Cambridge Audio 851N Streamer Review

In 2012 Cambridge Audio’s Stream Magic 6 became my first hi-fi streamer, me being at the time a relative newcomer to the world of streaming audio. Later superseded by an upgraded V2 model and soon after the CXN, the Stream Magic 6 was one of the most feature-packed streaming devices on the market at the time with a wealth of connectivity and an extensive list of supported audio services and formats built upon a solid custom streaming platform. The 851N is the latest product to join Cambridge’s product portfolio, designed to partner the flagship 851 series which also includes both integrated and power amplifiers, an analogue preamplifier, a DAC and a CD player. Every product in the range is built to offer uncompromising audio performance, though with practical features that set them apart from the traditional bare-bones designs more commonly found on the market today.


The products in the range all share the same core DNA, and the 851N is no exception. Not only does it share the styling of its 851 siblings including the acoustically damped chassis and thick brushed aluminium panels, it inherits the digital circuitry also found in both the 851C CD player and 851D DAC. Powered by a substantial toroidal transformer feeding an extensively regulated power supply section, at its heart sits a pair of Analogue Devices AD1955 24-bit DAC chips, fed by an Analogue Devices BlackFin ADSP-BF532 32-bit DSP running Cambridge’s proprietary ATF2 (Adaptive Time Filtering) upsampling technology which upsamples all incoming audio to 24-bit, 384kHz.

There’s a host of digital connectivity on the back including optical, coaxial, AES-EBU and XMOS asynchronous USB, supporting resolutions of up to 24-bit, 192kHz and DSD64 along with both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs. The 851N can also act as a digital preamplifier to directly feed a power amplifier such as the 851W, the volume controlled within the DSP to keep the signal in the digital domain until the last possible moment to achieve the purist possible sound.

On the streaming front, the 851N can stream audio from just about any imaginable source whether it be a USB storage medium connected to one of the 4 USB inputs, a DLNA server on the network or one of the over 20,000 onboard internet radio stations. Spotify connect is onboard too, as is Apple’s AirPlay and aptX Bluetooth, though you’ll require the optional BT100 bluetooth dongle to access the latter. Just about every common audio format is supported including FLAC, WAV, MP3, WMA, ALAC, AAC, AIFF, M4A, HE AAC, AAC+, OGG and DSD64. M3u, ASX and WPS playlists are supported too.

The unit can be controlled via its front panel, the included 851 series remote control or via the Cambridge connect app for both iOS and Android. Information is displayed on a 4.3” (11CM) colour display, which is also used to display album artwork.

First Impressions

Packaged similarly to the rest of the range, the 851N certainly offers a luxurious first impression, wrapped in cloth and supported by large foam inserts. The packaging even includes a pair of offset handles to facilitate shifting the boxes around, a thoughtful touch that all but Cambridge sadly seem to omit.

It’s supplied with some quick start documentation, an 851 system remote control with included AAA batteries, a control bus RCA cable and a USB wifi antenna. Finding the BT100 Bluetooth dongle included in the box would’ve been a welcome addition, though with higher quality sources available I’d imagine it’s an omission that few will miss.

At 8.1KG the 851n is no lightweight, much of that no doubt thanks to the substantial casework. A 3/4” slab of aluminium forms the front panel, with brushed aluminium wrap-around side panels and a top plate featuring a pair of trapezoidal grilles for ventilation. The unit sits on 4 heavily damped feet, with further ventilation on the bottom. I’ve always liked the styling of the 851 series components, and the exceptional build quality leaves nothing to be desired.

The display takes centre stage on the front, flanked by neat rows of push button controls and a large dial that doubles up as both a means of navigating the streamer’s interface, and a volume control for use in digital preamp mode. The dial is the same weighty aluminium control as found on the 851A, 851E and 851D, fronting a smooth digital encoder which despite a little play feels substantial and makes navigating the 851N’s user interface simple and speedy.

To the left a power button and LED are accompanied by home, info, ‘more’ and filter controls, the latter toggling between 3 subtle digital filters provided by the ATF system, and also offering the ability to reverse the phase of the outputs. There’s also an IR sensor, a front USB jack for connection of USB storage media and some LEDs to show the current filter and phase setting.

To the right of the display sit a set of transport controls including play / pause, stop / delete, previous and next. A return control is inset into the front panel for use when navigating the 851N’s menu system.

There’s a lot more going on around the back, beginning with analogue outputs in both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA form, and digital outputs in optical, coaxial and AES/EBU form to send the 851N’s digital signal to another DAC if desired. On the input side, there are 2 optical, 2 coaxial and AES/EBU XLR inputs, along with the asynchronous USB computer input with a ground lift switch designed to reduce hum if present. The 851N supports USB audio class 1 and 2, the latter offering support for higher resolutions but requiring that Windows users download a free driver from the Cambridge Audio website. Mac OS users need no such driver, and can stream 192kHz audio through the USB input out of the box. Resolutions of up to 96kHz are supported in class 1 mode.

An ethernet jack offers the option of wired network connectivity, and there’s an RS-232 port for use in custom installations as well as the control bus connections to allow the 851N to control, and be controlled by, other Cambridge Audio equipment. There’s also an IR jack for connection to an external IR repeater for use in situations where access to the front panel IR sensor is blocked. The front panel IR sensor can be disabled entirely in the streamer’s settings if desired.

3 USB inputs cater for external storage media with a maximum current draw of 1A available for each. One of those USB inputs doubles up as the connection for the wireless antenna, and Cambridge warn in the manual that only this input must be used and that the antenna should not be connected or disconnected with the unit’s power on. Speaking of power, a grounded IEC power socket and a power switch rounds out the rear connectivity.

The supplied remote control (model RC-8/SM) is identical to that supplied with the newer 851 series components and is a joy to use. It’s of a decent weight and well balanced, with a logical control layout and integrated backlighting that can be enabled at the push of a button. The central controls including those for navigation and volume are large and slightly raised making them easy to distinguish, and also emit a gentle click when pressed. The remaining controls are of the small, round, rubber dome variety yet feel just as good, and cater for everything you could possibly need including navigation and transport controls, display brightness and control of a matching amplifier.

The remote follows the RC5 standard, so it’s likely that it may control other components in your system too. To that end, the remote, and the 851N itself, can be configured to use an alternative set of IR codes to prevent commands clashing with other units. Power is provided by 3 AAA batteries slotted into the rear compartment.

The 851N can be operated entirely via its front panel or remote, or via the Cambridge Connect app available for both iOS and Android. Though the app is by far the best way to control the streamer, and for accessibility and convenience reasons I opted to control the streamer almost exclusively via the app during the review. The large display means that for most users, interfacing directly with the streamer is not an unwelcome proposition. The screenshots below were taken with the app running on an iPhone 6.

Getting connected couldn’t be simpler, thanks to the 851N’s support for Apple’s AirPlay wireless setup. Using an iOS device, the 851N can be configured as any traditional AirPlay speaker, whereby the wifi settings from your device are securely copied to the streamer simply by tapping on the device name in the wifi settings page of an iOS device on the same network. I had the 851N up and running on the network within seconds of it powering on for the first time. Of course, you can enter your network details directly on the streamer itself, using the navigation dial or the remote to enter the letters of your network key on an onscreen keyboard. Ethernet connection is fully automatic, and the 851N supports both DHCP and manual connection types.

Once online the 851N will default to its home screen offering access to your local libraries, internet radio, or the streamer’s inputs and settings.

List of Input Sources
List of Digital Inputs

The libraries page shows a list of local USB storage media as well as UPNP servers and, in the case of the app, your local on-device library. It’s worth noting however that on iOS at least, streaming content directly from a device requires that the device remain unlocked and the app remain in the foreground, which quickly depletes the battery, not to mention renders your device useless for anything other than streaming audio.

Showing the USB device library with a Hard Drive and Flash Drive
Showing the local iPhone music library

The 851N does not scan local storage media to build a database of tracks, so it’s recommended to place tracks in artist / album folders to make locating tracks easier. This may seem a little unintuitive at first, but it’s actually a far simpler solution than than many competing products and means there’s no waiting for the 851N to rebuild its database each time a new storage device is connected. I was able to use both a USB 3.0 hard drive and a flash drive simultaneously, the hard drive connected to the rear of the 851N and the flash drive connected to the front panel USB input.

Radio stations can be filtered by location, genre, codec or bitrate. Choosing filters presents a list of stations according to your chosen criteria, the below screenshot showing just some of the stations in the united kingdom of which there are a great many.

List of available radio station filters
UK Radio Stations
UK Radio Stations
UK Radio Stations

There’s a search function that works exactly as you’d expect, and access to your stored presets.

Searching the radio database for BBC
Radio Presets

When a track or station is playing, pressing the info button toggles between several modes that alter the information displayed on the 851N’s front panel display. These include a Combination of track/stream info plus album/station art, album/station art only, or track/stream info only. Album art and station logos are fully supported, though the 851N does not support images embedded within tracks. For USB media, album art must be in the same folder as the track and in either the .png or .jpg format. The files can be of any name, though folder.jpg or folder.png will take precedence.

When playing Internet Radio, pressing the ‘More’ button displays options related to the station currently playing such as alternative stream types, content types or similar stations. When playing from a local library, pressing this button will display the queue and its related options, at which point the navigation controls can be used to jump directly to a specific track in the queue or to remove or reorder the queued items. The queue function is much like a typical playlist, whereby individual tracks and even entire albums can be placed and reordered within the queue. If the network standby mode is enabled the 851N will remember the current queue when the unit is in standby.
Queue function showing a Smith and Myers EP
Selecting an individual track from a local library will present 5 options. Play from here adds the entire album or playlist to the queue, though playback begins with the selected track rather than at the start of the album or playlist. Play now stops the current track, plays the selected track and then reverts to the previous queue. Play next places the track in the queue immediately after the currently playing track. Add to queue appends the track to the end of the existing queue, and replace queue replaces the current queue with the selected track. The 851N does support gapless playback.
Track Options
The 851N offers a page of configuration settings, accessed via the respective tab on the home screen. The display brightness, device name, USB audio class, remote IR code set and digital preamp mode can all be configured, the latter enabling a balance control for use when the 851N is operating as a preamplifier. You also get the ability to customise the names of the digital inputs, check for a firmware update, restore the unit to factory settings and configure the auto power down and standby mode. In network standby mode, all network circuitry remains active when the unit is in standby, allowing the unit to be powered on / off via the CA connect app. In eco mode, all audio, network and control circuits are shut down, reducing the power output but meaning that the 851N must be powered on via the front panel or via the remote control. The auto power down function sets the unit to standby after a user-configurable period of inactivity, 30 minutes by default.

The 851N also offers a web-based configuration page, accessed by typing the IP address of your unit into a web browser when it is connected to a network. here you can configure the network settings, change the device name, initiate a firmware upgrade, add custom presets via the stream URL and link and unlink streaming accounts. You can also choose to install beta firmware updates via this page.

The settings available via the app are somewhat limited, though you do get a couple of view options and the ability to set the control bus mode, which governs the modulated IR commands that will be sent out of the 851N’s control bus outputs to your amplifier or AV receiver. You can also enable the ability to stream content from your device, and disable the sleep function of your smartphone or tablet when the app is running.
CA Connect App Settings


It’s hard to describe the character of the 851N’s sound, especially when that character makes it so listenable. Taking review notes is the last thing on your mind when your library of high-res Beatles reissues begins to play. In fact I struggle to determine whether the 851N does indeed have a character of its own at all, so neutral and true to the source material is its presentation.

Firstly, there’s a distinct lack of background noise, music emerging from an inky black background, or in the case of the Beatles reissues, the glorious hiss of the analogue tape. And then there’s the 851N’s ability to retrieve a truly unfathomable amount of detail from a track, unmatched by many a piece of high-end audio esoterica. Soaring vocal crescendos and sublime musical collages are laid before you in a sound stage extending seemingly beyond infinite boundaries. The experience of a full scale orchestra played via an 851N is something to behold, the soaring strings so vivid they’ll raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

I’m often asked how the 851N compares to the CXN. While the 2 are very similar (which if anything is a huge compliment to the CXN), the 851N is a more refined and detailed listen. It’s also possible to tailor the sound of the 851N to your personal taste using the 3 digital filters, though I found the difference to be extremely subtle and couldn’t reliably tell the difference between them.


The 851N is without doubt one of the most feature rich streamers on the market, featuring an abundance of digital connectivity and support for a vast array of streaming services, based on a stable and reliable platform running the best software in the business. And if that weren’t enough, the 851N is a high-end DAC and digital preamplifier too, with many useful, logical features as is so often the case with a Cambridge Audio component.

Not only that but its sound is utterly breathtaking. Its sound puts many high-end streamers and DACs to shame. With features beyond what any player at any price can offer, and a sound that is a cut above the best, it’s hard to imagine why your search for a streamer would lead you to anything else. Highly recommended.

By Ashley

I founded Audio Appraisal a few years ago and continue to regularly update it with fresh content. An avid vinyl collector and coffee addict, I can often be found at a workbench tinkering with a faulty electronic device, tweaking a turntable to extract the last bit of detail from those tiny grooves in the plastic stuff, or relaxing in front of the hi-fi with a good album. A musician, occasional producer and sound engineer, other hobbies include software programming, web development, long walks and occasional DIY. Follow @ashleycox2


  1. Hi Ashley, thanks for the review. Can I get your opinion between CXN v2, CXA80 and 851N. I am looking for a streamer with amp capability. I currently own 851W and KEF reference model two speaker and will use the XLR balanced interconnect. I will mostly stream my music form Tidal and from NAS. Much thanks

    1. You’re actually looking for a streamer with preamp capability, not amp capability. The CXA80 therefore isn’t suitable, it’s an amplifier with an onboard DAC but no streaming capability. The 851N is the logical choice given your 851W and it does support Tidal and streaming from a NAS. It is an older model and is less likely to receive new features going forward, whereas the CXN V2 is a current model and should stay current for some time. Whether that matters to you or not is something only you can decide.

      The 851N has the better DAC and the better output stage. If you’re using the analogue outputs, it is the better sounding of the two units. As an alternative, you might look for an 851D and pair it with a CXN V2 which will give you the better DAC and the better streamer. I think the 851D is now discontinued sadly, so you’d have to look on the used market for one of those.

  2. Hi Ashley,
    Great review of the 851N. I’d like to ask your advice regarding getting a streamer for my system and if I would benefit by going for the 851N.
    I have (after a series of upgrades) ended up with a Marantz CD6006 U.K. edition C.D. player, a Sony TA-A1ES amplifier (not widely reviewed)
    but still a £2,000 amp that runs in Class A if not pushed too hard. My speakers are Dynaudio Special 40’s.
    Although my C.D. player is not in the same league as the amp and speakers (I don’t spin too many C.D.’s) I’d like to know what if you think the
    851N would be a good match. I have also considered possibly getting a Lumin D1 streamer.

    1. Hi Chris, I would consider the 851N over the D1. You may however prefer the newer CXN V2 as strange as that sounds, as the platform is newer and it will be receiving future software updates. You could always pair it with an external DAC if you felt that it wasn’t getting the best from your amp. You have an excellent amp, I have heard it and did reach out to Sony to ask for a review sample but they have ignored my PR requests thus far.

  3. I cant agree more on this review!
    Must be hard for cambridge audio to sell the edge nq when the sound is almost the same in my opinion. You get 2 851n for 1 edge nq!
    But it is what it is! In the hiend world you always pay dubbel the price of a component for maybe 10 procent better sound! Well i stick to my 851n!
    Now you can stream mqa files to the 851n with the mconnect app. Something you cant do with cambr own app.

  4. Ok. So I am having a 851n for a year now. I had to send it back twice since then. CA customer office just good can’t complain. Swapped for a new unit every time which I believe was a refurbished shit anyway… First time I had problem with RH channel. Started buzzing, humming. Second time the lights went out on the front panel. So I did not wait till the coloured display wildl die. However sou d is great. Love the fact you can use xlr to power amp and using active sub wirh rca at the same time. It is handy.
    I am having the issue sometimes when I turn the unit on then mostly the LH channel is mute so I have to turn it off and back on. (Happened about 5 times in a year)
    Thinking of swapping for edge series for the analog inputs.
    Allover: I was not expecting a much better built quality fir its price. But the sound is great.

    1. Interesting feedback. The issue of the dropped channel is related to the software running the DAC, which occasionally doesn’t load properly on boot. You could try the ‘early update’ beta firmware (accessible through typing your 851N’s IP address into a browser). I have been running beta firmware and haven’t encountered this issue in a while. Sorry to hear of the issues you encounter with defective units however, I’m glad CA were able to resolve them. I’m curious to know why you think they sent you a refurbished unit, as the unit you received should have been a brand new replacement if it was in warranty?

      1. It is still under warranty. But I have looked at the QC pass label on the bottom and it always came with different one. It’s just wierd to Me. Plus CA dosen’t really sell this unit in the UK anymore, however You still find them listed on the official CA site, but retailers such as the company I got my replacement (never heard of them)
        I hope this one will be okay now.

  5. How do I hardwire an iPhone/iPad with lightning port into the 851N to utilise the DAC? Can I use a lightning to USB type B cable? Or go lightning to USB female and connect a standard USB type B cable? Or is it simply not possible and only wired computer connections are supported.

    1. You should be able to use Apple’s Lightning to USB 3 adapter with a standard USB A-B cable. I haven’t tried this myself, but the adapter supports the connection of USB audio interfaces, and presumably works with any interface also supported under MacOS, the 851N being one of them.

  6. Hi Ashley
    Thanks for your review. I am just about to change my system a bit and I am glad I have found this site. I am using a CXN as a pre-amp/DAC with a 851W and i was wondering if the 851N is a better match with it but the other day just heard something from my friend he said to keep the CXN and get a 851D. Do You think these could work together (CXN – 851D – 851W) or better in any way than simply buying a 851N? Is the DAC better in the 851D? I believe it is the same as in 851N. The price would be even the same together if I go with the cxn and 851D.

    1. The 851N and 851D share the same DAC circuitry. The 851D has a couple of extra digital inputs and a headphone jack but of course no streaming functionality. The 851N has plenty of digital inputs for other sources, supports Bluetooth via the BT100 and has streaming built in. There should be no difference in sound between the two, and there there is no reason to pair an 851D with the CXN as it will offer you nothing other than more boxes. I would get the 851N.

    1. Theoretically, any format that your Bluetooth device can play. Note however that Bluetooth uses a lossy data compression method so the sound will never be as good as the original source. AptX is claimed to solve this issue, but a direct connection is always preferable. See Here

  7. I’m a bit, or more than that, lost. I can put a NAS 6 ft away from my 851N and TV on the other side of a 6″ brick wall. No noise What i would like (I think) is hardwired high bitrate to the 851N for my CD quality collection, and similary hardwired HDMI to the TV.

    Then I’d like to control it from an Ipad / Iphone.

    Installed / looked at Plex, but that only allows to select HDMI for audio. No output selection for video?

    And then only Qnap has HDMI output, Synology doesn’t

    Does anyone know how can I set this up?

    1. Hopefully I understand correctly what you want to achieve. You want to store audio and video on a NAS drive. You then want to stream audio through your 851N, and also playback video on the TV all controlled by an iOS app.

      When using a NAS drive, there is no need to hard-wire the 851N to the NAS. The 851N is a network streamer and a NAS is a network attached storage device. Both are wired to your home router, and the 851N therefore will access the content stored on the NAS via your home network. Simply connect both the NAS and 851N to your network via a wired ethernet connection and once setup the 851N will see the nAS as a DLNA server and you can browse and play its audio content via the CA Connect app.

      As for video, few NAS drives that I know of can directly output to a TV, least of all with app control. The primary purpose of a NAS is to act as netowk-connected storage, and usually some kind of streaming device is required to stream the content over the network into the TV in much the same way as the 851N does for audio. Perhaps, if you want an integrated solution to handle both audio and video, you’d be better off with a high-end AV receiver? That would give you high quality audio streaming, video streaming, app control from a single smartphone app and amplification all in a single box.

  8. Hi Ashley,

    Many thanks for your advice. Whilst awaiting your response I took the plunge and purchased a used and reasonably priced 851N from a well known auction site direct from Audio Partnership. Taking your advice on board I think that I will try out a few different speakers before I consider changing anything else. From your experience can you perhaps advise on speakers which you feel might benefit my system with providing a warmer and less ‘in your face’ sound? I have read good things about PMC but have never heard their speakers. If I sold my current speakers I would get around £2300 so would be looking for a pair in that price range or less. I also tend to buy used, as I feel that many speakers are very overpriced when new.

    I also read the article regards Hi Res music, very interesting. I normally stream via Spotify premium at 320kbps but I am looking to change to Quobuz and stream via Google Chromecast Music in 16 bit 44kHz in ‘CD’ quality. It would be interested to do some side by side comparisons to Spotify. When I did this with Tidal I could not tell any difference at all despite Tidal supposedly being the premium streaming service.

    Thanks again


    1. Excellent choice on the 851N, I look forward to hearing how you get on with it. Regarding speakers, it’s no secret here that I am a Tannoy fan, but PMC are also excellent and offer a more relaxed sound, though they do tend to be slightly brighter than Tannoys. You could try something from the Definition range which can be had used now for very reasonable money, or maybe even the XT8Fs – you’ll be surprised. It’s difficult to advise on speakers as the amount of space you have, the room design and the position of the speakers within the room can have a surprising effect on the sound. I would advise perhaps finding something new you like the look of at a price slightly above your £2300 budget, having a demo and then purchasing an ex-demo or used pair for around the £2300 mark.

      Regarding Spotify premium, the quality really isn’t bad. The same goes for Apple Music, which if anything is slightly better. My primary reason for avoiding the “hi-fi” streaming service is lack of material; I have no interest in listening exclusively to Dire Straits, Nils Lofgren and other such audiophile-approved recordings. 320KBPS MP3 is generally said to be approaching CD quality and I’d have to agree, especially with the ATF2 upsampling of the 851N.

  9. Hi Ashley,

    Thank you for a great review.

    I hope that comments to this thread are still read and if so would be greatful for an answer to some questions I have? I have an 851W which I am currently using with an 851D. This is connected to a Pioneer N50A streamer. The sound that I get out of this combination with my speakers, Monitor Audio Platinum 200 is fantastic however I wonder whether changing the N50A and 851D for a 851N would have any noticeable improvem on sound quality? Is the signal that is being sent to my amp from the DAC only as good as the source (the Pioneer N50A) or does the source make little difference when connected to such a good quality DAC? Unfortunately I am living away from the UK at present so popping to Richer for a demo is not possible.

    Also, whilst the sound of my HiFi is great, I used to have an old Cambridge Audio 651Cd and Amp and with a much cheaper pair of Monitor Audio Silver 1 speakers. When I listened to my favourite song on CD (Snow Patrol Run live) it literally gave me goosebumps on the back on my neck. It sounded so sweet to me. The old system had the dual Wolfson WM8740 DACS. When I listed to the same recording via USB on my streamer (downloaded in Hi Res lossless), as fantastic as the quality of the sound is, and it really is, I simply do not get that same Goose bump invoking effect and I cannot understand why? Surely kit costing several times more should be more pleasing yet somehow I keep thinking back to how my old system used to sound and wanting the ‘warmth’ of that sound back.

    For this reason I was wondering if th CXA80, with its dual Wolfson WM8740 DACS would be similar in sound to my old 651 system and maybe give me the ‘warmth’ that perhaps my current system is missing? Would my current speakers MA PL 200’s be overkill for a CXA80?

    Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Tony – Thanks for your kind comments on the review. With regards your questions, I don’t think you’d hear much of an audible difference by changing your Pioneer/851D combination for an 851N. You would get slight usability improvements (the ability to control system volume and power from the CA Connect app for example), and matching styling, but I don’t think the audible difference would justify the change. Then again second-hand value of your existing equipment is very reasonable, so it might be a switch you could justify.

      Regarding the sound of the system, the 851 is very neutral in character. What comes in goes out as it were. It is certainly possible to get an emotional performance from it, though I personally think it is very speaker dependent. I’ve always found the Monitor Audio range somewhat cold and unexciting. I can’t say for certain whether the CXA80 would give you back the sound of your old system; though I’d say it is unlikely, given that the sound of the CXA80 is more exciting and in your face than the kind of warm sound you’re going for. I should point out that the CXA80 doesn’t have dual DACS, it uses a single DAC running in stereo mode and thus the DAC is technically inferior to that of the 651C, though the choice of DAC chip used is really a subtle and often inaudible difference and the output stage really is of greater importance. What I can say is that in technical terms the equipment you have no far outclasses the lower end CX-series gear, as good as that equipment is, and if it were me I’d be looking to possibly switch the speakers for something else.

      I should also point out that high-res lossless isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. See Here.

      1. Ashley,
        Thanks for the always respectful and informative comments. This is probably an unfair question given you may not have direct experience with my equipment but any thoughts would be appreciated. I have been out of the hobby for a few years but have started up again with the purchase of Nuprime Ref 20 monoblocks. It’s likely that I will connect those to either the KEF Ref 1 or the new ELAC AS-61. Auditioned the KEF and a few others and soon the ELAC. Seems to me that Andrew Jones has employed a lot of the science and structural qualities from the KEF to the ELAC (they appear to be very similar in many ways yet the ELAC is a 1/3 of the price). Anyway, given that I plan to stream my music, what are your thoughts about putting the 851n in this mix? Any red flags or concerns jump out at you. Thanks,

  10. Hi Ashley,
    Thank you about your review.

    I owned an CXA80 amplifier and connect it with USB port from a Macbook to play DSD and lossless file. it must say the sounds are very sweet and beautiful, so I am still happy with kit.
    Should I upgrade my system by 851N to enjoy significant improvement, as the DAC chips of CXA80 are high end too. I meant as an DAC and pre-amp, should 851N bring any superiority, compared with CXA80?

    Thank you very much.

    1. If you’re happy with it, enjoy the music and forget about the hi-fi. The 851N would give you an upgrade, it has a better DAC and a better output stage among other things. Whether the difference would justify the price for you is best decided with a demo.

      1. Thank you Ashley for your quick reply. It’s no doubt 851N would be a valued upgrade.
        If I connected CXA80 and 851N, which DACs will be used for sound processing: from those of CXA80 or 851N? And in terms of DAC upgrade, should I buy CXN with identical sounds despite 851N for saving some money?

        1. Francis you have this confused. If you want an upgrade in sound it is the 851N that needs to be used as a DAC. But since i owned both CXN and 851N and also i used to own the CXA 80, the 851N will be an overkill for the CXA 80, and i doubt if you can hear the difference.The logical addition to the CXA 80 Is the CXN due to its streaming capabilities and the dual wolfson chips. If you are connected with USB there is no need for a streamer. Consider checking out the new Hegel 90 as an alternative to the CXA80…
          The cheapest way to solve this, is stay with the CXA 80 and add a chromecast audio.
          The best answer is from Ashley: “If you’re happy with it, enjoy the music and forget about the hi-fi.”

          1. Hi Loucas,

            What I concern is not music streamer. I meant DAC and pre-amp capabilities of 851N. I still wonder if I connect CXA80 as power amplifier and 851N as a preamp and DAC, which device would responsible for digital -analogue conversion? Obviously, DAC of 851N is more premium than those of CXA80. But if the system bypassed 851N and processed digital signal at CXA80, it’s a money wasting, isn’t it?


        2. If you connect an 851N to a CXA80, you would do so using the balanced (XLR) analogue inputs. You’d then be using the DACs in the 851N. You would not be using the 851N as a preamp, as the CXA80 is an integrated amplifier and already has a preamplifier stage. The 851N is only used as a preamplifier if you’r connecting directly to a power amplifier such as the 851W. I do agree with Loucas that an 851N would be overkill for a CXA80, however if you’re going to add a source component I generally recommend spending more on the source than the amp, rather than the other way round. The CXN is a logical addition to the CXA80, as they were designed to work together. I would recommend if possible that you visit a store and compare the CXN and 851N with a CXA80 to see if the difference is justified for you.

  11. Ashley
    I used to be an owner of a CXN+ CXA80 and now the 851N.sits there and waits for a partner. I partnered it (Auditioned) with Hegel H20, 2x ADCOM 555se in vertical Bi-Amp, and a modified Quad 521f. The best results with a difference from the little Quad. Outstanding transparency and clear tight low end with mids spot on.
    Now it is time for the 851W. hmmmmm….or may bee not. I read so many scary stories about heat issues and unreliability that make me very reluctant to proceed with the purchase. Very good sound quality, transparency, low end and musicality. Can i live with this grenade? Not knowing when it is going to explode? I do not need a heater anyway but the matching must be something else.
    Your comments please!

    1. The 851W does get hot, and I do have concerns about its reliability. If you bought it, I’d advise buying a warranty as it is likely that you’ll be needing one. That said, if you liked the Quad, why not look at These. They’re hand made in the UK and are essentially faithful clones of old Quad amps though with decent modern circuitry. Paul can build an amp to your specification. I’d go with one of the upper models and specify XLR inputs. It’ll probably be cheaper than the 851W, run cooler and sound very, very good. How he’s building them at that price I don’t know.

      1. All come to an end. Azure 851 N, even thogh an excellent streamer starts to give issues when selecting internet radio. One of the DAC channels the RH one almost blew my Harbeth HL5 Aniversarry. Software issues and compatibility with the DAC. I ask Cambridge and they say they know the issue but there is nothing they can do about it. Just reboot and if you are lucky for not blowing your speakers, it might be back to normal.

        1. Could you describe the issue with the DAC in more detail? I’m curious to know what behaviour you’re experiencing. You say it “almost blew” one of your speakers, did it play at full volume, or produce an unexpected sound? I have occasionally seen an issue known to Cambridge whereby the DAC will fail to initialise correctly on boot, and one channel will produce no sound, rectified by rebooting. However I have never seen an instance where the 851N could damage other equipment; usually when it fails the DAC simply produces no sound.

  12. Hi
    I have a doubt about this product:
    Is there any sonic diference between streaming from an IPAD/Iphone tidal vs via USB 2.0 drivers/windows 10/ tidal?

    1. You can’t stream Tidal to the 851N from an iPad / iPhone, as far as I’m aware, unless you use AirPlay which naturally degrades the quality (though whether you can hear the difference is another matter). Using the USB DAC in the 851N with the USB 2.0 drivers will give you the best sound quality.

  13. I have the 851N/851A. Enjoyed the review, it helped me to understand better how the 851N works. But I can’t figure this out: When I connect my wife’s (old) ipod thru USB, it doesn’t see it when selecting USB as input. It does see it in Music Library, but then I need to go thru selecting IPOD -> IPOD_Control -> Music -> Folders from F00 to F49. The music seems randomly stored in those folders. I seem to understand that’s an apple thing. But why does the 851N not see the folders on the Ipod?

    1. The 851N’s USB ports are not designed for connection of an iPod. They’re designed for connection of mass storage devices (USB hard drives, flash drives etc) with music manually sorted into folders. The ‘old’ iPod acts as a mass storage device which is why the 851N will see it, but Apple don’t store the music files using a common folder structure by default. You may be able to solve the issue by connecting the iPod to a computer and manually organising the music into folders, though I’m not sure if that will affect the functionality of the iPod itself.

      As a side note, the ‘USB’ input corresponds to the USB B type input on the back, intended for connection of a computer.

        1. That’s the best way. As mentioned in the review and the comments below, be mindful that the 851N doesn’t build a database of the music files on USB media or a NAS, so it’s recommended to organise albums into a simple folder structure to make browsing a lot easier. I have mine sorted by letter>artist>album which significantly reduces the amount of scrolling necessary to reach artists further on in the alphabet, especially when you have a big library.

  14. Another product which appeals to psuedoscience and marketing.

    While I don’t doubt it is a great product, built well, sounds nice etc, what is upsampling to 384 meant to achieve?

    While of course upsampling can’t replace data that was not there to begin with, It panders to the myth that higher sampling rates improve resolution, or that we can hear anything above a sampling rate of 44, or the old chestnut that frequencies higher than 20khz “affect” sound lower down. Jitter? Has that ever been audible since the early 1980s?

    Why can’t manufacturers (and in many cases reviewers) just judge a product on its merits without pandering to myths, marketing and junk science? Why aren’t objective figures provided anymore – like linearity of frequency response, distortion across the frequency range, signal to noise etc. Why don’t reviewers do double blind tests to see whether there actually is real difference between the different models, or different brands, given human biases based on suggestion and expectation – which marketing departments pander to?

    1. It’s a catch-22. Myths and marketing nonsense or not, such features are named as selling points of the product by the manufacturer and must at the very least be given a mention in the reviews for that product. Blind tests are the reason I own an 851N and not a streamer costing many times the price, sporting a more ‘audiophile approved’ name. For the record I don’t care for high-res audio either

      1. Fair enough, products have to be marketed to sell and it is a competitive world out there. I don’t have a problem with any of that it is just the appeal to ignorance and myths which gets up my goat a bit.

        I’m sure the 815N is a very fine streamer. I have owned Cambridge Audio equipment in the past and found them to be very good kit. Although I haven’t listened to a 815N, I don’t believe there is a great deal between good streamers these days, sound quality wise, as I have both a Naim NDX and a Bluesound. The NDX @ $5k does sound a bit better than the Bluesound @ $700 (mainly with less than stellar mastered tracks) but we are talking shades of grey rather than night and day.

          1. The software APP is still in the dark ages and has the most abysmal functionality. I have had an on going communication with CA regarding this and they recently closed my support ticket when I said I had managed to get Logitech Squeezebox software to connect to my CXN as a last resort! Apparently the software is due an update though when this will be implemented is anyone’s guess.

            Incidentally I did pop into my local Richer and asked if I could have a demo of a unit. They couldn’t facilitate me on the day so I quizzed them about the setup they used. USB pen and CXN Front Panel navigation of a couple of albums. This would not give a true feeling for just how bad the APP software is and in terms of front panel navigation…God help you if you have more than just a few files on your pen!

            1. I’ve genuinely never had an issue with the software. I agree it needs an update (I have sent my own feature requests to CA and am hoping they implement at least some of them), but I actually like the fact that it’s a bit “stuck in the dark ages”. I’d rather that than an app packed with flashy graphics and icons which don’t perform the function they’re supposed to. I believe you can use almost any UPNP app to control the CA streamers.

              1. My experience:
                App takes 20+ minutes to find player.
                App finds player, works for 10 minutes then drops all connection only to not see player again for hours.
                App finds player but won’t find music.
                App finds music but won’t find player.
                App takes a lifetime to scroll through my music folder.

                To say that the player works with almost any UPNP app is a little strange. At this price range it should come as a complete package, out of the box, ready to rock and roll so to speak. If Logitech Squeezebox and it’s related software could do that for their (admittedly no longer manufactured) players at a fraction of the cost then CA should too.

                CA should be on the ball with this as it’s a well documented issue. Many of the folks on various HiFi fora I frequent are quick to mention selling on their units due to flaky control apps!

                1. Sounds a lot like my experience with my previous streamer (won’t name any names) and I can certainly see why you’re frustrated. For me, running the app under iOS, the 851N is detected without issue every time. Scrolling through folders of music is no problem either, because on the rare occasion I use USB media or access a network server I have the folders organised by letter, artist, then album. I do wish the app would remember what folder I was in when the phone locked, a search function would be nice (but would require the streamer to database the tracks), and the ability to sort my phone’s music library by album artist rather than artist would be welcome too. Aside from that though, and a few other minor features I’d like to see added (a now playing screen and radio reply feature being 2 of them), I’ve found the CA app to work well and certainly far better than some of the hi-fi apps out there which are truly terrible. That’s not to say it’s perfect, and if others are having the same experience as you then CA really do need to get some updates out as it has been a while.

                  1. I note you are using Apple and I do believe that the CA app was written first and foremost with this in mind. When I spoke to CA they continued to assume I was using Apple products despite being constant;y reminded that I do not lol. Might explain why those of us who don’t fall in with the Apple ecosystem end up sidelined here.

                    1. I’d have to agree. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never switched to Android, because the apps are largely terrible compared to those on iOS. It’s due to the screening. You can submit almost anything to Google’s Play store, but iOS apps go through a strict approval process before they make it to the store.

            2. Just bought an 851N ‘blind’ based upon the glowing reviews, the idea being to finally put the cds in the loft –having a had a squeeze box for a number of years for and tolerated the low grade sound quality for convenience, but kept the cd spinner for serious listening.
              I’d stupidly rejected the one or two criticisms of the 851 by other users as being perhaps a bit picky and geeky -but oh my goodness, what a pile of rubbish the 851N really is. It has two good points; the tin-work is fine, and the sound is fine too. But that’s it. Essentially it a good DAC, but definitely not capable of being used as a streamer.
              The display screen, streaming, pre-amp function and remote (android) app are simply appalling -reminiscent of something a student might turn out for a school project. Utterly unusable, and certainly not fit for purpose. If this was a budget device bought for 20 quid on-line from a web site in china it might be expected, but it isn’t. This is supposed to be a piece of decent consumer equipment. Already, within only 24 hours of ownership I have discovered a number of bugs, not least the dreadfully poor usability. I made the mistake of selecting a BBC podcast (OK, it was The Archers). It played, then played again,…and again etc. There was no way out. Press pause -then resume – and all it did is start playing from the beginning all over again. Press any other button and all it would do is likewise start the podcast all over again. Yikes, I even unplugged the darn thing from the mains and the network -but all that happened was it started all over yet again when I plugged it back in. Eventually, the solution was to select a different input -D1, and thank goodness we finally managed to escape from Ambridge and the cow shed!

              I can confirm that the user interface is utterly dreadful. Far too many points of uselessness to mention here -and in a totally different league when compared to my 7yr old squeeze box. We’re not just talking minor differences and preferences here. If the squeeze box is compared to windows XP, then the 851 software is Sinclair ZX81.,.. Thus it looks as though I’ll need to retain my old squeeze box, and just use the 851N as a DAC –yes, it really is that seriously bad.

              Finally, it raises a few questions we should ask our equipment reviewers -what planet were they on when all they wrote was praise, and totally omitted to tell us about the real-world (un)usability aspects of this equipment? To reiterate, this is not sold as a piece of experimental kit in development for people to play with and find work-arounds. Its not supposed to be a Raspberry Pi school project in a nice aluminium box; it’s supposed to be a piece of consumer HiFi equipment. Cambridge Audio should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

              1. Wow, interesting feedback. I’d certainly be interested in your complete list of “points of uselessness” concerning the user interface. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered any issues with the interface – it’s a bit basic and there are a few things I’d like to see added, but it’s by far one of the least buggy ‘hi-fi’ streamers on the market (though admittedly that isn’t saying much). Judging by reader comments it does appear that the Android app is lagging behind the iOS equivalent; I don’t own an android device and hence didn’t test the Android version of the app in the review. Following the review I bought an 851N and have been using it for almost 6 months with no issues. However if you can share with me a complete detailed list of bugs, interface issues and feature requests, I will make sure they are passed on to the relevant people at Cambridge to be dealt with.

              2. Thankfully someone else see’s the interface for what it is. Even after a recent update it is still appalling. I currently use the Logitech Squeezebox software to access my CXN and it does a sterling job. If I thought I could sell the CXN on for close to what I paid it would be out the door in a flash and I would return to a Squeezebox Touch and quality DAC setup.

              3. Aren’t you a peach of a reviewer. Questionable whether or not you ever even purchased the 851N as your take is so far fetched it is laughable, yet you take the time to go on and on…….to those that have actually owned and had great experiences with say..the Stream Magic line will be the reviewers the people want to hear from not a naysayer like you. I’ll bet you think Monster speaker and Ic cables are the cat’s meow?? Why the editor even let your crock of crap reply ride is beyond me, but please rewrite yet another review and do tell you real thoughts on this over the top network player that is nothing less than a piece of true and beautiful art not only to look at but to utilize. Especially if you have an extensive music library on a NAS unit, You will be then in Hi-Fi heaven.

                1. The editor (me) believes that everybody is entitled to an opinion, and that some experiences may differ. You’d do well to remember that yourself, and in future if you choose to criticise the views of others in such a manor you’ll have the balls to use your real name so that you can be held accountable. I somehow doubt it.

                  1. Ok Ashley (editor) what is it that you doubt??? You obviously have the tits to let stupid ass replies fly and if tits offends you quit referring to guts as Balls . My name is Johnny and nothing to hide. Post that!

                    1. Johnny, why do you post? There’s nothing in what you say that leads to anything constructive, but only poor use of language. And English is not my first language. Try to be factual. For instance, and I’m new to this, are you saying a lossless format on a NAS is no good? With that you instantly lost credit with me.

                    2. Johnny – I doubted (and am surprised) that you were prepared to post your real name along with your comments, given that your first comment was under the name “owner”. While I find your comments quite amusing, it doesn’t seem that you have anything constructive to offer and I won’t allow you to directly insult other readers. This is a place where all opinions are welcome, but direct hate is not tolerated. You will refrain from posting here and I have blocked you from sending any further comments accordingly. The eMails you sent privately were also noted and responded to. Good day and good riddance to you.

  15. This sounds a nice piece of kit. Can I ask one question to make sure I understand the inputs. I have a portable sub harddrive with over 650 albums on it and this number will increase. Can I plug the harddrive straight into this streamer and the albums will be played? Each album is in an individual folder with the folder title being artist name and album name. I’ve taken a lot of care with the tagging of individual tracks. Thanks.

    1. Yes, absolutely right. The 851N uses the folder names as a means to browse the content on external drives. I’m recommend creating a folder for each letter of the alphabet, and inside them possibly folders for each artist, and then moving your album folder into their corresponding folders. So you’d end up with letter>artist>album. It sounds like a lot of work but once done it makes life a lot easier and saves you having to scroll through 650 albums to reach the last one on the list.

      1. Thanks Ashley. Are you confirming that the 851N imports from the harddrive with no intermediary kit? My harddrive automatically sorts in alphabetic order for artists and then album alphabetic order within each artist.

        1. The 851N will access data from a USB hard drive, however it uses the folder structure, rather than the tags in files, to organise the data. I’m sure if you were to take your hard drive to a Richer Sounds shop (assuming you’re in the UK) they’d be more than happy to let you plug one in and check everything works.

      2. Oops sorry Ashley I meant to ask another question. I’m thinking of adding the 851N to a Naim NAP140 power amp and playing through Naim Credo speakers – any comments please?

        1. It should sound fine. The 851N is a very neutral player, so if you like the Naim sound it shouldn’t change the sound too much. I’m not a big Naim fan and I haven’t tried that combination myself, however Richer Sounds may allow you a home demo, it’s worth asking.

  16. I have Jolida Tube Envoy preamp. Plan buying a wifi streamer , is it a good idea to have Cambridge Audio 851N connect to Jolida preamp or just use it alone?

    1. If it were me I’d use the 851N as a preamp, but it depends. If you like the tube sound or need analogue inputs for other components, there is no harm in using your tube preamp between the 851N and a power amp. I’d try both and see which you prefer.

  17. Hi! I’ve read your review with great interest! In the comments you said “The 851N offers more detail than the CXN, but judged purely on a sound basis I’d be hesitant to say that the 851N is twice as good.” Maybe since I’m not English, I’m not sure what you mean. Do you think the 851N is twice as good as the CXN, or just a nod better?

    Also, I’d like to know more about why you gave up on your 851E + 851W, since I’m concidering those two myself. What did you replace them with (something more expensive?) and was it worth it? Did you go entirely digital and skipped the 851E for that reason? What amps do you have today?

    I hope this wasn’t too many questions, but I’m in the process of buying a whole new setup so I’d appreciate your opinion of the 851’s very much!

    1. The 851N is certainly better than the CXN. It’s more detailed, offers better stereo imaging and everything just sounds more ‘right’. The CXN is an exceptional player but the 851N is better in all areas.

      As for the 851E/W, I change amps a lot. I very much enjoyed them and think they are excellent, up there with the best amplification you can buy at any price. The 851E is so clean, it simply gets quieter and louder like any good preamp should. The 851W is extremely powerful and will drive pretty much any speaker and its sound is extremely neutral. I change equipment quite often and fancied something new, figuring I could always get another 851E/W in the future. I have a lot of analogue kit (turntable, cassette deck, open reel etc) so going entirely digital is certainly not for me.

      I haven’t settled on anything yet, having tried a lot of gear. I’m currently investigating class D amps, as the one downside of the 851W was its power usage. It draws about 180 watts on idle and over 200 at normal levels. I wanted to see whether I could find something that offered similar sound but with greater efficiency. As yet I have not. The 851E/W/N is an exceptional system. If you’re going entirely digital, the 851N makes a fantastic preamp for the 851W.

      1. Hi Ashley,
        I have a question and was wondering if I can get your professional opinion about it.
        You wrote highly of 851E + 851W. Other reviews also echo your comments. Yet Cambridge Audio has decided to discontinue 851E!
        What are your thoughts about this? Do you think this is because they may be introducing something better? Any other reasons?!

          1. I contacted Cambridge Audio this morning and they confirmed they have discontinued 851E! Very strange!!!

            1. Another surprising and sad news! I learnt today from Richer Sound that Cambridge Audio are soon going to discontinue 851W too as now they are focusing on lower end sound systems since the high ends are not really profitable!!! If this is true, it is not a good news for the audiophiles….

              1. If that is true, that is a great shame. Companies like Cambridge can produce kit to blow away the typical overpriced competition, but unfortunately it’s rarely recognised by those who would buy it if they gave it a chance.

      2. Wow, that’s a lot of watts… I thought the XD technology would cater for a better efficiency. I’m no expert, but that power draw seems more like a class A amp than class AB. May be worth it in the end though…

        Thanks for your advice on 851 E/W/N, it has been very helpful!

        1. It is more efficient, and really a couple hundred watts is the same as a typical games console so it’s not too bad. And though it gets hot, the heat isn’t anywhere near as bad as some class A kit.

          1. Hi again Ashley!

            Since the 851E has been discontinued, have you had any experience with 851A or have any opinion about it? Would it be a satisfactory alternative to 851E?

            You could use the 851A as a preamp to 851W, connected via RCA (XLR not possible).

            Besides the obvious differences (included poweramp, no XLR out, no sub out), would the 851A be nearly as good as a preamp, or is the 851E in a league of its own?

            1. The 851A is a very nice amp, though it isn’t in the same league as the 851E, in my opinion. The 851E was a much cleaner, much clearer sounding preamplifier with better performance too. If you don’t need analogue inputs, I’d suggest maybe partnering the 851N with an 851W and using the 851N as a preamp.

              With regards parts of the 851 range being discontinued. The 851A and 851C were the first in the series, and were introduced in 2012. I can’t help wondering whether the 851 range is due a refresh. I’ve not heard anything to suggest that, nor have I seen any press releases that would suggest there’s something on the cards. However I personally don’t see Cambridge discontinuing the 851 line so suddenly. It could well be that a successor to the 8 series is on the horizon, allowing Cambridge to fully drop the Azur name following on from the CX series. I could be wrong, and I guess only time will tell.

              1. Yes, 851N as a preamp is a great sounding alternative. But then I’ll have to digitalize all my LP’s, and I have a couple of hundred. Plus I’ve seen so many opinions on how to do that properly, that I get tired before I start… Maybe some day I will look into it, though.

                As for the 851 series being replaced or not, personally I don’t have the time to wait for that to happen. Since it’s only 851E+D that seem to be discontinued for now, I draw the conclusion that the rest of the siblings will stick around for at least a year.

                And who knows, it could even happen that the 851 series will be discontinued eventually but not replaced at all. The CX series sounds swell and is probably a whole lot more profitable. 851 series sounds fantastic but is too expensive for common people and not fine (snobby) enough for the audiophiles, so maybe it doesn’t sell enough. Or maybe it’s only the preamps that sell poorly, now that we have 851N and most people are going digital? Just my speculation though. As you say, time will tell.

                1. Take a look at the Marantz PM-14 S1 SE or the PM-11 S3. PM-11 is roughly the same price as the 851E+W combined and has a cracking phono stage onboard, as does the PM-14 which is not only much cheaper but almost as good, though lacking the balanced input.

                  1. I haven’t had much experience with Marantz, but the few I have listened to had some colouration to their sound. Is that the case with the ones you mentioned? I do prefer a neutral sound.

                    1. The premium and reference ranges tend to be more neutral. The PM-11 is, if memory serves, flat to within 0.5dB up to 80kHz.

              2. Hi Ashley – read your review of the 851N amongst many others have gone for an upgrade in system. Currently have a CXC to CXN and into CXA80 with Project Carbon turntable into the amp via phono amp. Listen to my music through Tannoy XT’s. Awaiting delivery of 851N and 851W. Only obvious issue is my vinyl. Cannot stretch to nor find a 851E so what do you suggest? I am thinking of retaining the CXA80 purely to link the turntable. Any thoughts on this and best configuration?

                1. Hi Anthony – Your best bet would probably be a phono amp with a digital output. Putting the CXA80 between an 851N and 851W will likely considerably reduce the performance of both. What phono amp are you using now? I think Pro-Ject make a couple of phono amps with optical outputs that you could send into an input of the CXN. Otherwise you’ll have to find a preamp of some kind or reconsider the components. Sadly the 851E is discontinued and they don’t show up for sale very often, I’ve only seen 1 in the last 3 years. Cambridge seem to be going down the digital route which is a shame as they made some of the best featured analogue preamps around.

  18. hi Ashley, which one would you recommend for CXA60 + B&W 685 S2 as a DAC and streamer using Roon for mainly jazz music?

  19. Hi Ashley,

    I just came across this excellent review and would like your opinion. I’m really interested in sourcing a decent CD drive to pair to my very impressive Marantz PM6006 and JMR Bliss Silver speakers. The Marantz has a built in DAC but I’m torn between a decent drive vs Marantz’ own Cd players such as CD6005 in terms of sound quality.

  20. Hi Ashley,

    Thanks ever so much for such detailed review, it is really helpful.
    Was wondering if I can get your advice. What do you think of this combination?

    851W + 851E
    B&W 683 speakers

    Would you advise any other combination or even any other brands?

    Many thanks

    1. That sounds like an exceptional combination. I owned the 851E / 851W for a while and it truly is a class-leading system. Will you be connecting any analogue sources such as a turntable? If not, you can bypass the 851E altogether and use the 851N as a digital preamp. The only thing in that system I’d look to changing are the speakers, as I feel the 851W is worthy of better speakers than the 683s. Maybe something up the B&W line, or something from another brand. A demo is the best way forward however as you’re looking at kit costing a significant amount of cash!

      1. Thanks a million for such a quick response and much appreciation for the heads up about the speakers. Yes I will be adding a turntable. I agree that I need a demo for the speakers but any particular speakers you would recommend? What do you think of the B&W CM8?
        Thanks gain

        1. Ah, in that case you’ll need an 851E as the 851N offers no analogue inputs. Connect them all up with balanced cables for best results. Re the speakers I haven’t spent enough time with the B&W range to make a fair judgement, but those that I have heard I’ve either found to be bright (the 683 / 685) or too thumpy in the bass (I believe they were CM series). I’m a Tannoy fan myself and think that they match very well with the Cambridge. If you have the budget something from the definition range, or if you were looking to spend a bit less the Precision 6.4s can be had now for very little money in comparison to their performance.

        2. Paul,
          The combination 851N & 851W or (May bee 2x 851W in passive bi-amp or mono-blogs ) with the below combination will give you one of the best sounds you have ever auditioned.
          B&W 805 with DB1 sub.
          B&W CM6 S2 with ASW10CMM S2
          ATC SCM 40
          ATC SCM19 + C1 sub.
          Tannoy Precision 6.2

  21. Hi,
    Nice review and informative.
    You are saying that whether the difference in sound quality justifies the price is something that only we can decide.
    Since you auditioned both CXN and 851N would you recommend to your subscribers to go ahead and buy it?

    1. There is a difference between the 851N and CXN, but whether you’ll hear that difference depends on the rest of the system. The 851N is twice the price of the CXN and adds several nice features, not to mention more high end aesthetics and build quality. If you have the budget, absolutely I’d recommend buying one. It’s probably the last streamer you’ll ever buy. But those who don’t have such a budget, or don’t need the extra features may find that the increase in sound quality doesn’t justify the price, and the CXN may suffice. The 851N offers more detail than the CXN, but judged purely on a sound basis I’d be hesitant to say that the 851N is twice as good.

      1. This is a spot on advise.
        One more note … it would be appreciated when reviewing a component, it is good for us to know the rest of the equipment associated with the review

        1. I’ll be adding a page to the site soon concerning the reference system on which all products are reviewed. When reviewing a product for AA, I always try to review it in the contexts of a system in which is it likely to be used. For example, I woudln’t review a £200 CD player with a £4000 amp, because this is a combination that nobody is likely to own. I wouldn’t review a £10,000 pair of speakers with a system costing only £500, because again this is a system that you’d be very unlikely to find in the real world. I’m currently in the process of rebuilding the reference system, and once the new components are in place details will be published here. The 851N is one of them, and a very worthy addition to the system it is too.

  22. Excellent kit I am sure. What should be noted though is that it most certainly is not an ‘out of the box’ plug in and go piece of kit. The Cambridge Connect software for android is appalling. I was so disheartened after buying the CXN that I actually considered returning it. Having had a few conversations with folks on various HiFi fora I managed to find some excellent software which has actually allowed the CXN to function well. I’m assuming the 851N would be similar in its operation.

    It beggars belief that a company with a reputation such as Cambridge would allow such a product to market without a fully integrated software package. When the Logitech Squeezebox, Touch, Boom etc were released the software came as part of the package and still is running well here on my system.

    Thankfully due to Bubble uPnP I can actually use my CXN as intended.

    Oh and perhaps someone should proof read the above article before publishing 😉

    1. The Cambridge app does have a couple of minor limitations (a list of which I’ll be sending to Cambridge in due course) but i can’t say I’ve ever encountered any major issues with it. Yes, if you have a drive or server containing several thousand albums in a single folder, it’ll undoubtedly take you a while to navigate through them. Putting albums into artist folders or folders corresponding to each letter of the alphabet solves that issue. To me, Cambridge’s system that utilises the folder structure, while arguably dated and somewhat limited is very logical and works well with an organised folder structure. Cambridge could perhaps add the ability to search a drive or server, though doing so could wind up being a slow process unless the streamer were to build a database of the drive’s contents, a solution which brings with it more disadvantages than advantages.

      I used the 851N with a USB drive containing approximately 8,000 albums organised by artist. I am running the app on iOS, so perhaps the android experience is different, but i never once encountered any issues with load times and was able to find content just as quickly as I would any other app. I do however take onboard your comments, and will make a concerted effort to test the Android app myself as well as to make Cambridge aware of any issues that may be present with their app.

      1. Wow,
        Refreshing to get a swift and succinct reply ….thank you. I think I may try a USB drive to see how that pans out. I have around 40K tracks mostly organised by artist folders with cover art etc. Once I realised the Android software and indeed the CXN was not going to be as straightforward as the Squeezebox route I was content to tinker with various software and network issues until the system worked.

        I think what I am alluding to is the fact that these network players are not simply ready to go out of the box and certainly everyone I have spoken to has recommended completely ditching the Cambridge Connect software.

        If other manufacturers can manage quick, easy, quality solutions I think Cambridge should too 😉 Or at least have clear instructions and a list of solutions included with the player.

        All academic at the moment for me though as I have everything up and running and fingers crossed there are no more issues. Without a doubt the SQ and listening pleasure are way up there 😀

        1. I can’t help but wonder if there is a significant difference between the iOS and Android versions of the CA connect app. For me, a streamer’s app is of vital importance because I’m totally blind and thus can’t operate the streamer directly, and therefore have to rely exclusively on the app. I neither use nor recommend streamers with apps that are substandard. Out of interest, have those who have recommended you ditch the CA connect pap been running iOS or android?

  23. Hi,
    I have the Magic Stream 6V2 and while seems to be identical to the CXN( with the exception of the colored screen) I am curious if the 851 N brings something extra….
    Thank you for the review, I to find the Stream Magic 6 V2 a marvelous device, doing exceptionally on the audio playback capability with a huge details with proper cables on it and on the listening installation. I have Analysis Plus cables and the result is stunning!

    1. I believe there were a few component changes between the SM6 V2 and the CXN, but i haven’t taken a look inside either device to confirm. The 851N I feel offers greater refinement and more detail, though now that the CXN supports DSD64 it doesn’t add any additional features beyond the obvious aesthetic differences, and the ability to switch between the 3 digital filters which the CXN lacks. I’d certainly go and have a listen because the 851N is a wonderful streamer. I doubt it would offer much beyond what you’re used to in feature terms, whether the difference in sound quality justifies the price is something that only you can decide.

      1. hi
        i have a CA 851C which i understand does have a lot of the same internal components as the 851N. Now that i am looking for a streamer, is there any benefit in purchasing a 851N or even a cxn when my 851c already has a digital preamp and a similar DAC. In your opinion what streamer should i be looking at knowing i already have the 851C.

        thxs Bill

        1. The 851N and 851C share the same DAC components. The 851N is essentially an 851C with a streaming module in place of the CD drive. You could purchase a CXN and connect it with a coaxial cable to one of the digital inputs of the 851C. Personally if you had the budget I’d probably go with an 851N simply because it does feature better components throughout, including better internal circuitry, better connectivity and I believe a faster processor, and it also has the lovely 851 series casework which goes hand in hand with other 851 series kit, not to mention being extremely solid and beautifully made.

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