In 2016 I reviewed Cambridge Audio’s CXN network player, the successor to the company’s Stream Magic which garnered near-legendary status as one of the first, and best, music streamers around. The CXN was more of a revision of the Stream Magic (V2), with fancier casework being the key aesthetic difference along with a larger colour display, neater controls and better software as well as some minor hardware improvements.
Later the brand updated the CXN to version 2 status, with a few notable changes under the hood. It now uses the latest version of the Stream Magic platform which is better and noticeably faster than before. Hardware-wise this doubles the ram and flash storage and adds a faster processor, allowing some welcome new features including support for Google ChromeCast.
The CXN is otherwise the same as ever. On the front, a 4.3” colour screen is flanked by vertical rows of controls, with a large dial the primary means of navigation. There’s a USB socket with a maximum current supply capability of 1A, and a power button along with an IR receiver for the included CX series remote.
Around back are the same balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs, coaxial and optical digital outputs and a pair of USB jacks, one of which can be used for the included wifi dongle. Cambridge specify in the manual that the wifi dongle should be connected to this port only. There are USB, coaxial and optical inputs too should you wish to feed digital signals into the CXN and take advantage of its DAC, which implements dual Wolfson WM8740 DACs and Cambridge’s ATF2 (Adaptive Time Filtering) upsampling technology, which upsamples all incoming audio to 24-bit, 384kHz.
The packaging hasn’t changed. The CXN is neatly wrapped in a cloth bag, set into thick foam blocks with the accessories also presented in a cloth bag. Those accessories include the CX series remote, control bus cable, batteries and some documentation. I still wish the BT100 Bluetooth dongle was included in the box but was pleased to note that Cambridge have significantly slimmed down the wifi dongle to a minuscule device barely larger than a USB plug.
I won’t cover the remote, CA connect app, setup or operation here, as little if anything has changed besides software updates. A revised Stream Magic app for iOS and Android is in public beta along with updated stream magic firmware, but I will dedicate an article to both once they reach final release.
For now, please refer to my previous CXN review for those details. One minor change I did note however is that Cambridge finally decided to ditch that horrible rubber texture covering their remotes. It felt great for a day or so but was always a magnet for dirt, grime and marks. I now own a CXC as well as the CXN V2 and both came with a remote that is essentially the same, though with a plastic casing. It feels every bit as premium as before without the added annoyance.
I purchased the CXN V2 primarily to be used as a transport. It’s a replacement for my 851N, a product for which Cambridge don’t seem to foresee future additions due to its use of an older Stream Magic platform. It did get Tidal support but no Chromecast and no doubt it will miss out on second-generation Airplay as well. It’s still a viable product, but given that I was to change the DAC in light of my recent system overhaul it made sense to take advantage of the added streaming capabilities and relative future-proofing of the newer CXN.
I’ve always liked the Stream Magic platform, and as I have no need of the internal DAC or digital inputs it makes the perfect streaming transport, which I mainly use for internet radio and occasional streaming from a DLNA or USB drive. I also chose a CXC as my CD transport of choice owing to its excellent error correction and technically perfect output, and the CXN and CXC fit well together aesthetically as is to be expected.
For this review, however, I wired the CXN V2 into the system via its balanced outputs. I disabled digital preamp mode for the majority of my listening as I was running into an analogue preamp, but did feed a pair of Hypex NC400 monoblocks directly from the CXN which, it has to be said, sounded quite remarkable.
The CXN DAC hasn’t really changed, so it comes as no surprise that its sound character is largely in keeping with the older model. It’s refined and detailed, though upbeat and exciting to listen to. It offers impressive insight into a recording though with a lively, foot-tapping quality that seems to be a trait of the CX range as a whole.
Airplay is a small but noticeable improvement over the older model, sounding a little less dynamically compressed than it did before. And as someone who listens to BBC radio often, I was able to appreciate the vastly improved sound from those stations which now offer 320KBPS streams. The CXN V2 hasn’t lost the top end sparkle of the original CXN, so those wishing to avoid a bright system will want to take care in choosing partnering equipment.
When used as a digital preamp, immediately obvious is the CXNs lack of self-generated noise. It is super quiet, which brings a lot of subtle nuances to the forefront. The volume is controlled digitally so channel balance is perfect, and there’s plenty of gain to drive just about any power amp you would be likely to pair it with. It proved especially adept at driving the Hypex monoblocks, which are also especially quiet amplifiers with a more neutral, linear sound signature that pairs very well with the CXN.
As the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I’m pleased to see Cambridge taking this to heart in designing the CXN V2. They’ve produced a product which improves on the original in several key areas but retains the wonderful sound, aesthetic, quality and features that made the previous model such a success. It’s hard to fault the company’s Stream Magic products, and this is another stellar effort and a first-rate streamer for the money. Highly recommended.