Reviews

Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) – Network player/Audio Streamer

Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) - Network player/Audio Streamer - is a complete streaming solution. Its mix of innovation, stability and audio excellence means it will play a key role in your musical enjoyment for years
3.5/5 - (15 votes)

It’s been four years since I dealt with the Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amplifier. I was very impressed by the device at the time – Today, we are testing the network player Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) (999 euros). Because: I like the attractive price-performance ratio of the Cambridge components I’ve known so far, I also like the independent, elegant, yet not over-the-top design.

So I wasn’t surprised that the Cambridge CXN (V2) immediately appealed to me visually right out of the box: A tidy front panel with a centrally embedded, high-resolution color display (10 x 5 cm), which is framed by eight small, harmoniously arranged control switches On the right a large rotary and pressure control with a shimmering decorative ring, on the left a small, yet elegant-looking standby switch – everything is well proportioned and made with attention to detail. The case appears cleanly made, and the small gaps and the seemingly high-quality, bomb-proof connections are pleasing. You also accept that the case of the device, which weighs three and a half kilos, falls into the “lightweight” category overall due to its thin walls.

Small criticism on the side: The Cambridge CXN (V2) rests on two device feet of a very simple design and a continuous plastic bar at the front. This is mechanically more valuable and possibly also better for sound – on the other hand, the price of 999 euros should not be ignored at this point. And, small consolation: The supplied remote control is very good. It looks much more solid than the plastic bombers that other manufacturers put in the box; it positively feels “heavy” in the hand and convinces with ergonomically arranged buttons that enable intuitive operation and a linear design.

Stream & control

It’s getting exciting under the hood because the Cambridge CXN (V2) is blessed with technical finesse and good connectivity, especially given the price. The main area of ​​work of the CXN (V2) is, of course, streaming. The Brit leaves almost nothing to be desired here: Music can be streamed via WLAN and LAN and from storage media connected via USB (24-bit/192 kHz). Spotify Connect, Tidal, and Qobuz are natively supported via app integration. Bluetooth is also possible but requires a separate dongle – not cheap at 99 euros. One may criticize that, but I find it consistent because, in my opinion, Bluetooth is and remains not a satisfactory option from an audiophile point of view – and why should one pay for something that one (okay: me) does not use anyway?

It is commendable that Cambridge Audio does not leave the user alone with an off-the-shelf music app or from the “free market” but comes up with the in-house “StreamMagic App.” Let me say spoilers first: I have had many network players and streaming ecosystems at home: The StreamMagic app is one of the most stable and visually appealing apps I have experienced. During my entire test period (seven weeks), it didn’t give me a single dropout or other anomaly in operation. I know that – unfortunately – different from various other manufacturers’ streaming solutions. In addition, the interaction between the StreamMagic app and the network player is extremely fast. Even large music collections, long Qobuz playlists, and the like can always be read and scrolled through smoothly, and I never had a problem or hesitated. And last but not least, I like the look and the functionality: It’s not just about “running” music from the network or streaming services; the app is a real interactive remote control for the CXN (V2), with which all important functions can be called up conveniently.

connectivity and quality

But back to the feature list of our protagonist: The Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) comes with a DAC section including digital volume control and dual analog outputs: Cinch/unbalanced and XLR/balanced – the latter is truly none in the 1,000 euro class A matter of course, even if the Cambridge is of course not fully symmetrical. But it can also be a streaming bridge; the CXN (V2) has an optical and a coaxial digital output. The third purpose would then be D/A conversion or use as a pre-stage: three inputs (Toslink, RCA, and USB-B ) welcome digital source devices.

Let’s move from connectivity to quality. Cambridge Audio uses the digital signal flow to show that there are certain requirements here. It starts with the fact that two of Wolfson’s very well-reputed WM8740 DAC chips are used. These are fed with signals that have been carefully processed beforehand: the English have developed a so-called “Adaptive Time Filtering” technology with the Swiss digital specialist Anagram Technologies, a special form of upsampling.

All incoming audio data is first upsampled to 24-bit/384 kHz using a chip from Analog Devices. A special interpolation (“polynomial curve fitting interpolation”) is used, which – according to Cambridge Audio – produces significantly “more precise” upsampling waveforms that are more similar to the analog world than conventional upsampling methods. The data is then buffered using a proprietary timing system to reduce jitter to a minimum.

Volume control can be switched to the digital signal path, which enables the CXN (V2) to be operated directly on a power amplifier or active loudspeaker, which is not activated by default.

The upsampled digital signal is then fed to the Wolfson chips in dual-mono operation and converted by them. And what “comes out” at the end of this change process – we want to listen to that right away. Before that, however, we have to wake the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) from its slumber:

The initial setup of the Cambridge CXN (V2

I’m an impatient person. I was all the more pleased that the initial commissioning of the CXN (V2) was not only child’s play, but also completed in a few minutes. First, I downloaded the StreamMagic app, powered the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2), and wired a network cable to the router. A few seconds after switching on, the razor-sharp color display was reported. “Network okay” (i.e. IP address correctly received from the router and registered in the network) – and the initial setup started.

I was allowed to choose whether I wanted to perform a firmware update, to which I said yes. The download and installation of the current firmware and the subsequent reboot took about a minute, while the display and app kept me informed about the current status simultaneously. Then I could set a few basic things via the app: Stream via LAN or WLAN? Use internal volume control or “full juice on the outputs”? Do you want to rename the device on the network? Which streaming services are subscribed to? All settings to be made here can be changed anytime afterward – either via the app or directly on the device via the display and multifunction rotary knob.

About the test setup: In addition to streaming via LAN/Qobuz, I also connected my CD player CEC CD5, which I connected to the Cambridge CXN (V2) via RCA. The tonal differences between the two feed paths were so negligible that the following listening experiences relate to a mix of both sources.

Cambridge Audio CXN (V2): sound test and comparisons

The myth that digital sources “all sound the same” is repeated repeatedly – especially on the internet and social media. In audiophile circles, and I can probably count our readership among them, one can only smile wearily about it because there are not only completely different peripheral circuits around the DAC section but also, in my experience, certain sound signatures of certain DAC chipsets themselves.

The “good, old” TI/Burr-Brown chips are often on the way with an overall milder, warmer, or silkier tonality. At the same time, the portfolio of ESS/Sabre, in particular, likes to play a little more gripping at the frequency response ends and overall have a little more dynamic into the Sound image brings – and the AKM converters I know often sound very colorful and detailed (exceptions prove the rule, I know). Since I had little experience with the current Wolfson chipsets, I was excited about what to expect.

The good news: the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) strikes a very attractive middle ground between the reference points previously outlined. When you first hear it, you notice that the CXN (V2) is not “mild” in darkened highs or softened bass. On the contrary, there is vigor and power in all situations – without any insubordinate overemphasis.

The overall tonal impression

When drummer Larry Mullen Jr. in the intro of U2 ‘s rather brute number “Bullet the Blue Sky” (Album: The Joshua Tree), happily bangs his drum set, after eight bars, bassist Adam Clayton adds a bass line as a foundation on which you could build a skyscraper without any worries – and then The Edge lets a full fried guitar lick with plenty of distortion tile through the stereo panorama: Then the Cambridge CXN (V2) is there in every frequency range. The bass is pulled through with relish into the sub-bass range; the hard-hitting snare shows not only the “thump” but also its entire spectrum in the mid-high range generated by the spiral carpet- and on the guitar track, every harmonic distortion seems to be passed through completely unaffected up to the super treble.

Clear case: The Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) has an extraordinarily wide bandwidth and is neutral, unlike, for example, an MFE Tube DAC SE (3,990 euros), which distributes a significant extra pound “down there” and rounds out the highs a bit. But also different from a Stream6-mini from the HifiAkademie (795 euros), which makes it “appear” an iota stronger in the treble (but without resolving it better). Purely tonally, the CXN (V2) reminds me most of the Merason Frérot (999 euros at the time of testing): broadband and devoid of any audible outliers in the frequency plot. Hook it up because what stands out about the CXN (V2) is slightly different…

Transparency and fine resolution

We are now entering the central habitat of the CXN (V2): What this inconspicuous and moderately priced boy offers in fine resolution and transparency is a small miracle for me, especially given the price tag. As of today, I don’t know of any other network player that would be equal at this point for a three-digit price – and that applies to all frequency ranges.

Let’s take the fabulously beautiful languorous ballad “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds (Album: Rockin’ the Suburbs): The central instrument is the piano, which was masterfully captured here in terms of sound technology and is presented via the CXN (V2) in a transparency and fine detail that you already have trouble holding back tears of emotion during the intro. It’s as if you’re listening with your ear directly above the strings and can completely feel the notes being played: from the soft “singing” of the entire string system when the damper pedal is pressed, to the unprompted attack of the struck strings and the snapping back of the hammer, to the slow fading away of each note and the stopping noise of the felt pads when the sustain pedal is released again.

In addition, the piano sounds completely coherent and as a hermetic unit from the low tones to the treble (okay, that’s also due to the aforementioned tonal neutrality/broadband), whereby the fine, different overtone structures of the different strings (“thick,” single, bass strings wrapped in copper wire versus miniature beats intoned by the piano tuner in the three-string middle and high frequencies) is passed through unfiltered. That’s great, and I only know this quality from much more expensive digital sources/DACs, such as the Italian North Star Supremo (around 3,000 euros).

That clarity and transparency continue with the onset of Ben Fold’s vocals. This has quite a lot of variability on “The Luckiest”: Not only does it switch more frequently from the chest voice to the head voice, it also grades the volume and intensity very carefully and along the lyrics, which are also quite touching. With the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2), following this performance is a pure and simple pleasure. There is no inaccuracy here, no “leveling” or hiding of details; rather, the CXN (V2) succeeds with almost analytical talent in tracking down every detail, no matter how fine, without sounding sterile or “cold”. Don’t ask me how the Brit does it – please believe me, that’s how it is.

dynamics and timing

It was already mentioned in the U2 hit song above the Cambridge CXN (V2) can do coarse dynamics inside out. From zero to one hundred and then grab it, he not only succeeds with U2 and the like. He can also do that with Phil Collins’ precise and exciting drum work on Philip Bailey’s power pop number “Easy Lover” (Album: Chinese Wall), where Collins shows his guild colleagues right in the intro with several crisp and refined fills where Bartel gets the must. The English network player can also do fine dynamics: If in Radioheads”Codex” (Album: The King of Limbs) the flugelhorns wail in the instrumental middle part, the background noises (blowing, valve rattling, lip pressing/”smacking” of the wind instruments) can also be perfectly followed, as at the same time quite present synth pads and a forward mixed, effected piano can be heard.

However, there is a small limitation to report here: This only works to its full potential if the Cambridge CXN (V2) is not in preamp mode but the digital volume control is bypassed. The streamer forwards its signal to the preamp “directly.” can. In preamp mode, on the other hand, a few percentage points of the fine dynamics are lost, especially if you turn it down a bit.

From the depths of space

Finally, let’s look at the stereophonic space presented by the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2). Anyone who likes it “spatially” in the sense of “far and deep” should have a lot of fun with the network player. Like the Ben Folds number mentioned above, the piano seems almost walkable on good piano recordings. But even with spacious rooms artificially created in the studio, for example, with Archive’s song “The Feeling of Losing Everything” (Album: Controlling Crowds Part IV), you can almost bathe in the music, here it almost sounds (in a positive sense) like ” Out of this world.”

In addition, the CXN (V2) plays a bit further, supporting the involved character that pulls into the action. But even if the “perceived space” appears broad and deep overall, the grid of the individual sound sources is extremely precise, especially in the horizontal plane (“X-axis”). When it comes to the Z-axis, i.e. the much-cited “depth of space,” I know devices that record what is happening here even better and more precisely – for example, the Lindemann music book SOURCE (which is also more than three times as expensive) .or the M6 ​​DAC from Musical Fidelity (2,500 euros). If you want to blow a kiss on the third cellist from the left while enjoying a full Gustav Mahler symphony with the Lindemann you have a better chance of not catching the harpist sitting behind. Nevertheless, and this is important: The CXN (V2) still plays in a very high league regarding spatiality.

Conclusion

At the very beginning, I already wrote that I generally consider Cambridge Audio to be a manufacturer with a good price-performance ratio. With the CXN (V2), the company has outdone itself for my taste. What is thrown into the balance here for 999 euros is quite astonishing. If we disregard the final imaging precision in the depths of the room and the (deactivatable) not maximum high-end digital volume control, the CXN (V2) delivers at least one price class “above” in every audiophile discipline. This begins with broadband, continues with transparency and a wealth of detail – and ends with a coarse and fine dynamic that does not have to hide behind devices with four-digit price tags.

If you want to access the player’s full potential, keyword: digital volume control, you should run it in the classic DAC/streamer mode and provide it with an equal preamp. In any case, I liked the pairing with my tube preamp Tsakiridis Alexander so much that I bought the CXN (V2) as a new price class reference and luxury item after the test.

Product sheet Cambridge Audio CXN (V2)

  • The fine resolution, the transparency, and the ability to extract every detail from a recording without sounding coldly analytical are remarkable.
  • Tonally, the Cambridge network player is dedicated to pure teaching; no frequency range or formant is emphasized or softened here – it is also worth mentioning here the broadband, which ranges from the sub-bass to the super high tone, which is probably only rarely found in this quality in this price range.
  • Coarse dynamics are fully there, and fine dynamics are also above the price range – but only if the CXN (V2) is not running in pre-amp mode, i.e. the built-in volume control is bypassed.
  • The stage is a bit (just a bit!) wider and deeper than pure studio teaching, which can make for a beautifully immersive and gripping listening experience. Horizontally very good localization of the sound sources; this is not as impressive in-depth as in width.
  • Very good workmanship, but overall a slightly simpler case design. Typical for the price range – but a timeless and elegant design.

Facts:

Cambridge Audio CXN (V2)

  • Concept: Networkable Audio Streamer/Streaming Bridge/DAC
  • Price: 999 euros
  • Colors: Lunar Grey, Black
  • Digital inputs: S/PDIF optical/coaxial, USB-B
  • Resolution/Bandwidth: 24-bit/192kHz via USB-B and S/PDIF coaxial; 24-bit / 96kHz via TOSLink.
  • Digital outputs: S/PDIF optical/coaxial
  • Analog outputs: XLR balanced and RCA unbalanced
  • Streaming: WiFi and Ethernet, local storage drives (USB), Bluetooth with optional dongle
  • Compatibility: UPnP, USB Local Media, USB Audio 1.0 and 2.0, Apple Airplay2, Chromecast, Internet Radio, Spotify Connect, Tidal, qobuz, Roon-ready
  • Supported audio formats: ALAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, DSD (x64), WMA, MP3, AAC, HE AAC, AAC+, OGG Vorbis
  • THD: <0.001% / 1kHz / 0dBFs
  • Dimensions & Weight: 8.5 x 43 x 30.5 cm (HxWxD) | 3.5 kilograms
  • Power consumption: 30 watts (max.), 0.5 W (standby)
  • Guarantee: 2 years