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Testing Ground

Cambridge Audio Evo 150: an all-in-one Amplifier Elegantly Connecting Aesthetics to Musicality

By Alban Amouroux |

Cambridge Audio is a leader in the field of digital music access. Each range of the brand includes a connected amplifier and independent streamer. This new Evo series is no exception, aiming to appeal to audiophiles who haven’t yet switched to connected HiFi, featuring an all-in-one device with neo-retro design.

The Cambridge Evo range is a breed apart. For openers, it is a full 12 centimetres narrower than the classic AX, CX and Azur series, a vast difference in size. Next, the wood trim and finish roll back the clock to a previous era. The Evo integrated amplifiers are designed for listeners not yet won over by traditional devices seriously lacking in charm, often ending up hidden in a closet. Cambridge Evo delivers attractive devices that are meant to be visible and showcased.

Cambridge has designed two models of integrated stereo amplifiers, the Evo 75 and Evo 150. Aesthetically, they are the same; the differences are found in power and connectivity. The Evo 150 is obviously the more complete device. A little later in the year, Cambridge will add a CD player with an identical chassis to compose a mini-system with aesthetic continuity.

Features

● Price : see dealer
● Power : 2x150 watts @ 8 ohms
● DAC : ESS Sabre ES9018K2M, 384 kHz / 24 bits, DSD256
● Connectivity :Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 (SBC, aptX, aptX HD), 1x USB-B audio port, 1x USB-A port, 2x optical digital inputs, 1x coaxial digital input, 1x HDMI ARC input, 2x RCA analog inputs, including 1x phono, 1x balanced analog XLR input, 1x analog preamp RCA output, 1x mono subwoofer output, 1x 6.35 mm headphone jack
● Other : double terminal blocks for bi-wiring, infrared remote, RS232, 12V triggers, side panels (2 finishes)
● Dimensions (l x d x h) : 317 x 352 x 89 mm
● Weight : 5.3 kg 

Overview of the Cambridge Evo 150

The Evo 150 features a unique design that is easy to love – starting with the appeal of wooden side panels! The unit comes with two types of magnetic panels: walnut or hollowed black metal. The design makes for an entirely charming presentation, with thick front and top panels, marked grooves for the cutouts, and the metal ring around the large volume potentiometer. The top is completely smooth, heat is vented through fine grids positioned on the sides, just above the wooden part.

That classic, timeless appeal is bolstered by the inclusion of six buttons discreetly integrated vertically to control playback, switch sources or turn on the device. A large non-touch screen dominates two-thirds of the facade, with 3.5 mm headphone jack located at the bottom right. The brand logo is only visible on the top panel, which is why you shouldn’t put anything on top of the Evo 150 when you’re showing it off in your living room.

The rear of the unit is where connectivity happens. There are three analog inputs and three digital inputs in different forms, with a direct phono connection for MM cartridges. You can connect a PC via the USB-B port and a television using the HDMI ARC socket. The network is available via both wired and wireless. Or keep it simple by firing up your favourite music streaming service on a smartphone via Bluetooth in aptX HD quality. Speaker outputs are doubled to power two pairs A and B, or to bi-wire. All of these connections justify the all-in-one designation of the Evo 150.

We imagine the interior of the Evo 150 is jam-packed given all the features offered. Stacked circuit boards manage the device and the audio signals. The power supply and amplification are located just behind the front panel. Cambridge used Class D Hypex modules ensuring comfortable power while taking up the minimum amount of space. Digital/analog conversion is entrusted to an ES9018K2M chip capable of handling Hi-Res. As for network connectivity, the proprietary Cambridge StreamMagic app takes care of that.

Operating the Cambridge Evo 150

Cambridge provides a remote control in the original format with thin buttons that are nonetheless easy to use. Everything you do is instantly confirmed on the screen with a volume indicator and plenty of information during playback: title, album, artist, file format, album cover...

To select your favorite music, the Cambridge StreamMagic mobile app is the way to go. When the Evo 150 is connected to the wired network, it is recognised automatically by the app. Otherwise, you first have to connect it to WiFi. The application is user-friendly with a customisable home page to display your favourite sources, including Qobuz, as well as presets, and to view the last Internet radio stations you visited.

Qobuz is integrated, with access to all the usual menus for discovering and listening to music. You’ll find all your favourites, purchases and playlists. The configuration menu provides access to the general parameters of the Evo 150: renaming, automatic shutdown, screen brightness, volume limitation, update, etc. The home page also features an icon identified by a speaker and headphones, used to select the output. You can choose between two pairs of speakers, one or the other, both at the same time, or headphone output: a well-conceived function rarely available from competitors.

If your primary source is Qobuz, the connectivity of the Evo 150 means you won’t need anything else. An optional Evo CD player will be available later, and the multiple inputs can accommodate other sources if needed, but the Evo 150 is already pretty much complete: it can also read the content of a USB key or a hard drive, access shared folders on the network, and be controlled by AirPlay or via Roon. We tested the HDMI ARC input in conjunction with a Sony television. Recognition was immediate, and the device’s volume and on/off function were instantly synchronised with the TV.

Listening Session

We simply hooked the Evo 150 to our Dynaudio bookshelf speakers, making it a ready-to-use HiFi system. And indeed, the Cambridge unit has a velvety sound signature. Vocals on the latest Black Keys album are brilliantly separated from the rest of the sound, well behind the speakers. Meanwhile, the guitars materialise centre-stage in all their grainy grandeur without adding an ounce of aggression to the sound. It is a coherent whole, with everything linked and each instrument simultaneously easy to follow.

Chris Potter’s smooth free jazz, on his Sunrise and Joshua Trees album will delight any listener, as the Evo 150 alternates silence, layers of keyboards and soaring brass. The impression is of a fully coherent musicality. A stable centre is surrounded by the various musicians for a concentrated, intimate reproduction, but with the background nuance and resonances needed to let this music breath. And classical music is no problem for the Cambridge unit, either. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major conducted by Teodor Currentzis settles deeply and broadly into the aural space between the two speakers. This is an easy, smooth and pleasurable listening experience that never manages to be boring.

The Evo 150 manages to put the music first without pushing any one register to the fore. Listeners who prefer “extroverted”, overheated devices will be disappointed. There’s no luxuriant high-end bass to give the sometimes false but alluring impression of presence. The Evo 150 remains elegant in all circumstances, accommodating all styles of music. Maxwell’s acid jazz, from the Hi-Res remaster of his album Urban Hang Suite is beautifully reproduced but lacks that hint of oomph in the low frequencies that we would have expected to find with such powerful class D amplification modules.

Compared offhand with other competitors in the same all-in-one niche, there’s an impression that the Evo 150 compresses the dynamic range whereas it is simply the absence of artificial embellishment.

Pros :
Elegant sound signature
Works easily with all musical styles
Complete connectivity
Trendy look and quality finish
Qobuz integrated in Hi-Res

Cons:
Bass and upper-bass frequencies recessed
Could offer a touch-screen

Conclusion

{{The Cambridge Audio Evo 150 integrated amplifier is a device designed for almost everyone. A plethora of equipment and extensive connectivity make it the ideal brain of any modern HiFi set-up, with no need for anything else. Design is right on trend and sure to appeal to anyone looking for a different HiFi experience. However, the sound signature is certainly oriented towards universality, without artificially inflating any sonic register. In that context, there’s no lack of musicality, whether at lower levels or at sustained volume. This unit works with all styles of music, without requiring the most high-level audiophile recordings – long live universality of sound! Both the design and the sound qualities of the Evo 150 ultimately make it suitable for any listener who isn’t just looking for the smallest unit, but the best listening experience available, without ever missing the heart of the music.}}