Cambridge Audio EVO 150 Review: THIS Is The Best Streaming Integrated Amplifier Under $5000!

Cambridge Audio Evo 150 Integrated amplifier with HDMI, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2

$3,000.00
Cambridge Audio Evo 150 Integrated amplifier with HDMI, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2
9.7

Build

10.0/10

Features

10.0/10

Sound

9.0/10

What We Dig

  • Beautiful Design
  • Great Balanced Sound
  • Astounding Feature Mix

What To Think About

  • A little subdued in the mids
  • All menu settings are in the app

TL;DR

The Cambridge Audio EVO 150 Integrated Amp is a vibrant musical performer that is easy to use, can play music any way you want, with just about any speaker you want.

Intro

Streaming integrated amplifiers with built-in networking facilities are all the rage right now, with the newest models bringing a level of sophistication and sound quality unheard of before now.

We’ve reviewed quite a few streaming amps in the last year or so, like the Audiolab 6000A Play and Cyrus Audio One Cast, but the one we’re looking at today is by far the most technologically advanced and feature-laden out of the bunch.

The amplifier we’re referring to is the $3000 Cambridge Audio EVO 150, one of two new EVO amps from Cambridge Audio, the other being the $2250 EVO 75. The number behind the EVO designates the wattage per channel, which means the model we’re reviewing today has 150 watts per channel while the other one has 75 watts.

Back in May, we were so excited about the capabilities of this amp, we did a first look review going over the unboxing and setup of the EVO 150, so if you’re interested in that, you can check it out here. We found it to be a beauty in terms of both finish and GUI, plus it sounded pretty good at first listen.

This time around, since we’ve had a chance to spend some quality time with the EVO, we’re going to give an overview of the functionality and cover what we heard during our listening tests.

So, is the EVO 150 a good option for those needing a first-rate All-In-One component to quarterback their hi-fi system? Read on, and we’ll let you know!

Disclaimer: The review unit I have on hand is provided by Cambridge Audio. No input has been given regarding the content contained in this evaluation. The review unit will be returned once my evaluation is complete.

Build/Features

As I said in my First Look, the Cambridge Audio EVO 150 has an exquisite design. It might be the most attractive streaming amp under 5k, with only the Naim Uniti amps (which cost more) providing any competition.

Upon taking it out of the box, I fell totally in love with the metal casework and thick aluminum faceplate, which not only look good but provide some acoustic dampening. Most notable are the swappable side panels which allow you to change up the aesthetic in seconds.

With a gentle tug, you can move from the classic look of the pre-installed woodgrain panels over to a set of matte-black panels (included) with a more contemporary wavy pattern. These cosmetic side panels are ingeniously held on with strong magnets that keep them firmly in place.

Once plugged in, the EVO 150 comes alive, and you catch the first glimpse of its brilliant 6.8” diagonal screen. The resolution is superb, and there is no hint of jaggedness in the letters or the cover art. The darkness of the pure black background allows graphics to jump out prominently, so everything can be seen at a distance. Pics really don’t do it justice.

Next to the screen are buttons for playback control along with buttons for standby and speaker output selection. There’s also an info button that cycles between display views. While I wish the buttons were a little bigger, they do blend well with the design, and if you’re like myself, most control will be done via remote anyway.

Next to the front panel buttons is a large volume dial arranged concentrically with a knurled source selection ring. Both turn remarkably smooth, and their substantial size allows for effortless control. Next to the knobs is a 3.5mm headphone output for private listening.

In short, the EVO 150 is truly a status piece that will look good in any decor, it makes listening to music as much a visual experience as it is an auditory one.

One look at the EVO 150’s rear panel lets you know this is a serious piece of equipment. Just about any connection you could want is there, including two Toslink optical digital inputs (up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution), a coaxial digital input (up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution), a USB Type-A port for connecting a thumb drive, and another USB port (Type-B) for connecting a PC (Class 2 capable-handles up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD up to 11.2MHz ).

Other inputs include an HDMI input with ARC (Audio Return Channel) for TVs, an unbalanced stereo RCA aux input, a phono input for MM carts, and a balanced stereo XLR input.

Outputs include a mono RCA subwoofer output and a stereo RCA preamp output for connecting a power amp. There are A/B speaker outputs with binding-post connectors that can be used independently or in conjunction with each other.

There’s also an assortment of control ports including a 12-volt trigger input, a 12-volt trigger output, and an RS-232C port for use with third-party control systems.

Under the hood is a Hypex NCore Class D amp section capable of 150 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 250 watts per channel into 4 ohms. Hypex amp modules are well known for their detail and transparency, so I was pleased to see Cambridge Audio chose them for the EVO integrated.

With the power it has on tap, this amp should be able to handle a wide variety of speakers in a wide variety of settings which is amazing for such a compact device.

The digital section is based around a high-end ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DAC chip which handles a wide variety of high-resolution capable formats like PCM, DSD, FLAC, ALAC, and MQA.

Wireless facilities are also plentiful, including built-in dual-band Wi-Fi, and two-way Bluetooth connectivity with available aptX HD encoding. If you have issues with wireless connections, there’s also an ethernet port for wired networking.

At the end of the day, there are so many ways to stream music to the EVO 150. It’s almost ridiculous how many options you have. There’s AirPlay 2, Chromecast built-in, Qobuz, Roon, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, DLNA, and internet radio on board, so you can stream to your heart’s delight.

Where’s the remote?

As one would expect, the EVO 150 comes with an RF remote control, and it is just as sleek as the unit itself. It has a nice indent in the back making it easy to hold, and it also has snazzy slimline buttons that mimic the buttons on the front of the unit.

That said, I must say that I barely used the handheld remote. Why? Because I was too busy using the excellent StreamMagic App. I use the app all the time with my Cambridge Audio CXN V2 streamer, but unlike that device, where the app is optional in a lot of ways, it’s pretty much mandatory to use it with the EVO 150.

That’s because, like many network-based streaming systems, Cambridge Audio has moved pretty much all of the EVO 150 settings, including adding sources to the EVO’s input selection knob or navigating through files on an attached drive, over to the app.

This can be a pain if you’re having network issues, or the battery is low on your tablet or smartphone, but pretty much everything these days is highly network dependent (including many devices from competitor Bluesound), and this amp is no different.

Another important thing to know about the StreamMagic app is that it doesn’t handle music streaming services natively like older versions. For example, if you tap on the TIDAL or Spotify icons in the app, it will now tell you to open up the service’s individual app and select the EVO 150 in either TIDAL or Spotify Connect to initiate playback.

This doesn’t bother me, because I find most third-party apps like the Cambridge app don’t navigate the music services as well as their dedicated apps, plus I like being able to see all the music suggestions generated by the music services, especially on the TIDAL app.

Many streaming apps are moving in this direction, so it’s something you may have to get used to, but if you like everything in one place, this is something to think about.

On the other hand, you can take solace in knowing that the most recent incarnation of the StreamMagic is beautifully laid out (this wasn’t always the case). While it seems a little busy at first, once you become accustomed to how it works, I think you will find that everything is pretty easy to get to, and the transition between functions is silky smooth.

Listening to the EVO 150 Streaming Amplifier

If I had to sum up the EVO 150’s sound in one word, it would be “pure”. It presents music quite faithfully, which is what hi-fi is all about.

For my listening tests, I started out by hooking up a pair of $1200 Wharfedale EVO 4.2 bookshelf speakers and immediately marveled at the EVO 150s excellent tonal balance.

Highs were extraordinarily sweet in a way that I’ve only heard in a few other sub $5000 components, and never in an all-in-one device. Mids were detailed and nuanced, even though they were a little restrained at times, and the bass was deep and articulate in a way that brought out every low note. This is something you don’t often hear at this price point either.

If there was anything I felt was missing, it might’ve been just a little bit of punch down low, but as I said earlier, you can tell that Cambridge Audio really wanted to go for a flatter, true to life “faithful” tuning with this component, and I can’t be mad at them for that.

While I liked the Wharfedale speakers with the EVO amp, part of me felt like I wasn’t getting all the resolution the amp was capable of, so I switched over to the Q Acoustics Concept 300 bookshelf speakers ($4500 with stands). It was at this point I knew this amp was really special.

The synergy between the EVO 150 and the Concept 300s was magical, and I was able to hear all the transparency and depth this amp was capable of. It put me in the mind of what I heard from the Cyrus One Cast with these same speakers, but in this case, there was just a little bit more resolution, depth, and dare I say it, musicality, there.

When I listened to my favorite album of the moment, Patricia Barber’s “Clique”, there was a realism to the upright bass that was amazing, and the separation between the elements in the mix was next level. The sound was clearly “high-end”, and not just “affordable high-end” as I’m used to hearing in this price range.

I also loved how big and wide-open this system played, the soundstage wasn’t super wide (probably due to the speakers), but it was wide, tall, and deep. There was a 3D specificity in the imaging that I’m not used to hearing from a $3000 component.

If there was anything I could find wrong with the EVO 150’s performance, and believe me, I’m nit-picking here, there was a slight brittleness in the vocal. It was full of emotion and engagement, but it was a little subdued and coarse, albeit just a little. At the end of the day, it’s something you have to strain to hear.

Another thing I noticed was that it was remarkably transparent with just about every source I threw at it, whether it was a TIDAL Connect stream, DLNA stream from my NAS Drive, Roon on my laptop or aptX Bluetooth, or CD Player. It also made every speaker I hooked up to it come alive. I love how it’s so vibrant without ever being too forward.

In essence, it’s very hard to find something wrong with this amp, it drove every speaker I hooked up to it with a dazzling dynamism without trying too hard, and it was superbly detailed without ever being fatiguing.

To me, it’s the best all-in-one component I’ve heard under 5k, with the Cyrus One Cast being the next closest. However, the One Cast doesn’t have the creature comforts of this amp so it’s nowhere near as delightful to use.

The Wrap Up:

When Cambridge Audio announced the EVO series, they promised a device that was “simple to use, thrilling to listen to” and one with “rich dynamics, huge scale, and complete control”. Well, there’s no doubt, with the Cambridge Audio EVO 150 they have hit the nail on the head. I tried so hard to find something wrong with this all-in-one device, and man it was darn near impossible.

If I had to find something, it would be the fact that all settings are in the app, which makes it hard to change things quickly, or the fact that the StreamMagic app makes you use the streaming services’ native apps to play music in most cases, but most streaming devices are moving that way. Hence, I’m not sure if those are really issues at all.

Basically, I feel if you want a beautifully designed streaming app that gives you a substantial degree of transparent high-end audio sound (for what I consider a bargain price considering what you get), then you need to get your hands on the EVO 150! Amazing!

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