Writing about an award-winning product is never a particularly difficult task. Once those shiny ‘Product of the Year’ badges are firmly affixed to the lucky recipients, interest is always going to go through the roof, with savvy shoppers looking to grab the best-in-class designs whilst they’re hot and in stock.
Still, a bit of reinforcement (plus a chance to play with shiny new gear!) is always a good thing. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at Cambridge Audio’s amplifier, What Hi-Fi’s Product of the Year, ‘Stereo Amplifier of the Year‘ in the £300 to £700 price bracket. Say hello to the CXA60.
For all of the breakneck progress made in other areas of the industry, hi-fi companies have always been a bit slow to try and keep up with progress. Many a fine amplifier has come out from a top manufacturer with brilliant sound quality, but with the same connections and hardware inside as models from 20 years prior. We’re well and truly in an age where digital matters, from the audio connections on our TV’s to the music stored on our phones, tablets and laptops. Most manufacturers choose to build in very little in the way of connectivity for this, which seems increasingly odd – not so with Cambridge’s CXA series.
The ’60 features, alongside its traditional array of four analogue RCA connections (plus one 3.5mm connection), two digital optical inputs and a single digital coaxial connection. For a stereo amplifier this is absolutely unheard of before now. Not only that, but there’s even a connection to allow for Bluetooth via Cambridge’s optional BT100 dongle. So what are the benefits of having these digital connections? As mentioned above, the first is the ability to connect any modern television via its digital audio output. Given that the Cambridge is packing a Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip, capable of 24-bit/192KHz playback, this means that your TV can gain an audible benefit in sound quality, not only by surpassing the on-board tinny speakers, but by piggybacking off the amplifier’s superior audio hardware. The same could be said for an ageing CD player or even a Mini-Disc player (now there was a format!). Plug the digital output from one of these devices into the Cambridge and listen as tired equipment is given a new lease of life. Brilliant!
So we’ve laid the groundwork for what makes this such a special amplifier. But it isn’t just the connectivity that makes this a standout. From the moment the CXA60 is removed from its box, the product oozes luxury previously unseen in the price bracket. Finished in brushed aluminium (and available in both silver and black) and featuring Cambridge Audio’s ‘floating’ feet design, the CXA60 is a fantastic slice of industrial design.
Take a look through the (again very nice) ventilation on the top of the CXA60 and you’ll see the heart of the beast – a burly toroidal transformer. By centrally mounting the power supply and working the rest of the components around it, Cambridge Audio’s engineers have been able to isolate the circuitry for left and right channels. This isn’t just clever housekeeping – the design helps to minimalise ‘crosstalk’, making sure that stereo separation is as clean as keen as can be. After spending a few hours with the CXA60 it was clear that this was definitely a worthwhile task.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and after all of my poking and prodding, it was time to settle in for a listen. Partnered with the CXA60 was the latest speaker from Danish brand DALI, the Opticon 6. These are a fantastic match up for the amplifier, with DALI’s hybrid-tweeter arrangement giving brilliantly extended highs, whilst the wood-pulp drive units pump out fantastic mids and bass. The Cambridge CXC transport was drafted in for playback, as was the CXN streamer and BT100 Bluetooth dongle.
As it happens, the dongle was first up. Bluetooth’s limitations for audio playback are well known – or at least they have been up to now. With the arrival of AptX, Bluetooth is now almost up to CD quality, and it has at last become a viable way to play music on a proper hi-fi system. My reason for choosing Bluetooth? I wanted YouTube access from my phone so that I could play the properly brilliant ‘Blackstar‘, the latest single from David Bowie. Through the CXA, the track’s twists and turns through electronica to jazz, sounded amazing. Bowie’s aging but wonderful vocals had a lifelike depth to them that belied the digital method of delivery. Soundstaging was expansive, and the work done to create clean and precise stereo separation was clearly excellent.
I could go on about this amplifier all day. I hammered my way through my collection and sat listening intently for hours on end. I’ve listened to much more expensive products that have lacked the sense of life and the sense of enjoyment that this amplifier has in spades. The sound is full, but not heavy, with dynamic shifts in big pieces deftly handled. It is also capable of delicacy, intimacy and poise when necessary, meaning that it’s great for almost all tastes. My only complaint? The lack of a USB socket for plugging in my laptop, but Cambridge’s CXA80 amplifier has that and a bigger power supply, so all is not lost.
For anybody looking to invest in a new stereo amplifier, I would very heartily recommend an audition of the CXA60. You’ll be glad you did!
To find out more about the Cambridge CXA60, click here.
Author: Chris, Liverpool store