Cambridge Audio Azur 851A Review

The amplifier is the heart of any hi-fi system. With the popularity of hi-fi separates steadily increasing, more and more people are turning to integrated amplifiers as an alternative to AV receivers. Integrated amps often sound better when playing back stereo sources such as music, as the money saved by removing features such as surround sound and digital processing is often spent on higher quality components to make your music sound better.

There are hundreds of integrated amps available at all price points, from budget amps for under £100, to amps costing over £20,000! The features found on these amps vary – some feature tone controls while others don’t, some can switch more than 1 pair of speakers, meaning you can have speakers in 2 rooms. All these amps have 1 goal though – to make your music sound great.

The Azur 851A is Cambridge Audio’s flagship amplifier. It’s rated at 120W per channel into an 8 ohm load, and delivers 200W into 4 Ohms. It features Cambridge audio’s proprietary Class XD technology (more on that later), a high end silicon gate volume control, 2 sets of switched speaker outputs, and separate toroidal transformers for the pre/power sections, effectively making it a pre/power combination in 1 box.

The packaging

The packaging is refreshingly simple – the amp comes in a strong box with 2 thick foam inserts supporting it at either end. The amp itself is wrapped in a cloth bag. A bag containing the documentation, a remote and batteries lies on the top in between the 2 foam ends. Very nicely done.

Initial setup

The first thing you notice when lifting the 851 out of its box is the weight… this thing really is a monster. It feels considerably heavier than the 15KG stated in the specifications. It’s solidly put together too – the side panels wrap around and it has a thick brushed metal front panel. Tapping the top yields a dull ‘thump’ sound, unlike some other amps where the metal case rings and vibrates. Rounding off the awesome build quality are the sturdy metal volume knob, high quality input/output jacks, and acoustically damped feet which keep the amp firmly in place and do a great job minimizing vibrations.

The back

The amp features a plethora of connectivity options. The rear panel has 8 inputs, with inputs 1 and 2 giving you the option of unbalanced RCA or balanced XLR connections. Any of these inputs can be set for fixed gain, meaning the 851 can be integrated into a home cinema setup and used to drive the front speakers.

A line level recording output is provided for output to recording devices (such as a cassette deck, cd recorder, minidisc player, computer interface, etc.). This is a recording monitor input – when used in conjunction with a device that allows monitoring while recording (such as a 3 head analog cassette deck), pressing the 8th input button on the front panel will switch to that input and allow you to monitor your recording. Pressing the button again will return you to whichever source you were previously listening to. It’s nice to see a modern amp with this facility.

The amp has an RS-232 port for use in custom installations. An IR input jack is provided as well as RCA remote input and output jacks for linking up to other Cambridge audio equipment.

Preamp outputs are provided for connection to an external power amplifier or subwoofer. 2 sets of speaker outputs (a and b) are provided. You can switch between A, B, or A+B using the button on the front panel or using the Azur remote.

Everything is clearly labeled making connecting a system up easy. The IEC power cable is also detachable which is a nice touch, and makes upgrading the cable possible. Finally, a power switch is provided if you wish to cut power to the amp entirely.

The front

The front is simple and neatly laid out. The standby, speaker selection and mode controls, as well as the IR sensor and headphone jack, are situated to the left of the central display. To the right of the display are the tone controls, the direct button to bypass the tone controls for purer sound, and the volume control. Running vertically either side of the display are the source buttons – 4 on each side.

It’s nice to see direct access source selection buttons, rather than a click wheel. The 851 also has a very nice volume control – turning it feels smooth, and it glides along as the volume gently rises or falls.

The display is used to show the status of the amp (volume level, source, and protection messages), and provides access to the menus. The amp has several settings that can be adjusted, including a volume ramp function that turns the volume down at standby and gently increases it when the amp is powered on to prevent speaker damage, aspects of the ‘cap5’ protection system can be altered as required, and each of the source inputs can be named to reflect the devices you have connected. I haven’t explored the menus as I have no need to alter the settings, but the Cambridge user manual explains them all in great detail.


The remote

The 851a comes with the Azur navigator remote. It’s a lovely remote, with a thick metal face and nice tactile buttons. It can control other Cambridge audio equipment such as the Azur 851C CD player, and can also control an iOS device when mounted in a compatible Cambridge Audio dock such as the ID100. It’s well laid out, and fits perfectly in the hand when adjusting the volume, skipping tracks, and changing inputs. It takes 3 AAA batteries, which slide in easily making changing them a snap.

Using the amp

After pressing the standby button, the amp takes roughly 5 seconds to come out of protection mode. Once it’s up and running, playing music is a simple matter of pressing the desired input button, starting the source and turning up the volume.

Input switching is performed by high quality relays. This stops inputs bleeding into one another as each input is completely isolated. It also makes a very satisfying metallic “clunk” when switching inputs.

The tone controls pop out when pressed to allow adjustment, and can then be pressed back in – this is a nice touch. The amp also remembers whether the tone controls were enabled for each input. The tone controls are subtle and work well – however, I leave them off for the majority of my listening.

The sound

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for… how does it sound? In short… stunning. Amazing. Phenomenal.

Whatever the source, whatever the soundtrack, the Cambridge 851a effortlessly reproduces every detail of the music. It’s a very natural sounding amp, with a touch of warmth and emotion. Play ‘misguided ghosts’ from paramore’s brand new eyes album, and the Cambridge delivers Hayley William’s soft, gentle vocal with ease. There’s a real 3d depth to the sound stage allowing you to almost hear the reverberation of Josh and Taylor’s guitars bouncing off the walls in the studio. It’s beautiful to behold.

Spin the title track from queen’s ‘innuendo’ album, and the Cambridge starts to rock. Instruments are positioned perfectly within the soundstage, and there’s an endless supply of power driving the low end bass notes, not to mention roger Taylor’s powerful drum hits into your chest. The acoustic guitars have just the write amount of zing and subtle details are easy to pick out. The 851 also beautifully renders the panned harmonies, accurately positioning the multi-tracked voices of the 4 queen members within the sound stage allowing you to hear every note.

Next to some evanescence – play ‘my immortal’ or ‘hello’ from the fallen album, and the Cambridge accurately conveys all the emotion in Amy lee’s vocal. The delivery is effortless.

Performance with headphones is equally good – plug in a pair of sennheiser HD 598’s and spin shinedown’s ‘somewhere in the stratosphere’, and the amp transports you to kansas city and puts you right in the middle of the audience. The sound is spacious and open. It has just the right amount of attack to keep you on the edge of your seat, but doesn’t miss out any of the subtle details – you hear every scream from the surrounding audience.

While we’re on the subject of sound, let’s talk about class XD. Not to be confused with class D, class XD is a propriety Cambridge Audio technology designed to combine the sonic benefits of pure class a operation with the efficiency of class B operation. You can read more about how the technology works on the Cambridge Audio website – essentially, the technology is designed to displace the distortion caused when the fragile audio signal is passed from transistor to transistor. This results in a very clean sound – I couldn’t detect any audible distortion when using the 851a, even at very high volume levels.

Due to the nature of the class XD technology, the amp does run slightly warmer than a typical class AB amplifier – quite a bit warmer in fact. It is important that the amp be placed on an open rack with plenty of airflow and with no components stacked on top.


In summary… The Cambridge audio Azur 851a is as close as it gets to the perfect amplifier. A huge number of connectivity options make it flexible enough to integrate into any stereo/AV setup, and the sound will put a smile on the face of even the most discerning audiophile. Pair it with some decent speakers and you’ll have an incredible system with build quality that will last for years to come.

If I was to change anything, I’d add a second (or even third) line level recording output, and maybe add an option to shut down the amplifiers to save power if all you need is the preamp (for example when recording from a vinyl into the computer). Other than that, it’s perfect. Arrange a demo at your nearest dealer and take your musical enjoyment to a whole new level.

By Ashley

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


  1. I have had this model (851A) for 1 month and listening to music at a normal volume (-60dB), after 5-10 minutes it turns off. Does anyone know what it could be? Thanks.

    1. Did you buy the amp new? If so I would get it looked at under warranty. That said do you have anything stacked on top of the amp, and do you get any errors on the display when it shuts off? What speakers are you using?

  2. The Azur 851a. Thinking to buy one. But I want to connect my turntable. You (Ashley) wrote on August 3rd 2016 that it would require both a preamp and a phono stage, is that correct? Also, do you think it would work well with B&W XT 4s?? Many thanks

  3. Hi Ashley
    I’ve just purchased the Wharfedale Linton heritage speakers and im looking at buying the Cambridge Audio 851a to run the speakers and for the cd player i have a Denon cdr-w1500 which has a 24 bit DAC,would this be a marriage made in heaven?

    1. It would work fine, though the amp would be quite a bit better than the CD player. Perhaps consider a Denon amp for the best synergy, I used to run a Denon with Wharfedales and it was a nice combination. I did run an older Cambridge with the same speakers and it too was very good, though I actually preferred the synergy of the Denon. Onkyo and Denon pair nicely together also.

  4. I’ve had the 851A for just over 2 years now. Sounds great, but has reliability issues. First it blew the right channel and had to be sent for warranty repairs. Then the volume started playing up – the knob ceased to work properly, turned itself to full volume by itself. So that was a second warranty job. Now it’s only 4 weeks out of warranty, and the left channel is blown, and needs fixing again. I’d expect a lot better quality for the price. Made in china. :-/

    1. I’ve fixed quite a few of these now with the same volume issue. Basically the issue is in the digital encoder which is lubricated with a thick grease to give it the smooth feel. Problem is when it gets hot that grease changes in viscosity and over time it sort of drips onto the little metal contacts that make the encoder work. So when you turn the knob, the computer registers the turn but doesn’t know in which direction or when you stop turning and just continues altering the volume, usually upwards and usually very rapidly. The 840 was known for the same issue and it affects a lot of other amps, receivers and even all-in-one systems which use cheap digital encoders. Cambridge should have used a better part to avoid this issue.

      As for blowing the channels, I have seen that happen too on these though it has to be said less often. The downfall of these amps is the heat they produce, and some of the components inside (mainly the electrolytic capacitors) aren’t of the best quality to begin with. It’s a cost-cutting measure but you’re right, really not great in an amplifier of this cost. I’d be interested to know, if you do have it repaired, what they find the fault to actually be and exactly which components they replace.

      Thanks for sharing your feedback. I should probably update the article to mention these issues, though that’s what the comments are for. I do still think it’s a great amp when it works. Just sadly with some cheap components that make it less reliable than it could be. Being made in China isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as when a company has a product manufactured in China it is to their exact specification and ultimately the quality they get is the quality they pay for. I’ve had far more issues overall with equipment made in England or America than I have with kit made in China.

      1. According to my warranty notes they replaced the ‘rotary encoder’ for the volume knob problem. ( AUD $77.00 job.) As far as the right channel fault goes I didn’t keep the repair notes – it was the right power amp module or something like that. I think that was around $300 repair.

        So far all was covered by the 2 year warranty, but now I’m a mere month out of warranty, so I think this will cost me. Also have Azur 851C cd player. Plays beautifully, the cd tray was getting stuck every now and then, I sent it in with the amp to get the warranty job done just in case. They replaced the cd drive belt.

        I will fix it this time, but any more problems I don’t know what I’m going to do. :-/

        Maybe I should just fix it and sell it, looking at Rega Elex R amp at least, keeping the rest, including the CXN streamer. (I don’t like the black only colour on the Rega, only 2 speaker wire inputs – a major deficiency in my books, 851A has four. I have B&W DM 602 speakers that have 4 wires going out of each one) So far no negative reviews on the Rega though. They do sell it here in Adelaide so I can go and have a listen – I don’t pay much mind to sound reviews.

        I bought the Cambridge in a store because it sounded so much better than a Marantz or a Rotel both of which were a bit cheaper actually…I use my stereo daily, this is a major problem for me.

        1. $77 for a rotary encoder? Ridiculous. That part costs a few pennies and should be no more than half an hour or so to fit. It does require the front of the amp be taken apart, but that isn’t a difficult job on the 851A.

          Same for the amp modules. At $300, they’re probably replacing the entire amp board rather than bothering to diagnose it down to the component level. Find a better tech who will diagnose the fault, as I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just a couple of small components that have failed and the repair would probably be a lot cheaper.

          Tray belt failures are fairly common with just about every CA CD player, as well as countless players from other makes. At least these days you don’t see too many tray gear failures as are common in older Philips mechanisms, where they used a type of plastic that didn’t stand the test of time.

          As for the Rega, firstly don’t worry too much about the speaker terminals. Rega believe, as do I, that bi-wiring won’t make a significant difference to the sound. Your speakers should have come with some jumper plates or small cables to go across the two + and two – terminals to enable them to be used in single wire mode.

          With that said, I personally wouldn’t buy the Rega as in my opinion their quality control isn’t as good as it could be. I know many people have great luck with them, and they do sound great. And, it has to be said that their customer service really is excellent. But I’ve personally seen too many of their products, mainly turntables and CD players, with faults from the factory that shouldn’t have passed quality control.

          Perhaps look at the upper end Pioneer, Marantz or Yamaha ranges. I currently have the Musical Fidelity M2Si on test which is sounding really nice. Lots of choice out there, depending of course on availability where you are.

          1. Thanks for the good advise Ashley. I am based in Adelaide, South Australia. If you can recommend anyone down here, I’m all ears.

            The warranty repairs were done by an authorized Cambridge repairer, so whatever they charge up till now was of no concern apart from the courier it cost to ship the damn heavy thing to them. 😀

            I will call them today see what they say. It may be better to search for other repairers then. The level of *skilled* trades people in general in australia is rather low however.

            Yes you’re right, I can twist the cabling together, get rid of few strands, I have over 600 strand OFC copper speaker cable – the heaviest I could find on the market. Sounds nice and rich, and smooth 🙂

            I just emailed Cambridge head office in UK, BTW with my complaint, and told their quality control to lift their game or loose customers by the droves. I will keep you posted on how I’m going with all of that. In a way it’s a shame, because it’s a great product like you say in the review, just needs better components which don’t cost that much more in reality. Saving money on that is really stupid..

      2. Hi Ashley
        What is needed to replace the encoder ? – the front panel will must be removed, but what about the pcb behind it ?. Can the encoder be replaced with the pcb in place ?. Do you have the make & number of the the encoder ? & where did you buy it ?
        Best regards from Henrik

        1. The whole front has to come apart. The front comes out as an assembly, and the front-panel PCB can then be removed. The volume knob must be removed to access a securing nut behind. The encoder is just a standard 3-pin rotary encoder, they’re available from places like RS, CPC, digikey etc. However the encoder can often be repaired by simply bending back the tabs on its casing and carefully opening it up, cleaning it out with a good contact spray and bending the metal contacts in the base up very slightly so they make a good connection as the encoder disc spins. This can be done without removing the encoder itself from the PCB, though the PCB has to be removed regardless.

      3. I recently took a chance and purchased an 851a (new unopened box) off of buyer beware FB marketplace. I’m pleased with my purchase but now very paranoid regarding the problems I’m reading about. Can they be avoided by ensuring generous cooling? Thinking a laptop cooling pad underneath or other? Of course not operating in a tight enclosure also.

        1. Honestly it’s not something I’d worry about. Put it in an open rack with plenty of ventilation and enjoy the music. If you really feel you want to keep it extra cool, and you’re handy with DIY, hook up a 120 mm computer fan or two to a 12V wall-wart power supply and make your own cooling pad. Either make a platform to go underneath the houses the fans, fit the fans into the shelf underneath, or attach them to the rear of your rack so they blow forward across the amp. Good fans from Arctic Cooling and Noctua are virtually inaudible. The fans on a laptop cooling pad tend to be small and they make more noise than they blow air. You’d also have to have the cooling pad up-side-down on the top of the amp, as there’s no way one would take the weight of that amp nor are they likely to support it beneath all 4 feet.

  5. Hi Ashley

    Thinking about replacing my Yamaha DSP A3090 with the Azur 851A to match my JBL 3000Ti’s.

    Will this swap be significant?


  6. Hi Ashley

    Will the Cambridge 851a amplifier be a good match for the KEF R series e.g KEF R500 or KEF R300

    If so, will it have enough juice to drive the KEF R500 effortlessly?

    Thank you in advance

  7. Hi Ashley,

    I’m looking at the following combinations. My speakers are tannoy revolution XT8F.

    CXN V2
    CXC transport


    AZUR 851A
    CXN V2
    CXC transport

    I have two queries. The first one being are both sets compatible within each other? The other question is, although the 851A is a more powerful amp on paper, it’s a little older than the newer CXA80. Is the 851 significantly more powerful than the A80?

    I had read your review on the tannoy revolution XT8F and that’s the reason I bought them so thanks for that! Your going to help me make up my mind again! Thanks in advance, regards, Derek.

    1. All of the suggested units are compatible, and the CXN and CXC are a magnificent pairing. The 851A is significantly more powerful and more neutral in its tonal character than the CXA80. The CX series has a slightly more forward and exciting tone which some may describe as being a little bright. It may be a bit too much with the Tannoys. The XT8s are certainly more than good enough for the 851A and it would be my choice from your listed options, running the CXN into one of its balanced inputs. You should also be aware that the CXN can run in digital preamp mode, whereby it acts as the volume control for the system and can be run directly into a power amplifier, Cambridge’s own 851W being one of many examples. It is a great option if you don’t plan to use any analogue source components.

      1. Hey Ashley, thanks so much again! Now I’m a lil more confused. My main source is a technics 1200 MK5 TT. Like I said earlier, I purchased the tannoy XT8F only after going through your review and I am loving them thoroughly. I like a laid back warm sound as most of the music I listen to soft rock and artists like Neil diamond pat Boone dean Martin.

        Since u r saying the CXA80 would sound on the brighter side with my tannoys, how would the CXA60 do? And can I hook up the CXN and the CXC transport to the CXA60? Would the 60 watts be good enough to get out sufficient detail from my tannoys? I listen to soft to moderate volumes, if I’m playing something like def leppard or dire straits. Will the CXA60 struggle to drive the tannoys at moderate volumes?

        Thanks again mate for your prompt replies. Like I said, your reviews and replies are the basis of my buying! Much appreciated!

        1. I wouldn’t pair the CXA60 with the XT8Fs, as I don’t feel that the CXA60 would get the best from them. Watts per channel isn’t really an issue, 60W is fine in most domestic settings unless you play really loudly or use power hungry speakers, which the Tannoys are not. Power supply headroom, its ability to provide a constant and strong supply of power during large transients and peaks, is important and I don’t think the CXA60 would do the Tannoys, or indeed the rest of the system justice. Note that any well designed amplifier should have a power supply capable of delivering the specified power ratings, but not all amplifiers are equal in that regard.

          I do feel the CXA80 would be too bright, I would encourage you have a demo as tastes do differ but that is my opinion. If you’re looking at a Cambridge, I would consider the 851A. Otherwise perhaps the new Marantz PM-8006, which will work just fine with the CXN and CXC. The CXN and CXC will connect up and work just fine with any amplifier so no issues there.

          One final note, I trust you already have a phono stage? None of the Cambridge amps have a phono stage built in, so if you’re using one internal to your current amplifier you will need an external unit if you opt for a Cambridge.

          1. Hi Ashley thanks a lot for that! Guess the CXA60 is out of the question now. Oh yes I have two phonos. A monk audio and a nighthawk by ray Samuels.

            My other option, since I’m in love with the CXN V2, is to use it as a preamp with my Emotiva basx a300 power amp. It’s 150 watts. But, if I use the cxn in preamp mode, can I still use it as a streamer? Sorry dumb question. Can it do both? Preamp and stream?

            In your review of the cxn V2 u mentioned it’s a nice warm sound, never too bright or harsh? Maybe this combo of pre and power would be ideal for my tannoy? Looking forward to your guidance as always! Thank you so much.

            1. There would be no harm in trying the CXN with your Emotiva as you already own the amp. You can absolutely use it as a streamer, the only thing the digital preamp mode does is to enable volume control. the CXN however does not have any analogue (L/R) inputs for other sources, so you won’t be able to connect up either of your phono stages when used in this way. You’ll need a good old fashioned integrated amp with analogue inputs for that.

              1. Thanks a lot again mate. It’s back to the drawing board. How I wish the cxn had a analogue inputs. Oh well, there are a few amps on my radar including a Luxman 505UX to consider. You have been super helpful. And I’m still going to get the CD transport and the streamer from Cambridge. Cheers and thank you.

                1. Certainly no harm in trying the 851A, which will work well with the CXN / CXC. Or try one of the higher end offerings from Marantz, which will work equally well. plenty of amplifiers out there, and the CXN will plug into anything.

  8. Hi considering upgrading to the 851A and 851N. Currently using Nad 356BEE and chromecast audio into Arcam irdac DAC and LS50 speskers. Just wondered for day to day usage e.g internet radio and spotify if this would actually hear much difference? Thanks Andy.

    1. If used only for internet radio and Spotify, likely no. You’d hear a difference; probably more detail and perhaps more power, but I doubt given the sources that the difference would justify the price. My best advice would be to ask to demo the two components on a home trial and see if you noticed the difference in day-to-day use. You might be better off keeping your current amp and changing your DAC and Chromecast for a CXN.

      1. Thanks Ashley, I do use it for vinyl and some lossless but not as often in reality as I’d like to. Again I think the answer is demo if posble but do you or anyone else have experience with how the Bluesound node 2 compares to the cxn audio-wise? I have studied their respective specs so I understand about the pros & cons of functionality, streaming services supported etc. Thanks again.

  9. Hi all.
    I am trying to connect a B&W PV1 subwoofer to my Cambridge 851a (which I love the sound of) The B&W has two connections a mono sub RCA/Phono connection and the other an LFE (phone cable type) connection with four wires from it. I am unsure which is best for music. I plugged in the mono cable in the Pre out port but it just sounded bloated giving unclear bass, even though all the settings were set to match my Dali Menuet Speakers. So I am a little lost. The manual does show two RCA/Phono connectors to Sub but my PV1 only has one……

    1. Interesting question David. I’ve looked into it and it appears that the RJ11 phone type connection is a speaker level input. Why B&W used such a socket is beyond me. Did the sub come with an adapter? If not, and you can obtain an RJ11 plug, the wiring is apparently as follows – red to red and black to black on one channel and green to black and yellow to red on the other channel. Using that, you should be able to connect the sub to the second pair of speaker outputs on the back of your 851A. It may also be possible to use a Y cable (two female RCA plugs to 1 male RCA socket) to convert your stereo preamp output to a mono output, which may work better. May be worth giving B&W a call to check the above connection details. Hope this helps!

  10. Hi, I just purchased the Azur 851A and noticed that the balance control only lower the volume on the left or right channel, while in the balance mode, if I rotate the volume knob all the way to the left -08, or right +08, there is still sound coming out of the opposite speaker. Is it normal?

      1. Thank you Ashley! Good to know it’s not a malfunction and is normal by design. 🙂 Wonder if this is unique to Cambridge Audio or is it a common approach by other manufacturers as well? I have an old Luxman amplifier where the balance control will completely turn the sound off on the opposite speaker.

        1. It’s common with digital volume controls. Some offer more adjustment (the Arcam A29 currently here for review provides +/-12dB) but I’ve never seen one where either speaker could be entirely disabled, probably because there is rarely if ever a need to disable a single channel.

  11. In the begining,I thought to go with DC6F SE,but now I am not sure,maybe such a good amp deserves some better speakers.I think to go with 4000eur(about 3000pounds)for all,but not at once.I think to start with 851a and some speakers,and later to add CXN and CXC.Yes,I believe that 851N is better match for 851A,but the CXN-851N price difference is almost 1000$.I mean,is the difference in sound and performance so obvious?

    1. I’d probably be looking at some higher end Tannoys to match with the 851A, maybe the Precision or Definition ranges. The 851N uses the same audio output circuitry as the 851C and 851D, designed to match the 851 amplifiers. The difference is in my opinion worth the money. At least if you purchase the 851A, you’ll have an amp able to support a very good pair of speakers and almost any source component. If you want to prioritise your budget, I’d start with an 851A. Then if you have the budget add some Tannoy Precision 6.2s or 6.4s or better still definitions. Then once you have the amp and speakers sorted investigate the streamer. Buying an 851N and adding a CXC will give you the best sound and provide the best match for the 851A. The CXN will work equally well, and I’d advise demoing them both to see if the difference is worth the money to you.

    2. Sorry to jump in between but I have tried all combinations. If money is not an object, the ideal will be 851N & 851W.
      I do not see any reason why someone should pay the money for the 851A @ 120 W if planing for a streamer, DA converter/ Pre- Amp. ( You have all of these on the 851N or CXN Streamers anyway). CXN will be an alternative and more economical solution with marginally lower detail that might not even be noticeable and will depend on your speakers. The only must should be the XLR interconnects. The CXC is an outstanding cd transport. no need to spend more.

      1. AKOS-You are probably right about 851N-851W,but that comb is 4000eur,and it is much more than I am considering to spend for two components.Also,I live in the flat,and my room is about 20m,so I do not feel I need 200watts power of 851W. But,of course,any suggestion is welcome.

        1. It’s not just about power, though the 851W certainly has plenty of that. The 851N / 851W setup will give you slightly better sound quality as the sound is kept in the digital domain until the last possible moment. That said, such a system provides no analogue connectivity so if you wanted to connect a turntable or similar component in the future you’d need to add a preamp and a phono stage. It all depends on exactly what you want from a system. The 851A with the CXN or 851N will give very nice results, as would an 851N connected to an 851W, or even a CXN connected to an 851W. You’re best to set a maximum budget for the entire system (source, amp and speakers) and then work around that. You should also hear all combinations and decide for yourself which sounds the best.

          1. Tom, Ashly is right but the best phono stages under 200 uk pounds Rega Fono MM MK2 , ‎Cambridge Audio Azur 640P is a much better bet than the build in units usually inside the pre amps.
            As far as the 851W power is concern, even at lower volume levels you hear a big improvement on sound quality, and the sheer reserve of power when needed on dynamics. Also the character and the detail of 851W is more evident.
            I have to admit that i could not justify the price of 851N comparing it with the CXN.

            1. You cannot connect a phono preamp directly to a system consisting of an 851N and 851W or CXN and 851W, as in both system examples the streamer is the only component with a volume control. Neither streamer has analogue inputs, and therefore you cannot connect a phono stage to them. You also cannot connect a phono stage directly to a power amplifier without needing at the very least a passive volume control, and even then you’d need a phono stage with enough gain to drive the power amplifier. When I said preamplifier, I was in fact referring to an analogue preamplifier such as the 851E, to which a phono stage such as the CP1 or CP2, and of course the streamer such as the CXN or 851N, could then be connected.

    1. I believe there is a setting whereby the 851A will power off automatically after some time, 30 minutes I think but don’t quote me on that.

      1. In your summary you say that you would add an option to shut down the amplifier,so I thought it will not shut down automatically.

        1. My apologies, this is one of the earliest reviews here (actually written for a previous blog) and it’s been a while since it was written. I’ve just checked the manual and by default the 851A will power down after 30 minutes of inactivity. The setting is called APD (auto power down) and it can be configured in the amp’s settings.

        2. Correction. I’ve just re-read my summary and I think I may have caused some misunderstanding. The feature I was suggesting I’d add is one that would allow the power amplifier section of the amp to be powered down whilst keeping the preamplifier section active, so that it could be used to feed an external headphone amplifier or recording device without consuming the 70W of power that the amplifier consumes when idle.

          1. I understand.And tell me,if I connect CXN with 851a,could it be used as a preamp for all controls,including power on and off?

            1. Both components feature the control bus, so that shouldn’t be a problem. The remote for the CXN will also control the 851A.

                1. I see no reason why not. The control bus is designed to work across all components that have it. Of course you’d usually pair the 851N streamer with the 851A amp rather than the CXN, but the 2 should work equally well.

                    1. That would sound very nice. With which speakers? If you have the budget I’d recommend upgrading to the 851N simply to get the absolute best from the amp.

  12. Cambridge Audio Azur 851A: $1900
    First cousin to the Cambridge Azur 851D DAC, the Azur 851A integrated amplifier provides 120Wpc into 8 ohms, two balanced inputs (XLR), eight unbalanced line-level inputs (RCA), and the rare luxury of bass and treble tone controls. HR wrote that he could best describe the sound of the Azur 851A as “relaxed and enjoyably colorful, in a class-A triode sort of way. It sounded more naturally toned and weighty than my Creek 3330 or my Line Magnetic LM-518IA, and showed none of that off-putting grayness or brittleness often heard in low-priced, high-powered amps.” In his measurements, JA discovered that the amp’s right-channel performance was not in keeping with that of the left channel—although he suggested that the right channel’s relative shortcomings were inaudible. His conclusion: “Assuming that the less-good performance of its right channel was a sample-specific fault, Cambridge Audio’s Azur 851A is a well-built amplifier that offers a lot of power with very low distortion at an affordable price.” HR’s last word: “a versatile and extraordinarily musical cornerstone on which to build a truly enjoyable high-end system that can play all types of music with righteous aplomb for little cost.”

    JA discovered that the amp’s right-channel performance was not in keeping with that of the left

    How can you be certain that you are buying a good sample. Any way to check before bying?

  13. Hey Ashley,

    I commented on your Yamaha AS501 review and made me revisit what I need for my MA Silver 6’s. I found a good deal in the used market for this Integrated Amplifier you also reviewed. Just a few quick questions: Will the warmth of this amp match well with the Silver 6’s? Also, I can’t seem to find it – but is there a built in DAC in this amp?

    Thanks alot and your reviews are much appreciated!

    1. Go for it. the 851A should be a great match. There is no DAC, but at this price you should be looking at an external DAC anyway. I’d take an all analogue amp over anything with a built-in DAC any day.

  14. Just wondering if anyone has ever compared the 851a & 851c to the Yamaha A-S2100 & CD-S2100? The Yamaha combo are more expensive but do you get better quality sound? I already have Tannoy Precision 6.4’s which I don’t want to change – which system would sound better?

    1. @ David: Did you make a purchase? I have have the same speakers and am having the same amplifier debate… but nowhere close by to demo. Have positive experience with both yamaha and CA amps in yhe past

  15. Hi!

    I’ve just buy cambridge 851 A. I want to connect it my cassette deck ( Denon ) but I don’t know how. Could you tell me?

    1. Sure! Look at the back of your Denon cassette deck and you should see 2 sets of red and white RCA jacks, labeled in and out. (the wording may vary, but the principal is the same). To connect the deck, simply connect the output of the Denon to the record input of the 851A (input number 8), and the record output of the 851A to the input of the Denon. Be sure to match the colours, as they correspond to the left and right audio channels. You will need 2 RCA / Phono cables, which are available from any good hi-fi dealer or online. If your Denon does not have standard in / out RCA jacks, it is likely that it was part of a component system and thus is not compatible with your 851A. Hope this helps.

  16. HI,
    I am interested in picking up the Cambridge Audio Pre-Power 851E/851W. Just wondering if this would pair would suit the B&W 683s2. I picked up these speakers just last week and although I do prefer a stereo set up but at the same time my music should not lack the bass or the mids.
    Can someone pls guide.

    1. That will be an excellent match. The 851W has bags of power, and the E/W combined produces a very clean, neutral sound that will suit your 683s perfectly.

      1. Hello,

        I’ve read this thread with real interest.

        I own an 851n / 851w combo with my KEF Reference 3 speakers, a really lovely system.

        Like others, the lack of analogue inputs is a shame as I love listening to vinyl.

        Just today I bought an 851A in order to allow me to:
        A) bi-amp
        B) connect my tt, and
        C) provide tone controls

        However, when bi-amping the 851A and 851W I hit a hurdle: the lower of the two binding posts on my KEFs (which I connected directly to the 851w) actually only drive the internal subwoofers: this means that the 851A, connected to the upper binding posts of the KEFs, drive mids / bass plus the tweeters = not what I was hoping for and not an economical way to do things.

        I don’t really want to use the 851A as a pre-amp only (with the 851N as purely the music source) as this seems like a waste of its internal amp…and as waste of the 851Ns pre-amp.

        Am I missing something? Is there an alternative way to connect it all? I have contemplated keeping the 851A (so as to have a tt input plus tone controls) and using that as the main amp / selling the 851W, but again that seems a little backwards.

        All I want is the best way to connect my tt plus the added bonus of tone controls if possible.

        With kind regards

        1. Firstly, that is perfectly normal and is how bi-amping works. Some speakers separate bass / mid and tweeters, some separate bass and mid/tweeters. It depends entirely on the internal crossover and there is nothing you can do. If I were bi-amping that system, I’d use the 851W to drive the bass and 851A to drive the top as you already have, as low frequencies require more energy and thus it makes sense to use the more powerful amp.

          You have a couple of options to connect a turntable. You could use the 851A as you already are, or you could purchase an analogue to digital converter and connect your turntable to one of the 851N’s digital inputs. This does mean that your vinyl does get ‘digitised’ somewhere in the chain, but it does allow you to revert to using the 851N as a preamp and in reality providing you buy a good ADC it shouldn’t be an issue, quite a few high end preamps digitise analogue signals these days. You don’t mention which turntable and phono stage you are using.

          The alternative is to use the 851A as you suggest and remove the 851W from the equation. The only way you can tell for sure is to try it and see if you like the sound; the 851W certainly has a heck of a lot more headroom and dynamic power, but it depends how loudly you play and how tough your speakers are to drive.

  17. I agree 851c and 851a work a treat together
    using the balanced inputs make it magic.

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