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Testing Ground

Cambridge Edge NQ: testing a pre-amplifier with an integrated, decidedly high-end Hi-Res streamer

By Alban Amouroux |

A few months ago, Cambridge created the Edge range: an exclusive series of high-level electronics. Clean aesthetics, audiophile design and maximum functionality are the order of the day. The Edge NQ is an analogue and digital pre-amplifier with integrated streamer and is intended to be the heart of an excellent HiFi system.

With these soft, rounded shapes, the design of the Cambridge Edge NQ is deceptive. A screen and a volume potentiometer, one might believe at first that this device is compact and bunched together. But this is an optical illusion: the display is large and the potentiometer is disproportionate: the Edge NQ is an imposing device, measuring 46 cm across. As with the other devices in the Edge range, considerable effort has gone into its design. The folded sheet metal box, which is held in place by some screws, has been removed. We are in its solidly-built core. The front and side panels are well-built and they reinforce the presence of this device. It rests on a base which supports its entire front section, and on two rear skates, as opposed to simple feet.

The Edge series consists of an integrated amplifier with an even simpler façade, which bears only a volume potentiometer. It does have a DAC, but no streamer. The Edge NQ can be linked with it for the digital audio playback part only, as here. Alternatively, you can use the Edge NQ as a pre-amplifier and link it with one of two amplification set-ups: the Edge W stereo amplifier or a pair of mono Edge M units. You choose, depending on your budget and system requirements.

Features

Price: €4990 / £4499
Signal to noise ratio: 103 dB
Total harmonic distortion: 0.0008 % (20Hz-20kHz – 1 Vrms)
Crosstalk: -100 dB
Pre-Amp output: 6 Vrms
Sampling: 384 kHz / 32-bit, DSD256
Protocols: Roon, Chromecast, AirPlay
Files: FLAC, MP3, AAC, ALAC, WAV
Connections: 1x USB-B port, 1x USB-A port, 1x HDMI ARC, 1x digital coaxial, 2x digital optical, 2x RCA inputs, 1x XLR input, 1x RCA output, 1x XLR output, 1x Ethernet port, WiFi g, Bluetooth 4.1 aptX HD, 1x RS232
Dimensions (W x D x H): 460 x 405 x 120 mm
Weight: 10.2 kg

Edge NQ overview

Before we get into a description of the Cambridge Edge NQ, let's first congratulate Cambridge for the protection the device enjoys in transit. The packaging has been improved, similar to certain smartphone manufacturers. The Edge NQ is protected by a double cardboard box held by clipped handles, like the packaging of large flat screens.

Inside, the device is protected by compact foam blocks reinforced at the corners with pieces of wood. Once the upper part has been removed, the Edge NQ is still protected, by a housing which is attached to the cardboard and can be opened with a zip. A final protective layer of rubber sits on the top of the device, in the groove which was worked in to offer natural ventilation.

The packaging is generally sent back or thrown away, so all this will be of little importance to most users. But it is early evidence of the manufacturer's seriousness that their attention to detail extends to a desire to protect the device perfectly; and that they put thought into the user's initial experience of the product.

The grainy, mousey grey finish is superb. And so are the details of the top cover and the fit of each panel. The overall result is monolithic. A funny little detail: the GPS coordinates of the Cambridge showroom in London are inscribed on the side of the Edge NQ.

The minimalist façade still boasts a large colour screen. It is only a display and cannot be used for navigation, because it is not a touchscreen. Next to it, the large volume potentiometer is surrounded by a ring used to select the audio sources. Over on the left there is the power button and the headphone jack.

The Edge NQ offers no fewer than eight inputs: three analogue, three digital, one USB-B and one HDMI ARC. The latter is interesting because it allows the Cambridge to be used in a mixed system for music and audio/video sources. You will be able to enjoy the sound of Blu-rays, games consoles and services like YouTube or Netflix.

All these inputs are high-quality models securely attached to the frame. They are all gold plated. There is also a USB-A port for playing music stored on a USB, plus ports for WiFi, Bluetooth and Ethernet.

The inside of the Edge NQ is filled with many overlapping electronic boards whose functions are well separated. A toroidal transformer in a comfortable format is bolted to the frame just behind the front panel. Hi-Res playback operates separately for the USB port and the network. In the first case, it reaches 384 kHz/24-bit, in the second 192 kHz /24-bit, which corresponds to the high-resolution Studio quality of Qobuz subscriptions.

How Edge NQ Works

The basic functions of the Edge NQ are controlled via a heavy, large remote control, which is as elegant as the device itself. It provides access to four presets such as playlists or online radio. To go further, you have to go through the mobile application.

Cambridge asks us to download the Edge app which will carry out an update by downloading the Chromecast function. Then we switch to the StreamMagic app which is used by all of the brand's networked devices.

This app is divided across four screens: recent listens, devices, media and web radio. The first screen lists the latest radio stations listened to as well as your most-used sources. It provides access to music apps that are not integrated into the app. Qobuz is on the media screen, at the same level as DLNA servers on the network and content accessible through the USB port.

All the usual Qobuz functions are directly available in the Cambridge StreamMagic app for better user convenience: new releases, selections, bestsellers, etc. And, of course, your favourites, playlists and purchases.

The app does not offer any audio settings for the Edge NQ. However, you can adjust the standby delay, screen brightness, maximum volume limit or audio output mode: fixed or pre-amplified. Apart from this app, you can use other channels for electronic audio playback such as Chromecast, AirPlay 2, UPnP/DLNA and Roon.

Listening

We used the Edge NQ in streamer and pre-amplifier mode directly connected to our stereo via XLR connections, and our standard Dynaudio speakers. The soundstage unfolds in three dimensions, offering beautiful staging. On the jazz track Herman's Habit from the La La Land soundtrack, the different instruments each take up their own place, with space and breathing room. The drums are a little to the right, the piano in front and on the left, the brass is behind, on the left and right: each of them is made easy to follow thanks to the Edge NQ's high-level powers of discernability.

We continue with relaxed listening, without any aggression: Bad Guy by Billie Eilish despite the track's involved production. The lead singer as well as the backing vocalists at the ends of the stage enjoy both warmth and flawless precision. There is also authority in the bass: no frequency is muted; there is roundedness, agility and seamless nuance. The impact is accurate and realistic. The soundstage extends in depth to virtually break the boundaries of the wall behind our speakers.

The Edge NQ is also comfortably able to support vocals in the lower mids and give them the necessary foundation, and therefore a little additional hint of realism. Singer Stacey Kent on the track Photograph takes on great presence. This powerful low mid delivers the foundation necessary to bring us closer to the conditions of a live performance. We enjoy the same experience with Lianne La Havas on her latest album Live at The Roundhouse. Listening to Bittersweet gives us a superb sensation of presence where Lianne's voice and the accompanying guitar virtually fill our listening room.

The Edge NQ also rewards us with mastery of great ensemble pieces on the soundtrack of Wonder Woman 84 by Hans Zimmer. The orchestra is projected a long way from the speakers with true musical power right across the spectrum. The cohesion across registers is excellent, from the highest notes of the brass and strings to the depths of the bass of the percussion. The female choirs which punctuate the ensemble are as if suspended in the room.

The Pros :
Serious construction
Clean style
Warm and peaceful listening
Soundstage depth
Quantity of sources
Full network connectivity

The Cons :
It's a shame the screen does not show the volume level



Conclusion

The Cambridge Edge NQ is a device with high-end manufacturing quality and many different capabilities. It brings together both analogue and digital sources. It also handles sound from the TV via HDMI. So you can connect everything you own to it, from turntable to PC. Its summary interface on the front is complemented by a sufficiently complete mobile application. And if the latter does not suit you, many alternatives are available thanks to the broad range of network audio protocols the device supports. Its sound signature is both airy and warm. The sound stage is comfortable, the low mid-range ensures excellent foundations. The end result is more about the sensation of presence than about extreme definition. Which is no bad thing!