Cambridge Audio @ Saturday Audio Exchange in Chicago

For some reason I have a strange affinity for Cambridge Audio products. Due to their limited distribution in the U.S., I haven’t heard a whole lot of their newer stuff, save a short audition at last year’s AXPONA, and for those who have been to an audio show, you know the hectic atmosphere often limits your appreciation of a product.  

But from my ownership of a Cambridge Audio integrated from the mid-aughts and brief glimpses of their current line, I have come to admire their robust designs, with thick metal faceplates and high-current toroidal transformers. When you look at and handle a Cambridge Audio piece, you can tell care was taken in its design. And when you listen to one, you can tell it was designed by people who care about quality reproduction of sound.

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.

On the other hand, many poo-poo their gear because it is a mass market brand in the UK, and their stuff is made in China, but I believe before one discounts the quality of a piece of audio gear, you should at least listen to it first. That is why I love the idea of them doing meet and greets at their dealers here in the U.S., because I think they will win a lot more fans once they get to tell their story and do some demos like they did at Saturday Audio Exchange in Chicago this past Saturday.

The selection of gear they had on display wasn’t that big, but it was a good cross section of all their lines. On hand was the Topaz SR-20 stereo receiver ($499), from their entry level Topaz series, the CXA80 integrated amp ($999) and the CXN (V2) Network Streamer ($899) from their mid-level CX line. They also had the AZUR 851N Network Streamer ($1499) and AZUR 851W Power Amplifier ($1699) from their flagship AZUR 851 series.

Cambridge Audio AZUR 851N & 851W

All of these were playing out to Cambridge Audio’s nice looking Aeromax 6 ($1299) floorstanding speakers in white lacquer, which feature their BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) driver. The BMR driver takes the place of a standard tweeter, and crosses over to the woofer at 250hz as opposed to 3hz (which is right in the middle of our hearing range) like a tweeter would.

This is supposed to improve the coherence of the sound, and while I would need to listen to them in some more familiar, quiet surroundings to really judge the efficacy of the BMR, I must say that the highs and mids sounded very smooth, lacking any harshness, even when paired with the entry-level $499 receiver.

Speaking of the sound, like I said earlier, when you listen to a Cambridge Audio product, you can tell it was engineered with the aim of quality music reproduction, and yesterday reinforced that for me. I was greeted with a neutral, transparent sound no matter what range of product we listened to. There was just an incremental elevation of transparency and soundstage as you moved up.

Also, as you move up the designs of the products get classier and classier, with the Topaz piece not being much to look at, but the CX series and Azur 851 products capable of being showpieces in almost any listening room. However, no matter which line you look at, you get the usual sturdy metal construction and powerful toroidal power supplies, along with the addition of extras like Wolfson DACs in the mid and flagship lines.

It was also cool to hear about all their proprietary tech like the “Class XD” amp technology in their power amp, which blends the best of class A and AB amps, and has nothing to do with Class D amplification.  The two network streamers on hand were controllable with Cambridge Audio’s own smartphone app. 

I really like what Cambridge Audio is doing in the affordable audio space, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us at this year’s AXPONA!

You can get more info on their products at, and forgive my terrible pics, the light was very low and my camera was struggling.

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