I’ve owned many CD players over the years, but very few dedicated CD transports. More often than not I’ve opted for the single-box approach, favouring fewer components over what I feel are often minimal sound quality gains achieved when using a dedicated transport and DAC.
However, Cambridge Audio’s CX range, currently occupying pride of place in my review rack, doesn’t include a dedicated player. instead, the range incorporates the CXC, a dedicated CD transport designed for use with the CXA60 or CXA80 integrated amplifiers, both of which feature onboard 24/192 DACs based on the Wolfson WM8740 DAC chipset.
internally, the CXC uses a single-speed universal disc drive coupled with Cambridge’s S3 servo solution, which includes state-of-the-art error correction, and dynamically adjusts the disc spindle speed and laser parameters to retrieve the maximum amount of detail from the disc. The S3 system is also found at the heart of the flagship 851C; though, oddly enough, the CXC had no problems reading several CDs that the 851C either failed to read entirely or played back with audible artefacts; including my copy of Green Day’s ’21st Century Breakdown’; a disc which, thus far, only the 851C and a couple of other high-end CD players have been unable to play back in its entirety.
Clad in the same casework as the rest of the CX range, the CXC is as elegant in its styling as it is solid and hefty. while certainly far lighter than many of the players which find their way into my rack, it feels considerably heavier than the quoted 4.7KG. Its panels are sparse in terms of buttons and connections; the front panel featuring only a selection of transport controls and a power button, and the rear featuring both optical and coaxial outputs, control bus connections, an IR input jack, and an IEC input for power.
The front panel is also home to the disc tray, aligned with the top of the central display. There’s also a new Cambridge logo, the ‘Audio’ notably absent from the Cambridge brandname; and a union jack flag hinting at Cambridge’s British heritage and current design headquarters where each product is conceived, engineered and perfected before final manufacturing under close supervision in China.
The CXC is neatly packed in Cambridge Audio’s usual sturdy, foam-lined packaging. It’s wrapped in a cloth bag; as are the accessories, including a remote, control bus cable, batteries and some documentation. As with the rest of the CX range, both euro and UK power cables are included in the box, taped beneath the unit; requiring a bit of careful manoeuvring to extricate the player and its accessories without making a mess or damaging the packaging. That said, it does make for a rather neat presentation, and a great first impression.
The included remote is identical to that included with both the CXA60 and CA80 amplifiers, as well as the CXN network player. It can control the entire CX range, and is similar to the new remotes supplied with the flagship 8-series equipment. The central controls have a nice tactile click to them; and the remote itself feels very solid, with a nice rubberised feel to the rear housing which affords it greater grip.
It’s nicely balanced, allowing it to sit comfortably in the hand, and takes 3 included AAA batteries which slot into the compartment at the back. It also follows the philips-designed RC5 code standard, allowing it to control other similar components that utilise the same IR codes. Similarly, the CXC will respond to any control that utilises the same standard, as it did with the remotes for some of the other components sharing the rack.
The CXC is immensely easy to operate. Basic functions (play/pause, stop, next/previous, open/close and power) can be operated via the front panel. The transport supports the usual programming functions, such as random, repeat (all or track) and shuffle, though the ability to program the playback order of tracks on a disc has been omitted here.
The mechanism itself also feels (and sounds) robust. The tray is smooth in operation (if a little noisy), though on my review sample the tray’s plastic facia wasn’t entirely flush with the front panel of the transport. That said, the transport is quick to read the table of contents, and is inaudible during playback.
The CXC supports CD text; when a CD incorporating CD text is inserted, the name of the album will scroll once, while the remaining time remains stationary. During playback, the name of each track will scroll once, and the track number, total number of tracks and current play time are displayed.
The CXC includes a couple of settings, accessed when in stop mode by holding down the stop button on the front panel of the unit. The transport can be configured to automatically begin playback when the tray is closed, and an auto power down mode will switch the player off after a period of inactivity (30, 60 or 120 minutes). By default, the CXC will power down after 30 minutes of inactivity which is the recommended setting to prolong the life of the unit as the laser remains constantly active when the unit is powered on.
I can’t find fault with the CXC’s sound. It’s notably free of the digital artefacts that plague many budget-oriented models, and it responds well to a change in DAC. Personally I feel that the DAC will have a more profound affect on the sound; so providing a CD transport delivers the 0s and 1s to where they need to go with minimal error, it’s doing a top-class job.
Where CD transports can fall down, however, is in their ability to reject external interferences. The CXC is fantastic in this department; positioned in a rack next to my right-hand speaker, the CXC gave trouble-free operation despite the volume reaching the point at which vibrations were resonating through the floor, the racks, the furniture and the listening seat.
And, while I can’t claim to own many CDs in a rough condition, I was unable to find a disc that could trouble the CXC; even the aforementioned ’21st Century Breakdown’ played without issue.
There’s no doubting the CXC is an excellent CD transport. At a time when many manufacturers are banishing the CD players from their product ranges, leaving those of us with large CD collections with few options to play them back, it’s nice to see Cambridge Audio continuing to support the format. And the CXC is certainly no budget afterthought offering either; that S3 servo system, coupled with optimised, all-digital circuitry will get the best from any disc you place in the tray.
My only criticism has to do with the CD drive mechanism, primarily its disc tray; the quality of which could benefit from some improvement. Budget players from the likes of Marantz and Yamaha are better in this regard. However if sound quality is your priority and you have a dedicated DAC or an amplifier with digital inputs (such as the matching CXA-60 or CXA-80), the CXC is a great buy. Highly recommended.