When I lifted Cambridge Audio’s Azur 540R from its box, I was pleasantly surprised to find the compact-looking AVR weighs almost 35 pounds, indicating substantial components within— exactly what you would expect from a firm that has been producing quality audio products for more than 35 years. Almost as hefty as the receiver is its 242 page user’s manual, which has a decent thud factor going for it.
You might think the Azur 540R must be a complicated piece of gear to require a 200-pages-plus manual, but the opposite is true. The receiver is simple, and its manual is clearly written, straightforward, and brief—perhaps too brief. Beyond the bare basics, the document does little to explain surround-sound technologies and decoding concepts. (The manual is large only because Cambridge incorporates translations for more than seven different languages.).
Although missing an auto-setup feature, the 540R is a snap to set up manually, thanks in part to the fact that the 540R’s remote control, although unlit, matches the receiver’s front-panel controls almost button-for-button. Version 2 of the 540R, released this January, adds a very handy OSD, which unfortunately works only through composite or S-video outputs, not through component outputs.
The 540R satisfies, both visually and sonically. With the DVD of Jonathan Larson’s RENT, the challenge is to capture delicate voice textures for sultry ballads and soulful harmonies such as “Light My Candle” and “I Will Cover You,” to deliver adequate power for the in-your-face, over-the-top, hard-rock rhythms of “Over the Moon,” and to provide surreal subtlety for the quasi-a cappella round “Will I.” Add to that the visual challenge of passing video signals of dimly lit interiors, night street scenes, and brightly lit cafes. Not to worry, the 540R answered RENT’s multiple challenges impressively.
Not just a receiver for connoisseurs of delicate acoustics, the 540R delivers the essential floor-rattling effects you want for the “Under Attack” chapter of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World or Keanu Reeves’s visits to the underworld in Constantine.
I was curious to see how the receiver would perform with multichannel SACDs, and was impressed to find that on Nickel Creek’s eponymous SACD [Sugar Hill] the haunting voice harmonies were presented in beautiful contrast against the richly textured mandolin, violin, guitar and acoustic bass in “Out of the Woods.” On that same track, the 540R also created a generous soundstage with impressive depth and precise instrument placement.
How would I characterize the Azur 540R in toto? I’d say it’s a good, basic receiver. Though the 540R doesn’t support video upconversion or HDMI inputs, it’s a solid AVR for its price.