Product Review: Cambridge Audio CXU

As far as product releases go, the launch of Cambridge’s CX series of components has been pretty spectacular. With multiple components in the range winning 5-stars in What Hi-Fi? the praise bestowed on these new models has been almost universal. What better way to continue this fantastic range, than with a Universal Disc Player! Meet the Cambridge Audio CXU

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Cambridge have released such a machine. The CXU’s predecessor, the 752BD, was also a favourite amongst critics. Praised for its ability to play nearly any type of media (it is a universal player after all!) and to play it in the best possible quality, the CXU will be hoping to fill in the shoes of the outgoing model – but can it better it?

Universal Disk Players – What do they do?

For the uninitiated, a “universal disc player” is a machine capable of playing a huge range of media formats all from one box. So, to try and give an idea of how wide and varied this content could be, the CXU will play: Blu-ray, BD-3D, DVD, CD, SACD, HDCD, AVCHD and DVD-AUDIO as well as all of the various types of CD and DVD R/RW’s (both + and -) all from its disc drive. And all that is before we even get to what it can play over a network or via USB! For those who find it impossible to pick between hi-fi and home cinema, this type of machine represents the very heart of a top end system – doing away with separate CD and Blu-Ray players without sacrificing performance.

A quick look around the back of the machine shows that the theme of ‘universality’ is extended here, too. The CXU has two rear HDMI outputs plus one up front, as well as one input, optical and coaxial outputs as well as optical and digital inputs, two rear (and another one up front!) USB sockets, RCA phono outs and a 7.1 channel phono out for using with older home cinema amplifiers. And if you managed to get through that whole list of compatibility and connections, you’ll understand the sheer scale of what is on offer here!

More connections than you canshake a stick at!

More connections than you can
shake a stick at!

Internally, the Cambridge is packing some impressive tech. Five channel-dedicated Wolfson WM8740 DACs are fitted, and Anagram Technologies Q5 upsampling technology is also onboard, solidifying the CXU’s credentials as a fantastic audio player. Once the player is fired up there are plenty of options to play about with for the hardened enthusiast. A myriad of audio and video preferences are available to tweak, but probably the finest feature for those that like to have things their own way is the inclusion of DARBEE Visual Presence, an on-screen picture calibration mode that allows even a novice to tailor the picture to their own requirements. In practise, we found this mode to be a huge help, offering a simple to use, yet in-depth solution to high-end picture calibration.

The CXU features an elegant tear-drop design, designed to fit in with the rest of the CX range.

The CXU features an elegant tear-drop design,
designed to fit in with the rest of the CX range.

With the CXU hooked up to our demonstration TV, Panasonic’s excellent TX55CX802B, and our home cinema system, Onkyo’s TXNR3030 with Monitor Audio Bronze 5.1 package, we set about trying to see what the player was really capable of. First up was was 2012 James Bond flick Skyfall. Straight from the off the CXU showed its pedigree. The opening scene, with its Moroccan bazaar rooftop motorcycle chase (as you do!) looked and sounded absolutely superb, and whilst credit should absolutely go to the cinematographer, the scene was also the best looking and sounding it had ever been on our setup. Colours were crisp and vivid, and the machine offered a depth of field beyond that of any other Blu-ray player we’d seen before. The throaty rasp of the Honda CRF-250 motorbike was pleasingly realistic and lifelike, and the dynamics at work when the action heated up were astounding. This was really top end stuff from what looked to be a world class machine.

Wanting to test both the player’s networking capabilities and music credentials, we added the CXU to our network and located the store’s music storage network hard-drive. Loading up a Hi-Res recording of Miles Davis’ classic Kind of Blue, the Cambridge made light work of the masterful playing of some of Jazz’ key figures. John Coltrane’s tenor sax work on All Blues is spine-tingling stuff at the best of times, but the Cambridge put it in another league altogether. The soaring, wailing chords sounded thick and deep, and whilst it wasn’t quite as good as Cambridge’s own 851N streamer, the CXU was very close. Instrument separation was superb, but the soundstage retained the perfect sense of cohesion, leaving the “feeling” of the Columbia Records recording studio beautifully intact. Many more albums followed, and the Cambridge handled all comers with equal cheer and ease.

To find out more about the CXU, please click here to watch our product video.

Find out more about the Cambridge Audio CXU.

When faced with a machine such as this, it can be difficult to really convey in a reasonably short review all that it is capable of. So, whilst we could easily carry on for another six paragraphs and still not get round to mentioning everything on offer it’s much easier to simplify, and to explain why the CXU is a worthwhile purchase. In terms of sheer quality, the picture and sound that the Cambridge is capable of producing are amongst the very best in the industry. From colour balance to contrast, from dynamic shifts to soundstaging, the CXU was arresting, captivating and always deeply engaging. The attention to detail that has gone into this make it at the very least a must-audition. Hugely recommended, and a great step up over the previous Cambridge 752BD. I’d thoroughly recommend giving us a ring to arrange a demonstration in-store today!

Author – Chris, Liverpool store