Cambridge Audio CXN V2 Network Player Review
James Michael Hughes samples this neat and affordable network streamer and DAC…
CXN V2 Network Player
Initially launched in 2015, Cambridge Audio's CXN was long regarded as one of the best network music players under £1,000. The revised V2 model came along in 2018 and offered a comprehensive feature set, great functionality and fine sound for the money. Better still, the price has recently dropped from £999 to £799 in the UK, making it even more appealing. Of course, you can pay much more for a streamer, but the law of diminishing returns applies with a vengeance…
The CXN V2 lets you stream music from Spotify, TIDAL, Qobuz and Deezer and offers built-in Chromecast, which provides access to oodles of music services, including Sirius XM, Qobuz, and SoundCloud. It can also serve as a Roon end-point and is classified as Roon capable – supporting digital file playback and Qobuz streaming up to 24-bit/96kHz and DSD64. There's also a whole bevvy of internet radio stations to choose from. For those using TIDAL, hi-res MQA files are not supported – it will play them, but only in 16-bit, 44.1kHz resolution. We're told there are no plans to add MQA decoding to the CXN at a future date, as this would involve a major hardware upgrade.
Audio signals are processed by dual Wolfson WM8740 digital-to-analogue converters, upscaled to 24-bit, 384kHz using Cambridge Audio's proprietary ATF2 polynomial curve fitting interpolation. The CXN V2 can function as a standalone DAC with S/PDIF (RCA) and TOSLINK optical inputs and outputs. Fixed or variable balanced (XLR) or unbalanced analogue outputs are also offered, whereas Wi-Fi comes by way of a supplied dongle.
A Smartphone or tablet sporting Cambridge's StreamMagic app can control the CXN V2. Alternatively, there are controls on the unit itself, plus a remote handset. A large 4.3-inch colour display presents useful information such as bit-depth and sampling rate, as well as showing album artwork. It's pretty straightforward to install and simple and intuitive to use. Cambridge claims to have spent much time auditioning various circuit changes and implementations to ensure the best sound quality, and I was impressed by what I heard.
It was interesting to compare my reference streamer against the Cambridge Audio. Costing £5,299, my Auralic Altair G2.1 is way better built – weighing in at a surprisingly heavy 9.5kg, while the CXN V2 tips the scales at just 3.5kg. This is due to the Auralic's casework being made from 6mm thick aluminium, with circuit boards individually screened in copper boxes. As a result, you feel a tank could drive over it without crushing the casework, whereas the Cambridge is lighter and much less robust – as you would expect. However, as most of us are unlikely to drive massive tracked military vehicles over our streamers, this is probably a moot point!
Even if not built to battleship standards, the Cambridge Audio is well-finished and looks good. Internally the board layout is neat, and signal processing is accomplished with effortless efficiency. The V2 is faster than the original V1, resulting in impressive responsiveness. It boots up very quickly and is operational in less than twenty seconds. By comparison, the Auralic is positively sedate, taking just under two minutes to settle down and sort itself out after switching on. I also like the CXN V2's power on/off switch being accessible from the front rather than the back.
I found Auralic's Lightning app preferable to Cambridge Audio's StreamMagic. For example, the former lets you browse Qobuz new releases in specific musical genres rather than having everything lumped together. Lightning also gives access to booklet notes included with most classical music releases and adds a selection of other recordings made by the performer (or ensemble/orchestra) in question. Indeed, it was the comprehensiveness of Auralic's Lightning app that persuaded me to buy my Altair G2.1. In comparison, using an iPad with StreamMagic presented Qobuz's new releases in mixed genres – rock, pop, jazz, hip-hop, folk, and classical all lumped together. TIDAL lets you pre-select musical genres from twenty different categories, which I liked better.
An extra USB socket on the front and one on the back of the CXN streamer is helpful if someone hands you a memory stick with things to listen to. And how thoughtful of Cambridge Audio to add an extra set of text lettering upside-down for the various input and output sockets on the rear. I also like the buttons on the CXN's front panel. Having Pause/Play, Previous/Next track, and Stop is useful if you suddenly need to pause a track and your phone or tablet is not to hand. The display is easy to read too.
With a choice of fixed or variable outputs, balanced and unbalanced, the CXN V2 can double as a preamp, driving a power amp directly. Cambridge Audio does not specify the output voltage, but it seems to be the usual 2V (unbalanced) and 4V (balanced) or thereabouts. If you engage variable over fixed, your phone or tablet can control the volume levels, or you can do so from the rotary knob on the right of the CXN's front panel. The display goes from 0 to 30, but the changes in level are very fine, rather than stepped.
This is a very impressive performer at the price, with a natural tonality, fine tracking of dynamics, and good depth and space. For example, on a new recording of Sibelius's Symphonies 3 and 5 on Alpha with the Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra under Santtu-Matias Rouvali, it performed better than you might expect.
The third symphony opens with a lively theme played by double basses, and the sound was deliciously pungent and crisp. The CXN V2 convincingly portrayed the orchestra, conveying the aural impression of a large body of players in a rich but clear and lively acoustic. The sound had depth and space yet was nicely focused and immediate, with excellent detail and outstanding clarity. For most of my listening, I used Qobuz. The Sibelius recording streams at 24-bit, 96kHz and sonically, the results were very impressive in terms of natural tonality and wide dynamic extremes.
Trying something completely different, the album Her Loss by Drake sounded crisp and sharply defined, with some thunderously deep, powerful, floor-shaking bass. The recording was impressively clean and detailed, and the CXN V2 handled it superbly. Indeed, the low end was something to marvel at – so full-bodied yet firm and solid. Of course, you'll need a good subwoofer to reproduce every last drop of grunt, but the results are amazing if your speakers/sub can handle it. Parental Discretion is advised with some of the lyrics, though!
The new hi-res 24-bit, 88.2kHz recording of Handel's 12 Concerti Grossi Op 6 with the Accademia Bizantina sounded wonderfully tactile and pithy, with crisp attack and strong dynamic contrasts, yet tonally quite sweet and mellow. As recorded, gut-strung violins can often sound edgy and bright when they should be more rounded. Here they were sharp without seeming too thin or harsh. Quiet passages had a nice sense of presence, and the reproduction was vivid yet relaxed and very natural.
My reference Auralic Altair G2.1 streamer costs six times the price of the CXN V2 but isn't six times better sounding – indeed, the two proved pretty much on par with each other. The Cambridge Audio certainly made an immediate positive impression, so much so that having recently shelled out for the G2.1, I was dismayed by how good the CXN V2 sounded! In terms of bite and immediacy, I felt the cheaper streamer had the edge at times.
Auralic's DAC offers a choice of four different anti-aliasing filters. I'd chosen Smooth, but having heard the CXN V2, I experimented with the others and tried Precise. This lent the sound a bit more attack and focus, making it closer to that of the excellent Cambridge Audio. Even so, the two streamers still sounded different – both were very good, and it was difficult to say which one was preferable. But one thing was sure; despite the huge price difference, the cheaper CXN V2 easily held its own in terms of sonics.
On the aforementioned set of Handel's 12 Concerti Grossi Op 6 with the Accademia Bizantina, I compared the Qobuz 24/88 stream to TIDAL's 16/44, and both sounded good – but the hi-res Qobuz files had a sweeter mellower tonality. The 16/44 TIDAL files sounded slightly brighter and more forward; massed violins were a wee bit 'harder' than the more natural and relaxed-sounding 24/88.2 Qobuz files. Despite its surprisingly low price tag, this streamer did a fantastic job of it.
With something as good as Cambridge Audio's CXN V2 available for just £799, it isn't easy to justify spending that much more on a streamer. True, you don't get the fancy build and super-slick apps of pricier models, but what this box of tricks does, it does extremely well. It really is a special product at the price and an essential audition if you're in the market for an affordable entry into streaming or networked digital music.
Visit Cambridge Audio for more information
James Michael Hughes
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!
Posted in:Hi-Fi DACs Sources Digital Audio Players Streaming Applause Awards 2022
Tags: cambridge audio richer sounds
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