Cambridge Audio CXA80 Review 344

Please see This Post for a detailed rundown of our reference system.


It’s safe to say I’m a fan of Cambridge Audio. My first ‘real’ amplifier was a Cambridge Audio A5, and you could argue that it is thanks to that amplifier sparking my interest in high-end audio that I’m sitting here, writing for you now. That was some years ago; before the 1968-founded British audio brand introduced their premium Azur component range including the 3, 6 and 8 series; components which shook up the audiophile community thanks to their exceptional sound and build quality, feature counts and premium yet affordable price tags.

Some years on, and it’s time for the Azur range to hand over the reins to Cambridge’s new offering; dubbed the CX range. The CX range comprises 7 components; 2 integrated amplifiers, 2 AV receivers, a universal disc player, a dedicated CD transport and a network streamer. The range sits in a price bracket between the 651 and 851 series, with the CXN network player replacing the Stream Magic 6 V2, the CXU universal player replacing the 752BD, and the CXR120 and CXR200 receivers replacing the 551R and 751R receivers respectively.

The CXC dedicated transport replaces both the 351C and 651C offerings, and is designed to feed the digital inputs of either the CXA60 or CXA80 integrated amplifiers, which themselves replace the 351A / 651A respectively.

Features

Inside, the CXA80 features a dual-mono class AB amplifier and a high-current power supply based around a large toroidal transformer with dual transformer taps, twin rectifiers and separate PSUs for the left and right channels. The transformer is centrally mounted away from the preamp section to minimise interference, while the PCB layout is optimised to reduce crosstalk.

Large extruded heatsinks are used (1 for each channel), with the symmetrical PCBs featuring the shortest possible signal paths, and a component count reduced from 46 in previous models to 24. Circuits comprised of 500 supporting components and dynamic thermal-tracking output transistors ensure that the CXA80 is always running at its optimum performance.

The CXA80 outputs 80W per channel into an 8 ohm load; that figure rising to 120W into 4 ohms. Both the CXA60 and CXA80 feature Cambridge’s CAP5 protection system to protect both the amplifier and your speakers against overheating, overcurrent, DC, shorted outputs and clipping.

On the preamp side, volume control is handled by a motorised alps film potentiometer, with relay-switched input selection, speakers, and tone controls. 4 RCA inputs, plus a 3.5MMM front panel input and a single balanced XLR input (on the CXA80 only) feature in the input side, as well as the dual optical, single coaxial, USB and bluetooth inputs catered for by the internal DAC.

That DAC features a WOlfson WM8740 chipset, supporting sampling rates of up to 24-bit, 192KHZ on both the digital and USB inputs. The USB input is both class 1 and class 2 compliant, though a free driver is required for windows users to stream high-resolution files in class 2 mode. The APT-X bluetooth codec is supported, though bluetooth compatibility requires the optional BT100 dongle which, disappointingly, is not included as part of the package.

As elegantly designed as it is heavy, the CAX80 is clad in a new CX chassis. The new sleeker styling incorporates a front plinth spanning almost the length of the unit, a contoured volume dial and a thick, brushed aluminium front panel. While I personally prefer the styling (not to mentioned the large damped rubber feet) of the previous generation Azur range, I appreciate the efforts to which Cambridge have gone to give traditional boxy, boring hi-fi a makeover; and there’s no doubting that the CX components add a touch of class to any hi-fi rack.

First Impressions

The CXA80 feels supremely solid as it’s lifted from the lavish, premium packaging. The packaging is not dissimilar to that of the Cambridge Audio products of yesteryear, with large foam supports keeping everything in place and the amplifier itself wrapped in a neath cloth bag.

In a cloth bag all of their own, the accessories include a remote, a control bus cable, some documentation and 3 AAA batteries. Finally, both euro and UK power cables are included, positioned beneath the amplifier. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the packaging; and the presentation results in an excellent, lasting first impression.

With everything unboxed, we turn to the front panel. Immediately noticeable is the rebranded Cambridge logo; with the notable absence of the ‘audio’ in the brand name. There’s a union jack, hinting at Cambridge’s British heritage and current design HQ, where each product is conceived, designed, developed and engineered before being manufactured under close supervision in China.

The amplifier features 13 buttons including power, input selection, speaker switching, and tone/balance controls. The tone and balance controls protrude when pressed to allow for adjustment, receding into the front panel when pressed again. There’s a large volume knob fronting the alps volume pot which when turned feels beautifully smooth with just the right amount of resistance.

Sadly the same cannot be said for the tone controls which feel a little cheap and tacky in comparison, much like they do on the 8-series. I bypassed them and left them pressed in for this review, and would suggest you do too. The aforementioned 3.5MM line input is present, along-side a second 3.5MM jack for connection of headphones. Connecting headphones releases the speaker relays, muting the speaker outputs.

Spin the amp around and you’re greeted by plethora of rear connections. 4 RCA inputs are provided, as well as a preamp output and the balanced XLR input. There are 2 optical, 1 coaxial, and the USB B computer input (with associate ground lift switch), and a USB A input for the BT100 bluetooth dongle (not included). Cambridge also have also continued their tradition of labelling the connections in both orientations; meaning they can be easily read when leading over the amplifier; a nice touch.

The entire CX range is designed for the digital generation; and, like the Azur range before it, both the CXA60 and CXA80 lack a built-in phono stage. This isn’t a problem as Cambridge Audio themselves manufacture 2 exceptional phono stages (the 551P and 651P) which are perfect partners for the CXA amplifiers. I was however disappointed to note the absence of a line level record output; while admittedly few people own recording devices these days, many people choose to archive their vinyl via the record output of their amplifier; and some of us, god forbid, still own a tape deck. Given that adding a line level output would add very little to the bill of materials, this is a sad omission on Cambridge’s part.

2 sets of speaker connections are provided, used either for bi wiring or running a second pair of speakers in another room. The binding posts support bear wire or (once the end caps are removed) banana plugs. They feel a little flimsy in comparison to the rest of the amp, flexing slightly as banana plugs are pressed into place. They’re in very close proximity to one another making them fairly awkward to turn, and if you opt for the bear wire approach you’ll need to be especially careful not to cause a short.

The top panel of the amplifier features a plastic-covered ventilation grille to allow the amplifier to expel some of the heat it generates. While the CXA80 produces far less heat than I expected even at high listening levels,it does need room to breathe. I’d advise against stacking it with other components, or at the very least positioning it at the top of the stack.

The Remote

The CXA80 is supplied with the same remote control as its smaller companion (the CXA60), as well as the CXN network player and CXC CD transport. Similar to that supplied with the 8-series components, this solid remote features a selection of neatly organised controls for each component in the range, with the central controls (including the volume) raised and curved for easier, more comfortable access.

Those controls offer up a precise click when pressed, and feel great to use, as does the remote itself. It sits perfectly in the hand, has a nice rubberised texture on the rear panel for extra grip, and is perfectly weighted once the 3 AAA batteries are added. The control’s code set follows the RC5 standard, meaning there’s a strong possibility it will control other components in your system; or that controls supplied with other components will be able to control the CXA, as was the case with many of the remotes for other components I had sitting around.

The Control Bus

The CXA amplifiers feature Cambridge Audio’s control bus, allowing them to control (and be controlled) by other supported components or custom installation systems. An orange cable is supplied with each component for this purpose, and the CXA80 is no exception. Connecting the CXN, also supplied for review, allowed the volume and power status of the CXA80 to be altered via the CA Connect mobile app.

It does have its limitations though. Power on / off commands don’t appear to sync between units when controlling the power either via their front panel power controls or the controls on the CX remote control, and powering on the CXA80 via a CXN and the CA connect app doesn’t switch the amp to the require input. I’d like to see the ability to power on a source component when pressing a respective input on the amplifier; so, for example, were i to press input number 1, the CXN would come out of standby, and pressing input number 2 would shut it down and power up the CXC CD transport. I’d also like the ability to control the entire system via the CA connect app; including the ability to switch inputs on the amplifier and to control CD playback via the CXC transport.

Usage

In usage, the CXA80 is very intuitive and simple to operate. As always I neglected to read the included documentation or the online manual and was still up and running in a matter of seconds. Powering up the amp emits a series of relay clicks; selecting inputs produces similar noises, which I found quite charming and characterful.

The inputs are chosen via the dedicated buttons on the front panel or the remote, with the balanced input accessed by repeatedly pressing the ‘A1’ input. The tone controls can be bypassed (though not on a ‘per-input’ basis) using the direct button. Bypassing them results in a cleaner signal path and ultimately better sound quality, and therefore it was in their bypassed state that they were left throughout this review. Unusually the direct button does not bypass the balance control.

The CXA amplifiers feature a hidden settings menu accessed by holding the speaker A/B button in standby mode. The options are accessed and altered using the A1 through A4 controls which will illuminate in accordance with the selected option. Settings include auto power down, the USB audio class and the ability to disable the clipping detection, which causes the amp to nudge the volume down if clipping is detected. Leaving the latter option enabled is recommended, as clipping detection is part of the CAP5 protection system and helps to protect both the amplifier and the connected speakers.

Sound

I’m blessed with extremely sensitive hearing and that, coupled with a quiet listening room and a pair of Tannoys with extremely sensitive tweeters, means a noisy, hissy amplifier can drive me mad. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the CXA80; in fact the levels of background noise it produced were inaudible. The massive toroidal transformer does emirate a slight hum in operation; however this is to be expected, and again is inaudible unless you’re leaning over the amplifier.

The CXA80 belies its 80W P/C rating with an explosive nature that is simply bags of fun. If there’s ever an amplifier that urges you to raise the volume to unsociable levels, this is it. It exploded through Shinedown’s ‘Devour’ from their ‘Somewhere in The Stratosphere’ acoustic set with a rhythmic adeptness and force of impact that put my reference gear to shame. Yet when I slid Jack Johnson’s ‘In-between Dreams’ into the CXC and ‘Better Together’ began to play, the CXA80 delivered the bouncing bass line and calm, carefree way that left me leaning back in the listening chair, grinning to myself like a complete idiot.

Unusually for an amp designed for the digital age, the CXA80 excels with a turntable as a source. The amp charged through Queen’s ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ from ‘Live at The Rainbow’ with the same explosive energy and rhythmic aplomb it displayed with the tracks above, and never appeared to struggle even when the volume was raised to the 3 quarter mark to compensate for the lower output level of the phono stage.

Headphone performance is also excellent. Connecting a pair of headphones results in the same fun, energetic performance with phenomenal stereo separation and 3-dimensional sound staging. It drove every pair of headphones on hand with ease, including the notoriously difficult HD650s.

At lower volume levels, the headphone output on my review sample occasionally produced an odd static noise; most noticeable with the balance control rotated to either extreme. Switching the amp off and back on again often resolved the issue, and I couldn’t get the amp to reproduce the issue on demand. After a month of continuous usage, this issue appeared to correct itself so I can only assume the components required some run in time or that the issue was caused perhaps by some interference on the AC power line.

Summary

Given the asking price, I’d like to see better tone controls (or for them to be omitted altogether), better speaker terminals and perhaps a line-level output or 2. I’d also like to see the £70 BT100 bluetooth dongle included as part of the package. But minor quibbles aside, the CXA80 is a phenomenal amplifier.

It’s as neutral as it is fun and exciting. That could be seen as a contradictory comment, but it’s the most accurate way to describe the amp’s character. It simply gets the best from the sources you feed it. Input a digital signal into its onboard DAC, or a digital track via the matching CXN network player connected to the analogue inputs and you’ll get a fun, energetic sound that’ll have you up and out of your seat in minutes. Feed it a vinyl, and that energetic drive is complemented by the warmth that only analogue can bring.

And that can only mean one thing. An amp that sounds its best no matter the material or the source component must, quite simply, be one of, if not the best amp in its class. Rarely do I enjoy reviewing an amplifier as much as I have the CXA80; and given the pedigree and quality of some of the amplifiers that find their way onto my review rack, that’s no small compliment. The CXA80 deserves the top spot on your amplifier shortlist. I can’t stop listening to it; and therefore, I can’t recommend it enough.


About 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

Share Your Thoughts

344 thoughts on “Cambridge Audio CXA80 Review

    • Ashley Post author

      I would certainly like to, but it depends if I can get a sample. I will see what I can do. Feel free to let CA know you’d like to see me cover it.

  • GONZALO MOLLA

    Dear all

    I am interested in a new integrated amplifier, mainly to listen to CD´s and probably in the future, some kind of streaming service (ROON)

    I need your advice, because I am considering three options:

    Cambridge Audi CXA80
    Arcam A29
    Audiolab 8300A

    I have Monitor Audio RS6 speakers

    Which one do you recommend me?

    Thanks in advance

    Gonzalo

    • Ashley Post author

      It depends on the sound you like. Cambridge is brighter, Arcam is warmer, Audiolab somewhere in between. I would encourage you to demo them first.

    • Ashley Post author

      That’s a bit like saying “what car should I buy”. Without knowing your budget, room size, music taste and the kind of sound you like it is impossible to say. Various speakers suit different tastes and budgets. You don’t generally want a set of enormous floor standers in a small room. Equally I wouldn’t pair anything with a bright sound signature to the CXA80, though others do and enjoy the combination. I would suggest finding a local stockist of the amp and seeing what speakers they have on offer as a start

  • Kostas

    That worked !!
    For the volume indication I used tape at sharp triagle!
    I am using cxa80 as power amp with moon 230had as a pre/dac. MA Silver 6. Awsome.
    Turned display off.
    Power indicator is the same either on or off.

    • Ashley Post author

      Gently tap on the display area where the light should be. Does it come back? If so I suspect a bad solder joint, if not a dead LED for some reason. Should be covered under warranty.

  • skip bo

    I finally returned the one i purchased for all of the omissions you stated (can’t record? c’mon….) but the biggest omission in my book was the lack of a visible volume level on the front panel or a lighted volume knob. If you look hard enough you will see a black on black little line which was their best effort at providing a volume level indicator. Therefore, no matter what you will have to play sound before knowing at what volume it will be heard. I have nearly blown out my $3000 speakers and my (priceless) ears twice and so on the third time it went right back in the box. Totally unacceptable and a complete deal breaker. To add insult to injury, the remote volume control is incredibly slow and i actually kept forgetting which was up and which was down as the nomenclature on the remote is also confusing. Maybe its a British thing, but for a $1000 I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a volume display to be included or a lighted knob or even a tiny lighted circle on the knob would have sufficed. The entire front display needs a redo as it is all needlessly confusing. I was completely disappointed because the sound is very nice, it had all of the desired jacks (SPDIF, Optical, Pre-Amp, USB) and it had all the features in one slender piece needed to play music from computer, ipod, turntable, CD/DVD and headphones without the need for additional DACs or Amps, etc. It’s really too bad. You have to wonder what were they thinking.

    • Ashley Post author

      I do agree that the CXA80 would benefit from a better level indicator. Unfortunately the slowness of the volume control is due to the motorised alps control. Most motorised controls are slow and this one is no exception. I’m not entirely sure why Cambridge didn’t implement a digital control, but it is safe to say this issue isn’t limited to the CXA80. As the volume control is analogue it would require extra circuitry for them to provide feedback in the display and it would be inaccurate.

      I can’t say I have the issue with the remote, once you get used to it it’s quite easy to determine the controls by feel as the volume controls are angled slightly relative to the front face, in the direction of the front of the remote. Up is closest to the front of the remote and down closest to the back, like nearly every remote on the market. The lack of a record output would be the dealbreaker for me if I were to own the CXA80. Sorry to hear you returned yours, hope you have success in finding something else.

  • Peter Oakes

    Hi Ashley, I enjoyed reading your review. I strongly agree re partnering. I own the CXA80, having previously owned the CXA60. In terms of background, due to my situation most of my hifi buys are done without the chance to trial gear. I love my B&W 685s2 speakers but for all of the strengths of the CXA60 they were not a happy match to my ears. “Bright” ( I think that’s the word) tone at the treble end and the way the music was delivered didn’t work for me. The CXA80 works far better for me, has all the strengths of inaudible noise, sound-staging, great clarity and detail, DAC, plenty of connections, plenty of punch, a music “delivery” that is excellent to my ears, and treble tone is very good, albeit with the treble turned well down. Having heard the CXA80 through a pair of quite expensive (7 times the price of the 685’s) set of soft dome tweeter speakers, it delivered all the good stuff and added a warmth and smoothness to delight in. It was a stunning combination. My budget, already blown to bits, precludes going down that path at present. As regards sources – the CXA80 likes good to excellent recordings, it has no trouble revealing poor ones.
    Best regards
    Peter

  • John Keller

    Ashley, I recently came across your portal and I’m since reading many of your interesting and informative reviews. Thanks a lot for sharing your views and experiences! They are very informative, and educating, especially for the newbies like myself. It’s always a pleasure to read.

    While discovering your posts and your kind answers to your readers’s questions, I’m wondering if you could please share your opinion on a couple of subjects…

    You noted “… Marantz is usually my go-to choice for a warmer amp. … The CXA80 as I’ve mentioned here is on the brighter side of neutral. The Marantz PM-8005 is my usual recommendation.” Would you extend your recommendation to the Marantz PM-8006 as well, please?

    You mentioned “… On the subject of the Marantz if you did go down that route, the SA-14 offers a USB DAC capable of streaming both 24-bit high-res PCM and DSD. It’s a reference class DAC, works perfectly within MacOS and will give you better sound than running the Mac mini into a DAC via optical.” Would you kindly comment on the sound in case of the Mac mini into a DAC via USB, please? And, while we are on the subject of the sound Mac computer can provide, could you please give us your opinion on the Mac mini vs. MacBook in the use case under consideration?

    I understand you also have the Cambridge Audio 851N streamer. Do you know, by any chance, what Linux distro it is running under? Is it updated regularly? Could you please give us your view on the 851N vs. Mac (USB) + DAC?

    Thanking you in advance for your time and consideration,
    John

    • Ashley Post author

      Thank you John for your kind comments on my reviews and the site. I’ll do my best to answer your questions in order:

      With regards the Marantz PM-8006, I’m afraid I have yet to hear one. Their UK PR has been largely unresponsive to my requests for samples and they don’t seem to get much UK publicity for their upper ranges – a shame really as I do love the brand and their products. My recommendation for Marantz is based on the fact that I have owned (and continue to own) several of their products and all have been consistently reliable and perform well. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you at least hear a PM-8006 for yourself, as I’m sure it will offer excellent performance. If you’d like me to review one, do feel free to suggest it to Marantz.

      With regards DACs, optical vs USB is a long-standing debate. In principle, an optical signal is an electrical signal converted to an optical light, send down a cable and then converted back into an electrical signal. Some claim that there is an audible difference depending on the quality of the optical circuitry, whether it be between optical vs coaxial or optical vs USB. Taking an optical signal from any computer that supports the connection will nearly always sound better than the internal sound card mostly due to power supply interference. That said that signal is still reliant on the quality of circuitry inside the computer, and computers are not designed primarily for audio playback.

      A USB connection however takes a stream of digital bits directly from the computer, and all processing is done within the DAC itself. Most USB inputs are isolated to reduce power supply interference and ground loops. Without getting too technical, Mac and Windows operating systems differ in the way they handle audio devices. The Mac’s CoreAudio subsystem supports high-resolution audio out of the box, theres Windows machines often require drivers to bypass the windows Kernel sound system. It’s all rather complicated, but in essence providing the correct drivers are used a Mac won’t necessarily sound any better or worse than a Windows machine when feeding a signal into a DAC.

      Where you’d hear the difference between optical and USB would really depend on the DAC and computer used. In my experience USB nearly always has a slight edge sounding quieter and less ‘digital’ if that makes sense. Most DACs include both and with USB being technically better it makes sense to use it. There would be no difference in audio quality between a Mac mini and MacBook. The difference is simply in functionality; the Mac mini is a desktop requiring peripherals, whereas the MacBook is a laptop and therefore self-contained.

      I do indeed own n 851N. I’m afraid I’m not sure what distribution it’s running, though I have tried to find out. it’s quite locked down and my attempts to break into it have so far been unsuccessful, but I’ll keep you posted. Its software isn’t updated nearly as often as I would like. It’s reliable and works, but it is beginning to lag behind in terms of features; namely native Apple Music support, necessitating the use of AirPlay which is an annoyance. I believe there’s an update coming out soon with Tidal support.

      With regards comparing the 851N to a Mac + DAC, it would of course depend on the DAC used. Presuming you’re using the 851D (which is essentially an 851N with the streaming features removed) I don’t think there would be a significant difference, if any. If I had the time and a desire to change my streaming solution, I would likely consider an 851D with both my Mac and perhaps a Yamaha NP-S303 network streamer as sources, the latter connected via coax digital.

      • John Keller

        Thank you very kindly, Ashley!
         
        As always the case with your material, your overview of optical vs. USB is very educational, and very much appreciated.

        Any recommendations for the Network Music Transport, you could please give? I wish I could afford the LUMIN U1…

        Thanking you in advance for your time and consideration,
        John

        • Ashley Post author

          If it’s just a transport you’re after, I’d go for something like a Yamaha NP-S303. I don’t think it’ll do DSD over the digital outputs but unless you simply must stream DSD media it’s not really a big deal. The law of diminishing returns kicks in quickly where digital transports are concerned, particularly streaming transports and those not reliant on physical media such as CD or DAT.

  • Gerald

    Great review Ashley. Cambridge really do make very good audio gear. However careful partnering in terms of speakers is essential if you one really wants to extract the very best from Cambridge products. Partner them with a bright speaker and you will want to throw them out after a few hours of listening as fatigue quickly sets in. I currently have a CA 851A and Stream Magic 6 hooked up to Monitor Audio RX6’s and they do tend to lean toward the brighter side. As for your thoughts and observations on the DAC in the Stream Magic I whole heartedly agree that it is a very clinical sounding dac and somewhat boring in its presentation to my ear. The Sabre Dac in my Yamaha 2060 sounds more musical in all honesty and that being a home theatre amp it actually surprised me. My next step in my journey for “almost perfect audio nirvana” which we all know will never happen lol, is probably change the DAC. I may just get a CA 851c or 851n as the DACS are much better and do not convey that over analytical sound.

    Anyway great blog and greetings from South Africa and hope you have a great new year ahead.

    Regards

    Gerald

    • Ashley Post author

      Thanks Gerald for your kind words on the blog. I have never noticed any excessive brightness from the 851A, though the CXA80 could certainly be over bright if partnered with the wrong speakers. The 851N C and D (which share the same DAC section) are all excellent.

      • Gerald

        They are not overtly bright but do tend to lean towards the brighter side on certain recordings which can become a bit fatiguing over long periods of listening. Monitor Audio’s are very revealing so they do tend to exaggerate the upper frequencies a little as well. But they are great speakers. Hopefully some room treatment will tame the upper frequencies a bit. Thank you for your reply Ashley and a happy 2018 to all.

        • Ashley Post author

          I would agree with this. The MA speakers are somewhat bright, I used my 851s with Tannoys (on the warmer spectrum) which produced an exciting combination without the fatigue. Room treatment or even adding some more soft furnishings should certainly help smooth things out. A happy 2018 to you also!

  • Michael

    First of all, thank you for this great review.
    I have a setup with CXN-CXA80 and Rega RP3 with Cambridge riaa pre amp.
    For the moment, “old” IQ TED3 speakers, so I’m looking for an upgrade worth the system. Since I like the B&W sound, have a B&W P9 wich sounds just amazing on the CXA, I thought of a pair 703 S2 or 704 S2. Would this, in your opinion, be a valuable setup?
    Thanks in advance

    • Ashley Post author

      You’re welcome, thank you for your kind words on the review. In my opinion the B&Ws are a nice match on paper, so if you like the sound then why not. Personally I feel that the B&Ws may be somewhat bright paired with the CXA80 and CXN, which has an overall lively character. I would encourage you to have a listen before you buy ideally in your own room, but if you like the B&W sound the system should be right up your street.

      • Michael

        Thank you for your answer. Ok for the brightness. I well be aware of this problem. Someone told me, that these speakers might be too complicated for the CXA80, as for Sonus Faber Venere. Unfortunately, i don’t have a dealer with all options in my region, so i have to look for a online shop that let me some days of test…..
        BTW: What is tour opinion of Sous Faber and CXA80?

  • Padutarb

    I’ve had this amp for a year or so now and think it’s awesome.
    I’m looking at getting the Rega Ear headphone amp.
    Which input can/do I connect to?
    I’m already using the unbalanced A1 for A Rega RP6.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Ashley Post author

      As this amp sadly doesn’t have a line level output, you’d have to connect it to the preamp outputs, set the volume on your headphone amp to about the 3 quarter mark and use the volume on the CXA-80 with the speaker A/B selector set to an unused position (hopefully you’re not bi-wiring your speakers). The alternative would be to split the output coming from the phono stage using a Y cable and connect it there, assuming that’s your only source. Take a look at the Arcam rHead, I’ve seen it recently for £199 and it is in my opinion a far better product than the Rega Ear in every way. I didn’t like the Rega amp at all.

  • Ludovic

    Hi, Ashley,
    I recently came across your blog and I’m since reading a lot of your interesting and informative reviews. Thanks a lot for sharing your views and experiences ! It’s a pleasure to read, even for a frensh-talking guy like me.
    While discovering your posts and your kind answers to your readers’s questions, I’m frequently finding the expression “warm and musical”, when qualifying the way some amps are supposed to sound. I’m probably opening a can of worms, but how would you describe this kind of sound ?
    Well… A “warm” sounding amplifier should, I guess, be generous in its bass response (which requires a good power supply) and not too aggressive in the midrange. That’s at least the way I understand the adjective. And I’d say my nearly 40 years old trusty Technics SU-7300 integrated amplifier belongs to this “warm sounding” category. So, should I have to replace it, I’d search for an amp equipped with a rock solid power supply. A warm and musical integrated amp.
    But I’m struggling to describe how an amp can (or can’t) be “musical”. Stereo amplifiers are essentially build to play music ; so, aren’t they all “musical” ? Are there amplifiers making music more musical (or others failing to play music musically) ? What’s this breed ?
    Isn’t the word “musical” a figure of speech meaning “this gear plays my favourite music the way I enjoy it to be played” ?

    • Ashley Post author

      Thank you for your kind comments on the website and reviews. You are right that ‘stereo amplifiers are essentially built to play music’, and many people say that when matched in level, and running within their rated output (I.E not clipping), you can’t tell two amplifiers apart. Two amplifiers designed with a completely flat frequency response should in theory sound the same, but some are not designed to be entirely flat. Designers can voice an amplifier to be biased towards a certain sound. Some are bright with a lift in the treble or an aggressive midrange, some are designed to be as flat in response as possible, and some tend toward the warmer spectrum.

      I define a warm sounding amplifier as one that has a relaxed treble, and perhaps a slight, but hardly noticeable, lift in the mid range. This results in an amplifier that is easier to listen to for longer periods without listening fatigue. I would describe your SU-7300 (excellent amplifier by the way) as a warm sounding amplifier as it sounds very analogue, which is typical for hi-fi of that time period. I believe that a strong power supply is essential in any amplifier and this is an area where some amplifiers fall down. If you were to replace your Technics I would be looking at the Marantz range as they sound very similar and are reliable. You certainly wouldn’t get 40 years out of some of the components made today.

      I don’t personally think that “musical” is a great way to describe a hi-fi component. What one person considers to be musical may differ from another. I have heard many components that I’ve disliked and haven’t enjoyed listening to, but that others love. Similarly I know some who don’t like the kind of sound that I like, which tends toward the warmer sound signature. I use a Marantz amplifier, Tannoy speakers, a Technics turntable with Audio-Technica cartridge and a Cambridge Audio 851N streamer, which itself is actually very neutral in presentation. You are absolutely correct that the word ‘musical’ is nothing more than a figure of speech, and can mean different things to different people. Ultimately, trust your ears. If the amp you’ve got works, I’d stick with it as you can’t beat some of those old designs. Maybe have it serviced by a good tech who knows what they’re doing, find an older technician who knows how to work on those machines.

      • Ludovic

        Thank you for your answer ! I agree: most of our opinions are often a matter of taste, and things one can measure objectively as being good don’t always mean they’ll be as good to our ears.
        Marantz new amps nearly always get good reviews, and “vintage” samples in good condition don’t go cheeply on the second hand market. From what I’ve read, it seems their new models still have this “warm sound” so many of us are fond of, and it would be a brand to try if I had to replace my Technics. Happily, it’s still going strong. I’ve just to apply some contact spray into the front switches one time a year. For sure, a pro servicing would be welcome, but trusty technicians are so hard to find…
        You wrote “You certainly wouldn’t get 40 years out of some of the components made today”, which is probably true if we consider that, nowadays, things are not always built to last. But who knows ? I hope I’ll be blessed to last another 40 years and still enjoy music.

        • Ashley Post author

          Yes, Marantz gear is reviewed very favourably. Sadly the higher end gear (14 series and up) doesn’t get as much exposure as it should, as the press seem very biased towards British, US and other equipment, but not Japanese unfortunately. This dates back decades ago when the press where championing the likes of Linn and Naim, while downplaying the efforts of the big Japanese names (Pioneer, Technics, Sony, JVC and others) who in my opinion were making better products and were responsible for the revolutionary technologies, particularly for vinyl replay in the early 80s. Sadly that trend continues and the higher end Japanese equipment is overlooked, but it is exceptional and the Japanese could teach the others a thing or two about reliability, build quality and performance. I’ve never seen a piece of Japanese component fail due to anything other than age or misuse, and I’ve owned a lot of kit from the big names, Technics especially. I’ve had models from high-end manufacturers fail within weeks, and their performance often doesn’t justify their cost. However, with regards longevity I think it’s best to buy what you enjoy. You make a valid point that we never know how long we ourselves are going to last, so does it really matter how long our components last?

          • Ludovic

            I figured Japanese electronics were widely available in W-European countries just like they were in Belgium, but I was wrong. The fact is in Belgium (and it’s still true nowadays) we hadn’t big names to protect, so importers were free buying nearly everything abroad. Of course, there were some Belgian brands, but they were mostly making PA gear, as far as I remember (I still own an old Frank mixer). I’m sure we were the first EU consumers being able to buy Japanese cars. It was in the mid-sixties and those Toyota, Datsun (now Nissan) or Mazda cars were cheap and highly reliable.
            In the seventies and eighties, Belgian hi-fi retailers had full shelves of impressive looking gear from Kenwood, Pioneer, Marantz, Technics, Sony and the likes. Japanese makers were getting good reviews in French audiophile magazines for their electronics, but their acoustic efforts were so-so. In the early years, they apparently didn’t care about speaker alignment and things like this. They managed to squeeze a three-way system using a 15-inch bass driver in some sort of 50 L enclosure with a thick front wooden grille… Back then (and maybe still today), the best speakers came from France and UK, and we had American JBL’s too, but none of them were cheap. Tannoy speakers, with their concentric drivers, were getting nice reviews, but retailers had preferably Kef or B&W in their show-rooms.
            Nowadays, I’m able to buy on-line nearly everything I want; but the big downside is local retailers are gone for years. So, listening before buying is now a serious issue when one wants to trust one’s ears preferably to other people’s statements.
            I’ve seen some of your readers asking for Marantz integrated amplifiers reviews, and I now understand why it may be hard to achieve…

            • Ashley Post author

              The electronics are certainly widely available here, it’s just that nobody buys them. Speakers are one things they’ve never been great at; I personally stick with Tannoys, but Speakers are one area where British and US brands in particular excel. But the Japanese do excel in electronics, and can produce gear that performs as well, or better than, anything made buy the high-end boutique manufacturers and at a fraction of the cost. The reason I don’t review Marantz equipment is because, like so many others, both them and their PR agency has been unresponsive to my requests probably because I am not a traditional magazine. The audiophile industry is very much set in its ways, and there is no room for a modern and honest publication. It’s funny; those who have access to the gear choose not to review it, and those that don’t would be only to happy to review it. Sadly I can’t afford to incur the losses I would make if I were to buy product to review so I’ll have to hope that they either come around or that a dealer offers to loan samples in exchange for promotion.

              • Ludovic

                Well… Belgium is a small country, we use three languages and I realize Belgians are both open minded and not overly conservative. Hence the success of Japanese imports (cars, motorbikes, hi-fi…). I’m surprised nobody in UK bought those Japanese electronics despite they were widely available.
                But there are so many things I don’t know about people in other countries…

                (Your blog is now in my “favourites” list).

                • Ashley Post author

                  Thanks! Well, they did sell fairly well over here back in the day. The big names (Technics, Sony, Pioneer) did well here in the 70s and 80s, and the likes of Trio/Kenwood, Sansui, and even Toshiba did reasonably well though Toshiba in particular were never what they could’ve been. When the digital age came along the hi-fi market crashed for a while, with high-end audio catering for fewer people and the press having more influence. When it was reborn the favour was for local manufacturing and, though Japanese brands did well in the budget sector especially, other brands managed to dominate the high end for most people. They’re starting to find favour again now, what with Yamaha entering multi-room audio and Marantz managing to get some pretty wide-spread attention for their new 10 series reference separates. But the majority of the sales here, and the general recommendations from most magazines / dealers are for equipment made elsewhere, mostly the likes of Linn, Naim, Rega, B&W, KEF, etc etc.

  • Peter

    Hi Ashley!

    Based on your review and your helpful comments to my questions (in the RN-500 post) I’ve purchased a CXA80 and CXC about a year ago and I’m really enjoying it! They are a nice combo with my B&W683s2 speakers and the last months I’ve experimented with different cables to get the best out of my system. I use a double run of Audioquest FLX-SLP 14/4 speaker cables (bi-wired) and these thick cables bring the power-hungry B&Ws to life resulting in a more powerful bass and better dynamics. Recently I upgraded the coax interlink between the CXA and CXC from a low budget cable to an Audioquest Carbon digital cable and this lifted the whole system to a higher level. More details, cleaner high tones, easier to track the different instruments, more detailled bass,… all subtle differences but well appreciated! I have the feeling that all components are now nicely matched and that together with finding the sweet spot for my speakers, this system is currently playing at its best.

    However, it makes me wonder if and how I could further enhance my hifi system… you’ve got it: I’m suffering upgraditis 😉

    One of the options I’m considering is the use of an external DAC. Similar to Ian.G I wonder if a DacMagic Plus would make a significant upgrade. Based on your experiences with the CXN and other dac’s (Arcam IrDac) could describe what change in sound I could expect compared to the DAC of the CXA80? Will there be a significant change in the amount of detail, soundstage, separation of the instruments, dynamics… in the sound? Or are these rather subtle changes? Or a different sound-flavor with the same “absolute” quality?

    My ears are most likely my best guide, but it’s not easy to find a dealer with B&W and Cambridge to do an audition, that’s why I hope you could give me some directions.

    Many thanks for your thoughts and your advice!

    • Ashley Post author

      Glad you’re enjoying the system. I think an external DAC would make a difference though the DAC inside the CXA80 is a good one, much better than the DAC found in most integrated amps under a grand. I think you’d see (or rather hear) an improvement in all aspects you mention (detail, sound stage, clarity etc), though whether the detail justifies the upgrade price I’m afraid is something only you can decide. I’d hate to give you a definitive answer and have you feel as though I’d wasted your money. That said, any good dealer should allow you to bring an amp to hear a different DAC option, and some may even allow you to home trial a couple of options. Hear the DACMagic if you can, though I’ve always found them a little too bright. I’d certainly recommend having a listen to the Arcam irDAC-II as it seems to work very well with the CXA80 and CXC. Then there is of course the CXN if you wanted to add both a better DAC and streaming functionality, or of course the 851D which in my opinion is one of the best DACs available at any price.

      • Peter

        Thanks for your reply! Your confirmation that an external DAC will improve the sound on these various aspects compared to the already good DAC of the CXA, gives me already one part of the answer 😉 The second part of the question (How much do I want to spend for a given improvement) I’ll need to answer myself and will involve some auditioning at a dealer or have a look in the second handed market to do some testing at home.

        Do you know if the Dacmagic, dacmagic plus, the stream magic 6 and the CXN share the same sound signature or do they have significant differences sound-wise?

        • terry

          Hi peter
          I own the cxa 80,
          I usually have it connected to the cxn ,
          I also use the irdac 2 .
          The irdac was for my bedroom setup, but I thought I would see what it sounds like on my cxa 80.

          To my ears the irdac sounds better, less clinical.
          I compared cxn to the irdac 2 and it’s slightly , not a lot , better than cxn probably on par.
          But its definitely better than the cxa 80, especially through USB.

          I did own 2 dacmagic 2s unfortunately they both died within a month, god knows why.

          I would have a listen to the irdac 2
          Ashley is spot on with its review on the irdac.

        • Ashley Post author

          I’d say the Stream Magic and CXN are quite different, the Stream Magic was more laid back and analytical whereas the CXN is more lively and exciting. I owned a Stream Magic for a while but haven’t spent much time with the DacMagic and DacMagic+, though the times I have heard them I’ve always found them rather clinical and don’t think that either I a big upgrade over the DAC in the CXA80. I also have extensive experience of the 851 kit, having owned all of the models at one time or another and currently owning an 851N. The 851C, D and N, which all share the same DAC stage, are very neutral in character and extremely transparent. They are some of the most detailed and revealing DACs I’ve heard regardless of price, though the neutrality isn’t something that some like. Contrary to what many believe many audiophiles prefer a coloured sound as opposed to a sound that is exactly as that on the recording. I’d certainly advise having a listen to a DAC at that price range if only to judge the relative quality of the lower end equipment.

          • Peter

            Meanwhile I was able to have an audition of the Cambridge CXN and the DacMagic plus (DM+). Ideally, the Arcam Irdac II would have been included as well, but that was not possible. Both the CXN and DM+ where fed by the coax signal of a CXC and were coupled to a CXA80 with Audio monitor silver 8 speakers. The auditioning took place on two different moments.
            During a first comparison, I was able to enjoy the differences in sound quality between the DAC sections of the CXN and CXA80. And “more” is the keyword. The CXN gives more details between instruments, more textures to voices, tighter and deeper bass, better defined highs, better separation of the different instruments and layers, … overall an improved musical experience and I was “locked on” to the music in a way I hadn’t experienced before. The CXN also conveys a certain drive or energy to the music which makes it very pleasant to listen to.
            During a second audition I first compared the DM+ and the CXA80 and next also with the CXN. I started with the DM+ and although it sounded better than the CXA80, in the same “more-way” as the CXN, I wasn’t blown away immediately. The time between the two auditions clearly had changed my expectations of what I would hear… Comparing the DM+ and the CXN, helped to set the references back and it appeared that the differences were quite subtle. The DM+ is clearly of the same family as the CXN, but it only lacks the energetic drive the CXN adds to that and that gives the CXN the edge. After reading your experiences, I think that matches your observations.
            Pricewise the decision was taken quite easily: The DM+ retails for 400 euro’s, the CXN costs roughly 2,5 times more and I wasn’t interested in the streaming-options. I also like the 3 filters which the DM+ has: it gives a subtle touch to how the music sounds and enables me to switch between the linear phase and minimum phase filter (steep filter been using yet) in the case I look for a more analytical or more smooth approach (all quite subtle but noticeable after using the device for over a month now).
            I’m happy with the overall improvement of the sound as I helps me to get carried away by the music, to hear the different layers better and to get touched by the details in the voices of the singer… it makes the music sound more real for me. I think since the introduction of the DM+ other DAC have been released which might sound better (and at a given moment I might do some further exploration of the DAC world), but given its price (other options are more expensive) and the overall increase of musical experience by the DM+, I’m very happy with it!

            • Ashley Post author

              I agree with your findings. Though I have not performed technical measurements on either, I believe the DACMagic is more neutral in tone whereas the CXN is designed to be a little more ‘exciting’ which is typical of some mid-priced hi-fi.

        • Peter

          Terry and Ashley, thank you both for the clarification! Reading your experiences compared to the CXA helps me to get things in perspective.

          The 851 kit is above my budget at this moment, but indeed, an audition of the 851N is a very good suggestion as it will broaden my view of the possible upgrade-path now and in the future. However I’m a bit concerned that if I want to get most out of the 851N, i’ll need to upgrade the CXA or my speakers. 😉

          Another route which crosses my mind more than often, is to discover the analogue path and buy a turntable (pro-ject Debut Carbon Ortofon Red or Rega Planar 2 with an NAD pp2E or Pro-ject Phono box S) instead. I’m new to vinyl, but the more “physical” experience to listen to music attracts me a lot. I’m also curious about the “analogue” sound, people are so excited about. However, as I’ll need to start building up my vinyl collection, my biggest concern is that the quality of new vinyl releases will let me down… The mastering of an album is probably more important than the actual quality of the medium (as i have experienced myself by various CD’s…) and from what I’ve read, the quality of the master is very often better with vinyl than CD. On the other hand, if the the vinyl-release is just a plain copy of its “brick-walled” CD counterpart, vinyl offers probably less than the CD…

          Ashley, I have read (most of) your highly informative article about turntables, but in an era of streaming and hi-res, what would be your advice in my case?

          • Ashley Post author

            I think the first thing to note about vinyl replay is that a vast majority of the information available is quite simply incorrect, often based only on opinion or common misconception. Vinyl replay is often made to seem far more complicated than it really is. I saw a video of a well known turntable guru demonstrating the art of setting up a turntable, supposedly intended at the beginner market. He had a hugely expensive cartridge (which incidentally was damaged), a ridiculously expensive turntable and a high-end tonearm. Half of the things he demonstrated wouldn’t be available on many high-end decks let alone beginner models, and the tools he used to complete the job were outlandishly expensive and completely unnecessary. It was a confusing mess, and a perfect demonstration that much of the advice you read, even from the world’s ‘experts’ should be taken with a heaped tablespoonful of salt. Too many are quick to pass off information that they were told by some unknown salesman as fact, and many have limited or no understanding of engineering. Read the massive amount of debate on the subject of VTA for example and you’ll see what I mean.

            Now to your turntable choices. I’m not a huge fan of the Debut Carbon, mainly owing to its cartridge. Though some rate it highly, I’ve never managed to get a 2M red to track anything without excessive amounts of inner groove distortion. It’s a bright, harsh-sounding cartridge which wouldn’t pair well at all with the CXA80 in my opinion. The rest of the deck is very good, and it’s a shame they don’t sell it minus the 2M red. You could of course upgrade the 2M Red to a 2M Blue simply by replacing the stylus, but it is extra expense.

            I’m a big fan of the Rega decks. Their engineering is unique and very sound, and they don’t promote any of the typical audiofool BS. For example, there are neither azimuth or VTA adjustments on a Rega tonearm, because neither are needed if the arm is manufactured correctly and matched well to a cartridge. Again, the Cartridge on the Planar 2 is a letdown. The Rega Carbon is based on an Audio-Technica body with a custom stylus consisting of a conical diamond mounted to a carbon cantilever. While it sounds good enough, in my opinion this cartridge is easily bested by the classic AT95 in almost every imaginable area and given that the cartridges are roughly the same price (the AT95 is actually a bit cheaper these days), I fail to see why Rega don’t simply include one of those instead. The other hesitation I have with Rega decks is the quality control. I’ve seen and heard of too many leaving the factory with defects – many of them minor, but none that should be present on a brand new item. If you do buy one, I’d have the dealer change that cartridge (and not for the Rega Bias2 or Elys2 which are the common upgrade options) and I’d check the turntable thoroughly to make sure the arm bearings are sound, that the platter spins evenly and is level, and that the motor and bearing both run quietly. All being well the decks are otherwise reliable and it’ll probably spin happily for the next 30 years, with the occasional stylus replacement of course!

            Another deck to consider is the popular Audio-Technica AT-LP5. It’s built by a Chinese OEM, is a direct drive design and comes with a slightly customer version of the AT95. The built-in phono stage is very good and in my opinion it’s an excellent choice for those getting into vinyl if you’re unsure about the format. You get plenty of convenience features too like speed control at the push of a button and a removable headshell so you could experiment with cartridge options if you wanted to.

            With regards your concerns about new vinyl. Most of the reason vinyl is perceived to ‘sound better’ is due to the mastering. When you master something for a digital medium you can limit the dynamic range such that it sounds extremely loud and harsh. it’s called the loudness war and is a fascinating subject, well worth a read if you ever need something to send you to sleep. With vinyl, the levels can’t be pushed so high and you end up with a more dynamic sound and are able to hear more detail. I think it’s this that makes vinyl sound better and not necessarily the medium itself, though the medium is certainly an influencing factor as well. It’s a bit of a trend too, I’m always amused when I hear someone claim that vinyl sounds better only to discover they’ve been playing their records on one of those Crosley all-in-one record-ruining machines. I’m equally amused when audiophiles claim that high-resolution digital media gets them closer to the ‘analogue sound’, when we’ve had that ‘analogue sound’ in its true form for the best part of a century.

            With all that said, I am a vinyl fan and I prefer to listen to an album on vinyl. The quality of new vinyl isn’t as bad as people would have you believe; some become too obsessive over minor warps, and the central hole being half a millimetre or so out of position, but I’ve never had an issue with a new pressing and I’ve had hundreds. The worst I’ve had is a creased sleeve which is something I personally can’t stand, and is the reason I buy most new records from Amazon because I can guarantee they’ll be well packaged. And don’t forget that there’s a whole world of used records out there just waiting to be found on places like Discogs, eBay and even local charity shops and car boot sales. Forget those ridiculously expensive ‘audiophile’ pressings from small labels, they’re rarely if ever better than the standard item, and don’t believe the hype surrounding 180 gram vinyl because the weight of the record makes zero difference.

            The most important aspect of record playback is to keep them clean. I use a Pro-Ject VC-S which is a £300 cleaning machine and is as good as almost anything else out there. Yes it’s a fairly significant outlay, but with new records being about £20 on average it’s the equivalent of about 15 records and soon pays for itself. New records occasionally come with a healthy helping of static buildup and a paper sleeve. I give all records new and old a quick clean, put them in a fresh poly-lined inner sleeve (very, very cheap online) and stick that inside the jacket along-side the original. If handled properly the records will probably never need cleaning again and the improvement in sound quality is quite something.

            If you have the budget, go for it. Record collecting is great fun and you’ll be amazed what you’ll discover. I’ve discovered so many great albums thanks to vinyl that I wouldn’t ordinarily have played. When I buy a CD it usually gets ripped to the computer, put on a shelf and more often than not I’ll forget to listen to the album, or never listen to it in full. When I buy a vinyl, it almost always ends up on the turntable. It’s a great way to discover new music, it’s a wonderful physical ‘thing’, it sounds great and it’s something you’ll be truly proud to own.

            • Peter

              Thanks to share your very insightful views and experiences! Also nice to read your advice on the different decks and to point out the AT-LP5!

              Time to visit some hifi-stores and do some auditioning, that’s for sure! With your feedback, I’ll be well prepared 🙂

            • Peter

              Based on your comments and after reading quite a few blogposts (DAR), watching youtube about this topic (DR, loudness war, dynamic range day) and reading a book about the mixing-process of music, I think I got a good view on the mastering aspects of vinyl vs digital (CD). But wat keeps me struggling, is how this translates to my real-world listing experiences and expectations… As you have an objective and good view on both the digital and vinyl side of things, could you give me your thoughts about the questions I have related to my situation?

              When listing to music I want to get carried away and get touched. That’s why even in the digital era, I mostly start with the first song and end with the last one, like the way one would listen to vinyl. It’s also the reason why I’ve invested in a good quality hifi-components to get a realistic and musical reproduction of an album. And finally, that’s what keeps me wondering how it would have sounded if the vinyl-master would have been on the CD instead of it’s more compressed counterpart.

              What is your experience with absolute sound quality with turntables like the AT-LP5 (with cartridge upgrade), Rega Planar 2 (with CP2)? From a technical point of view, are they able to produce the same amount of detail, timing, bass, treble, as a my CXC and DM+ combo? Or should I invest more to get the CD-like bit-perfect quality.

              The latest releases of Radiohead, Arcade Fire, War on Drugs, Artic monkeys, … have typical DR-range values of 5-7 for CD and 8-11 for vinyl, but I wonder how this translate in the musical experience (some say the higher numbers for vinyl are a result of the playback and ripping proces)? Have you been able to do a direct comparison of one of these recent vinyl release and how would you describe the actual sound quality of both CD and vinyl?

              Thanks in advance!

              • Ashley Post author

                What you have to remember is that digital is, well, digital. It’s zeros and 1s that will be processed in exactly the same way, no matter what you play them on. I personally believe that the difference in the sound of digital components has more to do with their analogue output stages than the digital parts. Of course error correction plays a part but in any decent component errors are minimal if nonexistent, so not worth worrying about.

                Vinyl is a mechanical medium. The tip of the stylus must accurately track the microscopic groove of the record. The resultant tiny vibrations cause thousands of microscopic movements of the cantilever, which in turn moves the cartridge coils, which produces the voltage which drives the amplifier and produces the sound. The cartridge is supported by the arm which must allow it to track the groove as accurately as possible. Then you have the record itself, which must spin evenly and at the right speed with the minimum of mechanical noise which will travel through the plinth and the record itself and will thus be picked up by the cartridge. There’s more to it than that, but those are the main considerations.

                You can see now why vinyl is the more ‘difficult’ medium to play accurately. Even the cheapest digital players can accurately reproduce a digital file, but it takes quality mechanical components to reproduce a record accurately and without damage. Better turntables are, mostly, built to higher tolerances with better mechanical engineering throughout. There is also the issue if stylus shape. The tip of the stylus must accurately track the groove. The cheapest conical styli will track a groove but don’t offer the degree of accuracy you’re after and suffer from tracing distortion, not to mention excessive record wear. Elliptical styli are better, but spend a bit more and you’ll enter the realm of more exotic line contact diamonds which are vastly superior.

                In my opinion the AT-LP5 is the better of the two turntables you mention. The AT95X cartridge that Audio-Techncia supply has a decent elliptical stylus, where the Rega P2 is supplied with the inferior Carbon cartridge; a silly decision on their part. The AT-LP5 is without doubt a very good budget turntable and would be good enough to get you going. A cartridge upgrade to something like an AT440MLB or AT540ML would improve the performance considerably, offering far superior tracking. A Technics SL-1210GR with an AT740ML or better AT33PTG/II would be on another level.

                In general, providing you pick a well-engineered turntable and avoid some of the audiophile idiocy out there (there are some truly stupid designs) spending more on a vinyl source will yield a far greater improvement than spending more on a digital source, simply due to the mechanics required to accurately play a vinyl disc. But there are other factors at play too, such as the quality and cleanliness of the disc itself. A record cleaning machine such as the Pro-Ject VC-S is, I think, an essential investment, even if you only buy new records as they too benefit from a clean before playback. You should also take care with your turntable setup to get the best from the equipment.

                I haven’t heard most of the releases you mention besides ‘AM’ by Arctic Monkeys. It sounded fine, not too loud and my pressing at least is very quiet. In terms of the actual quality of both CD and vinyl… I am fortunate enough to own a very good CD player (a Marantz SA-14S1 SE) which is very analogue-sounding; that is to say it’s a very musical player and does very well even with poorly mastered CDs. I run a Technics 1210 with a slightly modified arm and an AT33PTG/II. The AT has a microline stylus which is the best stylus shape in my view and it will track anything. The sound I get from vinyl really depends on the quality of the pressing. Good pressings sound brilliant, bad pressings sound pretty average. You will never get the kind of ‘bit-perfect’ sound from a record that you will from a CD, and anyone who tells you that vinyl is ‘always’ better is fooling themselves. But vinyl can be extremely enjoyable with a decent turntable and cartridge.

                • Peter

                  The past months I have some nice experiences with both digital and… analogue. And the views and reviews on your website, prove to be very helpful! Thanks for that!

                  On the digital front, I was able to buy a cheap Arcam irDAC (I not the II). I can be short: it suits the CXA80 much better then the DM+. Deeper bass, better stereo-separation, more details and less crisp (which is a good thing in my system). Key is to leave the irDAC on all the time, then it performs best. The DM+ still has it virtues: its “fresh” sound is appealing at first but fatiguing after a while.

                  On the analogue front I took the plunge and bought an AT-LP5. I immediately appreciated the more airy sound and the more spacious sound of vinyl, although in a direct comparison with a CD, I missed quite some detail and bass extension. However the pleasure of taking the vinyl out, brushing the dust away, flipping sides, … really adds to the listing experience. As my vinyl collection is growing, I felt that I needed to upgrade the LP5 to really enjoy the black musical gold.

                  I installed a Nagaoka MP-110 element and this really improved things: more detail, better organization of the music, more air, deeper bass, more “warmth”… not quite CD-like but approaching. The pleasure of clean (and antistatic) vinyl due to the Knosti Antistat was one of THE revelations of the previous months and more than icing on the cake.

                  A couple of days a ago I bought an Arcam rPhono. As I plan to stay in the vinyl-zone, it seemed like a good and future-proof upgrade if I ever want to buy a new turntable. I knew the LP5 internal phono-stage can’t be entirely switched out: the signal always runs through a switch and a inductor and capacitor before leaving the LP5’s rca’s. Today I decided to take the whole phonostage out and make a direct connection of the phono leads to the RCA’s. Wow… what a difference: now the rPhono is able to show it’s true colors. The high frequency noise is gone, more dynamics, more details, more black background. Goose bumps are kicking in: the best sign that music is sounding right!

                  • Ashley Post author

                    Great to hear Peter and thanks for your kind comments on the site. You’ve made excellent choices in the irDAC and rPhono. You’re not the first person I know with a preference for the older irDAC. With regards the LP5, the AT95X is certainly not the most bassy cartridge though it is by far one of the best budget carts available. It can also be drastically improved with an aftermarket stylus. I hear the 95P Paratrace is excellent though I’ve yet to hear one myself.

                    Interesting to hear of your modifications; I know that was a common modification for the LP120, but you are the first I’ve heard of modding the LP5 in this way. It will certainly make the LP5 more revealing of a good cartridge upgrade. Try something with a microline if you want that CD-like sound, though with the vinyl warmth. In my opinion the Microline offers exceptional high frequency tracking compared to other stylus profiles.

                    • Peter

                      I’ve read about the Paratrace stylus and was tempted but my local dealer doesn’t stock them and the MP110 is also very nice.

                      Only after removing the internal phonostage and thus shortening the signal path considerably the true LP5 was revealed. Adding additional sorbothane feet is for sure the next thing (I did some experiments with hard foam and rubber feet that I have lying around and this resulted in a more focussed sound).

                      But would it be worth it to upgrade the tonearm? Or mod the platter or the plinth by adding absorbing materials? I’ve seen reviews of an upgraded LP5, but it’s difficult to asses what really has the most effect on the sound: the stylus, tonearm, platter…

                      Or would it be better to enjoy it for now and take the leap to the real audiophile stuff from Rega (Planar 3) or Pro-ject (1Expression or RPM3) in the time to come?

                    • Ashley Post author

                      The 95P stylus is best bought direct and isn’t carried by most dealers. The arm on the LP5 suffers mainly in bearing quality and an upgrade would certainly bring an improvement. The platter too is very tinny and will ring with the slightest vibration. Adding platter dampening would improve the sound significantly. I think the upgrades would certainly be worthwhile and there’s no harm in modding something yourself, particularly as some of the mods you mention would be cheap to implement.

                      When you do look for an upgrade, remember it’s important to hear choices for yourself and use reviews and comments as a guide, take them with a pinch of salt.. There are many engineering philosophies governing turntable design – some more sound than others – and some brands offer better quality control than others, particularly when you reach the high end where products are produced often by hand in small runs. Don’t discount newer Japanese equipment such as the new products from Technics.

  • Ian.G

    Hi Folks,

    I’m currently running the following 2ch setup:

    CA Azur 540A
    CA Original DACMagic (Pair of Wolfson WM8740 24bit DACs in dual diff mode)
    CA 640C connected to the DAC via a nice Van Den Hul Coax Digital interconnect
    Mac Mini via TOSLink into the DAC for digital streaming of FLAC via Plex.
    CA Pacific Yellow RCAs
    B&W 685 bookshelf speakers on heavy balasted FS700 stands
    Medium sized room.

    My CD transport suffered a dead laser transport about 3 years ago which was pretty easy to replace myself but it’s started to get a bit temperamental again. Its pretty old gear now and I was considering an upgrade of at least the CD Transport to a CXC and possibly the CXA80 amp. My ears are happy with the CA sound and B&W speaker paring so picking more Cambridge gear is a sensible starting point for listening and I’ll get a bit more punch going to a more powerful amp. I was craving a pre-owned 851A and 851C as they are sonically awesome but can have some quirks with volume controls and circuit boards dying so buying new CX range seems a good choice (Plus the 851 series is getting on a bit now).

    Reading about the internal DAC built into the CXA integrated amps it appears to be a single Wolfson WM8740. Would I notice any significant change if I was to ditch the DACMagic and run the transport straight into the in-built DAC or would you keep the dual Wolfson DACMagic involved ? A reduction in gear would be good but not at the expense of playback quality.

    I’m also on the brink of starting to play vinyl again (trying to justify replacing my long gone Technics 1200 with a new Technics 1210GR) so does anyone have any expereice of using the CA CP2 phono stage with this amp ?

    Thanks.

    • Ashley Post author

      Hi Ian – I’ll tackle your questions in order:

      Firstly, I want to address your comments regarding the reliability of CA’s 851 gear. Yes, it’s true that these components can suffer reliability issues; they are mass-produced on a larger scale than most, and unfortunately are built down to a price. The most common issues with the 851A in particular are the digital encoder (or the volume knob) becoming dirty and causing the volume to randomly turn itself up and down, or the class XD circuit being out of adjustment or failing to work correctly on one or both channels. I’ve fixed the former issue myself both on 851 amps and the previous 840 series, where the issue was incorrectly blamed on a relay board. The 851C is mostly reliable; the main issue with it has to do with the mechanism tray which is operated by a series of plastic gears driven by a belt. The quality of the mechanism itself isn’t bad at all, but that belt tends to slip after a time which causes the tray to malfunction. It’s an easy repair, but shouldn’t be a consideration on a £1200 CD player. Aside from that the components are built well and, for the most part, contain decent electronic components. In my experience (having opened up a fair few of them), Cambridge use a similar loading mechanism in most of their players. My advice wouldn’t be to avoid the 851 series; in fact I’d certainly give it a listen. But I would take out a warranty for the above issues. The new CX range are similarly well made, and I’ve yet to hear of any failing. I pushed my review samples to the limits and they never failed, though I admit I didn’t look inside to assess the quality of the electronics. I should also state in the interest of fairness that I own an 851N and it’s never given me any problems.

      As to your question re DACs. In general I’d recommend an external unit over that built into an integrated amp, though the DAC in the CXA80 is a very good one. I certainly wouldn’t judge it based on the number of DAC chips used; there are some very good single-chip DACs out there, and some exceptional players which use them. The CXN has a DAC arrangement similar to your DACMagic and there is an improvement when using it with the CXC. My best advice would be to take your DACMagic along to a demo and see if you can hear the difference, and if you can whether you justify keeping the external unit.

      As for turntables, excellent choice on the 1200GR. It’s great to see somebody picking a technics over the usual ‘audiophile’ offerings. The Technics is a fantastic deck and you can’t go wrong. With regards the CP2, it really depends which cartridge you’ll be running. The only small downside with it is the fixed moving magnet capacitance which is a fairly average 220PF. That’s fine for an Ortofon cartridge for example, but can give you a somewhat unpleasant treble lift when using an Audio-Technica cartridge, which are my preferred choice on a Technics table. Pro-Ject’s PhonoBox DS costs £25 more than the CP2 but is fully adjustable and offers slightly better performance. Pair the 1200 with one of the new AT VM series cartridges and a PhonoBox DS, make sure to Set it up properly, and you’ve got yourself a killer vinyl setup.

      It may also be worth looking at alternatives. I tend to recommend Japanese gear by default because you get a lot for your money, the sound as good or better than anything else out there and their reliable, well engineered and built with attention to detail and quality components throughout. Something like the Marantz PM-14 / SA-14 would offer what your’e looking for (including a top-class DAC, CD player and phono stage), would reduce your gear count, will last for ever and most importantly of all will sound great. It’s a little more than your’e looking at now but well worth the extra and would be my choice. Unfortunately thanks to a mixture of audiophile snobbery and poor UK marketing they’re not given the recognition they deserve. Hope this helps!

      • Ian.G

        Thanks for the reply, I’m a bit late to the CX game so thanks for your time !

        My concerns with pre-loved 851 gear would be a lack of warranty or maybe picking up already repaired items or ones about to/in the process of failing. The interesting thing about the CXA80 is that I can also potentially run a small sub to make up for some of the low end frequencies the 685s miss without any bridge wires to the standard speaker terminals.

        There is some nostalgia surrounding the Technics – back then it was how records got played in our house before the inevitable switch it compact disc in the early 90’s. The 1200 class turntables were always built like tanks – the direct drive system always accurate – sure DJs used them a lot – but it was households to begin with. I can’t imagine the newer 2016 onward 1200/1210 being a step back in any way. The place where they are for sale have a range of cartridges from about £150 right the way up to crazy but fully expect to be paying £250-400 for a nice cart. The thing I love about these turntables is they look like a traditional record player (which they are) – not a space rocket.

        As for the Marantz stuff – I have no issues with this – my folks are still running their gear they purchased in the late 90’s and still sounds incredible now. ! I’ll be sure to check those out too along with some other phono stages.

        One thing I really like about this site is you seem to appreciate that sound is a very subjective thing and only the listener can decide what sounds good to the remaining frequency range in their hearing based upon their musical tastes. Too many places try to write prose with lots of flowery adjectives to describe a sound which can’t really to be turned into words

        • Ashley Post author

          Thanks for your comments on the site. You’re absolutely right. To be honest I find it somewhat pointless to describe the sound of a component in detail, as the reality is that it will sound different in every room and every system, and not everyone shares my musical taste. For my reviews should focus more on the features, usability, technical performance and reliability of a given component, because attempting to describe the sound is a fruitless endeavour. It only ever leads to disappointment when a reader purchases something purely based on your description of the sound (which I would never recommend) and it doesn’t sound as expected.

          I also fully agree with your comments on the Technics. I’m still baffled by the number of hi-fi magazines who continue to claim that the 1200 was originally designed for DJ use as that is simply untrue. The deck is in fact well engineered. To play a record, you need a turntable to do two things – spin at the right speed with low mechanical noise, and allow the stylus to accurately track the record with minimal disturbance. The There is more engineering in the motor of a Technics than there is in some of the ‘audiophile’ tables and the tonearm is a superbly engineered piece too which has been improved in the newer models though the original isn’t as bad as many claim. One of the problems I’ve noticed with the Technics decks is that people simply don’t know how to set them up correctly. Technics designed their tonearm geometry for a reason, and sadly many attempt to set the table up incorrectly (using overpriced audiophile gauges and the like) and then claim its performance is lacking. In my opinion a Technics offers a sound that is true to what was pressed to the record. Other tables offer a coloured version which some prefer.

          As for a cartridge, the Audio-Technica VM740ML and VM750SH are right within that price range and would be my choice, unless you have the budget for the AT33PTG/II. THey’ll work well with either the Pro-Ject phono stage referenced above or the excellent stage built into the Marantz PM-14S1 SE. Install as per Technics’ instructions, track towards the top of the recommended range. On the subject of the Marantz if you did go down that route, the SA-14 offers a USB DAC capable of streaming both 24-bit high-res PCM and DSD. It’s a reference class DAC, works perfectly within MacOS and will give you better sound than running the Mac mini into a DAC via optical.

          • Ian.G

            Everyones ears are so different – its not like there are reference ears you can apply to subjectively reviewing a bit of music equipment.

            Cool to know re the DACs and the Carts. I reckon its a few months before the turntable shows up but I am really looking forward to hearing a record again.

            The weakspot on the DACMagic I have is the non async USB input. Being a software engineer I built up a little Raspberry PI to run Music Player Daemon (MPD) and used the corresponding iOS app to controll it all to stream FLACs from my network. Fortunately the Raspberry PI sees the DACMagic as an ALSA soundcard so you can force the audio down that straight into the DACMagic. It worked flawlessly on 44/48K FLAC sources – however – a combination of the outdated USB technology and the Raspberry PI caused to to not be able to cope with some of the 96K from desk recordings I have from a few bands (May not be a problem with the newer Raspberry PI 3 devices). It was pretty damn good though considering it was doing pretty much Sonos for next to nothing. Unfortunately the SD card in the PI died so for now Plex via the mac or even Plex on an XBOX One (direct play for flac – TOSLink to the DAC) works pretty well.

            I’ll keep an eye on AA – the tone of the reviews is perfect and unbiased which is nice.

            • Ashley Post author

              Well, good to hear from a fellow software engineer! I used to be one myself, got pretty lucky straight out of college (having failed the exams miserably) and was able to make it self employed mostly working on security systems and facial recognition apps, though with a bit of web stuff too. Never really got into front end web design (I’m blind so design isn’t my forte) but I quite enjoyed it for a time. Eventually musical opportunities presented themselves and I switched, but still mess about now and again. Have never owned a Raspberry Pi though. I had intended to buy one and cover it in an AA series, developing it into a fully fledged streamer possible with some custom software to remote control the other hi-fi components from a smartphone app but it never really took off. Perhaps that’s a project I should revisit as it would be kind of cool to run a small streaming box into the DAC of my own Marantz SA-14 to reduce my gear count. I believe Marantz uses a custom controller chip and software (though I’ve only ever used the USB port once and certainly didn’t check out the hardware so can’t back that up with anything conclusive), but I’m told it works fine under linux, right up to DSD support. I’ll always connect a DAC via USB when the option allows. Keeping as much control hardware inside the DAC itself is preferable. When it’s not possible I try to use coax over optical as many believe it makes a small difference in sound. I’ve never extensively tested to see if that’s the case, though it certainly makes sense from a technical basis. An optical connection must convert the signal to light, transmit it, and then confirm it back whereas a coaxial connection does away with those extra steps, so in theory there’s less chance for signal degradation. Anyway I’m rambling now, look forward to hearing how you get on!

              • Ian.G

                Hey folks, sorry I’ve not kept my progress updated – I’ve been somewhat busy with other things.

                My 2-channel setup at home as changed a little as I managed to get hold of another MJ Acoustics Pro50 mk2 sub (same as on my cinema setup) in perfect condition for a bargain price. Its now connected via Neutrik to the B speaker channel of my current amp and after some setup time to get the crossover and output right its really complemented where the lower frequences drop away on my B&W 685s and fills in the gap without being just horrid overkill bass. Its there – but – not detectable or overpowering which is great.

                I very nearly ended up owning a used good condition 851a which I missed by a mere £4 in an auction (maybe a blessing) and I am waiting to hear back on an 851c – however – it seems the Technics 1210 turnable is imminent along with a Project Tube Box DS – likely within the next 2 weeks. Superfi are suggesting I try an Ortofon Quintet Blue with this player (I think Project use these carts on their own players a lot) – however it based upon Ashley’s suggestions I’m not sure about this – The VM series Audio-Technica carts are very well regarded. I’d like to take a few records which I know intimately in digital form and make my choices in a sensible amount of time using gear with a similar signature to my own (last time this was Arcam gear with B&Ws).

                I’m still not entirely sure if I can justify/need an 851a/c setup over the CXA80/CXC+plus external DAC which was my original intention. Did anyone else back-to-back the CXA80 and 851a or have any other direct experience between the CX/851 lines ?

                For now though – spinning records (of which I’ve purchased many new ones recently) is the immediate plan.

                • Peter

                  Hi Ian,

                  In my search for a DAC upgrade for my CXA80, I’ve also discussed the option to upgrade to a 851A and 851C with my dealer. Based on his experiences he told me that in my specific case (and thus already owing a CXA80 and CXC) the DacMagic plus would be the best price/quality upgrade (for my experiences see posts above). He told me that due to the virtues of the CXA80, at times he has difficulties selling the 851a due to its premium price. So although I haven’t heart the CXA80 back-to-back with the 851a, my conclusion is that the CXA80 is performing at a high level and the 851a most likely will be a bit better, but also at a substantial higher cost.

                  As a side note, I believe that system integration can at times be as important as upgrading to new gear (my pitfall btw ;-)). Decent cables make a difference and fine tuning can improve the overall coherence of the sound. For example trimming my speaker cables (a not too expensive audioquest FLX 14/4) to the exact same length and specifically for my bi-wire setup plugging both pairs in one speaker-channel (instead of one pair in A and another in B) improved the transparency, sound stage and focusing a lot! This was a zero cost improvement and learnt me that details matter to get the timing at the most micro-level of the music right and to make the music sound more natural and more engaging.

                  Also the analogue cable for the DM+ to the CXA80 makes a audible difference. I bought it with a Van den Hul the Wave (which is quite costly compared to the price of DM+) which yields a detailed, dynamic and rhythmical sounds. Meanwhile as an experiment I’ve bought a second hand Audioquest Big Sur which gives a nice and easy-going presentation, but back to back the VdH gives more detail and overall is a more interesting listen and makes the DM+ shine.

                  I hope I don’t confuse you to much, but I believe you have a good base to build a nice system and getting the system as a whole on a coherent level might be more rewarding then buying the more expensive stuff. And as bonus you keep more money to buy more records 🙂

                • Ashley Post author

                  Hi Ian – great choice of turntable. I think you could do far better than the suggested Ortofon cartridge;. Yes Pro-Ject do ship many of their decks with an Ortofon cartridge, especially in the UK and Europe. Ortofon cartridges are great when you move up the range (the bronze and black series’ for example), but I’ve always found their lower end cartridges underwhelming and easily bested by the competition. That’s just my view, but the Technics is worthy of better. Technics turntables have always had a reputation for underperforming because owners and retailers frequently pair them with awful cartridges. Incidentally, This Youtuber went from a Quintet black to an AT150MLX (descendant of the VM740ML) and eventually to an AT33PTG/II and also prefers both to the more expensive Ortofon.

                  Regarding your comments on the 851 series; my concern with them is reliability, though they are excellent components when they do work. The main points of failure are the standby power supply and mechanism of the CD player, and the volume encoder of the amp. The encoder is packed with grease to give it a smooth feel when turning, but that amp gets hot which can cause the grease to drip, covering the contacts and causing erratic behaviour of the volume control. The CD player tray tends to fail, usually the little belt that drives it but I’ve seen the plastic gears go too. In terms of sound the 851A/C is far more neutral in tonal character and will offer more detail than the CX gear, with much stronger power delivery too. They do sound truly excellent, but if I were buying one I’d buy new with an extended warranty. To be honest I’d spend more on something like the PM-14/SA-14S1 SE series I mention above, and end up with a reliable system that would probably happily run for 30 years or more. The phono stage of the PM-14 is excellent too and would likely negate the need for an external phono stage. Or perhaps something like the 8005 amp and CD player along with your suggested phono stage and turntable, the 8005s are an absolute bargain right now.

                  • Ian.G

                    Well – plans changed slightly. I came across a used 851c in good condition (silver like the rest of my CA gear) for a very good price (its missing it’s remote which I’ll try and source) so took the plunge. Hopefully it arrives on wednesday.

                    There is space in my HiFi unit so I’m going to be in a position to back-to-back the 851c alongside my 640c and DACMagic which will be interesting. I’ll let you know what happens.

                    • Ashley Post author

                      Will be interested to hear how you get on! CA should be able to supply you a remote, the 851C will operate from the current 8-series remote.

                    • Ian.G

                      Well, the 851c arrived on Monday (very quickly). It had a few tiny minor marks on the top which can’t be seen once placed into my HiFi unit. I moved it straight to the CD channel on my amp and left the 640c/DACMagic combo connected to another input. For the back to back test I had King Buffalo’s great record ‘Orion’ on compact disc – along with another copy of the same CD which came with the Vinyl version I got recently.

                      CD’s queued up on both transports almost straight away the difference was pretty noticeable – the 851c is more revealing and it’s sound signature is a little warmer than the 640c/DACMagic setup. Mids and Lows are smoother with more detail and a subtle change in separation of instruments and vocals. The 851c makes my much lesser 540a amp and B&W685s/MJ Acoustics sub combo sound fantastic.

                      Next experiment was a blind test with my wife. Not familiar with the record she had no preconceptions about how it ‘should/did’ sound. After a few minutes of random A->B switching (and a few bluff switches obviously) she too settled on the 851c too – without knowing. A good result all round !

                      Cambridge also very kindly hooked me up with a new remote which should arrive shortly.

                      The situation now leaves me feeling there is more to be had from this unit by improving amplification in my system with either the intended CXA80 – or the more significant investment of an 851a. I’ll keep looking for a good condition used silver 851a or settle on the CXA80 soon.

                      For now though – this weekend is audition time for the Technics 1210GR and Project ValveBox DS at my local store. With no Audio Technica cartridges available this will involve Ortofon 2M Bronze MM, Ortofon Quintet Blue, and Ortofon 2M Black MM (The later which Technics use to demo these players).

                      Could be an expensive weekend…

                    • Ashley Post author

                      Excellent, I agree with your findings. I look forward to hearing how you get on with the Technics. I would hear the Bronze and Black and discount the Blue, the 1210GR is worthy of the better cartridges. Incidentally see if you can persuade them to align to the Technics standard using the gauge supplied by Technics, assuming they aren’t already. A proper alignment should see the cartridge parallel with the side of the headshell, the stylus tip positioned 52 mm from the small rubber washer at the rear of the headshell. Many reviewers and dealers align the Technics arm to a Baerwald/Lofgren alignment simply because the theoretical distortion values are less and because that is the accepted ‘audiophile’ way, but in my extensive experience with Technics ‘tables the Technics alignment will give best results in that arm and it is with that alignment that the arm is designed to be used.

                    • Ian.G

                      Well – I spent 2-3 hours in the company of an SL1200GR (The silver model rather than the black I’d buy but whats in a colour?) Running a Ortofon 2M Bronze set up to Technics specs through a Project TubeBox S. I don’t think the 2M Bronze had a lot of hours on it so was maybe slightly brighter sounding than it would eventually be. The dealer hadn’t managed to get hold of a 2M Black (probably just as well given they are almost twice the price of the Bronze) or the TubeBox DS (TubeBox S is £90 cheaper – and probably gives the DS a good run for its money in reality). Equally they hadn’t managed to get a sub dialed in with the B&W 685s they had so it was going to be missing some low end.

                      I took 6 Records (and their matching CDs) in but used only three pairs. This records have everything to push all the frequency areas along with delicate and loud parts. The 3 records I used were:

                      Naxatras – ‘SelfTitled’ – Greek psychedelic rock – what makes this interesting is Valve Amps into fully analog effects into a vintage Neve desk and mastered straight to Vinyl with no digital mastering at all. (The equiv CD gets final digital mastering obviously). These guys are traditional E tuning. Check them out here: https://naxatras.bandcamp.com/

                      Elder – ‘Lore’ and ‘Reflections Of A Floating World’ – psychedelic rock from Boston USA – These guys produce simply epic journeys rather than straight out traditional songs. Most of their tracks are typically over 9 minutes long and IMHO have movements and passages more akin to traditional classic music. They tune 2 steps down to C and there is a lot of saturated low end in their music along with really delicate steel guitar and analog instruments like mellotron and fender Rhodes pianos. Check them out here: https://beholdtheelder.bandcamp.com/

                      Having heard these 3 on CD countless times they seemed like ideal yardsticks.

                      What can I say – all 3 records sounded incredible ! Listening at a fair volume wasn’t at all fatiguing. I’d say the soundstage seemed wider and even more detached from the speakers than it already would be on my recent 851c transport. The drums sounded huge and natural – attack and decay of notes seemed very natural and less stunted than in digital form.

                      One of the problems we needed to address was missing low end when playing the 2 Elder records – its where adding the dialed in sub to my own 685’s really helped. We switched out the stored 685s for a pair of KEF Q series bookshelfs which gave an extra 15 or so kHz of low end over the B&Ws. These things had pretty good low end and got fairly close to what I’d hear at home with my sub – seem like a great small speaker. The Elder records now sounded like they needed to.

                      So – based on a few hours with this kit all that remains is for me to take the plunge. I think I’d go with the 2M Bronze but I’m not sure if I should cough up the extra £90 for the TubeBox DS given how nice the regular ‘S’ sounded. Anyone experienced the S and DS TubeBoxes back to back ?

                    • Ashley Post author

                      Great to hear your thoughts. Personally I think the Bronze is the sweet spot in the 2M range, the black is better but I’m not sure if it’s worth twice the price. Pro-Ject recently announced and are shipping the new DS2 line, so I wonder if you might be able to find the TubeBox DS at a lower price now? Great to hear you enjoyed the 1200, they really are great and still underappreciated.

                    • Ian.G

                      Picked up my SL1200/2MBronze/PhonoBox S yesterday and got it all set up at home. Back-to-backed a few records and CD’s in the evening and it sounds HUGE. My wife is still preferring the sound of the 851c over the turntable at the moment. 851c does sound awesome but it sounds almost a bit restrained next to the same record. Maybe there is some new gear psychosis occuring on my part but the Lady Blacksmith Mambazo vocals on Paul Simon’s Graceland sound incredible on vinyl !

                    • Ian.G

                      Hi Ashley, its been a little while but I figured I’d give you an update. My original reason for finding your site was with a view to buying a CXA80 through your great reviews. Last week I was on the verge of grabbing a CXA80 and as if by magic a Silver 851a in became available in really good condition and managed to grab it for about £100 less than a new CXA80. I swapped out my old 540a amp and got down to some listening and what can I say – this thing is incredible.

                      The 851a is a huge improvement (not unexpected) across the volume range – mids and lows are not lost at low volumes and when you push up the volume the humble B&W 685s sound better than ever – the high end could get a bit fizzy through the 540a when pushed and this too has gone to form a really well balanced sound. Both the 851c and SL1200GR sound phenomenal with this amp – its a relaxed listen and it never seems like its overly stressed even a volume.

                      The only regret from not getting a CXA80 is the option of a bluetooth input for those times when it would be nice to run a podcast or some lazy wireless streaming without headphones. I’ve been looking at a Yamaha YBA-11 Bluetooth Receiver as is it has digital coax out so I can send it into a digital input of the 851c. Does anyone have any experience of the YBA-11 ? I guess my other regret is I’ve still not experienced the CXA80 as a result of this – I believe it would give the 851a a serious run for its money.

                      Over the course of the year my setup has evolved quite dramatically and I’m incredibly happy with the outcome. I think in the coming years it could be worth looking for a better bookshelf to compliment this lot – but – as things stand at the moment I’d be more than happy to just enjoy as things as they are. Thanks again for all the advice and balanced discussion you give us on our HiFi journeys.

                    • Ashley Post author

                      Great to hear, sounds like you got a great deal too. You’ll struggle to stress the 851A at any volume, that amp is capable of some serious power. The CXA80 is great but ultimately the 851A is better. The CXA80 is less relaxed, more up front and in your face. The YBA-11 should work fine, you’ll need a USB wall plug adapter as it does not come with a power supply. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying your system, you have some truly great components.

                    • Ian.G

                      Well – the YBA-11 arrived and I have this thing connected via my spare Van Den Hul digital coax interconnect into the back of the 851c. Pairs with no fuss, doesn’t introduce any signal noise and supports the higher bandwidth apt-X protocol. Upsampled mp3 doesn’t sound at all bad all things considered. Very useful if people pop round and want to play me stuff I’ve not heard via their phones.

  • Maxprocrj

    Here it’s two different dealer so without purchasing one item not possible to audition other …what about Wharfedel 225 ..both sounds similar any take..

  • Zoltan Farkas

    Hi Ashley!
    I’m glad that I found this disscussion about Cambridge audio CX line. I just replaced my 17 years old Sony AVR to a CXN and CXA60 and using it for my old B&W 602 s2 speakers. I mostly listen stereo so I did not consider AVR again. My purpose was to have a very clear, warm or neutral sound, what can be listened normal and above 80db from 4 meter for a long time.
    My fisrt impression was that the CXN is excellent and really improves my CD , though the CXA60 was a negative surprise. While it was cristal clear I was unable to listen it louder than my old Sony AVR. Though the Sony’s sound is coloured and not as detailed, I still can listen it louder then the CXA60. Now I understand the the CXA60 is on the “bright” side, what I do not prefer. I also think that 60W migh not be enough for me.
    Since I do not want to change it to the CXA80 (it just adds 20W) , I started to consider the Yamaha A S701 to replace the CXA60.
    What do you think the CXN+ Y A S701 would sound with bigger “body” while showing the details on the B&W speakers?

    Thanks

    Zoltan

    • James

      Hi Zoltan

      I’m sure Ashley will reply in due course, but I thought I’d give some personal comments in the meantime – I listened to the CXA80 several times (and the CXA60 a couple of times) in auditions but eventually went for the Yamaha AS701. I was not ever able to directly compare them (I would have loved to but no-one had the AS701 in stock), but IMHO the Yamaha seems as good with detail and clarity as the Cambridge, but is notably more neutral and less bright.

      I did hear the RN602 alongside the CXA80 though and the RN602 was a little ‘thin’, lacking the punch of the CXA80. IMHO the same is not true of the AS701 and I believe that the 701 is a level or two above the RN602, on a par with (or close to) the CXA80.

      YMMV – I’m no audiophile, it’s just my opinion :), but I hope it helps.

        • Steven

          Hi Ashley,
          I’ve hooked the cxc up to the cxn and am hearing a slight but noticeable improvement in the sound quality!
          Is there any gain to be had for setting the pre-amp mode to ‘on’? What’s this option for?
          Thanks in advance.

          • Ashley Post author

            The digital preamp mode allows the CXN to act as a preamplifier and control the volume when it’s connected directly to a power amp. You shouldn’t use this option if you’re using it with an integrated amp that has its own volume control.

  • Peter

    Hi Ashley, firstly great review I really enjoyed reading it.

    I’ve currently got a Rotel A14 and some Q Acoustic 3050 floor speakers but recently went to a friends who has a Yamaha AS701 / Tannoy XT6F setup and when I brought my gear around and we compared speakers on each amp and amps vs each other I was much more impressed with both his amp and speakers. So much so I ordered the Tannoy’s the next day. I was pretty set on buying the Yamaha AS701 but now I am considering the CXA80. Would love to get your opinion on these amps and matching with the Tannoy’s. I play fairly loud and have a lively room with high ceiling and timber floors. Whilst I love the Rotel it’s very safe and polite sounding and no where near as exciting and dynamic as the Yamaha (which is surprising at a 50% higher price in this segment). Would the CXA80 be a good choice – I live in a state that doesn’t have a store where I can demo these so will need to buy online and hope for the best! Thanks again for the great review – Peter.

    • Ashley Post author

      Thanks Peter, glad you enjoyed the review. The Yamaha’s are excellent amps, and the 701 in particular is a very neutral amp with plenty of power. The CXA80 is on the brighter side of neutral; it’s got the excitement and dynamics, though with some speakers can have a rather lively top end. I’ve not heard it in combination with those exact Tannoys, though I did review it using older Tannoy speakers and I enjoyed the combination however it really depends on your tastes. Personally I’d be tempted by the A-S701 in your case, given that you’ve already heard it or perhaps one of the Yamaha models higher up the line.

    • James

      Hi Peter

      I’ve heard the combination of the cxa80 and the xt6f. To my ears it was very bright and not a good combination. I think the yamaha would be a better match, since the yamaha is more neutral.

      • Peter

        Hi James, I’ve had both for a couple of weeks now and I do agree it’s quite bright. However there is a ton of punch, detail and transparency – it’s a very exciting combination however I think it would be hard to listen to at volume for hours on end due as it’s certainly not warm and relaxed. I think a lot of it depends on the source material and recordings to. I ended up with the CXA80 as I go around 40% off the rrp + the bluetooth adaptor for free so thought it was worth the gamble. So on one hand I love certain aspects of the combination and on others I agree it’s very bright – I’m still not 100% sure on the combination though so might change amps again. Basically I need something with 2 sets of speaker outputs (I have speakers on my deck outside for entertaining), 1-2 forms of digital inputs, 1 analogue input, bluetooth and enough power to drive speakers well at fairly decent volume. Any thoughts as an alternative? Failing that I could look at a purely analogue amp with 2 sets of speaker outs and a dac that can handle my digital inputs.

        • peter

          * I like the Yammy but it won’t fit in my current built in entertainment unit – and still have enough space to get some decent airflow as it’s a fairly tall bulky unit.

        • Ashley Post author

          Definitely a more expensive proposition, but what about a Marantz PM-8005 with the NA-6005 or NA-8005 network players? I believe those feature Bluetooth and certainly digital inputs, and you’d get the added benefit of a warm sound, bags of power and smartphone control.

          • Peter

            I’ve been looking at the new Oppo Sonica Dac, looks like a great dac with heaps of inputs, balanced output, preamp / dac / streamer. Maybe that to a decent amp?

              • Ashley Post author

                The Marantz is Exactly as you just described. Warm, musical, Japanese build quality, pure analogue with none of that digital stuff getting in the way.

                • Peter

                  Does it still have that punch, detail and excitement that the Cambridge has or is it overall just more relaxed? I know all this is subjective but yea I really like those aspects in my music however I found when I used the treble control on the CXA80 the moment I moved it to a level it warmed up the sound I lost a lot of the detail and transparency that I liked so it was a trade off on that amp unfortunately.

              • Peter

                I just compared my Rotel A14 to my Cambridge CXA80 with the Tannoy XT6F’s. Interesting results. The Rotel tends to fall apart somewhat in the high end detail at very high levels. The CXA80 is WAY more punchy and dynamic with a ton more bottom end and attack, compared to the A14 that is more relaxed and smooth but doesn’t have the same level of excitement to the sound and feels a bit sluggish on really punchy songs. The CXA80 has more detail and a tad more brightness (seems to extract every bit of detail out of the material but this can also be a be fatiguing) but at very high levels the treble still stays very clear compared to the A14 which gets thin and brittle – both are on the brighter side of neutral with these speakers though, however my room is fairly lively with timber floor boards and high ceilings which probably doesn’t help. This is a bit of a side note to the original post but thought it may interest someone. I was using my Oppo BD-203 as the source (cd’s) and Wireworld RCA cables / QED speaker cables. Both do sounds great though just different. Still not sure which way to go though in regards to a 3rd amp option.

  • Gustavo

    Hi, I currently own a Yamaha RN 500 and a pair of Monitor Audio Silver S6. Do you think it’s a good investment to upgrade my Yamaha to the Cambridge CXA80? I don’t mind about the network features on the RN 500, i just want to make an improvement in audio quality and keep this amplifier for a long time. I’ve heard that Cambridge amplifiers and Monitor Audio Speakers are a good match. Thanks, regards from Argentina!

    • Ashley Post author

      The 2 sound very different. The Cambridge is a more exciting sound, whereas the Yamaha is more neutral. I would encourage you to demo the CXA80 to see if it is right for you.

    • Ashley Post author

      The CXA80 will play FLAC files via a computer connected to its USB input, though it cannot play files from storage media directly. I don’t think it supports DSD however.

        • Ashley Post author

          Many stereo receivers will, the Yamaha R-N602 certainly does and I believe the Marantz HDAMP1 does also. Pairing the CXA80 with the CXN also gives you this functionality along with DSD64 support.

      • João

        Great Ashley, thank you for deciphering my English, but I was very skeptical about the reproduction of the .dsd files. Thank you very much for your attention.

  • Robert

    I bever likes Cambridge with my rock and metal music. Too Bright and metal is mostly Bright recorded. I like a warm full bodied sound without bright Highes. I was looking at the Tannoy xt6f OR q accoustics 3050. In the past i likes NAD for my music. Will the new NAD c368 OR maybe better the older NAD c356 a better choice?

    • John

      Hi Ashley
      Do you think the CXA80 would compliment a pair of B&W 685s2’s ?
      I’m currently using a Marantz P6005 to drive them and at low volume they just don’t deliver.
      Great review by the way.

      • Ashley Post author

        John – I would’ve thought so, though the CXA is somewhat brighter than the PM-6005 so I’d suggest having a demo first. Specs wise yes, just make sure it’s not too bright if you enjoy the Marantz sound.

    • Ashley Post author

      I’ve heard great things about NAD’s new digital integrated amps. I heard the D3020 when it was first introduced which I believe was the first in the series and it was pretty warm and certainly powerful. Marantz is usually my go-to choice for a warmer amp.

  • Adam

    Hello, thank you for a very interesting review (and the discussion in comments below)!

    What do you think about pairing Cambridge Audio CXA80 with two Tannoys Mercury mX4? Those are a rather budget speakers, but I like their natural sound. Currently they are connected to Yamaha Aventage RX-A1010 (there’s also a blu-ray player Philips BDP9500, but I listen mostly to music stored on my NAS as a flac files, some of them in hi-res). Even when watching films I prefer just stereo sound, so I’m considering Cambridge Audio CXA80 + CXN + CXU. What do you think?

    In case you don’t know the Tannoys mX4, here’s some basic info:
    – recommended amplifier power Watts RMS: 10—120
    – recommended power handling Waats Peak: 180
    – sensitivity – 2.8V in at 1 meter on axis: 91dB
    – nominal impendance – Ohms: 8
    – frequency response: 31Hz-20kHz.
    I’m wondering, whether the speakers are capable of doing justice to the CXA? They received a rather positive review from HI-FI Choice (4 out of 5 stars), stating „in stereo mode, the mX4 are very capable in most respects, though a little limp and feeble dynamically. The bottom is smooth and well extended […] Weight it does have, but not a lot of authority and grip. The bottom end plods along a bit, and the midband could be more expressive and dynamic. The overall sound balance is very close to neutral, although it is just a little ‚thin’ in tonality”.
    I know it is quite difficult to give any advice, if you don’t know the speakers, but any thoughts will be appreciated! Unfortunately, it’s not possible for me to test them with the CXA.

    Thank you

    • Ashley Post author

      Thanks for your kind words on the review. The MX4s were a budget speaker and aren’t really at the same level as a CXA80. However the combination should still sound very good, and the system you propose (CXA80 + CXN + CXU is an excellent one. That system should sound good with your existing speakers, and will give you plenty of scope for a future speaker upgrade. You should note though that the CXA80 is 2 channel only, and you’ll have to run the CXU in 2-channel mode when watching movies. If you think you might want multi-channel capabilities in the future, you may want to consider one of the CXR-series AV receivers with a CXU player. The CXR receivers not only support multiple channels but also have most if not all of the functionality of the CXA80 and CXN. However if you’re sure you only want 2-channel music, the CXA80, CXN and CXU will be a fantastic system.

      • Adam

        Ashley, thank you very much for your opinion – I’m replaying after few days because I needed some time to think about it (and about the Alex’es advice below).
        I can surely say that I strongly prefer stereo/2 channel sound, even when watching movies (Yahama Aventage AV receiver is quite capable in the multichannel sound programs and I tested them with the tannoys mX4 + mXc + mX2, but in short time I moved the mX2s to my bedroom and disconnected the mXc). Having more speaker terminals and hdmi inputs in a living room is always a safe, future-proof option, but I would miss that gorgeous display of the CXN  Besides with the CXR it’s not possible to navigate through network music without an app (using only remote or physical buttons) and I think, the CXN’s upsample rate is higher. So I will go probably with the CXA80-CXN-CXU combo .
        One thing makes me a little bit anxious though – that bright sound of the CXA80 you also reported. One of the reviewers wrote very positive opinion about the CXA80, but at the same time wrote about the CXR120: “The Cambridge CXR120 is a quiet force. Its sound gives an overall impression of serenity and control at all times. […] The power of the CXA80 integrated stereo can be felt. We were able to listen again to some of the tracks mentioned above with the same amount of pleasure if not more as the treble range, which is a little drier than with the Cambridge CXN and CXA80 combination, gives more room to the other ranges to express themselves. All this, however, is a matter of taste.” What do you think about the sound produced by CXA80+CXN with the tannoys revolution x6fx, that Alex suggested? My speaker cables are: audioquest Rocket 33.
        I’m also curious about you opinion concerning the bass capabilities of the set (please, see my reply to Alex’es comment below).
        Thank you for your time! It’s a big decision for me.

        • Ashley Post author

          The CXA80 is a fairly bright amp, and the XT series are somewhat bright speakers. It really depends on your taste, and if there is any way to demo them doing so would be advised. I ran the CXA80 with Tannoys and didn’t find the combination too bright, though it was certainly a more exciting sound than it was warm. The brightness of the sound will also depend somewhat on your listening environment so I’m afraid I can’t really give you a definitive answer, besides suggesting you hear the components yourself.

          • Adam

            Hi Ashley, it took me some time but I would like to give my feedback. I’ve decided ultimately on the CXA80 + CXN + CXU combo and after over a month I have to say that it exceeded my expectations! Of course, during the ‘brake in’ period sound was quite harsh, but now it’s well-balanced, powerful and at the same time full of insight even at low volume levels. After few years with a rather capable multichannel receiver Yamaha RX-A1010 the difference in stereo sound reproduction is for me shocking. I know that it’s an overused cliché, but I’m feeling now as if I were hearing my collection of music for the first time. With that kind of emotional presentation music becomes even more addictive…

            I would like to thank you, Ashley! Your review of the CXA80 (and the CXN) helped me making one of the best purchasing decisions I’ve ever made.

            What surprised me a lot is that I am able to hear all those things on my budget Tannoy Mercury mx4 speakers. I think it says a lot about how good they were in their price range. But at the same time I’m aware that the gain would be greater with a higher quality option. So I’m in market for some floorstanders. The CXA80 is in fact a little on the bright side and I’m looking for speakers that won’t damp down that brightens, but also won’t strengthen it any further. I’m drawn to Tannoys because of my good experiences and a sentiment for the brand.

            Initially, I was considering Tannoy xt6f (or xt8f although they are rather big), but I’ve read that the xt6f’s are little bright themselves. Now I’m thinking about the Tannoy Precision 6.2. This series has been discontinued, but there are still some of them on offer in my country. Apparently, it’s even possible to buy Precision 6.2 Limited Edition speakers, that are individually tuned; they are also pricier and my budget would probably implode, but I’m ready to make sacrifices ;).

            I’ve read your review of the Precision 6.2. What do you think about combining them with the CXA80? Unfortunately, it’s not possible for me to hear them before buying.

            • Ashley Post author

              Great feedback Adam, thank you for sharing and I’m glad you’re enjoying your system. When I test a product, part of my testing involves using source components that it is likely to be paired with. Some reviewers exclusively test everything within the context of a reference system, usually involving speakers and sources costing thousands which is fine but doesn’t offer a sense of how the product will perform in the real world.

              When I reviewed the CXA80, I actually did so with a pair of Precision 6.2s among other speakres. I used the ordinary, non limited edition which are fantastic speakers. The combination was fantastic; the top end was still there but it never became harsh, and the system was extremely musical and enjoyable. I still have my Precisions and pull them out from time to time, they really are great speakers.

              You mentioned the XT6F and XT8F models. I’ve reviewed the XT6 standmounts which were a little brighter than other Tannoys, but I never found them particularly harsh. I took delivery of a pair of XT8Fs this morning as I’ve had literally thousands of requests to review them. I too have heard comments concerning their brightness, and wanted to see for myself whether this was an issue. They’ll be run in for a good few weeks before the review, but even fresh out of the box they don’t sound overly bright. I suspect they’d be a great match for the CXA80. The review will be up in a month or so, so I’ll probably have a better answer then. Hope this is at least somewhat helpful in the meantime!

              • Adam

                Wow, I wasn’t aware that you used the Precision 6.2s in the CXA80 review! Thanks to your opinion my decision became much easier (when it comes to music presentation I value musicality above anything else). And the Limited Edition should be even better, although probably by a rather small margin.

                I’ve placed a comment with few additional questions concerning the Precision 6.2 under your review of the speakers. I hope it’s ok.

                There are only few pairs of the Precision 6.2 LE left in my country, so I’ll probably try to buy them before your review of XT8Fs arrives. The XT8Fs are to big for me and I like the looks of the Precision 6.2 LE better. But for sure I will read that review.

                Thank you very much Ashley for all your help!

    • Alex

      If you allow me to suggest you, I will probably stick with the cxa60 as for a budget speaker the cxa80 probably is an obverkill and you will have the usb input at the cxn. Saving you 250£ that is the cost of the cxc new. On the top of this the cxn can act as a preamplifier so, you could find a power amplifier cheaper than the cxa60 with same quality as you are not going to use the cxa60/80 dac inside. With all that money saved you could go for the tannoys revolution x6fx wich are fantastic.

      • Adam

        Thank you, Alex, for your advice – it really made me to rethink my choices and once again verify my needs!
        I will probably stick with the CXA80 though, because of the balanced XLR input – it is possible, that in future I’ll place the CXN few meters away from the amp for easier (manual) access, and in that scenario a balanced connection should – to my knowledge – minimise sound degradation caused by the length of the cable. For playing CDs I’m planning to use the CXU, not the CXC, because it more universal, enabling playing movies on BD as well. What’s important, based on your advice and Ashley’s opinion I came to the conclusion, that I should invest in better speakers as soon as possible  ! It would stretch my budget, but I’ve read good opinions about the tannoys revolution x6fx you pointed at. I’m wondering about one thing: my budget speakers have frequency response: 31Hz-20kHz, but the x6fx have 38-32000 Hz. So apparently they are way more capable in heigh frequencies, but somewhat “poorer” in low frequencies. I know that specs are only a half of the story, but what’s your opinion/experience? I will use that system also for watching movies so strong bass should be well pronounced, when needed.

        • Ashley Post author

          Few instruments contain frequencies below 40Hz or so so that difference really won’t be noticeable. The XT6Fs really sound a lot bigger than they are.

        • Alex

          Hi Adam
          Cxn has got XLR conections, so will be able to act as a preamplifier with any power amp with xlr.
          , there are naims out there.Cxa80 is great, you won’t regret buying it either.but depending in your local dealers/ebay I would explore that option cause you are paying a dac you won’t use. Tannoys currently have a retail price of 579£ wich is a great offer, they have extra layers of transparency, acoustics and voices are great bu, I personally chose the opticons 6, that you can find in ebay for 800£, retail is1200 but, with amp package you should be able to get 200-300 discount. Demo them, you will understand Why I choose them, bass is in a completely different leage and for my taste they were less brighter/harsh.Check with retailers they do normally good discounts if you buy all together.

  • Petar

    Hi Ashley,

    following your review I bought CXA80.
    My system was HK 3390, CA DACMAGIC 100 and KEF LS50. SO I tought that by replacing HK and CA DAC with CXA80 that has the same integrated dac I would improve SQ and save some room on my desk.

    Here are the good things – CXA80 has much more cleaner sound and you can easily feel that there is more than enough power to drive LS50. The amp is very nice looking and the quality of materials seems pretty high.

    But there are some major negative impressons

    listining fatigue – I mostly listen to music while sitting by my computer desk and after 20 minutes or less, my ears are getting numb and I can listen all are acoustic, low paced songs with volume turned down very low.

    Bass – missing in action. There is only some fake, shallow bassalike sound. Now I’m no basshead, but I do like to hear tight bass. I tried headphones, bass control on the amp and no result, this amp simply hates low fq.

    As for LS50 – the speaker is very capable to play low fq, that was very clear with HK3390.

    So my question – is thery any thing I can change to improve SQ or this amp-speaker combination just does not work for me?

    Best Regards

    • Ashley Post author

      Sounds like that combination doesn’t work for you. The CXA80 as I’ve mentioned here is on the brighter side of neutral, as are the LS50s. That probably results in a bright sounding system, which is the reason for your listening fatigue. The 3490 is more on the warmer side tonally. I am however very surprised to hear of your findings concerning the bass. In my tests the CXA80 showed exceptional bass performance. How long as your amp had to break in?

      • Petar

        Thanks for the fast answer.

        I bought the amp 2 weeks ago, so I’d say about 10-15 hours of break in.

        Which other amp can you recommend me in this price range (other than NAD 7050D and Arcam A19 – I didn’t like those two) that is more on warm side?

    • Alex

      My findings were that this amp shines at high volume levels, it looks like it is designed for that.you stated that you use them in a deskopt system so I assume that you would probably listen in low to moderate volume levels..That could be a reason for this performance

  • Pete

    Hello, great review thanks!

    I am seriously considering upgrading from my NAD 316BEE amplifier to the CXA80, to drive my Dali Zensor 7 Floorstanders.

    Currently, the sound is great but I just feel that there is an element of power missing, for example with Iron Maiden or ACDC although the sound/vocals/bass/rythm are all very good I just feel that it could be better, especially at higher volumes (never more than 50%) I feel that the current NAD amp is struggling.

    I am conscious that driving £700+ speakers with a £250 amplifier might be doing a grave injustice to the speakers!

    Would very much appreciate your thoughts!!!!!

    • Ashley Post author

      Thank you for your kind words on my review, much appreciated. I am sure that the CXA80 would offer plenty of power. It was tested with some fairly efficient Tannoys for the review, but certainly wasn’t lacking in what many would call ‘slam’ or ‘attack’. It’s great for rock music. You may find it a little on the bright side, so if at all possible get a demo first, but I’m confident it will be an improvement on your NAD, as good as that amp is. Also check out the Marantz PM-8005 (which is a staggering bargain for what it sells for currently), the Yamaha A-S701, and models higher up the NAD line. There are some very nice amps out there which will offer the power you’re after depending on your budget of course.

      • Pete

        Wow, quick reply! Thank you.

        It’s funny, I was also looking at the Yamaha AS701 you mention. My worry is that I end up spending £400 and then regret not spending that little extra that would mean the sound moves from ‘good’ to ‘great’ (as I have had this in the past!!) 🙂

        I really do like the sound of the NAD, and your suggestion the CXA80 would be brighter puts me off. I have considered other NAD amps, e.g. NAD326BEE £350 and NADc338 (£600). However I think the improvement with the NAD326 would be minimal (please do correct me if I am wrong!) and the C338 is not yet available (and I am also a little put off by it being all-digital, not AB).

        I think £650 is my limit.

        The Marantz escaped my notice till your recommendation, do you think it would be a noticeable upgrade in sound from the NAD 316BEE?

        Many thanks for your help, I appreciate I am bombarding you with questions!! 🙂

        • Ashley Post author

          I don’t think the 326 would be a significant step up. The Marantz is a brilliant amp with a huge power supply and plenty of power. It’s well made too with decent spec parts inside. The Marantz offers a warmer, more musical sound. If your current NAD is like others I’ve heard, the Marantz is very similar. The A-S701 is more neutral, so if you prefer a warmer sound you may find it too laid back and somewhat boring. The CXA80 doesn’t really have much of a character, but if it did it would be more in your face than warm. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your speakers. DALIs tend to be a bit brighter, and without having heard the combination for myself I’d have to wonder whether the CXA80 might become a little unruly at the top end driving them. If you can demo, I’d test the CXA80 against the Marantz 8005 (Richer Sounds have them both), as that will give you a very good indication of the sound you prefer. From what you describe I feel you may prefer the Marantz. What are your source components?

          • Pete

            Really appreciate both your quick responses and impartial advice!

            I play a wide range of music, from Iron Maiden/ACDC/Motorhead to The Pixies/Eagles/Jimi H to Beethoven/Mozart/Profokiev etc. but I do tend towards Rock!

            My source is currently a Marantz CD6002 which has served me well for the last 5 years or so but it will be the next component to upgrade. (For TV/Cinema I switch amps to an Onkyo606 with surround sound + subwoofer, same Dali front speakers).

            The source for the stereo amplifier will remain CDs. This may include digital FLAC etc in future but is not really a need/desire right now. I want the best stereo hifi sound I can get for my budget and I believe CDs (with a good player) are the best option for me right now.

            I auditioned Dali Zensor 7, Dali Optikon 5 (beautiful looking but a little too bright sounding) and Monitor Audio Silver 6 (small speakers with a narrow sound stage imo), I honestly found the cheaper Zensor 7 to have the best sound, though the Bass can be a little loose sometimes.

            Anyway, long story short, thank you very much for your (free!) thoughts and advice. The Marantz is a real possibility, the only thing I don’t like are the looks but I can overlook that for the bargain price (must keep an eye on the price as it seems to be fluctuating on amazon according to a price tracker website!).

            I think the CXA is off the cards as I am not a fan of ‘bright’ sound.

            Thank you 😀

            • Ashley Post author

              No worries at all, glad to have been of help. If you purchased the Marantz 8005, its companion CD player (the SA-8005) has a sweet DAC onboard too which I believe is DSD capable, and is certainly more than capable of streaming high-res FLAC from a computer. The looks I certainly agree with you on, but the sound more than makes up for it. I wouldn’t right off the CXA80 if it is at all possible for you to hear one, having not heard it with your speakers I can’t say whether it would be too bright or not. It wasn’t too bright with the Tannoys. My experience with DALIs (including those you mention above) are that they are bright speakers, though I have more experience with their upper ranges than I do with the Zensors. It’s certainly worth a listen. I think you’ll find the sound you’re looking for in 1 of the 2 amps.

              • Pete

                Thanks Ashley. You’re a credit to the website!

                I would prefer to demo, but unfortunately the nearest is over 2 hours away which makes things tricky. Last demo (for the speakers) was at Richersounds in Bristol and they were very helpful indeed – think I persuaded the guy that the Zensors were best but perhaps he was being kind…

                If I can find the PM8005 for the very low price the pricetracker suggests might happen it looks like a no brainer :-). Looking on the web, most say the Marantz are warm, but a few say they are bright. Looking forward to (possibly) testing that out for myself.

                The Optikon is certainly a little bright (my ears were tired after an hour of auditioning them with Deep Purple!), the Zensor is much less so with a VERY open soundstage which I love.

                I actually have Zensor1s with my PC which I was using the NAD amplifier for…so it will be nice to have it back. I bought a little SMSL digital amp as a stopgap for the PC, whilst amazing for the price (under £50) is far behind in detail and ability.

                I was happy with the Onky 609 (not 606 sorry) playing stereo music to the Zensor7s but thought I’d try the NAD instead, blew the Onkyo out of the water with the first track. So I decided to go dedicated stereo amp for music and a switch to use the Onkyo for AV.

                The SA-8005 is definitely on the cards…thanks again.

                In the meantime, glass of wine, book, NAD+Zensor7s playing some Iron Maiden….happy days.

                Cheers.

                • Pete

                  Ok, one last question (sorry!)

                  Could you recommend a Home Cinema Amplifier (5.1) that can play stereo as well as the NAD C316BEE/Marantz PM8005/CXA80? Price under £1500 (as that would be the price of the stereo amp now plus a future home cinema upgrade).

                  I feel that going dedicated stereo is going to be better, but am happy to be taught better!

                  • Ashley Post author

                    The Cambridge CXR120 / CXR200 are the models that immediately spring to mind, though the Yamaha RX-A series is also worth a look. I’m afraid I’m not particularly experienced when it comes to home cinema (though I know enough to get by), but I’m reliably informed that the Cambridge home cinema receivers sound exceptional and have the advantage of having the excellent stream magic platform built right in. Yamaha’s receivers offer more features and include support for their MusicCast multi-room system which may or may not be of interest to you. marantz make a range of receivers 2 which I hear are also excellent. I’m afraid I can’t tell you how any of them sound, though I’d probably guess at the Cambridge being the most powerful and best for rocking out, the Yamaha being the laid back and more neutral sound, and the Marantz being warmer and more musical though probably less authoritative.

                    Personally I think 2 channel is always the way to go. When you have a stereo amp and a multi-channel receiver both at the same price, the stereo amp will contain less circuitry and therefore more of the build cost can be spent on higher quality components. However as you’re considering stereo amps around the £650 mark, and a multi-channel receiver at almost double the price, you may find that evens the playing field somewhat. If you did demo one of these receivers I’d be interested to know how you get on.

                    • Pete

                      All good food for thought.

                      I’ve already favourited your site and had a gander. Good stuff! Not sure I agree about your headphone jack iPhone article – as they reduced the battery power along with removing it, but it’s an interesting & useful thought. p.s. I don’t have an iphone and am biased against apple (as a PC enthusiast 🙂 )

                      Thank you for thoughts re dedicated stereo amp vs home cinema all in one. I remember the 609 being described by whathifi as excellent musically, they were wrong (or at least unhelpful versus dedicated stereo amps). So that does make me hesitant absent a strong recommendation. Like you, I think 2 channel is the way to go.

                      Thanks again (for the sixth? time!) 🙂

                      I will let you know how I get on with my system.

                    • Ashley Post author

                      Thanks, I’m glad you’re enjoying the content! You are right about the iPhone’s headphone jack. I woudl’ve liked to have seen its inclusion and I wasn’t too happy when it was removed. However I do feel that people massively overreacted, hence my article. I’m not biased towards any manufacturer (though I do use an iPhone and am typing this on a Mac), and I don’t particualrly like Apple’s direction. I feel they’re leaving us pro users behind, especially with their new pro machines being more consumer toys than true professional hardware. I will be keeping my 2015 MacBook Pro until such time as I can’t possibly keep it running any longer, by which time hopefully someone at Apple will have seen sense and started to develop products that professionals and consumers actually want.

                      I think if you’re spending that kind of money on an amp, a 2 hour trip for a demo is really the only way to go. If it were me I’d take a trip to Richer and hear the CXA80, the Marantz 8005 (along with its matching CD player), and the CXR120 / CXR200 and see what you think. Take the views of a certain magazine (most of the hi-fi magazines for that matter) with a loaded tablespoon of salt.

          • Pete

            Well…I have a Yamaha AS701 arriving tomorrow, it was reduced to £360 as an amazon warehouse deal ‘Like New’. So…hopefully it won’t be broken on arrival!

            Will let you know how I get on 🙂

          • Steve

            I’m thinking about Cambridge CXA60, Marantz PM6006 and Yamaha A-S501. What would be your choice for listening funk, soul & jazz music?

            • Ashley Post author

              Probably the 501 or the 6006, depending on your source, speakers and how loudly you want to play, and of course the kind of sound you’re going for. If you’re going for neutrality and party power, the 501. If you want something warm and musical, the 6006.

              • Steve

                Equipment for 501 would be Yamaha CD-S300 with KEF Q300 and for 6006, Marantz CD6006 with Q Acoustics 3020. Size of my room is about 14m2.

                • Ashley Post author

                  Do you have the opportunity to hear them first? If it were me I’d probably go with the Marantz. Back in the day I owned the original A-S500 with a CD-S300 and loved it. I then swapped to a Marantz PM-6004/CD-6004 and they were better, particularly the CD player. I kept that system for years before moving up to high-end hi-fi, and in fact only recently sold it. It was extremely reliable (outlasted many a high-end piece) and always sounded great. I now have a PM-11 and SA-14S1 SE. As much as I like the Yamaha, for me the Marantz would have the edge.

      • Pete

        So, as I said I would…first impressions of the Yamaha AS701 versus my old NAD 316BEE running my Dali Zensor 7 floorstanders.

        Immediate impressions, i.e. 2 minutes into ACDC back in black, the treble was clearer. I had previously seriously considered buying a new CD player as the cymbals always sounded a little harsh, a little distorted, not very clear – and I had read that trebles were a weak point with my Marantz 6002 cd player.

        It wasn’t the CD player. The cymbals, all treble in fact, is much clearer when played through the Yamaha. Maybe a ‘little’ brighter but I think it is just clearer, much clearer. The cymbals just sound right, no longer a distraction but part of the music.

        Other than that, the music just sounds better and it took me a while to figure out why.

        The various strands of music are now individually more dynamic volume wise (forgive me if this is not well explained). So whilst a guitar is whaling away going up and down playing riffs, the drums are a constant, the vocals are a counterpoint. The vocals in Back In Black for example, are now more front and central, whereas before they were a little quieter.

        I suppose it comes down to the seemingly bottomless well of power the yamaha seems to be able to bring to the table. It just does it. I am listening to the sound, not listening for areas of improvement.

        Anyway, this is probably slightly edged by those ‘I just bought something new and expensive’ rose tinted glasses, but I do not have buyers remorse whatsoever. Very happy.

        Listening to Iron Maiden “The Thin Line Between Love & Hate” and it sounds absolutely awesome. Very confident sound. I am playing music louder than before because now it just sounds right.
        Thank you for the recommendation!

        As a side note, the amazon warehouse deal discount? No idea why, the box was pristine and unopened, definitely brand new unboxed!

        BTW, this is not saying the NAD amplifier is bad, I am still very happy with it and it runs my Zensor 1 speakers beautifully, but it definitely struggled with the bigger Zensor 7s.

        I’ll report back in a few days with more long term thoughts.

    • Ashley Post author

      No. The USB input on the CXA80 accepts connection of a computer only. It cannot be used to connect USB devices, more can you connect 2 computers via a hub. If you need multiple USB sources you’ll need either a CXN which has inputs for 2 USB devices or 3 if you don’t use the wireless adapter, or an 851N which offers 4 ports.

  • Oded

    Hi Ashley,
    How about matching the CXA-80 with DALI OPTICON 6?
    I am thinking about upgrading the system and found the DALI OPTICON 6 sound to be pretty impressive

    Thanks in advance

    • Ashley Post author

      I know of a couple of readers with that exact combination (along with the CXC and/or CXN) and they’re extremely happy with them. personally I find the DALIs somewhat bright sounding, but if you like how they sound the CXA80 will be a great match.

      • Alex

        Hi Ashley, thanks for the review, I am currently driving the cxa80 with the dali’s opticon 6, I tried the cxa60 and the rega elex-r with the dac magic plus and finally I choose the cxa80 as it has got better capacity to drive the bass low end and the rega only a bit better but costing much more with the add-on dac. Now, I only listen to music through my mobile via Dezzer(flac on premium) I use the sonos zp80( cost me 100£,ebay) conecting it via two rca from cambridge audio to use the internal dac from the cxa80, Do you think is worth spending further 600£ in the cxn?I have my doubts about it even, if I sell the sonos for 100 and it cost me 500£ instead.

        • Ashley Post author

          It’s difficult for me to offer a fair comment as I’ve not heard the Songs. However having heard the CXN I can say that its DAC is better than that of the CXA80, and it is a fantastic streamer. I now own an 851N which is essentially the same streaming module with a better DAC, and I personally believe that Cambridge’s streaming platform is currently the best in the business. I am confident that the CXN would out perform the Sonos.

          • Alex

            Thanks for the response, sonos currently owns the best streaming app, apparently the ca connect is not a good one as the comments a quite bad about it, my doubt comes to, what does a stremer do?I mean, if the sonnos with the app allows me to play any digital song to the cxa80, then The only improvement that I should notice is the doble dac on board the cxn Wich I supouse would be just become a sublte difference compared to the one inside the cxa80 I guess, I could buy for the cxn money another cxa80 to drive each speaker. Considering that the cxa80 has got the usb also, seems an expensive upgrade considering the improve in sound quality.

            • Ashley Post author

              Personally I’ve never had an issue with the CA app. There is definitely room for improvement but the same can be said for all streaming apps. Most of the bad reviews I’ve seen concerning the CA app were to do with the way the app displays files and folders on connected storage drives. The CA streamers display files and folders exactly as they are stored on the drive, which means that the streamer doesn’t need to build a database of each connected drive which results in faster performance. If you have files scattered all over the place, this system is confusing and doesn’t work particularly well. However if you organise your files properly the system is very logical. Primare’s ap is good too, though sadly their streamers are limited to 48kHz over WiFi which I find rather silly. Yamaha’s new MusicCast app works well and is a major step above the old NP Controller app.

              You’re right that as you’re streaming a digital signal to the CXA80, the DAC in the CXN would be the main reason for any difference you could hear. Lower digital jitter and the ATF up sampling would also contribute, but whether you could hear the difference only you could decide. The only way to decide whether the price is justified is to hear one for yourself and decide.

              I should mention also that you cannot use 2 CXA80 amps to bi-amp your speakers, at least not easily as the CXA80 does not have an input that can be routed directly to the power amplifier.

              • Alex

                Thanks, I agree that is your ear wich at the end decides, regardless specs etc. I will see if I can get one for demo at home and see if it is worth but, in paper and for what are stating the cxn/851N look like fantastic options if you have a good amp or integrated amp without dac inside.An old cheap sonnos connect may be, due to the great cxa80 capabilities, a more cost-effective alternative. I will post my impression when I get my hands into the cxn.

                  • Alex

                    Following your advice, bought cambridge audio 851N for £850. Look like a good offer worth the try, I will see and compare :).

                    • Alex

                      Inmensive improvement, 0 backgound noise.nothing obvious at first sight but, after a few seconds it starts to shine, using at their very best the opticons 6, amazing bass, able to go deep in the low end but, erasing any boom effect, on the treble side any superfluous brightness has gone aswell, dinamics and rythm are driven through in Such an infecious way. At lower levels the improvement is obvious aswell as tracks sound in almost full detail. I had a lot of doubts when I purchased this product, despite of spending 2.5x my initial budget, I am extremely happy.

  • Dimitris

    Hi Ashley,
    would you consider the CXA-80 a good choice for italian made loudspeakers like Chario, Sonus Faber which are more relaxed/rounded in the highs?
    I currently own the Chario Syntar 200T paired with an old Yamaha amplifier and am in the process of upgrading the system. I like very much the tone and colors of Chario speakers and probably i will continue with the same brand but with a stand mount like Delphinus or Lynx because of space.
    The kind of music i like is jazz, soul, contemporary and i wonder if CXA-80 could fit in terms of colors and tonal balance with these speakers.

  • Maxprocrj

    Hi…I may never get a chance to audition cxa 60 & cxa 80 in AB test.

    Only concern about SQ not power or features. Will drive a pair of Zensor 3.

    Some people said CXA 80 sound is clinical or little bright in comparison to CXA 60 or its more balanced. Pls share .

    • Ashley Post author

      it’ll be fine on any hi-fi rack shelf with a minimum of around 5CM above it, possibly a bit less if the rack is open at the sides. I probably wouldn’t leave it running in an enclosed cabinet unless it has a good amount of space all around, but the same goes for any amp.

  • Maxpro

    Hi..

    Pls suggest some mid to high range stand mount names shall pair with cxa 80 ..good sound,detailed,warmish,open not at all bright sound

  • Pang Chan Yip

    Hi Ashley, I just bought a CXA80 and considering whether I should pair it with CXN or Chromecast Audio using Toslink. Will there be noticeable difference between the two, given that the price difference is huge? I understand that if you use Toslink, it will by pass Chromecast’s DAC and hence no difference?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Ashley Post author

      The CXN would offer better sound as its DAC is superior to that of the CXA80. You are correct that connecting a Chromecast via Toslink will bypass its internal DAC. I personally feel that the sound and functionality of the CXN more than justifies the price when paired with the CXA80.

      • Pang Chan Yip

        Thanms Ashley, the thing is I mostly listen to Spotify only and not sure if it justifies the extra outlay for me!

        The other option that I’m considering is Naim’s upcoming Uniti Atom, a 40W amp. Will this be sufficient to drive the XT6F?

        • Ashley Post author

          That being the case, a Chromecast connected to the CXA80s digital input will be more than sufficient. The Naim will drive the XT6Fs, I’d probably go for the CXA myself.

  • Selvam

    Hi Ashley,
    Hope you are doing well. I’m not sure you review AV receivers, apologies if this is not a right forum. As you mentioned CXR120 & CXR200 here, I’m wondering how the Cambridge AV Receiver perform purely in terms of Sound Quality & Sound processing when compared to Yamaha AV Aventage Receivers say RX-A2060. Your thoughts Please.. I’m sure this would help members in AV forums.
    Thanks for your time and effort! Cheers 🙂

    • Ashley Post author

      You’re correct in that I don’t review AV receivers, however Cambridge are known to make some of the best sounding AV receivers on the market. Their receivers feature discrete amplification, massive power supplies and a sound first design, whereas other receiver models primarily focus on the visual functionality. I’m afraid I can’t give you a comparison with other models, as I neither own nor frequently listen to AV receiver models so to give my views would not be fair. However I would have no hesitation in recommending a Cambridge CXR receiver if sound quality is a main priority. I know several people who swear by them and I once knew a dealer who sold only Cambridge receivers to their AV customers. I think they’ve had a few reliability issues in the past, mainly with the 751R and 551R units but I’ve heard of no such issues being present on the new CX range.

      • Selvam

        Hi Ashley,
        I have reserved Cambridge AV Receiver CXR200 instead of Yamaha RX-A2060/3060. This is to match with Tannoy Precision 6.4 (L+R), Precision 6C centre and Monitor Audio Bronze BX (bipole) as rears. I think I will get your thoughts on this before I purchase it. Do you think it’s good choice assuming I have no interested on ATMOS/DTS-X type of sound which Yamaha offers as extras. I have little concern on room auto correction by Cambridge. Please let me know your thoughts on Cambride AV CXR200. I did A/B demo of CXR200 at Richer Sounds against Yamaha RX-A3060. I felt Yamaha didn’t have enough power.
        Thanks for your time. Cheers

        • Ashley Post author

          If you like the sound that the Cambridge offers and if it has all the features you need, go for it. Cambridge receivers are known for putting sound before features and I know many who say they’re the best sounding receivers on the market. The automatic room correction is definitely worth running and I’m told it’s pretty good. Definitely a great choice, I don’t think you can go wrong.

  • Maxprocrj

    Hi…

    Just to clarify…

    Some people are saying CXA 80 is way better then CA s Flagship 851a (intersted).
    Auditioned CXA80 several times. BUT
    Never got a chance to hear 851a and little chance too.Please enlighten !!!

    • Ashley Post author

      Sound is subjective. In my opinion the CXA80 is a more lively amplifier, and the 851A is more neutral. I don’t think one amp is necessarily better than the other, I think it comes down to personal taste. I prefer the styling of the 851A, and I like that it’s an all analogue amplifier (personally I’d rather amplifiers din’t come with digital inputs and that an external D/A converter was used). The 851A has more inputs as well as an analogue record output which the CXA80 does not. The 851A has a digital volume control which offers better channel separation and more even channel tracking than the alps pot of the CXA80, though because the pot in the CXA80 is a very good one the difference is minimal. The 851A has a better headphone stage than the CXA80. What I’m trying to say is that both have upsides and downsides, so you should listen and decide for yourself which you prefer.

  • Selvam

    Hi Ashley,
    Thanks for your review. I’m just wondering how Yamaha AV 2060 running in Pure Direct mode compared to this Cambridge CXA80 in terms of Natural Sound quality. I have Tannoy Precision 6.4 Speakers & Turntable Audio Technica LP5 as source mainly. I’m thinking of buying AV 2060 because in weekend we watch Movies though music is 70% during weekdays. So, I’m just wondering whether Yamaha Aventage 2060 should excel (or) at least in par with this Cambridge Integrated Amp while running in Direct mode.

  • Terry

    Could anyone tell me if the cxa 80 has Fully balanced internal circuitry?
    I have started to use xlr from cxn to cxa 80.
    I cannot get an answer from Cambridge.
    I have read that Fully balanced internal circuitry would give a few db increase.

    It got me thinking maybe the amp isn’t Fully balanced internal circuitry.
    If not , does it make any difference?
    Thanx in advance.

    • Ashley Post author

      I don’t think so, I don’t think any of the Cambridge amps are fully balanced. Few amps are these days. The balanced signal is converted as soon as it enters the input stage. Back in the day they used to convert the signals with a transformer, though these days it’s usually done using op-amps. Balanced signals can reject noise and interference, and where possible i usually connect up with a balanced cable even in situations where the amp is of an unbalanced design. Whether it makes a huge difference with short cable runs in debatable, the difference certainly isn’t always night and day. If the connections are there I’d use them, but if not I wouldn’t be too worried.

      • terry

        Thank you for your reply
        I did tests to see if the audio quality changed between xlr and rca,
        I noticed that the rca sounded a tiny bit more sharper than xlr

        Iam using Designacable Van Damme STAR QUAD Neutrik Gold XLR to XLR Microphone Cable .
        Will do more listening.

        • Ashley Post author

          I use similar cables. The advantage of a balanced connection is that it eliminates noise that can be picked up on long cable distances. It’s great in the pro audio field when cables can run for tens of metres, but I don’t think it really makes a huge difference in hi-fi where the cables are usually a metre or less. If you prefer the sound of the RCA connection, that’s the connection to use.

      • Terry

        Ashley. Received this reply about internal balanced xlr .

        Cambridge said.

        Bart (surname removed) (Cambridge Audio)
        Oct 28, 11:28 BST

        Dear Terry,

        Thank you for contacting Cambridge Audio.

        Yes, the CXA-80 has an internal balanced design.

        There should be no audible difference between the two inputs, but this will depend on the outputs of your source devise and the cable resistance.

        If you require any further information or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

        Have a great day!

        Kind Regards,

        Bart (Surname Removed)
        Cambridge Audio

        • Ashley Post author

          Interesting, thanks for sharing. If the designers say that the CXA80 is fully balanced internally then I’m happy to believe them. I remember working on an 840E preamp once which I don’t recall was fully balanced internally. That’s an old product by now and of course things may have changed.

  • Terry

    Ashley
    Could you give me advice.
    I am using cxn 60 with my computer,
    I have connected optical out from motherboard to cxa
    I have set the sample rate to Realtek (optical) at 24bit 192.
    My question is!
    The cxa manual say,
    TOSLINK Optical – Use a high quality TOSLINK bre optic interconnect cable designed speci cally for audio use. This input is suitable for 16-24 bit content up to 96kHz (TOSLINK is not recommened at 192kHz sampling rates)

    And yet cxa plays the tracks fine. at 24/192.
    Is the cxa downsampling to 92?
    I cannot hear any jitter or distortion.
    This has me confused.
    Note… tracks iam testing are 24bit 192. Converted from sacd.
    So I know these tracks are 24 192.

    • Ashley Post author

      I don’t believe the CXA will downsample audio. While Cambridge don’t recommend the use of optical for 192kHz sampling rates, I suspect that’s due mainly to the stability of an optical connection vs a coaxial one, especially given the number of low quality optical cables out there. If it sounds fine, it probably is and I wouldn’t worry about it.

      • Dave

        Hi Ashley,
        I need a cable to connect my CXC to CXA80. One metre will be enough. I’d be very grateful if you could advise on what to choose – optical or coaxial. And which specific cables would do justice to the components. I was thinking maybe QED Performance Audio. Are there any other cables you could recommend?

        • Ashley Post author

          I would go with a coaxial cable myself. Any cable will do, providing it’s specified as a coaxial cable for audio use and is of reasonable quality. There’s no need to spend a fortune, don’t believe the expensive cable hype.

  • Ron

    Thanks for the extensive and informative review.
    This is a rather silly question, but I was wondering if you could suggest some music for which you think this amp truly excels.
    I recently decided to upgrade from a “cheap” Yamaha AV amp that I’ve had for years to the CXA60. I’ve got Totem Acoustic bookshelf speakers (which outclassed my amp) and, after demoing the CX amp with my speakers, I’m pretty sure I can hear a significant enough difference in sound quality to warrant the amp upgrade.
    I’m looking to test it out once I receive it, and I’m curious to find songs that can push the boundaries of the new system. Thanks!

    • Ron C.

      Hi, Other Ron.

      You could try Queen’s ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ from ‘Live at The Rainbow’.

      On vinyl, Dark Side of the Moon; Bill Evans’ Portrait in Jazz (also great on CD); Blackstar; Blue by Joni Mitchell. Kind of Blue on 180 gram audiophile vinyl

      On CD, Trilogy by Chick Corea; anything by Melody Gardot, the 1959 recording of Stravinsky’s Firebird conducted by Dorati on the Mercury Living Presence label (also great on 180gram vinyl)

      And lastly, Folk Singer by Muddy Waters, great on CD or vinyl.

      Enjoy.

      • Ashley Post author

        Those are all great suggestions, I’d add some Fleetwood Mac into the mix also. Usually I recommend using tracks that you’re very familiar with to see if you can pick out anything extra from the track. If you can, and the track sounds better than you remember, the upgrade is a success.

        • Ron

          Thanks for the suggestions!
          I should hope that upgrading from rather pedestrian AV equipment to an “audiophile-grade” amp will be a night-and-day comparison. I’ll follow up with my thoughts.

    • joleth

      Hello Ron. I have an CXA60 too with Totem Rainmakers. Jazz and New Age music are my favourite genres of music. Your new amp totem combo should be able to play anything you desire. Dave Brubeck Nora Jones Enya should perk your ears up like a startled deer in the forest. Plug and play and enjoy!

    • Ron

      Alright, I’m back. I’ve had the CXA60 for a few days now (supposedly still in the break-in period), and while memories of my cheap Yamaha 5.1 AV are fresh in my mind, I’m got some initial impressions. My sources are optical in from an Apple router and audio out from my tv. I play Spotify at “extreme” bitrate and standard Netflix/Youtube on the tv. Speakers are Totem Acoustic Mites.

      I deliberately tried to challenge the new amp with songs that have a lot of inherent distortion to see how well it can tease apart the music. These songs were usually mildly unpleasant to listen to on my old Yamaha at high volumes. The best example is Coldplay’s Every teardrop is a waterfall. The song features some sort of synthesizer that sounds deliberately distorted, but, on my iPhone or old Yamaha amp, it “bled” into the vocals and other instruments. From what I can perceive, on the new amp, the sound is separated and the vocals shine through. The same appears to be the case for almost any song by the band Alvvays. Every single Alvvays song sounds like it was recorded using a stereo mic pressed up against a ghetto blaster radio. Listening on the CXA60 makes it a little more pleasant, since I really love this band. And when I want to hear detail, I tried a few songs with cool synthesizer effects: deadmau5’s Strobe, The xx’s Chained, M0’s Final song. Jazz sounds good on the amp, but I find Jazz always sounds good on everything. In my opinion, something about jazz’s pacing and few instruments make it easier to listen to even with mild distortion.

      Everything sounds a bit clearer, which was ultimately what I was aiming for when I opted to upgrade, but I’m not gushing. Overall, however, my sound is better, so I’m satisfied.

      • Ashley Post author

        Thanks for sharing your feedback. I would agree with your findings. I think you should see some further improvement as the amp continues to break in. I think also that such an amp is very dependent on the source material and components, so you have scope for future upgrades should you feel the need.

        • Ron

          I’m curious: what does amp break-in entail? I understand from a physical perspective what a speaker break-in means, but what is changing at the amp level during this period? Thanks!

          • Akis

            Ashley
            At the moment I am driving a pair of B&W 805s with CXA 80 and an ADCOM GFA 545 Bi Amp with good results.
            Source is a CXN streamer. Spotify & TIDAL + Foobar FLAC.
            If I upgrade to the 851W bi-wired or to drive the mids-low, and CXA 80 for the upper frequencies, is it going to be any improvement especially on listening to lower volumes?
            How to get the most detail out of the recording?

            • Ashley Post author

              I don’t have direct experience of your second power amp so I can’t give you an answer. All i can suggest is that you get an 851W on home trial and give it a try.

              • Akis

                To put it different,
                Combining the CXA 80 with 851W driving the 805s, is it a better option than driving just the 851W with the CXN.
                Also is it going to be any improvement especially on listening to lower volumes?
                How to get the most detail out of the recording?

                Thanks in advance

                • Ashley Post author

                  I’d probably drive the 851W directly with the CXN because it sounds like you have no need for the analogue preamp of the CXA80 and thus removing it will remove a component from the signal path. At lower volumes, you don’t need any more power or control than an 851W can offer.

                  • Akis

                    Thanks Ashley
                    But why people are insisting on bi-amp.
                    I will be only using the CXA 80 to drive the tweeters and utilizing the 851W for mids and lows.

                    From what i understand the CXN and 851 W and the jumpers on my B&W 805s will give better results than bi-amp due to 851W better Power/Resolution and less components in the signal path.

                    • Ashley Post author

                      That’s how I’d run the system. Bi-amping IMO is only worthwhile if the 2 amplifiers are the same. For example, if you were using 2 851Ws fed by a CXN, bi-amping may offer an improvement. But at low volumes you’re not going to use a fraction of what a single 851W can deliver.

          • Ashley Post author

            It mainly has to do with the properties of the electrical components stabilising. Capacitors, for example, are essentially cans of conductive liquid which will settle slightly as they’re used. I think part of it also has to do with the person listening to the system adjusting to its sound. I’ve heard several components that Iv’e been unsure about to start with, but that I’ve gradually begun to appreciate and enjoy.

  • Max

    Hi…I am looking for an upgrade for my Dali zensor 3 from CA 651a.I have ZDac so built in DAC doesn’t exits me a lot. I am already frustrated for 651a s CPA 5 protection.Half of the time its goes on protection mode.

    CXA 60 or CXA 80 which is better in this context.I have heard CXA 80 with Z3,liked it but confused.
    Pl suggest.

    • Ashley Post author

      The CXA80 will give you more power as it has a larger power supply and is of a dual mono design. Any idea what causes the 651A to go into protection? Do you play your music particularly loud? What speaker cables are you using? When the CXA80 was here for review I played it at extreme levels, far beyond what i normally would and not once did the CAP5 protection trigger.

      • Maxprocrj

        I never passed 50% of total volume.

        Local delaer failed to understand the issue.Sometimes its plays ok…suddenly it behaves erratic for a month…

        My unit had been replaced once due to this issue…still its persists.

        I use Chord clearway…

        Its my fate……

  • terry

    Ashley whats your take on this.
    ok i have my cxn connected to cxa 80
    i have it connected to cxa has phono , so i can use the twin dacs in cxn.
    now! i also have dig…. coaxual connection to amp.
    i have noticed that if i play 44.1 music on cxn through analogue. (using twin dac) it sounds a little muddy.
    now if i then switch to digital. its spot on.
    if i feed cxn 88.2 or 192 its very clear. just has it should be.
    i have come to the conclusion cxn dacs for high quality tracks. and cxa for cd 44.1.
    any ideas why this might be?
    thank you in advance.

    forgot to add. it last post that cxa plays 44.1 and 192 beautifully.

    • Ashley Post author

      That’s an odd issue. Firstly I wouldn’t have both the digital and analogue connections connected at the same time, as it’s unnecessary and it could cause issues in the unlikely event that there’s crosstalk between inputs. I’d also be running the CXN into the CXA80 via the balanced connections. The pair were designed to be connected this way and this will result in the best sound quality. Depending on how long you’ve had the CXA and CXN, they may benefit from further running in. A lack of run in time on the CXN could describe the issues you’re having.

      • Steven

        Hi Ashley,
        Also, pressing the Direct button on amp keeps the display on- on other equipment I’ve had I’m used to the display being switched off.. Is this right?
        How do you enable the cap protection on the amp, please?
        Thanks again.

        • Ashley Post author

          The display of the CXA80 will remain on even when in pure direct mode. It is a low noise display so disabling it isn’t really necessary, though I believe there is a brightness control on the remote that may even allow you to turn it off altogether. Please don’t quote me on that, as it’s been a while since the sample was here. As for the CAP5 protection, it is part of the amp’s circuitry and thus is always enabled. You can turn some aspects of it off in the settings (clipping detection for example), but everything is enabled by default.

  • Paul

    Hi,Ashley! I am the beginer in hi-fi.Can you tell me what is the main difference between integrated amp and power amp,and what do I get(or loose)if I decide to match my speakers with the power amp instead the integrated?

    • Ashley Post author

      An integrated amp contains two main components, more commonly referred too as stages. They are the preamplifier which consists of the volume control, input selection, possibly tone controls etc, and the power amplifier which boots the signal from the preamplifier to a signal high enough for the speakers. Some higher end systems separate the preamplifier and the power amplifier into separate boxes, usually called a pre/power combination, whereas an integrated amplifier combines them both into a single box, usually with a shared power supply.

      These days integrated amplifiers are exceptionally good and more than good enough for most. If you wanted to bi-amp your speakers, a process in which 1 amp drives each speaker or 1 handles the low frequencies and one handles the highs, then you’d need a separate power amplifier. Or if, for example, you didn’t have any analogue components such as a turntable, and you wanted to create a simple digital system, you could connect, for example, a Cambridge CXN directly to a power amplifier and use the digital preamp mode to control the volume.

      You should note that a power amplifier has no volume control, so you should not connect a source component such as a CD player or a network player that does not have a preamp option directly to it, otherwise you’ll risk both speaker and hearing damage as the amp will run at full power. You can find my hi-fi for beginners series, in which I go into great detail about all the various hi-fi components and configurations Here.

  • Ron

    Dear Ashley,

    Your review was really helpful and important in my decision to purchase a CXA80. After buying one and living with it for a while, I came back here and re-read your review – and I completely agree with your evaluation of this amp.

    I also really appreciate that you respond to your readers’ follow-up questions.

    Thank you for being so helpful in what to most of us is a huge purchase decision.

      • Kostas

        I also own cxa80 since christmass. Silver 6. Mc mini 2014. Marantz cd 57 via coax. Controled fine with cxa remote!!
        Totaly agree evaluation!

  • Francisco Pizarro

    Finally i purchase the cxa80, its a amazing machine, before this i have a cambridge sr10. The cxa80 has much better sound quality, but i dont know why i feel the sr10 has more bass (or maybe i was used to be at a boomy bass) and the cxa80 feel less hitting but more control in the bass.
    My speakers are Qacoustics 3050.

    • Ashley Post author

      The CXA80 will undoubtedly offer better bass control. It may also still be running in, depending on how long you’ve been using it and how long it’s been playing. Either way thanks for sharing your feedback and I’m glad you’re enjoying your new amp.

  • terry wagg

    Hi all
    Could anyone enlighten me on what the cxa 80 analogue input
    marked unbalanced is for?
    at the moment i have my cxn connected from line out on cxn to A2 on cxa
    this is to take advantage of the cxns dual dacs
    if i were to use coaxial or tos…. it would use the cxas dac.
    Now the question is. What is the unbalanced rca inputs for?
    should i have line out from cxn to unbalanced phono on cxa or stick with A2 ect.

    • Ashley Post author

      An unbalanced, or single-ended input contains 2 electrical conductors, a signal and a ground. A balanced connector contains 3 conductors. 1 Carries in in-phase version of the signal, 1 is a ground and 1 carries a signal with inverted phase. The in and out of phase signals are then compared, and any noise that is the same on both signals is cancelled out resulting in less audible noise. Balanced inputs are typically used for longer cable runs, though depending on the components using them can offer better sound quality too. Single-ended inputs are provided simply to cater for those components that do not offer a balanced output.

  • terry wagg

    I Read An Article From An hifi Review
    Quoting that the cxa 80 was not as good as the cxa 60.
    i have the cxa 80 hooked up to MA bronze 6s
    i also have the cxa 60
    i found no difference is sound stage ect ect…..
    maybe the 80 was a tad stronger at low volume.
    has anyone compared these.?
    ashley was spot on with review.

    • Andy

      I compared them-the CXA80 has almost double price.:) I wouldn t take care too much about that magazin,well known thing is that they work for a few companies,writing articles to sell their products.You can also see that they almost never write good reviews about non-English products.Strange,isn t it?But the fact is that lot of people take their opinion very seriously.

      • terry

        i think you are correct.makes sense
        i just couldnt work it out, what they were saying.
        theres no difference in sound quality between cxa 60 and 80′
        then again my hearing prob…. not as acute has a young person.

        • Ashley Post author

          The CXA80 has more power so will better match inefficient speakers. It also has a larger power supply, with separate transformer taps, twin rectifiers and independent PSUs for each channel effectively making it a dual mono design. It also offers the USB computer input. All of these things the CXA60 lacks, but the CXA60 certainly isn’t a bad amp and would be fine for most people.

    • Dan

      With reference to Andy’s query about CXA 80 / speaker combinations (June 28, 9:33pm, below), has anyone tried the CXA 80 with Dynaudio emit 10s or 20s?

      • AKIS

        Dan,
        I own the Dynaudio Emit M20 but auditioned the M10.
        If you plan to purchase the Dynaudio 10s and especially the 20s, and depending how loud you are listening, you must remember that they need a powerful amplifier. Dynaudio Emit M20 due to sizable coil transducer-mid-range require higher doses than the current average. For example, the configuration of the CXA 60 proved to be quite successful, but because of the modest power “efficiency” , there were limitations with maintaining bass in control, especially when listening electronic music with lots of bass or classic based on the large ensemble symphony. These minor shortcomings immediately disappeared when I used the CXA 80, 851A, 851W amplifier. The more you climb on the scale the better in control they they get.The M20s just like to work with this type of amplifiers, and absolutely I am not saying that this must go to the extreme, particularly from the point of view of people on a budget, however, the user of these speakers need powerful amplification to make them justice. audition before buying these speakers and suggesting auditioning preferably with your own amplifier to see if they can handle the Danish Speakers.
        In my opinion for sheer scale and efficiency the B&W 685 S2s have the advantage. The M10s are more detailed precise and dynamic.

      • John Thompsoon

        Hi, There appears to be little doubt that Cambridge Audio’s new CXA series of integrated amps is the cat’s meow. The CXA80 and little brother the CXA60 have the right look, feel, sound and quality as well as the right market niche for today’s audiophile. Most of the jibber jabber seems to be about which speaker is best for these products. A very general rule of thumb is that what you paid for the amp you pay a similar price for the speakers for your kit. Bear in mind that the speakers wattage power capabilities match the amps. Since the CXA kit are producing maximum wattages under 100 per channel bookshelf monitors do well with the kit. Also because smaller amps with lower powers are often used in smaller listening areas. Living on the west coast of Canada our speaker selection is more limited and less varied than those living in Great Britain and the rest of Europe. We do have good access to B & W speakers. The new B & W 685 S2 series is a nice fit for the CXA amps, however , their price for sale here is less than the CXA amps value. Thus a price upgrade could be in order. The LS50’s are sold here for more than the CXA amps value. Focal Auria 905 and Totem Rainmakers are similar in price to each other and to the CXA60 which I bought. A good audition of All the fore mentioned speakers resulted in my choice of the Totem Rainmakers as best for my listening enjoyment. I suggest that a consumer should always try to try an audition of all the audio products they are considering purchasing so that there is less chance of making a poor audio decision. Unless of course the buyer has lots of money to play around with the audio field of selection. Yet, in summation, the choice of the new CXA series of products is hard to beat in their price range.

    • Akis

      Terry

      The DAC on CXA 80 is a Wolfson not a Cyrus logic.
      As far as I am concern the review from Ashley is a more analytical professional and precise.

      • Ashley Post author

        While it’s true that the DAC in the CXA amplifiers is a Wolfson branded DAC, the Wolfson brand was acquired by Cirrus so either name is technically correct. The test report in that review was certainly interesting to read, I must say I thought the CXA’s official ratings were a little more conservative than they actually are. That said it is true to its ratings which is more than can be said for some, and as the review rightly says its specs are more than adequate in most usage situations.

  • Andy

    Thank you,Ashley.Yes,you are right,the most important for me is sound quality and PC connection,for lot of downloaded files.My biggest problem is that I start with making hi-fi system from begining and I am budget limited.So,I am considering these options:1.To buy some great CD player(like CXC)with good external DAC(Arcam irDAC,DAC1,or even somethig like Marantz HD DAC1)because,as you know,in theory the best option is hi-fi system with all parts separated,and to save money for other components;2.To buy some great CD player with integrated DAC(like CXN,Audiolab 8200)and also save money for other;3.To make some middle range system with some amplifier like CXA60,Onkyo A-9050).

    • Maxprocrj

      How you will compare Marantz Sound to this 60 or 80…as I am seriously pondering on PM 7005 too….just a insights if possible…..not possibilities of AB test here….

      • Ashley Post author

        The Marantz sound is warmer with a little less detail, the Cambridge is more neutral, detailed, exciting, and some would say brighter. If you’re comparing with the CXA80, you’d be looking at the PM-8005 for a fair comparison. I think either of the CX amps would be a step about the 7005, though they’d be great competition for the 8005.

  • Dirk

    Thanks for your really helpful review. May I ask an additional question. Some dealer still offers the Cambridge azur 651w power amp. Do you think this could be an alternative instead of CXA80 together with CXN network player / pre amp and audio monitor silver 8 speaker?
    Any help will be mostly appreciated.
    Best regards
    Dirk

    • Ashley Post author

      Glad you liked the review. I’d probably go for the CXA-80 myself, primarily because the 2 have been designed to work together. The 651W was designed to work in conjunction with the older Stream Magic products which the CXN replaces. The combination would undoubtedly work together as the CXN is quite capable of driving the 651W directly, but as to its sound I can’t comment as I’ve no direct experience with the 651W.

  • Andy

    Hi,Ashley! Another great review.Can you,please,compare CXA80 and CXA60?Is the difference in performance and sound quality so obvious,?
    I am considering to nake hi-fi system which would include CXC,CXA60 and Tannoy XT6f or KEF LS50.What do you think about these comninations?Would the Tannoy or KEF be too hard for CXA60 to drive,especially in low level?My room is 20m and I wouldn t listen it on highest volume level.Thanks a lot.

    • Ashley Post author

      Andy – Thanks for your comments on the review, glad you enjoyed. As for your question, I haven’t heard the CXA60. That said the CXA80 does have a dual mono power supply design, as well as more power and the balanced input. It’s well known that I love Tannoy speakers, and either amp would give great results with the XT6F. The CXA60 will be quite capable of driving them, though if you can stretch to it the CXA80 will provide more power, better sound and also has a balanced input so should you wish to add the CXN network player at a later date (or of course another component with balanced outputs) you can get the best from it too.

      • Andy

        Thanks.You are probably right.The problem is that the price difference in my country betveen CXA60 and CXA80 is almost double(590eur for CXA60,1100eur for CXA80).So,I am considering to make hi-fi combination with CXA60,CXC and Tannoy XT 6f for begining,and later to upgrade it with some better and more powerful amplifier.For that reason I would like to hear your opinion,would be CXC capable with some other amplifier that is not CXA60 or CXA80?Best regards.

        • Ashley Post author

          The CXA60 is more than capable of powering the Tannoys so if the CXA80 is out of your price range I’d opt for the CXA60. The CXC can be connected to any amplifier that has a digital input, or to any external DAC. Be aware that it is a CD transport and not a stand-alone CD player so it must be connected to a digital input.

          • Andy

            Thanks.Is that mean it is recommended to connect CXC with external DAC,even if amplifier has its own,internal DAC?

            • Ashley Post author

              Not necessarily. In some amplifiers (usually cheaper models) that have a built-in DAC, the DAC is simply an afterthought or just an extra feature. The CXA amplifiers have very good DACs which are perfectly adequate. If you bought a CXA60 or CXA80, connecting the CXC to its internal DAC would give exceptional performance. If you later decided to add the CXN network player, you could connect the CXC to it for a slight boost in sound quality.

              • Andy

                I also read in CXA60s specs that it doesn t have USB port.What does it mean in practise?Is that mean I can t connect it directly with my pc?

                • Ashley Post author

                  Only the CXA80 has USB. There are 3 ways the CXA60 can be connected to a PC; via a 3.5MM jack to RCA cable, via a USB sound card or DAC or via your PCs digital output if it has one. Some modern PCs have an optical and / or coaxial audio output which would allow you to connect the PC to the DAC inside the CXA60. The 3.5MM cable is the worst of the 3 options, as it uses your PCs sound chip which will most likely introduce noise and have inferior digital to analogue conversion abilities. The external DAC option is a viable one, with options such as the UCA202 from Behringer costing next to nothing and offering excellent sonic performance.

                    • Ashley Post author

                      Don’t be discouraged. Decide on a budget, decide on what exactly it is you want the system to do, and then choose your components around it. It sounds to me like you want a system with good CD playback and the ability to connect to a PC. The Tannoy 6Fs are a great choice, as is the CXC. Then add a Cambridge CXA60 amp and Behringer UCA202 interface for the PC. Connect the CXC to the digital input of the CXA60. Connect the UCA202 to the PC, and then connect its RCA output to one of the RCA inputs of the CXA60 and you’ll have a brilliant system.

              • Steven

                Hi, great review.
                I’ve managed to get hold of the CXA80 for £565- looking like a bargain!
                I’m going to purchase a CXC and very probably a CXN down the line.
                If I was connecting the three components together, which way would result in the best sound quality? I.e. Which cables to what..
                You mention a slight boost in quality when connecting the CXC to the CXN- is this the digital INPUT or OUTPUT?
                Please excuse my lack of knowledge.
                Thanks in advance.

                • Ashley Post author

                  That is a bargain. Connect the CXN to the CXA80 via a pair of balanced XLR interconnects (I believe Cambridge still make some but if not go for Van Damme cables). Then it’s up to you how you connect the CXC. Either connect its coaxial (rCA jack) digital output to the coaxial input of the CXA80, or to the coaxial input of the CXN. The latter I thought offered better sound, but the difference was/is subtle. Be sure to use a proper 75 ohm coaxial cable.

                  • Steven

                    Thanks for the advice Ashley, I appreciate it. I’ll let you know when I’ve got the system up and running. Keep up the good work!

                    • Steven

                      Just took delivery of the CXA80. It sounds awesome with the CXC player through it! I’m hearing details I never knew were in the music.
                      I’ve hooked up my Pro-Ject turntable (with built in phono preamplifier) to the unbalanced A1 input- is this the correct input? Am I better off using A2/3/4?
                      Thanks.

                    • Ashley Post author

                      That is the correct input. Any of the analogue inputs will work just fine. Glad you’re enjoying.

  • jason

    Hey Ashley, you mentioned how good this sounds with vinyl, through the phono stage. This amp doesnt have an onboard phono correct? What phono stage did you use?

    I have Sonus Faber Venere 3s and am seriously considering this amp over Peachtree and Arcam A19. Peachtree has too few inputs, Arcam has no digital inputs at all, but a good phono stage. I am leaning towards the Cambridge.

    thoughts?

    • Ashley Post author

      I used it both with the £80 Pro-Ject PhonoBox II and my own custom stage. The CP1 or CP2 would be the natural partner for the CXA80, depending of course on which turntable and cartridge you’re using. The A19 does have a very nice phono stage and an excellent headphone amplifier also. What are the source components and what kind of music do you listen too?

  • Akis

    classe cav-180 instead of 851w to drive the b&w 805s
    Second hand classe six chanel bridgable 300×2 150×2 for biamping.
    What is your oppinion

  • francisco

    Hi, i need yo know based in your experience hoe is the detail level and dynamics with the cx80. It has a warm sound, clinical, etc? My speakers are Q acoustics 3050.

    Thanks

  • Francisco Pizarro

    Hi, im looking to replace a Topaz SR10 from cambridge audio too, my speakers are Qacoustics 3050. Based in your review i need to know how is your opinion in detail level and the dynamics in this amplifier, and how is the tone too, its clinical, its warm?

    Regards.

    • Ashley Post author

      Personally I thought it was quite a warm sounding amp, though certainly on the neutral side of warm with plenty of detail. It’s very easy to listen to.

  • joleth

    Hi Ashley, I recently received some funds through a death in the family. From these I fulfilled a promise, which was,”Buy yourself some nice gear.”. Because of a timely ‘What Hi Fi’ five star review of the Cambridge Audio CXA60, I bought one. I haven’t looked back, nope, I mean listened to anything else since! Because the CA DAC is built in I use a basic Sony Blu-ray player as a CD transport hooked up via the coaxial digital input. I also experimented with a variety of used speakers. It came down to the new B&W 685 2 and new Totem Rainmaker speakers. My ears settled on the Totems and I have been hearing my CD collection once again-for the first time. I think that the new CXA series is a good safe bet to purchase in the modern starter audiophile field.

  • Akis

    Matching Speakers for CXA 80 + CXN or CXN + 851w
    I am currently using the B&W 685 S2 with my CXA80-CXN combination with QED XT40 XLRs and XT 40 . speaker cables. Mainly listening Tidal, Spotify and Flac, Foobar.
    The result is outstanding. Some times the sound is breathtaking with very low solid and tight bass, good mids and pleasant highs without being too analytical. The sound is rich and sweet for most type of music even at low levels with the only exception some hard rock harsh distorted guitar that it is irritating anyway. .
    As with so many of us that we like to consider ourselves “audiophiles” like to upgrade with the expectation for something better when the funds permits. I am wondering where can be an end to this. “The ultimate System”. If there is such a thing.
    Yesterday I have auditioned a pair of B&W 805s ( Very good price) in the dealers shop with Rotel amplification. Tidal streaming…. Not the ideal listening room, “big Showroom with a chair in front of them”
    The result very lean sound (bags of detail but harsh, thin treble with bass reminding 50 euro speakers. Very good vocals and the best sound stage i ever heart. the speakers disappear.
    With a price difference 5x my 685 s2s, I was so disappointed that i started wondering what direction should I go to improve the sound quality of my existing system.
    If a legendary 805 sounds like this, and it is beaten in my opinion by a 500 euro speaker where all our money go then.when we spend money for better sound quality.on more expensive products.
    Believe it or not the same feeling I had when I auditioned the ATC scm7s. Only the LS 50 give me the detail of the sound i like but the bass is unacceptable.
    To be fair I may have to audition these in to my own listening room to have o a more precise opinion.
    Apart from the cost .. how people shall approach this to build a good sound system?
    Speakers: Very detailed but not harsh treble and the qualities of the amp below.
    Amplification: 80 – 150 W, Should bring out every detail of the recording good mids and vocals with a low tight but quality bass.
    It is a very good point for discussion by everyone
    Any experiences or ideas ? .

    .

    • Akis

      B&W 805s
      I Went back and bought them. They are the most beautiful speakers that i have ever seen.
      I will give them a proper auditioning in two weeks time. obviously we have been doing something wrong in dealers shop.

      I am smiling just by looking at them.

    • Slavio

      Hi,Akis!You said that the bass of LS 50 was unacceptable.What did you mean by that.It is very strange,because most reviewrs and users had grat experience with them.What amplifier did you use?You said that you had been wrong about your first impressions of 805,maybe the same was wit KEF.

      • Akis

        Hi Slavio!
        Well, that’s fairly easy to answer. Some equally priced speakers have about five semitones more bass than the LS50. If you look at a full piano keyboard and count six keys in from the far left side, that’s how low can realistically achieve. Now count another five from there, and that’s where the LS50 starts.
        Perhaps more significantly, some lower or equally priced speakers have about 5-6dB more headroom. That is a fairly notable increase in perceived maximum volume and SPL. The Uni-Q driver is not covering any ground below 350Hz
        The LS50 is an exceptional near-field monitor loudspeaker, irrespective of cost but is for a near-field use.
        “Near field” by my reckoning is best judged by standing up from your chair, turning to face a loudspeaker, and start walking. If, by the time you have taken four regular steps toward that loudspeaker you have already walked into it, the loudspeakers are in the near field.
        Typically, loudspeakers made for domestic listening rooms are expecting anywhere between 3m-6m of air between the drive units and the listener’s ears.
        I have heard LS50s sound exceptionally good in a room as small as 3x4m and as large as 6.5x8m. They sounded bass-light in the latter room, but that was all. That being said, I have also heard them sounding bad in a room with a particularly low ceiling – I don’t know if that bad sound was specific to the LS50, the system, or the low ceiling, in fairness. At first they sound impressive but at long listening sessions, they become tiring. Depends what you are after. Detail is outstanding though.
        If you want a stand mount that delivers LS50 performance in settings beyond the near-field and with deeper bass, the KEF R300,Totem Rainmaker, Tannoy Revolution XT 6, Focal Profile 908 Diamond or Focal’s Aria 900 series, Second hand B&W 805s few i can think off.
        Regarding the 805s together with ATC SCM19, ProAc Studio 118 Sonus faber Venere Model 1.5 , with the right amplification IMO they are the best speakers available for the price.

      • Greg

        I think choice of HiFi equipments really comes down to personal taste and what makes you happy.
        I have been living with the CXA80 and CXC driving a pair of KEF LS50s for 6 months and seriously couldn’t be happier.
        I could go on and on about the detail and the soundstage but really It comes down to the fact it just sounds good and I genuinely enjoy it and at the end of the day that’s why I listen to music.

        • Ashley Post author

          COuldn’t agree more. Any 2 amps designed to offer an uncoloured sound should, in theory, sound identical to one another when operating within their rated power output. The same is true for digital playback devices, where the output stage which contains a small amount of amplification has a greater influence on the sound than the DAC chip used or the means of retrieving the digital data (the CD transport for example). Speakers have a greater influence on the sound because they are mechanical devices, and changes to the enclosure, the driver placement, and even external influences in the environment will have an impact on their sound.

          Of course, the above isn’t true for all components. Many components are designed such that their frequency range is not entirely flat, giving them a sonic signature of their own. It really does come down to personal taste and there is no right or wrong system.

        • Travis

          On songs with lots of bass (I.e get lucky by daft punk). Are you able to turn the volume above half without serious distortion in the bass? I have the CXA80 and I found this to be true with the Kef LS50’s. They sound great at reasonable volumes with almost all songs. I just want to know if you are getting more out of your amp.

          • Ashley Post author

            Any amplifier able to deliver its true rated power into a pair of reasonably efficient speakers should be able to cope with this test. I’ve heard hundreds of amps and not one of them would distort at half. Of course you should be careful to avoid the point of clipping, but any system with well-matched components will reach unbearable volumes before the amp begins to clip.

  • APAPAS

    Ashley, The review below is an extract from a well known magazine. Is there any way someone can understand the contradiction from this review?

    Negative:

    But with all that power comes a cost. For even as the CXA80 impresses us, that added muscle gets ponderous and weighs down the rhythm and dynamics. It doesn’t sound as agile as its rivals and, dynamically, it feels restricted too.
    Unlike the articulate and balanced Arcam A19, the CXA80 isn’t as expressive with the build up of tension in a song. Oasis’ tracks, for example, don’t quite have that jangly tone and nasal edge with the CXA80.

    Those shortcomings are most clearly heard on folk-indie band Of Monsters and Men’s Yellow Light. Both singers have a similar tone through the CXA80, whereas the difference between the male and female vocals is obvious through the more expressive A19.

    The emphasis on the end of syllables – the drawing out of certain words – is subtly conveyed through the A19. The CXA80, on the other hand, doesn’t make too much of that distinctive Icelandic lilt.

    Nor does it have the nimble-footed rhythm to express the sprightly, poppy nature of the song. Those bells have depth and sound like solid objects being struck, but that twinkling edge that gives the folksy tune its sweetness is damped down by the amp’s extra muscle.

    The CXA80 loses that fluid pacing and the agile melody of the bells and guitar working together to build up the song’s rhythm – it sounds restrained and the melody doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

    Admittedly, we’re using our reference £13,000 Naim streamer as our main source, but apart from the analogue connections sounding a touch fuller and subtler, the sonic characteristic of the amp is consistent throughout the rest of the inputs, including the slightly leaner sounding USB.

    Positive:

    What astounds us with the CXA80 is just how detailed and tangible it makes music sound. Play The Shadows’ FBI, and Hank Marvin’s pristine, twanging guitar playing comes through all golden, rounded and rich.

    Each strum is satisfyingly solid, and packed with weight. The sound is so clean, so clear. It’s impressively precise, and the CXA80 makes every note sound well defined.

    You get a proper sense that these are real, three-dimensional instruments being played. Drums are hit with the kind of impact where you can feel the tautness of the skin, while crashing cymbals reverberate long after they’ve been hit.

    You can feel the pluck of strings, and the low basslines rumble on with layers and layers of texture and depth.
    It’s not just the detail; it’s also the new found muscle and power that drives the sound of the CXA80. Compared with the CXA60, the bigger sibling is, well, bigger. In every way. The scale is large and grand, with songs given ample space to place each element in the mix.
    That’s why you’ll find instruments and voices achieving the kind of solidity that you only get in high-end hi-fi separates.

    What are they talking about… how people can understand the contradictions.

    • Ashley Post author

      Which magazine is that taken from? Not only does it contradict itself but it also contradicts my own review and in my opinion doesn’t fairly represent the CXA-80. It sounds awfully like an attempt to hard sell Arcam’s A19. The A19 certainly isn’t a bad amplifier, though its sound signature differs from the that of the CXA-80 in that it is more laid back (favouring detail and fluidity over sheer excitement) and of course it is less powerful. Those amps will suit different systems, different musical tastes and people with difference sound preferences. The only area in which they are similar is the price, and to compare them both based on price is unfair and results in a contradictory review. But what do you expect when one pairs a 13K streamer with a £700 amp? In reality, nobody is going to do that. Instead there’s a strong likelihood that a CXA-80 will be used with a CXN or CXC, hence those devices having been used in my review. Also can’t help wondering what speakers that reviewer was using.

      • Dan

        Thanks for your very informative and helpful review, Ashley. I was tempted to believe the “ponderous muscle and weighed down rhythm” piece (mentioned above) so… thanks.
        I’d appreciate your advice on matching the CXA80, or preferably CXA60, with Dynaudio emit 20 speakers.
        I’ve read a few articles about matching and, they leave me thinking the speakers should have a minimum input of 300WPC RMS.
        What’s prompted my query (apart from a budget way below 300W amplifiers) is listening to the CXA60 connected to the emit 20 speakers (jazz, blues, orchestral and pop). They sound great! And, for my (relatively undemanding) circumstances, exactly what I was hoping for.
        Concerned about the power mismatch, I asked the dealer if it was really necessary have more than 60 or 80WPC for 150 watt speakers, given that I’m not going to need high volume and there are the ‘CAP5’ safeguards. He thought, if I didn’t want too much volume, either the A60 or A80 would be okay. What do you think?
        If I absolutely do need more input, would it be okay to use a Cambridge CXA60 or 80 as a pre-amp connected to a fairly inexpensive power amp?

        • Ashley Post author

          in reality, current capability and speaker sensitivity are of far greater importance than the quoted wattage. The CXA80 has plenty of current available, and providing you’re not pushing the volume to the top you should be fine. The worst that can happen is you’ll cause the amp to clip, in which case the CXA amps will reduce the volume automatically to protect both the amp and the speakers. That said I would opt for the CXA80, as it does have that extra little bit of power plus a bigger power supply.

          If you felt you needed more power, you could of course add a power amp at a later date, though rather than choosing something inexpensive I’d opt for something in the same (or higher) price category as the CXA80. There are very few amplifiers that can deliver a 300W RMS output continuously, especially at that price level. And in reality you use very little power for normal music listening anyway. With average speakers in an average room at average levels, you’ll be using a few watts at most save for large transients.

    • Greg

      I am so pleased I was not the only person who found that review you referenced confusing. It does contradict itself. So consequently,I totally disregarded their review, took this review as a more balanced viewpoint and went and bought the CXA80 and CXC. Only 2 days in but I am extremely happy with my purchases.

      Also, I went and found my Of Monsters and Men CD and for the record you can hear the difference in the voices of the 2 singers even when singing the same note.

      • Ashley Post author

        The same magazine reviewed the 851C, 851D and 851N. They weren’t so keen on the 851C, liked the 851D a little more, but raved about the 851N. The 3 components share exactly the same DAC section and output stages and thus sound almost if not completely identical. Go figure. Without wishing to sound arrogant, it does show that an honest review is far more helpful to the end user. I appreciate the positive comments on my review and I’m glad you’re enjoying your new system.

  • Akis Papas

    existing CXA 80, CXN /B&W 685 s2 VS 851 A OR W AND 851 N/ ATC scm11
    Can you please advise if changing from CX series and moving to 851 any noticeable sound improvement to justify the twice as much price.
    I am aware that 851 E is an excellent pre, but how does it compare with the N. ( Network is a mandatory)
    Also comparison between 851A and 851 W.

    • Ashley Post author

      The 2 have a different sound character so you should listen for yourself before spending any money. That said the 851 kit has bags of power and is very refined and detailed. The 851W offers more power over the 851A and is the logical choice if you’re system is entirely digital, as there is no advantage to using an 851E and you can go straight from the 851N into the 851W, taking advantage of its digital preamp and keeping the signal in the digital domain until the last possible moment.

      • Akis Papasavvas

        What do you mean different sound character and also what do you mean when you say keeping the digital signal until the last possible moment? the 851W is a power amplifier and can be connected either with RCA or XLRs.
        Any commends or comparisons between B&W 685 s2 and ATC scm11..
        I am very tempted for the 851 W and may bee two of them in bridged mono, but i am listening at low volumes and i do not know if there is going to be any benefit
        If i am staying with the CXN, instead of getting the 851N i will rather go for a second 851W. I know that you are a Tannoy fan and i also own a DC 2000 (Taking you back some years) how does the ATC SCM11 compare with the B&Ws.
        What I am saying is that to invest on two 851w and keep my CXN if it is not going to be a dramatic change changing from CXN to 851 N
        Please advise..

        • Ashley Post author

          In my opinion, The CX gear is a little more lively and exciting than the 851, though the 851 unearths far more detail. The 851 also sounds a lot more powerful (because in reality it is). With regards the digital signal, what i mean is that if you use an 851N or a CXN in digital preamp mode, the signal remains digital right up to the output stage of the 851N or CXN, and then goes directly into the power amplifier (the 851W) with no analogue preamp in between. The digital device, I.E the CXN or the 851N is also responsible for controlling the volume, meaning that channel balancing is perfect and there’s no noise added by the volume control, or indeed by the preamplifier itself. Both the 851A and CXA-80 feature an analogue preamplifier that takes the signal from the analogue inputs and passes it through a couple of stages of preampfification before the signal is sent to the power amplifier. This is great if you have analogue sources such as a turntable or cassette deck, but if you’re just using a digital device such as a CXN or 851N that has a digital preamp mode it adds unnecessary components to the signal path.

          I’m afraid I haven’t heard the ATCs, but I do like the B&Ws a lot. I use Tannoys because I think their dual-concentric drivers are the best sounding speaker drivers around, aside from electrostatic speakers of course but that’s a different technology altogether. 2 851Ws will give you greater control of each speaker and better refinement even at lower levels. Though depending on the speakers you choose, a single 851W will more than likely be more than good enough at low levels, and by design it’s effectively dual mono anyway.

          • Richard Liggins

            I bought the SMC 11’s over the B&W’s to run with this amp, they are phenomenal, the closed box does lack a little in bass extension, but the character and accuracy of the ATC’s really needs to be heard. I liked the B&W’s for their musicality, but the ATC’s outshone them for punch and clarity.

            The CX80 does run out of steam at extreme volume levels with the demands of the ATCs, but I never run the system at that level anyway sod, it’s a moot point.

            I’d recommend the ATC’s unreservedly.

  • John Brook

    Another audio review which is based on miked, desk-manufactured sound. I was in rock once so done that. 35 years in 3 symphony orch cello sections equip me to understand why tone controls are a must when my 2000 cds have all been recorded by multitudinous companies, unenhanced in a thousand halls. Players of good or great instruments, varied orchestral seatings and personal tastes of all those conductors… one size does not fit all that. My friends and I won’t buy amps without balance/tone controls or respect reviewers who don’t or can’t experience the enormous range of real music outside the short attention-span, simple, electronically produced material of limited and transient moneymakers.

    • Ashley Post author

      Ouch! I review components with rock music not because I’m a stereotypical reviewer, but because it’s a genre I have genuine love and passion for. I actually like all kinds of music and have an extensive collection of classical and jazz and many other genres that you would call “real music”. While I do of course enjoy good sound, I appreciate music because of the music itself, not just because of how it sounds. I also don’t dislike components with tone controls. I won’t deny that some components can sound better with them turned off, providing the system is well balanced in a room with good acoustics. But it doesn’t hurt to have them and in many cases they can be useful.

  • Russ Smalley

    Thank you. Your thorough review did what it was supposed to do. It has allowed me to go forward with my purchase of this integrated amp with confidence, feeling well informed. I find difficult to trust people that are selling me things. I have read some similar comments about the build quality of aspects of this amp, however I believe that as long as I am cautious while setting it up there shouldn’t be a problem. I also own Rega RS1’s, JL Dominion Sub, Beyerdynamic T-1’s… I’m a relative neophyte in the HiFi world. Ill buy this amp tomorrow and then try to figure out the world of turntables… Any thoughts?

    • Ashley Post author

      Thanks Russ, glad you found the review helpful. You’re right that the CXA does have a couple of minor build quality flaws, but I used my review sample heavily for a good few months and they didn’t impact the performance and nothing broke. In terms of turntables, what’s your budget, listening tastes, etc?

  • Nicole Leduc

    Hi Ashley,
    Got an CXN few month ago which I enjoy every aspect of it, I had to extend a cable to my rooter though to have a steady signal, the wifi dongle gets on the 2,5 GHz only.
    I want to change my amp which is an old Beomaster (1993) and want two connect my Beolab 8000 et Beolab 2 subwoofer and a pair of passive ceiling speakers located in an other room do I need the CXA80 or the CXA60 would be ok, what would the Azur 851 would give for almost twice the price.
    Thanks
    Camniki

    • Ashley Post author

      I’d opt for the CXA-80 so you can utilise the balanced connection typology of the CXN. That said be aware that your Beolab speakers are active, and therefore the performance of the system will be limited by the performance of their internal amplifiers. In your case, the 851A wouldn’t give a huge improvement as you’re essentially only using it as a preamplifier for your main speakers. If you were to use passive main speakers, the 851 would be in another league. Out of interest, what don’t you like about the Beomaster you already have?

  • Akis Papasavvas

    Dear Ashley,
    As for a power level indicator of a power amplifier graduated in dBs, it may be useful for to see what power is delivered by the power amp to the loudspeaker system, and to control this power. And surely, to avoid overload of the power amp itself (above the “0 dB” (100%) power level, where “0 dB” represents 100% nominal power of the amp).
    It is tricky to adjust Volume control of CXA when using CXN as the controller. If i set the CXA to start on 10 and CXN to 0, then i can go much louder without knowing when reaching the 100% nominal power of the amplifier.
    CXA-80 has a dial pointer that you can see only if you stand next to it.
    Do not take me wrong, but i was expecting the two units to behave like an integrated one with db graduation.

    Regarding the Cambridge Audio AUD900 XLRs, i couldn’t locate one not even from the internet. Any alternatives in mind that would do justice to the system?

    The CXA-80 & CXN both perform very well compared to the competitors, but in your opinion what is the next step up.

    Regards

    • Ashley Post author

      Out of interest, are you running the CXN with the ‘digital preamp’ mode enabled? If so, try disabling that feature. It could be that I’m misunderstanding, but the volume behaviour you describe doesn’t sound normal. When working correctly, the CXN should control the volume of the CXA as the remote would – I.E the volume dial on the front should rotate, and the volume should be controlled entirely within the CXA not the CXN.

      Regarding XLRs; the QED cables you have on order should be fine. I’m not a big believer in high-end cables. I used to use Audio Quest Red Rivers, and now I use custom cables made with decent quality Van Damme instrument cable and some decent connectors. As long as the cable is a well-shielded, low-capacitance design it’ll work just fine.

      As for achieving a step up in performance, it’s difficult to suggest a step up as sound is subjective and the needs of 1 person differ from another in terms of, for example, features and connections that a component offers. Of course, if you require similar features to the Cambridge combo, the 851 series is the logical step up. However if, for example you don’t need an amplifier with a control bus or balanced inputs, you can look at one of the more purist amplifiers on the market. The options are endless, and would really require you to have a budget in mind, as well as a list of required features and an idea of the type of sound you’re after.

      • AKIS

        Yes I was runing the CXN with the digital pre enabled. If you disable it it forces you to run the pre at full volume. I was worrying runing a device at full volume.Anyway there is no issue now. Obviously due to my R-N500 it stuck to my mind that it was necessary to see the level indicator. Some years back i was using an ADCOM Pre power combination with tanoys dc 2000 and i only had few lights.. good old days.

        • Ashley Post author

          As you are using the CXA-80, there is no need to use the digital preamp mode as the CXA has a built-in preamp which handles the volume control. The digital preamp mode should only be used when the CXN is connected directly to a power amplifier or a pair of active speakers that do not have a volume control of their own.

          • Akis Papas

            The CXN is a much superior as a pre amp circuit including the the dual wolfson dac s compared with the CXA 80 single one.
            I am wondering how is compared with the 851A, 851W or the HEGEL H 160.

            • Ashley Post author

              Of course. But the CXA-80 doesn’t include a direct input to the power amplifier, and therefore for best performance the internal preamplifier should be used with the CXN’s digital preamp mode disabled. With regards the 851A and 851W, the performance is in a different league as would be expected given that those components are twice the price. Chances are if you were investigating the 851 range you’d be looking at the 851N as opposed to the CXN, and unless you had a use for the analogue inputs of the preamplifier you’d have no need for either the 851A or 851E and would instead connect straight to the 851W which would enable you to use the digital preamp mode.

              • Akis

                Thanks
                No mention of HEGEL H 160 though.
                851 A Not very good review by what HI-FI and 851W gets really hot and it is very noisy according to some resews.

                • Ashley Post author

                  I’m afraid I’ve not heard the H160 so can’t comment on it. The 851W wasn’t at all noisy when I used it aside from a tiny buzz from the main transformer that couldn’t be heard unless you rested your ear on the amp. Sure it gets hot but nowhere near as much as a conventional class A amplifier of the same power. And as for the WHF review of the 851A; I tend to trust my ears, rather than the opinions of other reviewers. In my opinion a review should focus more on the features of a given component rather than the sound quality, as the sound quality is subjective and differs depending on the system, environment, source material and of course the person listening.

                  • Akis

                    I entirely agree with you, and many times people fall in to this and thinking… respectable magazines must always be correct but i never came across of a review from the mentioned magazine that goes deep and usually spend no more than half a page.

          • Ashley Post author

            The CXA-80 has its own volume control. Therefore disabling the digital preamp mode and connecting the CXN to the CXA80 will not result in a system that runs at full volume. The CXA is an integrated amplifier, meaning it has a preamplifier built in. The digital preamp mode is for use with a power amplifier or active speakers that do not have their own volume.

            • Akis

              thanks but this is what is saying on the selection panel. will only allow you to do this (disable the digital pre) when you actually leave the pre on full volume.

  • Akis Papasavvas

    What is it compared with?
    Any alternatives for the same price?
    Connecting CXN and CXA …. Analog RCA… Balanced XLR… Which Sounds The Best?
    Controlling volume for both units……Audio Control Bus…. setting volume on CXA.

    • Ashley Post author

      The CXA-80 performs well compared to its competitors. The amp you choose will depend on the sound you like and the components available to you. If you already have a CXN the CXA-80 is a logical choice. Similarly if you need features such as the control bus, balanced and digital inputs etc, your choice of amps is fairly limited.

      As for balanced vs unbalanced – a well-implemented balanced connection will usually better a single-ended connection as the intention of a balanced typology is to reject noise. In the case of the CXN and CXA-80, I found the balanced connection sounded better though obviously the quality of the cable in use is also important.

      When the 2 units are linked via the control bus, the CXA can be controlled by the CA connect app by enabling the appropriate setting in the settings portion of the amp and setting the control bus mode to the amplifier setting.

      • Akis Papasavvas

        Thanks for the feedback,
        I never thought the reviewers spent so much time with the equipment.

        The remote control commands interferes with my Q acoustics BT3s

        “When the 2 units are linked via the control bus, the CXA can be controlled by the CA connect app by enabling the appropriate setting in the settings portion of the amp and setting the control bus mode to the amplifier setting.”
        Volume is controlled by CXN driving the CXA … Volume level on CXN … 30 Max ???. What is the actual volume of CXA 80. There is no indication..
        – The control bus cable is connected CXN out CXA inn. Is this correct?
        – At this stage I am using Atlas element integra ( More detailed than CA 700 used previously, but less musical and not as worm sounding). Balanced QED REFERENCE XLR 40 ANALOGUE on its way. I do not believe the price of the combination justifies anything more expensive for interconnects and speaker cable (QED XT40).
        – CA Connect not that great… It seems that they stopped developing when they reach the success with the CX series. My Yamaha RN-500 NPC, much more efficient.

        Thanks again

        CXN, CXA 80, B&W 685 S2

        • Ashley Post author

          Some reviewers do, I think I spent about 3 months with the CX gear in all. The remote control uses the standard RC5 coding so it may interfere with other components.

          With regards the volume indication, the best indication is the sound coming out of the speakers. Of course the CXA-80 has a dial pointer also so I don’t see the lack of indication on the app being an issue. You are correct with your control bus connection.

          Regarding cables, why not try the Cambridge Audio AUD900 XLRs if you liked the 700s?

          What don’t you like about the app? I used the CXN in my system for 3 months, and found the app to be the best streamer app I’ve used with any component regardless of price, including the Yamaha NP Controller app you mentioned.