Product Of The Year 2019-Amps/Preamps: Cambridge Audio’s Jaw-Dropping CXA81 Integrated Stereo Amplifier!

The Hifitrends.com Product Of The Year is an award given to an exceptional product that has passed across our desk– or through our listening room– this past year.

It’s not a “Best Of”‌ award, it’s just us giving recognition to gear we found to have extraordinary value and performance within its category.

Also, since we cover low-cost, high-performance gear, you can expect our selections to be more affordable than some of the stuff you see on other Hi-Fi Product Of The Year lists.

Product Of The Year 2019-Amps/Preamps: Cambridge Audio CXA81 Integrated Stereo Amplifier

We recently reviewed the $1299 Cambridge Audio CXA81 Integrated Stereo Amplifier and it was probably the most entertaining amp we had a chance to listen to this year. I hooked it up to a pair of Kef LS50s, a pair of speakers that needs quality amplification to shine, and I‌ was astonished by the control of dynamics along with the overall clarity.

The CXA81 is part of Cambridge Audio’s CX Series 2, the latest edition of their highly-rated mid-level hi-fi components. In a way, it’s sort of a throwback, with very few bells and whistles.

Unlike its predecessor, the CXA80, it has no tone or balance controls on the front, it also does away with the front 3.5mm Aux Input. It harkens back to the days when high-end manufacturers shied away from such things for fear of degrading the signal.

It’s actually a little bold to remove stuff from your integrated amp when other companies are busy figuring out ways to add features. Other companies are adding fancier screens, streamers and the like, while your new $1299 ($300 more than the previous model, mind you) amp moves in the other direction, dropping items that some consider basic.

But it’s the things you can’t see that make this amp special. First of all, there is a new ESS Sabre ES9016K2M DAC chip replacing the old 24/192 Wolfson DAC in the first generation CX series. With the new chip, the USB‌ input now supports 32bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256. The CXA80 did up to 24/192 with no DSD.

It also has a built-in aptX‌ HD‌ Bluetooth receiver for “high-resolution” wireless audio, which is the best integral BT implementation I have heard thus far. If you have a phone or tablet with aptX‌ HD, you may find yourself using no other sources.

The improvements continue with the redesigned power amplifier stage, where they upgraded the opamps and capacitors. The impact on the sound is tremendous.

They promise the “resulting sound is pristine but not clinical, with unrivaled musical coherence no matter the source” and I think this is a perfect description. It just sounds right no matter what you play.

There’s not a lot of settings to tweak or knobs to turn, but if you just want an amp that sounds amazing, the Cambridge Audio CXA81 Integrated Stereo Amplifier is the one. Get some quality speakers and you will be in audio nirvana.

Check out our full review here.

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