REVIEW: Cambridge Audio CXU Universal BLU-RAY Player
With non-physical consumption of music and movies firmly established, and the imminent appearance of Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray, does it make sense to release an expensive new disc player in 2015?
Cambridge Audio certainly thinks so. A modern disc player is not only a playback device for physical media but also needs to serve as a digital media hub, capable of playing your stored digital files and streaming material from internet based services.
Officially launched at the 2015 CES in January, the mission statement for the new Cambridge CX range was to “revolutionise entertainment in the digital age” with performance to match the new sleek look using a “floating aesthetic” which replaces the traditional support feet at the front with a solid extension of the chassis, cleverly shaped to make it appear the unit is floating in the air.
Accompanying this is a new logo and simplification of the company name from Cambridge Audio to just Cambridge. And a jolly sticker on the fascia proudly proclaiming “Great British Sound”. The CX range includes a network player, CD transport, integrated amplifier, two AV Receivers and a Blu-ray based universal disc player.
Construction and functionality
Lifting the CX out of the box, the new player is of sturdier construction than the older Azur series. The cosmetics have the Azur’s functionality with a touch of elegance. There is a power switch, a larger display, minimalist transport controls and a pair of USB and HDMI inputs. The back panel is a facsimile of the 752BD’s, offering a multitude of digital input and output options. As is modern practice, the only analogue output is in the form of a suite of RCA line outputs for audio. Video is all digital through HDMI. A very nice soft backed full function remote control is included.
Inside Cambridge uses the latest version of the excellent Mediatek transport, offering fast, smooth disc handling and universal format compatibility. Darbee Visual Presence processing is featured for the first time. On the audio side the signal is first up-sampled by Cambridge’s proprietary Adaptive Time Filtering circuit to 24-bit/192kHz and then sent to the Wolfson DACs, one for each of the five channels.
The CXU plays all manner of physical BD, DVD and CD. The notable exclusion is the long defunct HD-DVD. Extensive digital video and audio file formats are supported. Plus there is on-board decoding of popular audio formats like PCM, DSD, Dolby Digital and DTS variants. All capable of being output digitally through HDMI or through the analogue RCA line outputs. Digital volume control allows the CXU to be used as processor/preamp in an all-digital system.
The only serious omission is support for streaming apps. There is just bare-bones support for YouTube and Picassa, no Netflix, Quickflix, Pandora etc., let alone newer services like Tidal.
The best just got better
At the time the old Cambridge Audio 752BD was the best BDP I had heard, the new CXU handily out-performs it with all formats tried – CD, SACD, DVD-A, BD Audio, WAV and FLAC. Connection to the amplifier was via the dedicated stereo output which provides a simplified signal pathway by not powering up the unused DACs, result is a cleaner, purer sound compared to using the L/R from the multi-channel outputs.
The basic sound shares a familial resemblance to the 752BD. Music is free flowing with an engaging nature, full of the life and colour that a top class digital player is capable of. Where the 752 could be a little constricted in scale and dynamics, the CXU has no such reservations. Soundstaging is realistic with well sized images possessing good dimensionality. Tonally the CXU is even handed and full bodied with no obvious omissions or colourations. Dynamically the CXU does a great job of conveying the sense of scale and drama in good recordings, in several instances providing a more convincing job than an older, highly acclaimed CD player. It is only in direct comparison with more expensive players that a slight roll-off at the frequency extremes and a slight lack of airiness in the upper frequencies can be noticed and even then it does not detract from the music.
Dim the lights
Changing from music to movies, the CXU maintains its excellent performance with movies. Pictures are bright and detailed with good colour reproduction and excellent grey scale. Noise is non-existent. Images pop off the screen with such realism and immersion that contrivances such as 3D are unnecessary. Using the Darbee processing is like cranking up the treble control on your amplifier. In small doses it can sharpen up the image but it doesn’t take much to turn a good picture into a cartoon. The presets can be adjusted from their default values, but more importantly, the system can be switched off completely.
Movie sound is breathtaking.
From the big room shaking explosions of the blockbusters and thundering scores to more atmospheric musical cues and soft spoken dialogue, the CXU handles movie sound with as much aplomb as it gives to pure music playback, immersing the viewer in a bubble of sound.
Should you buy one?
The CXU appears expensive, lacks the extensive built-in streaming apps of cheaper Blu-ray players and will not play the imminent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, so on the surface it doesn’t look like a great buy. But for those with existing collections of music and movies looking for a great playback machine, it doesn’t get any better than the CXU. The top class transport, audio and video processing, ease of use and the fine build quality makes the CXU a worthy flagship, firmly cementing Cambridge’s position as makers of BD players for music lovers.
Cambridge CXU Universal Blu-ray player, $2199
For more information visit the Cambridge Audio brand page.
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