Cambridge Audio CXN Review 117


A couple of years ago I reviewed Cambridge AUdio’s award-winning Stream Magic 6 network player. At the time this was Cambridge Audio’s flagship streamer; and it’s safe to say I was a fan thanks to its exceptional sound, extensive feature count and fantastic control app. Since then, the Stream Magic 6 was upgraded to V2 status (encorporating an entirely new stream magic module along with many other alterations), and more recently our old favourite has been retired to make way for Cambridge Audio’s new premium streamer; The CXN; which sits as part of their CX range just below the flagship 851N.

Looking at the specifications, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was simply a Stream Magic with a prettier front panel; and indeed the 2 are fairly similar. They even appear to share the same aluminium top case, minus the raised Cambridge Audio logo found on the previous models. Inside, the CXN features the latest Stream Magic module and a DAC based on 2 Wolfson WM8742 DACs and featuring Cambridge Audio’s proprietary 2nd-generation ATF2 upsampling technology to upsample the incoming audio to 24-bit, 384KHZ.

The CXN supports MP3, WMA, AAC (including AAC Plus and HE AAC), OGG, ALAC, FLAC and WAV file formats at up to 24-bit, 192KHZ. Over 20,000 radio stations are onboard as well as Spotify connect, Appel Airplay, and built-in USB and UPNP media streaming. ASX, M3U and PLS playlists are supported; though despite the CXN having a queueing feature, playlists created on the unit cannot, for now at least, be saved for later recall.
Like the Stream Magic units before it, the CXN offers 2 power modes. Network standby mode keeps the network and micro controller circuits active allowing the streamer to be power cycled via the app, while an eco mode shuts down all circuits, reducing the streamer’s stands power consumption to a an eco-friendly 0.5W and requiring the streamer be brought in and out of standby via the remote control or the front-panel power button. The standby mode can be configured in the settings. Network standby mode is active by default; in this mode, a long press of the power button will shut the streamer down entirely. As with the rest of the CX range, an automatic power down feature puts the streamer into standby mode after a period of inactivity, configurable in the settings.

Packaging

The CXN shares the same packaging as other components in the CX range. Its sturdy box is lined with large foam blocks to hold everything in place, with the streamer and the accessories encased in cloth bags. Those accessories include a CX series remote control, a control bus cable, some batteries, some documentation and a USB wifi antenna. As with all Cambridge components, the package includes both UK and European IEC power cable, packaged beneath the unit. An excellent first impression.

First Impressions

Externally the CXN shares the new sleeker styling of the CX range; including the floating case design, with a central front foot spanning almost the length of the unit, and an all-metal, acoustically damped chassis. personally I do prefer the more traditional ‘boxy’ styling of its predecessor; I also prefer the old damped rubber feet, which I felt offered better vibration isolation. However I’m pleased to see that Cambridge haven’t strayed too far from the design of a traditional hi-fi component; and I can appreciate the effort to which they’ve gone to make their premium hi-fi range a little more stylish than is the norm, and I don’t doubt the new design will appeal to many who are looking to add a touch of class to their hi-fi rack.

Around back, both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA line level outputs are provided, along with optical and coaxial digital outputs. 2 USB jacks allow for connection of a media storage device or the optional BT100 bluetooth dongle, one of those doubling up as a dedicated port for connection of the included USB wifi antenna. Cambridge make no mention as to why this port specifically must be used, but specify that only this input should be used both in the manual and on the rear panel.

There’s a USB B input for your computer, and both optical and coaxial inputs enabling you to use the streamer as a DAC for other digital sources. The input names (D1, D2 and USB Audio by default) can be customised in the CXN’s settings menu.

The USB input can operate in both USB audio class 1 or 2 mode (though windows users will require the class 2 driver, offered as a free download on Cambridge Audio’s website). In class 1 mode, the streamer supports file formats at a resolution of up to 24-bit, 96KHZ, and in class 2 mode 24-bit, 192KHZ formats are supported. There’s also a ground lifts switch to eradicate hum should it become a problem. The optical and coaxial inputs support resolutions of up to 24-bit, 192KHZ.

The unit can be used in digital preamp mode to directly feed a power amplifier. In this mode, the volume is controlled by the DSP (digital signal processor) and the signal is kept in the digital domain until the last possible moment.

Central to the front panel is the new full-colour 4.3” display, the brightness of which can be altered in the CXN’s settings. This display is used for navigating the CXN, and also display album artwork and stream / track info. Pressing the info button allows you to toggle between displaying a combination of track / stream info and album art, album art only or track / stream info only. When streaming from a UPNP device, the album art must be embedded within the track metadata. If using USB media, album art must be located in the same folder and be in 1 of the common image formats (JPEG, or PNG) and must follow the typical naming standard (folder.JPG, folder.PNG etc).

The front panel also includes a selection of navigation and transport controls, though the filter button found on previous models is absent here and the manual makes no mention of that feature being present on the CXN. A 3rd front panel USB jack allows for connection of storage devices, and a rotary dial with a contoured design designed to match the volume control of the CXA amplifiers allows for navigation of the streamer’s menu system. the dial smooth in operation, though it does have some discernible play or ‘wobble’, suggesting that the digital encoder in use is perhaps not the best quality component in the unit.

Taking Control

The Remote

The CXN includes a CX system remote control, the same as that packaged with the CXA amplifiers and CXC CD transport. The remote resembles that supplied with the new 851 series components, with the same central section comprised of a selection of raised clicky controls which feel great to press. The remote has a rubberised rear panel offering better grip, and takes 3 AAA batteries which slot into the compartment at the rear.

The remote can be configured to use an alternate set of IR codes to control the CXN in case of a conflict with another device. The code set is switched by holding the controller’s ‘power’ button while inserting the batteries. The corresponding setting must also then be altered on the CXN to allow it and the controller to communicate.

The App

The CXN can be controlled either via its front panel, the aforementioned remote control or via the new Cambridge Connect mobile app available for both iOS and android. Like its predecessor, this new app is able to control all of the streaming features of the CXN, 851N and Stream Magic 6 V2 players, including internet radio and UPNP streaming, and also allows music to be streamed directly from the device in question. The app also enables you to switch inputs on the CXN, power on / off the player (assuming the network sleep mode is active), and even initiate a firmware update if one id detected (though there appears to be no way to initiate a manual check).

Cambridge AUdio’s control apps are the best in the business; and this is no exception. It’s extremely stable and just works; though it does have a few limitations. Perhaps the most annoying of which, at least in the case of the iOS app, is the inability to stream content from your mobile device with the screen locked or with the app running in the background. This means you’ll only be able to stream content for as long as your device can keep the screen powered up (usually a matter of hours), and you can’t use your device for anything else while you listen.

It’s also lacking the ability to alter several of the device’s key settings (some of which could be altered using the previous Stream Magic app), and there are a few accessibility issues which need to be ironed out. That said, the app is a joy to use; and makes a refreshing change from the positively awful control app of my resident streamer. Cambridge Audio develop their apps in-house, and feedback is always well received and quickly acted upon so it is highly likely these issues will be ironed out in a future app version.

The Control Bus

Cambridge Audio’s Control Bus allows unmodulated IR commands to be received by and sent from the CXN and other supported components. This allows them to be integrated perfectly into a custom installation environment, and also enables the CXN to control the power status and volume of a supported Cambridge Audio amplifier (including the CXA60 and CXA80). Setting up the control bus is as simple as connecting the provided orange cable between the CXN and the other desired components. There is also an IR input jack located on the rear panel for use in custom installations to utilise an external IR receiver. The RS-232 port, also used by many custom installation systems and present on previous models has been omitted.

A setting in the CA connect app allows the CXN to control the volume of a supported amplifier or AV receiver via the control bus. Enabling this setting enables a volume option in the CA Connect app, which when pressed pops up a pair of volume controls and a mute button. Toggling the power of the CXN via the app will also power on / off the connected amplifier and any other components in the chain.

There are some limitation though. There is no provision to automatically select the desired input when powering the system on via the app, and powering the CXN or the CXA on / off via the remote control or their front panel power controls doesn’t toggle the power status of the other connected devices. I’d also like to see the ability to control a connected Cambridge Audio CD player via the app, and to have greater control of a connected amplifier, including the ability to switch inputs and maybe even switch the tone direct function on / off.

Setup

Setup couldn’t be simpler. Initially, I connected up the CXN using a hard-wired ethernet connection; however wifi configuration was also a breeze, as I was able to use my iOS device to setup the wifi connection without needing to touch the streamer at all. Less than 5 minutes after removing the streamer from the packaging, I had a few internet radio presets programmed and was streaming a 320KBPS rip of Jake Bugg’s ‘Shangdi La’ via a UPNP server on the same network.

The CXN features a basic network setup page, accessible by navigating to your units IP address using a web browser. The page shows your currently connected network, device IP address and wifi signal strength if applicable. The page offers the ability to configure the device name, update the firmware (including the ability to opt into receiving pre-release updates) and alter the network settings

This page replaces the old Stream Magic website. Service accounts from MP3 Tunes, Live365 and Pandora can be linked with your streamer, personal podcasts can be added using their feed URLs, and presets can be created and edited. As with the app, the configuration page lacks the ability to alter several of the CXN’s settings; a feature which I’d like to see, as it would negate the need to interact with the streamer itself at all.

I’m completely blind, and therefore unable to operate the streamer via its largely display-oriented front panel. that said, I was able to operate the streamer in its entirety via both this page and the app, so I give props to the Cambridge Audio team for, perhaps unknowingly, developing what is undoubtedly the most universally accessible streaming product on the market.

For the majority of the review period, the CXN was used with the matching CXA-80 amplifier, though it did see some use wits a couple of other models which passed through for review at the same time. Both balanced and unbalanced connections were tested, and naturally the balanced type did offer better sound; however the character of the streamer remained largely unaltered regardless of which supporting components, cable or connection typology was in use.

Sound

As you would expect, the CXN’s ‘signature sound’ is not unlike that of the other CX components; though it is perhaps a little more tame than that of the CXA80 amplifier. Like it’s matching siblings, the sound it produces remains largely the same regardless of the chosen source or material. Only APple’s AirPlay streaming protocol different significantly from the other sources; sounding somewhat thin and lacking in warmth. That said it was still perfectly listenable, and was arguably my most used input as it was continuously used to stream background music from my mac.

AirPlay aside, the CXN produces a lively, energetic sound though one that never tends to veer towards becoming bright or harsh. Its low end performance in particular is unlike any Cambridge product I’ve heard (and believe me, I’ve heard a few). It’s fast, tight and beautifully controlled, with a touch of warmth in the upper midband and a certain high-end sparkle that could become a problem in a particularly bright system, but when properly matched serves only to add to the performance. And, like the other CX components, it’s great fun.

Evanescence’s ‘Hello’ is as haunting as The All American Rejects ‘Can’t Take It’ is dramatic. Fed by the CXC, shinedown’s ‘State of My Head’ from their recently released ‘Threat to Survival’ album thundered from the speakers, before I switched to streaming from a UPNP server and began streaming Ed Sheeran’s ‘Small Bump’ from his debut album ‘+’.

Summary

The CXN is one of those rare products which is difficult for a reviewer to sum up in words because when you start listening, the music takes over and making notes becomes something of an afterthought. The CXN’s sound had me hooked from the beginning; and it only got better as the days, weeks, and then months rolled by. Not only does the CXN include every feature the digital audiophile could possibly need, it delivers a fun, infectious, and musical performance that is hard to fault. The CXN is another phenomenal streamer from Cambridge Audio, reaffirming their position at the top of the streaming game and leaving other manufacturers to play catchup. Highly recommended.


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

117 thoughts on “Cambridge Audio CXN Review

    • Ashley Post author

      Not really. There is no way to run the CXN as a preamp with the CXA80, you’d still be using the preamp of the CXA80 and just adding an additional volume control in the chain. If you don’t have any analogue sources, you’d be better off running the CXN into a power amplifier of some kind. But the CXA80s preamp isn’t bad at all.

      • Lionel

        Oh I see. The reason I was asking is because I have the CXA80, which I really enjoy. However, do you think if I added a DAC/preamp in balanced mode, like a DacMagic Plus, to feed the CXA80, the sound would be improved? If so, what other preamp would you recommend? Thx!

        • Ashley Post author

          AH, I think there’s some confusion as to the purpose of a preamp. The preamp stage is responsible for volume control, input source control etc. You can certainly connect a CXN to a CXA80 and run the CXN with its preamplifier disabled. This will give you a noticeable upgrade over the inbuilt DAC of the CXA80, as would the DACMagic+. The purpose of the preamplifier setting of the CXN is to allow it to directly feed a power amplifier that does not have a volume control or input switching. The CXA80 is an integrated amplifier, with both a preamplifier and power amplifier in one box. Thus if you were using a CXN, DACMagic+ or any other DAC / source with it, that source does not need a preamplifier function. In the case of the CXN and DACMagic+, the preamplifier function can be disabled and the two run as line-level devices into your CXA80.

          • Lionel

            Thanks for the detailed answer. It really helps. So, if I’m not really interested in streaming capabilities, the DACMagic+ would provide as much of a sound upgrade over the internal DAC of the CXA80 as the CXN would, right? Also, what other balanced DACs would you recommend to improve the sound of the CXA80? Thanks!

          • Ron Cronovich

            Ashley is correct (of course!). I own a CXA80 and some other gear. The preamp built into the CXA80 is quite good for the money. You’d have to spend a lot more on a separate pre-amp to improve on the one in the CXA80.

            The CXA is an integrated amp – it includes the power amplifier, the preamp, and the DAC in one box. If you buy a separate preamp or separate DAC, then in a sense you’ll have wasted some of the money you spent on the CXA80.

            • Lionel

              Thanks Ron for your clarification. I agree with you on the fact that buying an external dac or preamp might be unnecessary since the CXA80 already have those built-in. However, I’ve read in the CXA80 manual that to get the best performance out of it, it’s recommended to used the balanced mode. So with my limited knowledge, I’ve been trying to find a way to do that, perhaps by upgrading to an external balanced DAC (obviously better than the one inside the CXA80), like the DacMagic Plus or something else. Anyway, recommendations are welcome. Thx!

              • Ron Cronovich

                Lionel, first of all, forgive me if you know some or all of this stuff already, I haven’t read through the entire thread of comments.

                My understanding about balanced mode with the CXA80 is that you get better sound quality if you connect an external component to the CXA80 using balanced XLR cables instead of standard RCA cables. Of course, the external component’s output has to be truly balanced, not just unbalanced output using XLR cables.

                I bought a CXNv2 based on the strong reviews of Ashley and a few others, and connect it to my CXA80 with XLR cables. To my ears, this does sound a bit better than using RCA cables.

                I was a bit reluctant to buy the CXN because I liked the DAC in the CXA80. To my ears, the CXN’s DAC does sound better – I ran my CD transport through The CXN into the CXA80 and compared it with running the CD transport directly into one of the CXA80’s digital inputs. But it’s not so much better to justify spending another $800 or so.

                But I wanted a network streamer, and The CXN was highly reviewed and it matched my other Cambridge CX components. I’ve been happy with it. It does make my CDs sound better than they ever have before.

                • Lionel

                  Ron, sorry for the late reply; and thanks a lot for sharing your insights. I’m somewhat in the same boat as you were. I really enjoyed the sound of the built-in DAC of the CXA80. However, I’m still curious about improving the sound by using a better DAC and the balanced mode. The good news, for someone like me who isn’t that interesting in streaming, is that, as Ashley mentioned (it was confirmed by CA as well), the Dac Magic Plus has the exact same DAC as the one used in the CXN. So I’ll probably go with that, especially with the sale going on eBay. Like you, I’ll also use it with my CD transport.

  • Chris

    Hi,Ashley!My device is Denon DM 41.I connected it with pc via internal music card.I consider to upgrade it with some good external DAC like CXC,Cambridge Magic Plus or Arcam DAC II,but I am not sure would it be huge upgrade in sound quality,or good DAC requires much better amplifier and speakers than Denon DM 41?

    • Ashley Post author

      Yes, an external DAC would give you a sound quality upgrade. in your current setup I would consider the DACMagic, or perhaps this USB DAC from SMSL. You would certainly benefit from a better amp and speakers, but a decent DAC could be carried over to that upgrade later.

      • Chris

        Thanks.If I understand correctly,you think that it is better not to by some expenssive DAC,untill I upgrade my system with better amp and speakers?

        • Ashley Post author

          I think you’d hear an improvement, but I wouldn’t spend too much on a new DAC until you do upgrade the amp and speakers. However if you do decide to spend on a DAC, one of those mentioned will be good enough for a new amp and speakers when you upgrade.

  • Robert

    I have the cambCambr cxn, but find it too bright with my music, Rock and symfonic Metal. I was thinking to replace this for the Marantz ND 8006. What do you think? My system, tannoy xt8f, mf m5si amp. Or better replace the speakers for q acoustics concept 40?

    • Ashley Post author

      The Marantz ‘signature sound’ is much warmer and richer, so the 8006 should sound less bright than the CXN. Perhaps try to get a home demo? Your amp has a bright signature too from memory.

    • Stan Bochnak

      Hi Robert,
      I have CA CXN, CXA80 and Monitor Audio Silver 6, and my music is mainly all sorts of metal (incl. symphonic metal, but doom, death, black etc.).
      My personal opinion was this set sounds great in the whole spectrum: i can hear sopranos, or cymbals perfectly precisely, but not sharp. And on the other end of spectrum – I can hear bass guitar strings hit or drums very well “shaped” (or – if you prefer – well defined). Generally, I love the sound, and find it well balanced.
      I compared it at home against Dali Icon 6 – at this set sounded to bright, sometimes with some strange sibilants to me.

      So maybe – try another speakers first? or just try distance of the speakers from the wall behind?

      cheers,
      stan

  • Ron Cronovich

    Hi Ashley,

    You probably know that Cambridge has replaced the CXN with the CXN v2 with a faster processor and slightly lower price.

    I’m thinking about picking one up to pair with my CXA80. Since my rig isn’t super close to my cable internet modem and router, it would be much more convenient to use wifi than a hard-wired Ethernet connection. I’m wondering if doing so would compromise sound quality when streaming hi-res tracks, either from TIDAL, my computer, or a possible future NAS. During your testing period, did you compare sound quality of high-res tracks streamed over wifi vs. Ethernet?

    Also, I’m wondering how to connect the CXN to the CXA using the balanced connection. These are non-standard cables (meaning, not with the common RCA plugs on each end), correct? Are they easy to find?

    Many thanks,
    Ron C.

    • Ashley Post author

      Hi Ron – Excellent choice in the CXN. With regards wired VS wireless; providing you have a good signal, there will be no audible difference between the two. Without getting too technical, the same data packets flow to the same places regardless of how it is connected and anyone who tells you the two will yield a different result is talking nonsense regardless of whether they genuinely believe they can hear a difference. Providing you do have a strong wireless signal in the area in which you use the CXN, you will be fine. The only issue you can really experience are signal dropouts if the wireless signal isn’t good enough.

      With regards the balanced connection, what you need is a pair of XLR cables. They’re used in pro audio, commonly used for microphones among other things. See Here or Here for a good example, note that they’re supplied singular so you’ll need two. As always no need to spend a fortune, audiophile nonsense is exactly that especially with balanced cables.

  • Salim Liem

    Hi Ashley,
    Just bought a CXN and 851W online.
    I had to turn the volume to 15 out of 30, just to get a decent loudness.
    Is it normal?
    I asked seller about this, he simply say that I need to let it bright-in. Not sure what he meant by it.

    • Ashley Post author

      I believe this should be normal, as IIRC the CXN’s volume is adjusted in 1dB steps over the available range. That said, letting the system break in will not alter its loudness. What speakers and cables are you using? Have you verified that the switches on the back of the 851W are correctly set for stereo playback as per the owners manual? Have you tried factory resetting the CXN (be sure to check that digital preamp mode remains enabled before you play anything afterwards!).

      • Salim Liem

        CXN-851W connected via XLR cables. PreAmp mode is ON. All switches should be correct (Stereo Mode, Balance Input). Have tried using RCA, same result, same loudness.
        Btw, I am thinking to get Monitor Audio Silver 300 of 200W, same power with the amp, but not sure yet, and still sourcing. Any advice?
        I am also thinking to get another 851W (Since it is in clearance sell. Only around USD 11000), so that I can run them as bridged mono. Will i get a significant better sound? Is it worthed?

        • Ashley Post author

          It sounds normal. I would try a factory reset to be sure, but it doesn’t sound like there is a problem. When a volume control operates on a true decibel scale, you do have to turn it up quite a bit ot get what you would perceive is high volume. Each increase of +3dB is perceived as double loudness.

          Regarding the monitor Audio speakers, I would encourage you go and have a listen. Speaker tastes differ wildly and what is right for me may not be right for you. The 851W will certainly drive them.

          Two amps in mono mode would give you a nice improvement. I’d probably be looking to switch to an 851N first to realise the full benefit, but at that price you really can’t go wrong. The 851W in mono mode is quite spectacular.

          • Salim Liem

            Hi Ashley,
            Thanks you very much for your reply and advices.
            I think I will get that 851W while the price still at bargain. But I think I will double check to make sure I get a perfect unit, not some “funny” one.
            Considering (I read it somewhere) that an amp will be good for a decade, two or even more, will consider this as one time spending. I don’t have ears of audiophile, but simply want to enjoy high quality decent music. With take my time to find and get a decent speakers.
            As for 851N, I think, I will enjoy my CXN for now, while waiting for another year or two. I believe Network Player tech is still and keep changing for the better. 851N is currently out of stock in my country (Indonesia) anyway…hehe. Saw that Cambridge Audio is launching Edge NQ, will see and monitor how it perform. Please do a review? Price seems too high though.

            • Ashley Post author

              I do certainly hope to review the edge if I can get hold of one. It’s a new price point for Cambridge but is a cost-no-object design.

  • Wayne

    hi Ashley,
    I am looking at using the CXN as a dac for a new Panasonic 4k PVR / Bluray player, I figure the dac in the CXN would be better than the Panasonic for stereo concerts.
    I am not a big streamer but thought this would kill 2 birds etc.
    Yours and others thoughts appreciated.

    • Ashley Post author

      No reason why not, if you plan to use the streaming features the CXN is a great buy. Otherwise perhaps consider the cheaper DACMagic which is similar in specification, though the CXN is slightly better.

  • Brett Noonan

    Hi Ashley, I have had the original magic stream 6 for about 3 years partnered with the CA 851 Azur amp and Mission mx5 speakers. I tend to play music via an iPad docked in an Arcam drDock, using Apple Music or Tunein Radio, also streaming higher res internet stations via the unit. I like upgrading my gear every 3-4 years and am wondering in your opinion if it would be worthwhile upgrading to the CXN. Would I notice a difference in sound quality or would it be marginal? The CXN is $1,600 NZD here so I want to be sure i’m getting additional bang for the buck in terms of sound quality – I’m happy with the existing functionality of the SM6. Thanks.

    • Ashley Post author

      Hi Brett – I don’t think the upgrade would be significant. The CXN is an improvement on the Stream Magic 6 but I don’t think it justifies the expense, given the second-hand value of the Stream Magic units. Given your amplifier, the excellent 851N would be your next logical step and really would give you a worthwhile upgrade.

    • Ashley Post author

      Yes, they should. They can supply 1A of current (that drive requires about 900MA), and Cambridge Audio Confirm that high capacity drives are supported. The drive must be formatted as either FAT32 or NTFS. If you’re in the market for a drive, I’d recommend the alternative Western Digital option for reliability reasons.

  • Lisa

    Hi,Ashley!I have an ordinary PC speakers(Logitech z553).If I connect CXN with it,would it be any upgrade in sound quality?I mean,will CXN or some other DAC work with such speakers?

    • Ashley Post author

      You could connect a CXN to them using the RCA input. Those speakers won’t get the best from the CXN and I don’t think the sound quality difference would justify the cost. You’d need a decent amp and speakers first.

  • terry

    Hi all
    I have owned the cxn awhile now.
    Sounds good no problems.

    I have read my cxn is playing dsd 64 dop.
    Can’t seem to find a definite answer

    Cambridge did mention to me that it down samples dsd to 192, and yet most sites who are selling them state , that it plays via dop.
    If this is so, would it sound identical to dsd??

    • Ashley Post author

      The CXN downsamples DSD64 to 192K. I believe (though I could be wrong) that this is because the DACs can only handle PCM data. Either way I very much doubt it makes a difference, 24-bit, 192kHz audio offer far greater resolution than we will ever hear.

    • Lisa

      I understand.My problem in making hi-fi system is budget,because,starting from begining,I have to buy three components in the same time.

  • Mike Chajkin

    Can you give me some advice please? I’ve recently replaced my Pioneer non networked AV receiver with a Yamah Aventage 860. My music library is in iTunes coded at 320mbps. So I use AirPlay but I think the overall sound of the Pioneer was better than the Yamaha. So I’m thinking of going back the the Oioneer and networking via a CXN.
    I’ve read some reviews which say that AirPlay sounds thin via the CXN. So I want to re-rip all my music lossless to a NAS drive and want to know if I should steer clear of Apple lossless and use a different codec? I’m using a PC not a Mac. Storage space is not an issue as the NAS is 4TB.
    Re-ripping will take time so I want to make sure I make the right choice. Will lossless upload and purchasing a CXN give me the audio quality I am looking for. Speakers are B&W VM1 which sound very good with the Pioneer but less so with the Yamaha. This is my first venture into streaming and I want to get this right!
    Many thanks
    Mike

      • Mike

        Can you give me some advice please? I’ve recently replaced my Pioneer non networked AV receiver with a Yamah Aventage 860. My music library is in iTunes coded at 320mbps. So I use AirPlay but I think the overall sound of the Pioneer was better than the Yamaha. So I’m thinking of going back the the Oioneer and networking via a CXN.
        I’ve read some reviews which say that AirPlay sounds thin via the CXN. So I want to re-rip all my music lossless to a NAS drive and want to know if I should steer clear of Apple lossless and use a different codec? I’m using a PC not a Mac. Storage space is not an issue as the NAS is 4TB.
        Re-ripping will take time so I want to make sure I make the right choice. Will lossless upload and purchasing a CXN give me the audio quality I am looking for. Speakers are B&W VM1 which sound very good with the Pioneer but less so with the Yamaha. This is my first venture into streaming and I want to get this right!
        Many thanks
        Mike

        • Terry

          Yes it will give you the quality.
          I would rip your files to flac which is lossless.
          I have the cxn , I use an hardrive connected to cxn.
          Quality it perfect. I would rip them with dbpoweramp , or jriver.
          I assume your ripping cd quality 44.1 16 bit.
          The cxn will upsample all inputs to 384kHz.

          Most of my albums are a mix, 192/24 88. 96/24 44.1/16
          You can also play dsd 64.
          Trust me the cxn sounds brilliant ,
          Oh I don’t use airplay , I see it has pointless because if your streaming from iPhone etc. Your streaming aac which is compressed.
          Rip to flac.

          Don’t use MP3 or any other codec, flac all the way

          • Akis

            Terry,
            I owned both CXN and 851 N. The CXN is more airy and the 851 N is more refined and robust. both use same interface and they sound excellent.
            Nice comment and very good when using Hard Drives or Nas, but the drawback with Cambridge streamers is that TIDAL (FLAC) does not work the same way as SPOTIFY (MP3). Spotify is build in to the streamer so no problem there, but TIDAL needs another UPnP compliant DLNA server to be able to do this.
            In my case I use bubbleUPNP that i have to admit I am not very happy with.
            Other manufacturers have Tidal and Qobuz built in.
            This is the way Cambridge needs to go.

            • Terry

              I have personally never subscribed to tidal. I did subscribe to Spotify
              But quality was an issue,
              I have over 1,000 albums. Mixture of dsd, and flac, mostly 24bit
              I
              I agree that Cambridge should have tidal, maybe they dump Spotify, for tidal,
              As tidal offers better sampling.
              Never really saw the point of playing streamed compressed music,
              I would rather play from a drive.

            • Terry

              Akis
              Just looked up tidal subscription cost .
              SHOCK HORROR.”…………..
              Hifi quality. £20
              Premium £9.95

              Premium is compressed
              And I see hifi is uncompressed.

              Wow . There’s no way in hell I would pay that much for uncompressed tracks.
              I see US subscriptions are half of what the uk pay.
              Dam that’s a rip off for sure.
              Sorry about the rambling on.
              I will stick to my collection.

      • Ashley Post author

        I never thought AirPlay was particularly thin sounding on the CA streamers, though it is certainly a more compressed format. I could be wrong, but I believe that further compression is applied when using AirPlay regardless of the bitrate of your source files. The generally accepted solution is to rip your CD collection to FLAC using a program called DBPowerAmp, which will make bit-perfect rips of your discs to FLAC form which most if not all streamers support. It’s worth noting though that iTunes does not support FLAC, so if you have an iOS device or a need for iTunes compatibility you’ll either have to convert your FLAC files to a format supported by iTunes, rip every CD twice, or stick with ALAC (Apple Lossless). There should be no difference in sound between ALAC and FLAC, as both are lossless formats. You may find that your AV receiver should be able to directly stream FLAC files – the Yamaha certainly can, and I’d think the Pioneer would also. The CXN is a great streamer but in general it’s the amplification, rather than the digital front end, that makes an AV receiver less satisfactory for music. Perhaps it may be worth investigating one of Cambridge’s own AV receivers. Cambridge receivers are known for being great for music playback as well as for movies, and you get the added advantage of having a streamer built in. Alternatively, perhaps try ripping a couple of CDs to FLAC format using the free trial of DBPowerAmp and stream them via the Yamaha to see if AirPlay is in fact at fault.

        • Mike

          Many thanks Ashley
          I already have my library stored in iTunes for my iPod classic, so the idea would be to re-rip lossless to the NAS drive specifically for listening on the surround sound system. It might be more convenient to use ALAC but I always thought that this format was still compressed. Sound-wise are FLAC and ALAC identical?
          I was thinking about going back to the older Pioneer as I still have it and the sound quality playing the iPod through it with a cabled connection just seemed better than the Yamaha…would the Cambridge CXR 120 essentially be an AV receiver with a CXN built in? The overall decision would be whether the Pioneer/CXN combo sounds as good/ better than the 120…so experimenting with some FLAC rips may work although I can only currently do that with the Yamaha ( or I could take a CXN on trial from Richer Sounds, or even a cxr 120 – do you think that’s a better strategy?)
          Mike

          • Ashley Post author

            ALAC is a lossless audio codec, so in theory there should be no sound difference between it and FLAC. I wonder if Richer Sounds would let you home demo both a CXR120 and a CXN? A demo is really the only way to go. The CXR120 is essentially an AV receiver with a CXN built in.

            • Mike

              Thanks Ashley
              I think they will, but I need to pay for both and then return them! They may not allow a 120 out as it may not be a demo unit.
              Another question – when I set up the Yamaha, using the iPad as a controller with the Yamaha app, I could access my library via AirPlay and also on my PC as a ‘server’ via DNKA. Now this doesn’t work for some reason even though all ‘sharing’ is enabled in Windows 10. It simply says there are no files available. Will this affect the Cambridge control app?
              I’m only iOS as far as using the iPad as a controller is voncerned ( as I would with any tablet) so I’m not reliant on iTunes
              M

              • Ashley Post author

                I suspect your server issue has something to do with Windows 10. I’m afraid I’m not a windows user either. I’d advise reading This Article and checking that media streaming is correctly enabled. You may also need to locate your iTunes Music folder, right click on it and choose the ‘share’ option if there is one, or the ‘include in library’ option and include it in your music library.

  • Francois

    HI all,

    Does someone know if we can choose the Streaming quality of Spotify and in case not, what is the defined rate? Is it the max available?

    thanks

    • Terry

      Hi
      I have the cxn.
      Streaming quality from the cxn is around 320.
      Sound really good.
      Obviously you have to subribe otherwise you stream a lot lower.

    • Ashley Post author

      If you subscribe to Spotify Premium and enable the high quality streaming option in the app, you’ll stream at 320KBPS to the CXN when using Spotify Connect.

      • Francois

        Thanks Terry and Ashley. I have Spotify Premium but I am not sure whether we can set the Streaming rate in the CXN spotify app – according to the cambridge support, it is not possible. Using a phone to control spotify as a remote for instance, it is not possible to set the streaming quality of another device (CXN, chromecast etc..). So i want to make sure it is automatically set to the maximum rate…

          • Francois

            Thanks Ashley but I disagree. This will ensure you stream at the best quality on the device where you are running the app (phone, PC… the ) but as long as you control another device (CXN for instance), this option is no longer available. The device in use choose its own setting. So the CXN app has to be set. Do you get my point?

            • Ashley Post author

              My apologies, you are of course correct. I was under the impression that when using Spotify connect, your app settings would apply however that is not the case. After a bit of research, a moderator on the Spotify Community forums confirms that the set quality on pretty much all connect-compatible hardware is 320KBPS for most tracks, so I assume the CXN to be the same.

              • Francois

                yes, thanks. Indeed should be the same (I can never found better answer than should be). I wanted to make sure before I bought the device.

  • Marin0

    Hi, I like your review so let me add some comments. 🙂
    I have CXN for more than one year now and is such an amazing device.
    I use it with CA 740A amp , QED reference 40 and Nautilus 805.My CA azur 640a player is connected to optical input of CXN. CD sound is much better when I use it as transport only via CXN DAC.
    I listen to FLAC, internet radio as well and spotify on daily basis. Using spotify app on ipad and streamin is a joy. Highly recommended!
    My only confusion is with the remote control . I sometimes want to control 740a amp or 640c player – It doesn’t not work so I have to use separate remote to control amp & CD (I can only control volume on amp with CXN remote control). Anyway, not a big deal.
    Control bus works great powering on/off my amp as well with just one press. Cheers.

    • Ashley Post author

      Thanks for sharing your feedback. I’m surprised that the CXN can’t control your CD player, given that I believe the 640 follows the RC5 standard. You could try switching your remote to the alternate set of IR codes (see the CXN manual for details) which may work. Note that if you do this, you’ll need to change the setting in the CXN’s settings also. You may find that this doesn’t work, in which case you should revert to the standard IR code set but it’s worth a go.

      • Marin0

        Hi, I’ve tried to change codes but it doesn’t work with cd player.
        Do you know how to reset back IR codes ? I just pressed power and put batteries , but after that I don’t know how to revert to old code.
        CXN manual is online and I cant find this info there. Thanks!

        • Ashley Post author

          I believe you can simply take the batteries out, and replace them again without holding the power button to reset the code. If that doesn’t work, try performing the same steps you took to alter the code. One of these methods should work.

    • Ashley Post author

      Do you want to be able to power on the CXN via the CA Connect app or via an AirPlay device? If so, use the network standby mode. If you’ll be powering it on via the front panel and want to save power, use the eco mode.

  • Robert

    Hello,

    I have a question.
    Is CXN better play from an external hard drive via cable USB 3.0 Type A to Type B Micro (not to be confused with the USB audio) or better from NAS drive via cable RJ-45

    • Ashley Post author

      It makes no difference. In both situations you’ll be playing back the same digital file. If your network has enough throughput to handle the files you’ll be playing (which any modern home network will), there will be no audible difference.

  • Philip

    Hi,Ashley!One general question:In reviews of some streamers and DACs I noticed that some of their ports(mostly USB ports)are limited on 24bit/96khz.How big handicap is this?I mean,what files are over 96khz?Thanks.

    • Ashley Post author

      There is a review of the 851N coming hopefully this week or perhaps early next week which will do just that. I will link it here when it’s complete.

  • terry

    help needed.
    according to cambridge, the cxn can play back dsd files
    They say:
    Does the CXN support DSD?
    Yes. After the firmware update (6th July 2015), the CXN supports DSD x64 (AKA DSD64 or 64FS- Including DSF/DFF).

    The CXN can play these files via UPnP or USB HDD.

    That is incorrect i have extracted dsd tracks from sacd iso. the cxn just skips the tracks.
    cannot decode.
    also extracted to dff, theses are not even showing in track list.
    i have sent email to cambridge zzzzzzzzzz not responding.
    anyone with any ideas?

      • Tony

        Then I don t understand how we can talk about sound of CXN when it very much depends of amp and speakers? I mean the sound will be different in different amp-speakers combinations.

        • Ashley Post author

          You’re right. But any product will have its own sound signature which will offer some idea as to how well it’ll match with a given amp and speakers. As a reviewer, I have to assess a product using an amp and speakers with which I am familiar so as to assess how the sound of the product I’m reviewing changes the system, and therefore what its sound characteristics are. That said sound is subjective, and of course depends on the other components in the system and also the room in which the system is used. Many reviewers use a selection of tracks to describe how a product sounds, but for the reasons above this is not something I tend to do as a track will sound different on my system to how it does on yours, such such descriptions are void and often don’t help determine how a product sounds. For me, discussing the features, operability and functionality of a product is of greater importance, and a basic insight into the kind of sound one can expect is enough for the end user to decide whether he or she wants to hear the product in the context of their own system, at which point they can make an informed purchase decision.

          • Tony

            I understand.All you said is probably the reason why is the experience of reviewer often different from the experience of ordinary user.The second reason,I would say,is the wrong choice of partner to match with,that can make the sound quality not to be as expected,even with some great product in the system.That is my biggest hi-fi fear.Of course,I know that careful listening is a good way for right decision,but most users don t have the oportunity to listen some product combinations for a long period.Also,it is not the same when you listen some system in your room,in relaxed atmosphere,and in some room with dealer who just wants to sell you some product.

            • Ashley Post author

              There are many reasons why a reviewer’s experience might be different from that of an ordinary user, but we won’t go into those here. matching equipment is something that comes with experience, and for the user who doesn’t change their equipment on a regular basis careful listening is really the only way to go. If your dealer isn’t willing to suggest combinations, and allow you to suggest your own, look elsewhere. A dealer wants your return custom, so it is down to them to sell you a suitable system if you’re not sure what to choose. Many will also allow home trials or demonstrations so you can hear how the equipment sounds in your own environment.

              Sticking with components of the same brand and product range is usually a safe bet, as they’ll more than likely have been designed to work together. A perfect example would be pairing the CXN with one of Cambridge’s own CX series amps, such as the CXA60 or CXA80. Cambridge even manufacture a range of speakers, with which the amplifiers were no doubt designed to sound excellent.

  • Tony

    Hi,Ashley!From your review I read that CXN has great display.If it is matched with some amplifier,is it possible to use only the CXNs display for all controls and informations,and to turn off the amp s display?

    • Ashley Post author

      Most amplifiers don’t require the use of the display. That said if you match the CXN with a CX series amp, you can use the CXN to power the amp on and off via the smartphone app, and the remote of the CXN will control the volume of the amp. If the CXN is your only source, you could switch off the display of the amp via the remote and control the entire system via the CXN. That said the CXN won’t allow you to switch inputs on the amp, or access the amp’s settings menus.

      Of course, if the CXN is your only source, you could use it in digital preamp mode and connect it directly to a power amplifier. Cambridge’s 651W or 851W would work, and the CXN will control the power on / off of both.

        • Ashley Post author

          Not necessarily. Other amps may use different remote control codes, and it’s unlikely that the CA control bus will be compatible with another manufacturer’s amp either. I did once get a Stream Magic 6 to control a Marantz PM-6004, but it could only control the volume, not the power, and I’m not sure if the newer models would work in the same fashion. When you connect the control system of one product to an unsupported product, you run the risk that the 2 products may not be electrically compatible which could result in damage being caused to one or both that would not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

          • Tony

            Oh,I didn t think about that.I thought CXN could be match with any amp.Is there any rule or advice for choosing some amp for CXN(that is not from Cambridge range)?

            • Ashley Post author

              The CXN will happily work with any amp. The audio outputs are standard balanced / unbalanced so you can connect it to pretty much anything. If you want to use the control features, I.E to control the volume of your amp using the app on a smartphone, you’ll need a Cambridge amp with the correct inputs and outputs. But if you don’t need those features, any quality amp will be fine.

              • Kal

                So,if I connect CXN with some non-Cambridge amp,I would use the remote of that amp for volune and power control.And what about the remote and display of CXN?For what controls/feautures would it use?

                • Ashley Post author

                  The remote supplied with the CXN will operate the volume of another brand of amp if that map happens to follow the RC5 control code standard. It may also control power as well, though that depends on which specific power code the amp is using and isn’t a guarantee. As for the second part of your question, I’m not entirely sure what you mean. The remote of the CXN will control all of its features. It is likely that the remote supplied with another manufacturer’s amp will control few if any of the CXN’s features.

                    • Ashley Post author

                      Some manufacturers will provide a downloadable document detailing the control codes used by the amplifier. If not, you’ll have to contact the manufacturer and find out whether the amp follows the Philips RC5 standard, and if so which does are used to turn the amplifier on / off. Then download the control codes for the Cambridge CXA amplifiers Here and see if they match.

    • Ashley Post author

      I’m not sure you can with that setup. I don’t recall the CXA80 having a preamp output. But why bother? If you like the system as is, stick with and enjoy it.

      • Akis

        CXA80 has a preamp output.
        As far as i know using one amp to drive the bass of both speakers (Adcom), and another amp to drive the treble (CXA80) is known as ‘horizontal bi-amping’.
        I remember when you were reviewing the 851 W you mentioned that you wish you had two of those to see if they make any improvement. Did you mean horizontal or vertical bi-amping.

        • Ashley Post author

          If the CXA80 does have a preamp output, run its preamp output into the input of the 545 and then run the CXN into the CXA80 with its digital preamp mode disabled (using the CXA as a pre). Then use the 545 for the low frequency amplification and the CXA for the high frequency amplification. In this way you are horizontally bi-amping. Horizontal bi-amping is best when the 2 amplifiers don’t match, as one is being used to drive the lows and another amp is being used to drive the highs. The advantage to horizontal bi-amping is that any differences in the sound of the 2 amplifiers won’t matter. Vertical bi-amping would be used if one were to use 2 of the same amplifier. If I were to use 2 851Ws, I’d simply use one in mono mode to drive each speaker and let the crossover in the speaker do the frequency splitting. If I had 4 851Ws, I’d stick them all in mono mode and bi-amp using 2 for the lows, and 2 for the highs (2 amps per speaker). Now that would make an awesome system.

          • Akis

            1 – Equivalent to 851 W or alternative second hand with a good bass like Krells.pass labs.
            2 – Is 851 w as detailed (more info) as it goes or are better alternatives. Peachtree nova220SE
            3 – How do we know when a pre or power amp is detailed in presentation and how do we chose one.
            4 – What makes the difference in detail when listening to My Funny Valentine (Ben Webster)
            KEF LS50s – gets out every single detail of the trumpet but lean presentation. very analytical.
            B&W 805 S – Not as detailed but more musical and rich.
            5 – how to choose a pre for mostly digital music.

  • Akis

    using CXN as a digital pre. Selecting balance left and right … having the settings full left .. still there is sound coming from the R Chanel. same applies for R. What it may be the problem? using the cxa80 as a Pre no issues.

        • Ashley Post author

          In that case I’m not sure what to suggest. I forget whether the CXN has a setting to enable or disable the balance control (I suspect not). I’d ask your dealer for advice

          • Akis

            Cambridge Audio Support
            May 25, 14:34
            Hi Akis and thanks for your patience in this.

            After testing with a similar set up to yours we have discovered that we have the same “problem”. After discovering this, we went and asked the engineers and they have confirmed that this feature is built in and functioning perfectly well.

            It is designed to allow for a better sound stage and rather than eliminate the audio signal it is just lowered. This helps with the brains processing of the audio signal and stops the minor confusion that can happen subconsciously due to the inter-aural components of the ear and brain.
            Kind Regards,
            Troy (surname removed)
            Cambridge Audio

            Dear Ashley, does it makes sense to you ?

            • Ashley Post author

              If that’s the word from the engineers, I wouldn’t argue with them. Personally I have no need for a balance control and didn’t use it when I had the sample so I can’t say either way.

        • Akis

          B&W 805s Amplification recommendation.
          Needs an Amplification that delivers very good bass (like classe 2100 or higher wattage)
          Any recommendations?

    • Ashley Post author

      It definitely doesn’t sound right. I’d probably start by contacting Richer Sounds in nottingham and see if they can help you. I suspect you’d have to cover the cost of shipping the units back, however.

  • Akis

    Owned the Units for more than a month now and i was the most proud owner of my CXN and CXA 80 component.
    Lately, when i start auditioning, after some time the mid range and upper mids, reveal a muffled and slight distortion on certain notes.
    I tried different interconnects and cables with no obvious improvement.
    The sound gets fatiguing after some time. There is no punch and detail as it used to be with certain notes distorted (Guitar and piano…. mid-base).The Low end and treble it is as good as ever.
    I t seems that internally one component in one of the units when it reaches a certain temperature does not function properly.
    Very big issue for me because i purchased the equipment from Richer Sound in Nottingham but i live in Cyprus that there is no dealer. I am very disappointed not so much for the gear because these things are happening, but i have nowhere to address my problem locally.