb, making it the perfect player for cinephiles and audiophiles alike, provided your pockets are deep enough.
What is the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD?
 
The Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD is a Blu-ray player aimed at home cinema enthusiasts, boasting build quality and electronics that put the budget masses to shame. We raved about its predecessor, the awesome Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD, back in 2011 so we’re hoping that Cambridge Audio has maintained the same level of performance while bringing it up to date with today’s trends.
Cambridge Audio 752BD
 
A word of warning though – this is not a Blu-ray player for budget buyers. With a price tag close to £800 it’s a pretty big investment, albeit one AV enthusiasts will crave.
 
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD – Design
 
One thing’s for sure – Cambridge Audio certainly hasn’t allowed any dip in build quality. The Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD is a stunningly constructed player, encased in robust metal bodywork with a thick brushed aluminium faceplate and acoustically damped chassis – all primed to prevent resonance from affecting AV performance. Everything about it oozes quality, from the firm buttons on the front to the chunky cushioned pads on the bottom. It’s not slim, but players of this pedigree rarely are.
 
It’s a serious looking player, styled in a sombre but attractive dark grey finish, with curved corners softening the look slightly. The front panel is fairly busy, packed with buttons and sockets, but they’re tidily arranged and blend in with the grey finish. There are buttons for playback and for toggling through the filter modes (more on those later), as well as a small but bright blue LED panel (which is dimmable). Above this is the disc tray, which slides forth with a smooth, solid action.
 
Also on the front panel is an HDMI input, which is highly unusual for a Blu-ray player. It lets you connect a smartphone or camcorder that supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) and play hi-def video on your TV (charging the device while you do it) - the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One both support MHL via adapters. 
 
But it’s not limited to MHL gear – you can rig up any HDMI-equipped device. It’s joined on the front panel by a USB port for media playback from storage devices. Both sockets are protected by rubber dust caps, more evidence of the deck’s meticulous build quality.
 
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD – Connections
 
On the rear panel, the socket line-up is aimed at those with more complex requirements. For example, there are not one but two HDMI outputs, allowing you to connect the Azur 752BD to two separate displays at once – a TV and projector, for example. Both are 3D and Audio Return Channel compatible, but only the primary output (HDMI 1) benefits from the on-board Marvell QDEO video processor.
 
Dual HDMIs is also good news for people whose AV receivers don’t support 3D. You can feed 3D pictures to your TV using HDMI 1 and use the second output to send HD audio signals to a receiver.
 
Elsewhere is another HDMI input for passing HD sources through the player (this one doesn’t support MHL). This could be a benefit if you have limited HDMI inputs on your TV or projector and want to feed two devices into a single socket.
 
With so many digital audio and HDMI inputs on board (something we’ve never seen before on a Blu-ray player), the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD can actually be used as an AV hub, allowing other devices to take advantage of its high-quality upscaling and upsampling. Great stuff.
 
On the audio side there are optical and coaxial inputs and outputs, a set of 7.1-channel analogue outputs for those who prefer their player to do the decoding and a separate set of analogue stereo outputs for two-channel setups. With the audio electronics this has under the bonnet, coupled with its support for DVD-A and SACD, the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD is looking like a formidable music source.
 
Two USB ports provide more outlets for digital media playback, but one of them is intended to accommodate the supplied Wi-Fi dongle. This enables you to stream files over your home network and access a modest selection of internet content wirelessly. Provided with the dongle in the box is an extension cable, which lets you place the dongle in a more convenient spot to get a stronger Wi-Fi signal. Having built-in Wi-Fi would be a bit neater but it’s no great hardship to rig up. An Ethernet port is also provided.
 
Completing the line-up are RS-232 and IR emitter port for custom install/multi-room use and a ‘diagnostic’ composite video output for use if the HDMI fails and you need to check what’s wrong.
 
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD – Features
 
Traditionally, high-end players from audio brands like Cambridge Audio shy away from the fancy features you get from mainstream brands like Samsung and Sony. And sure enough there are no flashy internet portals, on-demand movies or catch-up TV. 
 
But there’s more on offer than you might expect, such as access to YouTube and Picasa, and the ability to stream videos, music and movies from DLNA/uPnP servers and NAS drives on your home network. It will also play files ‘pushed’ to it by a digital media controller (a smartphone for example).
 
But the 752BD’s main party trick is its extensive format support. On the disc side, it supports 2D and 3D Blu-ray, DVD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD plus any type of recordable DVD and CD.
 
As for video files, it plays DivX, XviD, AVI, MKV, VOB, WMV, MOV, MP4, FLV, MTS M2T M4V, QT and more, while supported audio files include MP3, AAC, WMA, APE, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC and WAV (including 24-bit 192kHz for FLAC and WAV). JPEG, BMP, GIF and PNG photos can also be viewed. It played every single file we threw at it, and that’s very rare indeed.
 
The deck’s other big selling point is the array of high-quality components under the bonnet. These include Marvell’s QDEO video processor, which upscales SD to full HD, converts 2D pictures to 3D and even upscales signals to 4K – a feature that’s growing in significance as our 4K future edges ever closer.
 
On the audio side you’ll find separate Wolfson WM8740 DACs on each of the five channels, while an Analog Devices SHARC DSP running Anagram’s Q5 technology upsamples all internally decoded audio to 24-bit/192kHz, as well as performing jitter suppression and anti-alias filtering for audio playback. For the latter, there are three settings – Linear Phase, Minimum Phase and Steep, each one subtly optimising the sound in different ways. These can be selected using the button on the front panel or the remote.
 
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD – Operation
 
The Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD is incredibly simple to use thanks to its attractive onscreen menus and luxurious remote handset. Starting with the onscreen stuff, your starting point is the simple yet eye-catching Home menu, which uses a row of coloured icons against a black background. 
 
These icons include Music, Movie, Photo (playback from USB or disc), Network and Setup. Below them are icons for YouTube and Picasa, with a line of dots we assume are for other internet services if and when they’re added. 
 
The media playback menus look decent enough – jazzy fonts, cool colours and lots of information about the file being played. When playing media, a row of options appears along the top that let you display your media in different ways.
 
The Setup menu is ridiculously thorough. It’s the same as our OPPO BDP-831 player, which is no bad thing as it helpfully lets you access it during movie playback. It covers every facet of the player’s performance, including 3D settings, network options and audio output, but the two most significant sections are picture adjustment and audio processing.
 
The former lets you optimise the image for each HDMI output, offering a choice of brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, sharpness, noise reduction, colour and contrast enhancement. These settings can be saved in three memory presets. The inclusion of QDEO on the primary HDMI output only means that colour and contrast enhancement are missing on HDMI 2’s tweaks. We like the fact that you can tweak the picture as you’re watching a movie.
 
The audio processing menu lets you control the behaviour of the 7.1-channel analogue outputs. The Speaker Configuration menu lets you set the size, distance and level for each channel, with a handy test tone to check the results. The menu is presented with crisp HD graphics showing the layout of the speakers. You can also set the bass crossover frequency and activate different DTS Neo:6 modes.
 
An Options menu can be accessed during playback. It pops up at the bottom of the screen and lets you access the picture adjustment menu, subtitle shift, zoom and angle. You can also toggle through inputs, select resolution or 3D mode using small dialogue boxes containing crisp white text. We love this clear, sophisticated approach to onscreen menu design – easy on the eye without going over the top.
 
Finally a word on the remote, which is quite possibly one of the swankiest we’ve encountered. Not just because of its tactile rubber-textured back-end, which feels pleasant in the hand, nor the gorgeous brushed black finish on top. We’re more impressed by the little stand that comes in the box, which allows you to prop it upright for no particular reason at all.
 
Away from that, its buttons are spacious and well labelled, while the built-in backlight lets you easily navigate in the dark. The only downer is the combined direction pad and playback keys in the middle, which seem a bit cluttered.
 
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD – Performance
 
One word – wow. Our first choice of disc was Star Trek on Blu-ray and we were dazzled by how beautifully it handles the intergalactic visuals. CG shots of Vulcan are awash with detail, coupled with subtle, seamlessly blended shading on the tall buildings and edges you could cut your finger on.
 
Excellent contrast means shots of deep space are peppered with crisp, piercing white stars, while strong colours like the crew’s iconic red, yellow and blue uniforms are reproduced with punch and vibrancy. Skin tones are also utterly believable, enhanced by crisply-resolved pockmarks and wrinkles during close-ups. It’s mesmerising stuff.
 
Switching to The Hobbit in 3D and the wow factor increases tenfold. The depth of field it conveys during long shots of Mirkwood and Goblin Town is truly staggering, pulling you into the picture and not letting go. Everything is rendered with such clarity, depth and stability that at times you forget you’re watching a film at all.
 
The deck excels in other areas too. Disc loading is incredibly quick, going from an open tray to loading Terminator Salvation on Blu-ray in just 27 seconds, marginally quicker than even Samsung’s latest players (which we thought would take some beating). Star Trek fired up in just 19 seconds.
 
Next we took it for a spin with our Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray and it locked onto all the tricky test patterns instantly. The moving white bars on the jaggies test were completely smooth and free from feathering along the edges and there’s no flicker on the Video and Film Resolution Loss tests. We also tried out a few DVDs upscaled to 1080p and the clean, detailed picture passes muster (though watching upscaled SD is always a comedown after Blu-ray).
 
But what really sets the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD apart from most other players is its stunning music reproduction. It offers some of the most lucid and dynamic audio we’ve heard coming out of a Blu-ray deck, sounding richer and smoother than a cup of Nescafe Gold Blend. So whether you’re playing CDs, hi-res discs, lossless music files or plain old 192k MP3s, the 752BD will make it sparkle.
 
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD – Verdict
 
Sorry if we’re gushing, but we’ve fallen in love with the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD in a big way. Yes it’s super expensive for a Blu-ray deck, but we guarantee that anyone parting with £800 for this bad boy will not be disappointed.
 
The reasons are numerous – its build quality is nigh-on faultless, it plays every format under the sun and there are more sockets than we’ve ever seen on a Blu-ray deck. There’s also some serious circuitry under the bonnet alongside some tasty features like network file streaming and YouTube. Its Smart content won’t give Samsung any sleepless nights but that’s not a top priority for this deck’s target audience.
 
More importantly, its picture and sound quality are superb, making it the perfect player for cinephiles and audiophiles alike, provided your pockets are deep enough.
the Cambridge line, the 851C’s extensive capabilities and lively, transparent, and dynamic qualities make it a must- audition product.
Robert Hartley TAS The Absolute Sound
SUMMARY REVIEW:  Cambridge 851C is a highly capable and versatile hub of a digitally-based audio system. In addition to playing CDs, the 851C has multiple digital inputs, source-switching, and a volume control, obviating the need for a preamp in systems with all-digital sources. It’s also well built, nicely finished, and a pleasure to use.

This player/DAC is extremely transparent, has good resolution, wide dynamics, and deep and powerful bass. The presentation is on the incisive and vivid side, with an immediacy through the midrange that brings the soundstage forward. Similarly, transients are vividly portrayed. If your system needs a bit more sparkle and life, the 851C is a good choice.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Cambridge Audio’s Azur 840C CD player made quite a splash back in 2007. In my review of that device (Issue 174, September, 2007) I was shocked not only by the advanced technologies and build-quality of this $1499 player, but more importantly by how good it sounded. The 840C, I concluded, was one of the great bargains in high-end audio despite several price increases that brought its final cost to $1795.
 
After a five-year run—an eternity in digital audio—Cambridge Audio has finally replaced the 840C with the more capable and sophisticated 851C. This new $1999 machine looks and operates much like the 840C and is based on a similar technology platform, but offers an upgraded feature-set to accommodate the needs of today’s digital consumer, notably a USB input. The 851C has multiple digital inputs with source-switching along with variable analog output to drive a power amplifier directly, making the player a digital hub for a variety of digital sources. These sources now include an iPod/iPhone/iPad, although Apple connectivity requires a separate dock, Cambridge Audio’s ID100. An Apple product connected via this dock can be controlled by the 851C’s remote control. (If you have ever wondered why docks for Apple products are always small add-on devices rather than built into the products themselves, it’s because Apple gets a percentage of the product’s list price as a royalty. The royalty difference between a $100 dock and a $2000 CD player makes Cambridge’s decision a no-brainer.)
 
The other digital inputs include AES/EBU as well as two additional inputs, each selectable between RCA coax and TosLink optical. Analog output is via a pair of RCA jacks or balanced XLR connectors. As I mentioned, you can set the 851C to fixed-level output mode when using a preamplifier, or forego a preamplifier in your system by engaging the 851C’s integral volume control. The digital inputs can be named by the user. Three digital outputs are also provided, one each on TosLink, coaxial, and XLR jacks. A well-thought-out remote control completes the package.
 
The USB input doesn’t require a driver download for Windows machines, but is limited to 96kHz/24-bit data. A driver download from Cambridge, however, will increase this figure to 192kHz/24-bit. Mac users can simply select the 851C’s “USB 2.0” setting and decode files up to 192kHz with no driver downloads. The owner’s manual says that the 851C “should also work with the new USB 3.0 ports where the PC will simply treat the 851C as if it were a USB 2.0 or 1.1 device.” The new USB 3.0 protocol is a significant revision of the current USB 2.0 standard, with higher transfer rate (5 gigabits per second) and two-way communication via dual unidirectional data paths. USB 3.0 is backward-compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 1.1, which means that USB 2.0 DACs won’t become obsolete when USB 3.0 is implemented. It’s likely that the dual unidirectional data paths of USB 3.0 will be utilized for separate clock and data lines, with the DAC clocking the source computer.
 
The 840C’s core technologies—a custom digital filter and upsampler from Anagram Technologies, dual-differential DACs, and a custom transport—remain, but all implementations have been upgraded in the 851C with the latest Analog Devices AD1955 DACs, Anagram’s new upsampling algorithm (to 384kHz/24-bit), and a revised custom transport. The Anagram Technologies digital filter runs on a 32-bit Blackfin DSP chip, and offers three different filter types (linear-phase, minimum-phase, steep) so that you can select the filter whose sound best complements your system. I liked the ability to select filters by remote control from the listening seat. Interestingly, the transport mechanism incorporates an upsampler right in the drive. The upsampled data are again upsampled in the Anagram Technologies chip.
 
Popping the hood revealed a design and layout that is considerably more efficient and streamlined than that of the 840C. Greater integration of circuits and smaller surface-mount parts have considerably reduced the circuit-board real estate. The 840C’s interior, by contrast, looked like it had been designed by a tweaker on a mission; the chassis was packed with lots of local power-supply regulation, filtering, and other high-end techniques. The transport is a custom design with a more robust construction and sturdier disc-clamping mechanism than that found in Philips and Sony mechanisms. The chassis work is particularly nice for a player of this price, with extruded-aluminum side panels finished with a brushed surface. The acoustically damped chassis, available in black or silver, is well-finished, robust, and handsome. Overall, the 851C offers quite a bit of advanced technology, a great feature set, and a solid build for $1999.
 
Listening
 
There’s a natural tendency to assume that when a product is replaced, the successor’s sonic character will be similar to the earlier model. This is especially true when the original product was a commercial hit and developed a following.
 
That was not the case with the 840C and 851C. Not only do the two players sound very different, but the 851C is almost a mirror-image of the 840C’s strengths and shortcomings.
 
The 840C was so compelling because it brought a smoothness, refinement, and sophistication in the midrange and treble to an affordable price point ($1499 at introduction). The treble hardness and synthetic character that often characterize digital playback at this price were simply gone. Moreover, the 840C had wonderful soundstage dimensionality, spaciousness, and bloom. Although not the last word in resolution, the 840C exhibited an ease that consistently drew me into the musical performance. The soundstage perspective was slightly distant and laid-back, contributing to the player’s overall sense of ease. The tradeoff was a somewhat soft bass, reduced impact in the bottom octaves, and muted dynamic contrasts. The 840C was the CD-player equivalent of a classic tube amplifier—a good thing in a mid- priced digital source in my view. Overall, the 840’s minor sonic shortcomings were well worth the ease and musicality the player brought to the table. In my review I called the 840C the best- sounding disc player under $5000.
 
Given the 840C’s great musical and commercial success, I was surprised that the 851C took a decidedly different sonic turn. Where the 840C was laid-back, smooth, and relaxed, the 851C is forward, incisive, and vivid. This is a player that brings the soundstage forward and seems to “spotlight” instrumental images with a heightened sense of presence and immediacy. In addition, the treble balance favors resolution and detail over ease and smoothness. Cymbals are prominent in the mix, but with a far greater sense of air and openness compared with the 840C. Similarly, the 851C is considerably more transparent and resolving than the 840C.
 
The newer machine brings a sense of clarity to instrumental images as well to the space in which they exist. There’s a real feeling of hearing through the player to the recording venue. Moreover, the new player has tighter image focus, and more tangible space between and around those images. Count Basie’s marvelously recorded piano that begins “The Blues Machine” from 88 Basie Street [JVC XRCD] was remarkable for the air around the piano and for the resolution of the piano’s decays. In this regard, the 851C is more “modern” sounding; the trend in digital playback today is toward a cleaner, quieter, and more transparent rendering.
 
Transient detail was vividly portrayed, reinforcing the 851C’s immediacy. Acoustic guitar, percussion, and other transient-rich instruments were brought to the fore with a lively quality. The downside, at least in my system and for my taste, is that the 851C’s forward “Row A” perspective can sound a bit aggressive. Russ Barenberg’s acoustic guitar on Skip, Hop & Wobble could get a little edgy on the transient leading edges.
 
The 851C’s 180-degree reversal from the 840’s sound extended to the bass and dynamics. Those areas were the earlier player’s shortcomings; the bass wasn’t that well defined or taut, and dynamics were slightly muted. But the 851C has deep extension and real power and impact on bass transients. The midbass is rich, warm, and fully fleshed out, but also highly articulate, resolved, and communicative. Coupled with the 851C’s wide dynamics, the bass performance gave the player an upbeat propulsive drive that the 840C couldn’t hope to match.
 
Turning to the 851C’s performance when driven via its USB input from a tweaked-out MacBook Pro running Audivana software, I found that playing a CD in the 851C’s integral transport sounded slightly better than playing rips from that CD via the MacBook. The MacBook is dedicated to music playback, and has been optimized for sound quality. The CD had a slightly more organic and natural rendering of instrumental
 
timbre, particularly strings. It wasn’t a large difference; the sonic difference between USB cables was greater than the sonic difference between CD and USB. The 851C’s USB input will serve computer-music listeners just fine.
 
Conclusion
 
The Cambridge 851C is a highly capable and versatile hub of a digitally-based audio system. In addition to playing CDs, the 851C has multiple digital inputs, source-switching, and a volume control, obviating the need for a preamp in systems with all-digital sources. It’s also well built, nicely finished, and a pleasure to use.
 
This player/DAC is extremely transparent, has good resolution, wide dynamics, and deep and powerful bass. The presentation is on the incisive and vivid side, with an immediacy through the midrange that brings the soundstage forward. Similarly, transients are vividly portrayed. If your system needs a bit more sparkle and life, the 851C is a good choice.
 
 The 851C trades its predecessor’s laid-back ease for greater transparency and resolution, as well as significantly improved bass performance. If you are in the market for a player in this price range and are new to the Cambridge line, the 851C’s extensive capabilities and lively, transparent, and dynamic qualities make it a must- audition product.

Testimonials

Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.
Hi Terry,
All set up and going. Your advice is much appreciated. I am amazed at what it sounds like.
The new Ayon Scorpio tube amp in Triode mode is best and it's like sitting in front of the band with a sound scape all around you. I can hear sounds on the new Clearaudio Concept turntable with my old LP's I have never heard before.

I used to have a Bose 5 speaker system and this new system blows it away  - just on the warmth, depth and feel of the music. 

 
Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.
 
Peter