There are Music Streamers, and then there are Music Streamers.
Streamers range from a simple dongle (think the dearly departed Google Chromecast Audio) which streams music from a phone or tablet, all the way to megabuck devices with built-in hard drives.
The $1099 CXN (V2) Network Music Streamer from Cambridge Audio falls somewhere in between, being a veritable swiss army knife of digital sources. It’s amazing how much functionality has been packed into this relatively slim device. It’s a DAC, USB DAC, digital “preamp,” network streamer, internet radio, Chromecast Audio, and probably a whole bunch of other things I can’t think of right now.
Under review today, the CXN (V2) is the Lunar Grey version, created to match the rest of Cambridge Audio’s CX Series 2 components. The series, introduced at the end of 2019, consists of the CXA61 and CXA81 integrated amps (check out our CXA81 review), CXC CD transport, and the CXN (V2).
What we dig
Like all the gear in the CX Series 2 line, the CXN (V2) has a luxurious, modern design. On the front, there’s a display screen where you can do the setup, adjust settings, scroll through music, or check out the album art and track info. It’s not the highest-resolution screen, but it’s very rare to get a full-color display at this price point.
As a matter of fact, I can’t think of another streamer with one (if you know of another, please drop us a line).
Wireless connectivity is abundant, with AirPlay 2 for the Apple crowd, Chromecast built-in for Android peeps, and Spotify Connect if you have a premium Spotify account. Of course, for any of that to work, you’ll need Wi-Fi, and the CXN has a Wi-Fi dongle pre-installed.
TIDAL and Qobuz users fear not; you can access both via the excellent Stream Magic app. If you’re like me and you have a NAS drive, you can pull up the tunes from there too. This streamer is also Roon Ready, which allows you to interface with your Roon account’s curated collection.
Speaking of the Stream Magic app, it’s a really nice piece of companion software. It seamlessly blends your streaming services and personal music collection and allows you to bookmark sources, create playlists, and organize them on a single screen. It’s really slick, which is important because nothing will sink a network streamer faster than a sucky app.
Networking features are only one part of the story, however. If you only have digital sources, you can use the CXN (V2) as a digital preamp since it has several digital inputs and volume control. It even has three USB inputs, one for playing music from laptops (Roon, Audirvana, etc.) then two more (one in front, one in back) for playing music directly from a drive. USB inputs are asynchronous, which means the unit has its own clock to reduce timing jitter. Source selection and volume are controllable via the IR remote or Stream Magic app. As a matter of fact, you have a choice between the remote or the app to perform just about every function on the CXN. Pretty Cool!
As I said earlier, the CXN V2 is also a DAC, processing the digital input via Dual Wolfson WM8740 24-bit DAC chips. These chips provide high-resolution playback of DSD, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and ALAC files; they also decode MP3, WMA, AAC, and OGG Vorbis files.
CXN (V2) handles up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution for PCM files and up to 2.8MHz resolution for DSD files, which is par for the course at this price point. It also uses something called Adaptive Time Filtering (ATF2), which upsamples all-digital audio to 24-bit/384kHz.
This streamer also has a balanced output (XLR), which will allow it to play nice with high-end amps, including the matching Cambridge Audio CXA81. This allows nice flexibility since some gear sounds better when you use balanced inputs.
What to watch for
A couple of things are missing from the CXN (V2), at least out of the box. One is Bluetooth, which may not be a big deal to many, especially with all the other wireless options. You can add BT via an optional dongle, but that adds extra expense and requires the use of the rear USB input. Again, not a huge deal, but worth mentioning.
Another thing missing is MQA compatibility. Again not a big deal to some, as this music file format is the subject of some contempt. I happen to love the sound of MQA, so it’s something I wouldn’t mind having. However, since you can use TIDAL, Roon, or Audirvana to do the first unfold for the CXN (V2), you can add back some compatibility.
Listening to the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2)
Most of my sound tests were concentrated around CXN (V2) networking features, using the Stream Magic app. The setup was straightforward. However, I must say that trying to tap out letters and numbers on the tiny, on-screen keyboard was quite tedious.
After connecting to my home Wi-fi, which is the 1Gig AT&T fiber plan, I downloaded the Stream Magic app on my LG V60 phone. Once I brought up the app, the CXN (V2) was instantly discovered on my network, as was my Personal Cloud NAS Drive. I was also able to login to TIDAL and played a bunch of stuff.
A good DAC/Streamer hallmark is a smooth yet detailed sound with good layering and placement of instruments within the soundstage. A good DAC also has good transparency within the soundstage and lets you clearly hear each instrument’s different characteristics.
The CXN (V2) did all that and did it very well, albeit with a slight bite on the top end. Its perspective is slightly set back, which I prefer to some of the cheaper DACs that are too “in your face.”
Listening to a 24/96 FLAC of Livingston Taylor’s “Baker Street” from The World’s Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings Vol. II (a “must-have” CD if you love well-recorded vocals) I was pleased by the transparency of this streamer.
This is a song with a lot of well-recorded instruments in the mix, and the Cambridge Audio streamer was able to separate them nicely, placing the vocalist/guitar in the center of the soundstage, with the percussionist off to the left. The harmonica solo was clearly presented in its own little bubble off to the right. There was also nice depth, allowing me to hear the different presentation levels, not just a flat, two dimensional sound.
The CXN (V2) doesn’t present music with quite the same realism or clarity as more expensive streamers, but you will probably have to pay twice as much to get significantly better sound quality, not to mention the same range of features.
The Wrap Up
The CXN (V2) Network Music Streamer is an amazing piece of gear. Value is off the charts. Great sound, remarkable feature set, plus a great companion app equals a clear winner. There is no other streamer in its price range that can touch it. If you are looking to step up from the quality streamers at the $500 price point (like the Bluesound Node 2i and Audiolab 6000N Play), this unit is a no-brainer.