The latest product to arrive at The Perfect Vision for an upcoming review is Cambridge Audio’s Azur 650R 7.1-channel A/V receiver ($1799), which was announced a the CEDIA Expo 2009. Ordinarily, I like to offer “First Listen” articles after I’ve had a chance to install a new piece of review equipment, but in this case I’ll have to provide “First Look” instead, since the Cambridge only just appeared on our doorstep—meaning that I only just unpacked it before writing this blog. Even so, I thought readers might enjoy taking a look at the new arrival and hearing some thoughts on why I think the 650R holds the potential to be a very special piece of equipment.
Cambridge Audio, as the second word of the firm’s name seems to imply, is a company whose dominant focus is and always has been sound quality. And, if you’re a follower of our high-end audio-oriented sister magazine The Absolute Sound, you already know that Cambridge has been on a roll for the last several years, having created an ongoing (and more or less unbroken) string of critically acclaimed products that have become known for high performance you can not only measure but—more importantly—hear. Unlike equipment that tends to exhibit “too clever for its own good” design philosophies, there is typically a fundamental straightforwardness and simplicity about most Cambridge products—qualities that make the components a joy to use and that potentially increases their long-term reliability and robustness.
There is also the matter of value. In my experience, Cambridge gear is rarely the least expensive solution you could buy for any given application, but neither is it the most expensive (not by a long shot), while perceived performance levels are almost invariably higher than you would expect for the money. In practice, this means that customers often come away with the sense of having gotten more than their money’s worth—an experience that’s becoming all too rare these days. I’m certainly hoping that the newly arrived 650R will demonstrate a high performance/dollar ratio.
Part of what makes this kind of lasting value possible in any audio product, and especially in fine A/V receivers, is disciplined decision-making on the part of the manufacturer. As near as I can tell, the key is first to focus on the basics of high quality amplification. In a forced choice between beefy, low-noise, low-distortion amplifiers and more techno-gadgets, gongs, and whistles, I’m voting for the big-boy amps every single time, and happily Cambridge thinks the same way. The Azur 650R puts out a conservatively rated 7 x 100 watts/channel, with all channels driven at very low distortion levels. Interestingly, and in stark contrast to many other AVRs on the market today, there really isn’t a big difference between the 650R’s claimed power output with two channels driven (2 x 120 watts/channel) vs. power out put with all seven channels driven.
But another key is that companies like Cambridge tend to approach AVR design from an audio-first mindset. Accordingly, Cambridge claims that the 650R’s “seven 100E audiophile grade fully discrete amplifiers are kept as separate as possible from the processing and input stages and feature a large power supply with a low flux toroidal transformer.” Another clue to the robustness of the 650R’s design can be found in markings that appear above the receiver’s speaker terminals, and which invite users to connect “4 – 8 Ohm” speakers—this in contrast to many AVRs that are rated for use with speakers of 6 Ohm impedance or higher (the implication being that competing receivers might not have adequate current drive and/or cooling capabilities to keep up with the demands of lower impedance speakers).