I’ve had my hands on many great products from British hi-fi giant Cambridge Audio. In addition to their combination of high value and high performance, they are effortless to use. Here are a few of their more recent products that address current trends in personal and home audio.
First, wireless earbuds. While this isn’t bleeding-edge technology anymore, getting great sound from a $150 pair of buds is. In addition to game-changing sound for the price, the Melomania Touch buds offer intuitive functionality. These are the easiest-to-use wireless devices you’ll ever interact with. Once the Melomania app is installed on your Android or iOS device, it automatically pairs your earbuds, giving you access to “the hub.” This features an equalizer with five different soundscape profiles (including one customized by you), access to left/right balance, volume, a transparency mode, and charge remaining. The transparency mode adjusts just how much noise canceling the Melomanias provide, so you can dial your environment in and out to your taste. They afford complete privacy, if you and a sleepover buddy are both snuggling in bed, watching your own movies on your own pads, and more access to the outside world, when you’re listening for the doorbell to ring.
The best part of the app isn’t the multiple sound controls – it’s the Find My Earphones screen. For every one of you that’s lost a pair of earbuds somewhere, this is fantastic. On an Uber-like map, the Hub will show you where you last used your buds. This takes user friendliness to another level, making them the best buds ever.
Great sound quality from Cambridge is a given, but the Melomania Touch raises the bar for the price point. Running through a long playlist of everything from opera to Oasis, these buds create a large, almost trippy sound field inside of your head, with incredibly natural tonality. Finally, the fit quality is excellent, which goes a long way to help you forget you have things plugged in your ears! The Cambridge Audio Melomania earbuds are a success on every level and are available in white or black.
Though everyone is talking about vinyl these days, the Compact Disc is also making a quiet comeback. Strong as streaming is, there are still selections you just can’t get via Tidal, Roon, Spotify, or others. With all the hardware, firmware, and iOS updates, there are also times that it all doesn’t talk together as you’d like when you’d like. The minute the music stops, the party’s over, so on one level, the CD is still an excellent source of last resort.
Turntable setup is still work, and as digital playback has improved so much in the last 10 years, a sub-$1,000 CD player can be a legitimate audiophile choice. With the CXC CD transport ($599), 851C player/DAC/preamplifier ($1,500), and the entry-level AXC35CD player ($350), Cambridge offers something for everyone. If you’re satisfied with your current DAC but don’t want to abandon your shiny disc collection, the CXC is a perfect choice. Building a high-performance budget system? The AXC35CD player fits the bill – and the companion AXA35 integrated amplifier is a perfect complement (and it offers a built-in phono section, so you can spin whatever type of physical media you enjoy).
Gregg Chopper, director of The Americas at Cambridge Audio, feels that “many of our listeners still have extensive CD collections, and there’s a definite demand for equipment that will play their collections back at their best.” He goes on to mention that there is a robust demand worldwide, beyond the U.K. and U.S. markets, and “the CXC is a component many customers purchase as they transfer to streaming, but don’t want to fully abandon physical playback.”
Because so many manufacturers have abandoned the affordable transport space, the CXC makes a perfect addition to an existing DAC or even a pair of powered speakers with built-in digital decoding. Running an AudioQuest optical cable to our Totem Kin Play powered speakers made playing a pile of recently acquired CDs fun and easy. Should your amplifier or powered speakers not feature an onboard DAC, the AXC35 CD player fills the bill, featuring everything you need to play your CD collection.
Where some of us of a certain age are re-discovering our parents’ (or grandparents’) vinyl collection, others are finding CD collections lurking about. There’s still something relaxing about just pushing the play button and hearing the tracks sequenced as the artist intended. For now, Cambridge has chosen to stay out of the SACD category, no doubt because of the smaller demographic. Still, Chopper says that they “continue to evaluate the demands for these products.”
Music-lovers wanting to stream their libraries can opt for the flagship EDGE NQ ($5,000) preamplifier/network player or the AZUR 851N network player ($1,500). Both feature wired and wireless network access, so connectivity is assured, regardless of your way to stream content. The usual USB and TOSLINK connections are available for those using a laptop as a source component. And, their streamers are ROON ready. When asked if this was a tough design choice, Chopper says, “Easy. Roon is an essential feature if you want to be taken seriously as a streaming hardware expert.”
This dovetails perfectly with the recent ROON 1.8 release. If you haven’t tried ROON yet, this is a great time to jump on board with ROON’s infrastructure, making it easier than ever to experience your favorite music. Whether you are streaming music from a NAS, attached hard drive, or your favorite streaming service, ROON integrates it all effortlessly. Connecting to your network is only a few clicks away.
Finally, the look and feel of the Cambridge gear is decidedly upscale. Performance purists may not be as concerned about this aspect of Cambridge products, but their willingness to put black and silver up on the shelf in favor of a new grey is smashing. Chopper expands, saying they call it Lunar Grey. “All of our product design decisions are made by an extremely talented team of industrial designers at our London HQ. The finish, along with other signature design features like the wedge foot at the front of our CX and AX components, gives our entire range a coherent brand identity that says discreet elegance rather than ‘look at me.’”
A fantastic lineup, to be sure, regardless of how you’d like to access your digital music library.
Jeff Dorgay is the Founder of TONEAudio Magazine.