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Testing Ground

Cambridge CXN v2: a Qobuz streamer and a Hi-Res digital amplifier all in one

By Alban Amouroux |

The Cambridge CX range underwent a comprehensive update three years ago to accommodate some notable design changes. The device in question here is the CNX streamer in its second version. It promises to meet audiophile’s expectations through its ability to link up to other products on the CX range as well as being used autonomously.

Cambridge has streamlined its various series of electronics and got straight to the point. Now, there are but four levels. From the most accessible to the more exclusive: AX, CX, Azur and Edge. Each level contains a CD player and/or a network player, an integrated amplifier or preamplifier and a power block. It’s hardly confusing and the most difficult choice is finding an amplifier that corresponds to its needs and any additional speakers. The CX series is made up of two integrated amplifiers, the CXA61 and the CXA81, the CD CXC transport (meaning a player without a converter) and our CXN v2 streamer. All are made to work together in harmony; the integrated products are equipped with digital inputs for the CD transport and the streamer as well as control sockets in series via an RCA port. CX products are offered today exclusively in a “lunar grey” finish when previously the CXN streamer was available in black.

Characteristics

Price: 1 149 €
Connectivity: WiFi (dongle), Ethernet, 3x digital inputs (optical, coaxial, USB-B), 3x USB-A port for storage, 2x digital outputs, 1x symmetrical analog output, 1x asymmetrical analog output
Formats: PCM up to 192 kHz/24 bits, DSD64
Streaming: StreamMagic, Roon Ready, AirPlay2, Chromecast, radios web, Qobuz native
Other: infrared remote control, preamplifier mode, optional Bluetooth dongle
Weight: 3,5 kg
Dimensions (W x H x D): 430 x 85 x 305 mm

General Presentation of the CNX v2

Products in the Cambridge CX series have no front feet. This design choice has pushed the brand to create a façade with a beveled base that supports the device. The dark grey colour allows it to blend in with other devices in the range, but it is sufficiently ordinary-looking so as to suit a HiFi setup that includes components from other brands.

The large display at the front draws in the eye and gives the device a modern look and ease of use. The CXN v2’s display is coloured and measures 9.5 by 4cm. When displayed on its screen, a track’s artwork is easily visible from a distance. It’s not a touchscreen (and that’s a real shame), but there are eight corresponding buttons and a multi-functioning dial.

Connections come in the form of three digital inputs: one optical, one coaxial and a USB-B port dedicated to PC. The CXN v2 also features a ground-lift switch to avoid any possible interference. From the menu, it is also possible to configure a USB 1.0 or USB 2.0 to adapt the device to the source.

The device has four outputs. You can either link the CXN v2 to a DAC via the coaxial and optic plugs or you can use its internal DAC and the symmetrical and asymmetrical analogue outputs. In any case, the CXN v2 can be used in pre-amplifier mode. The volume is adjustable through the front dial or through the mobile application.

The chassis is rather heavy, but the interior is made up of two cards. The smaller card deals with power and is relayed via two flat cables to the main card which is organised into three zones. The first zone is deals with network capability and USB ports and the second concerns various inputs. The third zone is dedicated to conversion into analogue output thanks to the two 24bit Wolfson WM8470 chips. Cambridge has built in its second generation ATF2 up-sampling technology to improve “warmth, depth and nuance”.

Features of the CNX v2

Installation can be carried out by following the streamer’s on-screen instructions and then by downloading the Cambridge StreamMagic application. A QR code is displayed to bring you directly to the download page. Wireless network connection is achieved through AirPlay if you have an iPhone or via Google Home with an Android smartphone. You can also use a wired connection with the Ethernet port. A CX range infrared remote is provided which allows indiscriminate control of the amplifiers, the CD transport and CNX v2 streamer.

The StreamMagic application can be a little difficult to navigate the first time around as it is not in keeping with the apps of most other network audio players on the market. The home screen is called the “Hub” and lists the most recently accessed features: the last radios and sources that were listened to. It also has links to other audio services’ apps which are not integrated into the Cambridge app.

Qobuz is integrated into StreamMagic and can be found on the third screen labelled “Media”. Your network’s UPnP servers are listed here as well as the USB drives connected to the CXN v2.

The Qobuz integration is complete with a main search menu, recommendations, your playlists, favourites and purchases. While listening, it is of course possible to add a track to an existing Qobuz playlist.

Playback in Hi-Res is assured and confirmed when the little logo is displayed next to the track in question. The other screens give access to web radios and physical inputs to the CNX v2. The streamers complete settings can be found on this input screen.

It is possible to make adjustments with the help of the streamer’s display and its associated buttons. But not all functions are present, and the absence of a touchscreen makes navigation rather fastidious. What’s more, the information that is displayed could be more complete. For example, when listening to a track through Qobuz, the Qobuz source is not indicated anywhere on the screen. Nevertheless, direct access to preselected functions remains a major advantage as it allows immediate access to web radios (but not your favourite Qobuz playlists).

Upon Listening

Firstly, if you are using the symmetrical XLR output, we suggest you put your device into pre-amplifier mode, even in cases where the CNX v2 is connected as a source to an integrated device or pre-amplifier. In fact, the standard of the XLR output is quite weak and it is therefore preferable to opt for pre-amplifier mode and turn the volume up to 100%. With this applied, we started our test with Stacey Kent’s orchestral sessions I Know I Dream as a solid reference point. The American singer’s voice is stable and clear-cut with the instrumental ensemble forming a semicircle behind her. The soundstage is smaller compared to other streamers but spreads out effortlessly from one speaker to another with no gaps.

On Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Célèbre Tarantelle led by Richard Rosenburg, we find the same characteristic restitution where magnification of the central element is given particular attention, in this case, the piano. We can easily feel all the intricate details played on the piano while the brass and wind instruments provide solid support in the background. Altogether there is a clear sense of weight and presence. The CXN v2 has a capacity to recognise the different pieces of information that are transmitted to our setup in an effective and marvellous way. The CXN v2 plays this difficult track with flying colours to our ears’ great pleasure.

Tom Misch has become slightly less funky since he signed to Blue Note and his works have verged more towards experimental acid jazz. And that’s no bad thing. On his last EP What Kinda Music, the Cambridge CXN v2 shows us that it can also respect bass frequencies. Lower notes have breadth to them and really hit the mark. They are perfectly reproduced with a round and natural sound. There is no imbalance and, on the contrary, the foundations are solid and harmonise with the layers of synths, the well-centred voice and the array of different sounds Tom Misch scatters throughout his songs.

Pros :
Colour screen
Digital inputs and preamplifier functionality
Roon, Airplay and Chromecast compatible
Solid and well-defined central imaging
A real feeling a presence
Powerful Bass

Cons :
Non-touch front display
Basic interface

Conclusion

The Cambridge CXN v2 is a very interesting product on many levels. In terms of music, it performs with flare and an excellent capacity to single out lead vocals and instruments positioning them at the centre. It separates them from the rest of the recording creating a background of ambiances and accompaniments. The result provides engaging sense of presence and realism. Qobuz is native and naturally in Hi-Res. There is also the choice of using Qobuz on an Android or iOS smartphone via Chromecast Audio and AirPlay2 as well as Roon compatibility. Whatever your preferences, the CXN v2 will adapt. What’s more, the CXN v2 is a digital amplifier that can function as simple a stereo block thanks to its volume control and three digital inputs. A device truly capable of bringing wireless music to any sound system.