Class-leading sound in the sub-$1000 price range.
I purchased a Cambridge Audio Azur 540a V2 integrated in the early 2000s because I was impressed with its robust design. The thick metal faceplate and big toroidal transformer told me this amp meant business, It also didn’t hurt that it cost less than $500 at the time.
When you look at and handle a Cambridge Audio piece, you can tell care was taken in its engineering. And when you listen to one, you can tell it was designed by people who care about quality reproduction of sound. My Azur 540 gave me many years of listening pleasure with it’s big, warm, enveloping sound that with the right speakers made the equipment disappear, and just let you enjoy the music.
However my favorite part is that they manage to do all of this while keeping prices relatively low. This fits right into my mission of promoting good sound that doesn’t cost the equivalent of a new sports car.
Fast forward to today. I was happy to see that Cambridge Audio is still making robust integrated amps, and the $750 CXA60 is the descendant of that 540a V2 I bought all those years ago. CA was kind enough to send me one to check out, and man, they have knocked my socks off once again.
First of all, let’s talk about build quality. As usual with Cambridge Audio, the build quality is exquisite, but in this case, they actually went a step further than they have with products in the past. The brushed aluminum finish, and the floating effect chassis, really make this mid-range component look like a high-end piece.
Like my former CA amp, the CXA60 has a large toroidal transformer, which is visible thru the bowtie-shaped venting on top of the unit. Like the exterior design, it lends an air of class and refinement to the product, not to mention a weightiness that also suggests a high-quality build.
Looking under the hood also reveals separate heat sinks and signal paths for the left and right channels, another hallmark of high-end audio designs that aim to minimize noise and interference between the channels.
The CXA60 is a 60w per channel integrated with 4 analog inputs, and 3 digital inputs, 1 being coaxial and the other 2 optical with Toslink connectors. There is also a connector for an optional Apt-X Bluetooth adapter ($75 from the CA website) for wireless music transmission from a smartphone, along with a sub output, and one set of L & R pre-outs to allow for output to a power amplifier.
Of course, the back panel also includes two sets of speaker output terminals which are rated for speakers with an impedance between 4 and 8 ohms.
On the CXA60, Cambridge Audio also continues to label all the connectors on the rear panel both above and below each connection, with the top labels upside down so you can read them while you’re bending over the amplifier making adjustments. I really like this, because it makes it so much easier to make connections with the unit in the rack where there may be very little light and room.
On the front are two 3.5mm connectors, one input for digital music players and one output for headphones. Next to those are several input selection buttons, and pop out knobs for bass, treble, and balance. There is also a direct button that you can press to bypass the tone controls, a mute button, and an A/B speaker selection button. On the far right is a large ALPs volume pot that is very quiet and smooth.
It also keeps the channels in perfect balance throughout the volume range, something that nagged me about the older Azur unit which had a channel imbalance through the first 25% of the volume control.
Inside there is a 24/192 Wolfson DAC, which enhances the sound from digital sources, like the matching CXN V2 network music player. At this point, I should also mention there is no wireless capability built into this product, for that you would need to step up to the model above it, the CXA80. I remedied this pretty inexpensively by plugging in a $29 Chromecast Audio into the digital input, quickly turning it into a network capable component, but unfortunately, this item has been discontinued. You may be able to pick one up on the pre-owned market.
Speaking of the CXN, the remote that comes with the CXA60 will control that product, as well as the CXC CD player, and of course the CXA60 itself. While the remote is a little busy with buttons for all of those products, the buttons on the amp are well laid out and it is very easy to use. If you have owned this type of product in the past, you probably can get going without the quick start guide that comes with it. Everything is very intuitive.
I set up the CXA60 in my listening area first with a pair of Elac Debut 6.2 speakers, and that sounded good, but then I hooked up a pair of my old favorites, the Paradigm Mini Monitor V3s, and things really kicked into gear. The Mini Monitors are small speakers, but they are built like tanks with all kinds of bracing to cut down vibration and distortion. The tweeter also has a very wide dispersion, so they play very big. They really matched well with the spacious, exciting sound of the CXA60.
I connected the Tidal app on my phone up to the Chromecast Audio running into the optical port on the back of the integrated, making use of the CXA60’s Wolfson DAC. On the TIDAL app I cued up one of my favorite hi-res MQA recordings at the moment, Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra’s “The Capitol Studio Sessions”, and was really amazed at how the music just jumped out across the room. It was very easy to close my eyes and hear the staging of the instruments, the sound of brushes hitting the drum was very lifelike, as was the sound of Goldblum’s piano playing. Til Broner’s horn was front and center, sounding very smooth and not the least bit harsh like it tends to do on lesser amps. I love that the sound while very aggressive and energetic is also quite refined for an amp at this price point. The sound is not the least bit fatiguing.
The midrange performance of the CA-Paradigm combo was also mesmerizing. Anything that featured female vocals was nothing less than amazing. Luciana Souza’s voice on “These Things” from her album “The Book of Longing” was rendered so powerfully yet delicately, I just found myself swaying in the chair.
When it came to rhythm and timing, I wasn’t let down either. The Sons of Kemet’s “Your Queen is Ada Eastman” is a very dense and polyrhythmic arrangement that humbles lesser setups. But the CXA60 pushed the Mini Monitors to a very detailed, rousing performance, with excellent separation of the instruments. I really couldn’t keep myself from dancing in my chair.
Cambridge Audio’s mission with their hi-fi equipment is to recreate the thrill and emotion of live music performances, and I think they really hit the mark here. The quietness of the signal, the wide soundstage, and dynamic presentation all add up to a very engaging presentation of the music. At around $750 there is nothing that competes with it when it comes to sound quality. You would have to move up to the Rega Brio at $1000 to get (slightly) better sound.
You can also find some amps with built-in streaming or network capabilities at this price point that can play music right out of the box, they will not sound quite as good. So even though you will have to pay more for a streamer of some sort if you want to play music from the internet, I think the sound is worth it. Like I said before, if you can find a Chromecast Audio, you can solve that problem very nicely for about $30. If you pair the CXA60 up with some quality speakers like the KEF Q350s or LS50s, you will have a modest system that is not only satisfying to look at but very satisfying to listen to for hours on end.