It’s the sound though that really shocks, in a good way. It’s an incredibly exciting performance, packed with energy and drama and a great deal of grip. Faced with a world of hundreds and hundreds of watts, you might think a 75 watter will run out of steam, but partnered appropriately (or at least, partnered with a moderate amount of sanity) it works with a bags of energy on tap. Surprisingly dynamic, surprisingly bubbly and surprisingly musical sounding, were the tasting notes. Ending in “well, I’m surprised!” of course.
It’s clear a lot of time and energy went into making both these products work beautifully. And that time and energy paid off. There were a lot of discs thrown at this combo, to see just what the upper limit was. And it was hard to find. Playing a very dynamic piece of music (Mahler’s Eighth for example) at a fair volume – but not enough to trip the protection circuit – began to push the amplifier into sounding a touch hard and toppy. And, compared to more upmarket products there was a sense of richness and openness to the soundstage, and a sense of control at high volumes that this amp could not replicate with the same authority. But we’re not talking huge differences here and given that the cost of this system was almost one-third of the cost of the interconnect cable of the other, you can see why this is extraordinary stuff.
The CD player is the perfect partner for that amplifier. It’s accurate and dynamic, but where the amplifier can be ‘zingy’ in the treble, the CD player is softer and more rounded sounding. These are not bold departures from accuracy even when taken separately, but in combination the two make for a remarkably natural performance. This highlights the biggest regret surrounding the 650 series; and it’s got nothing to do with the 650 series! The prices of these two products will naturally end up with most of them being used with loudspeakers costing around £200 or so. While it will do a great job here, to really hear what it can do, try it with a pair costing five times that figure, ideally one with a soft dome tweeter too. Suddenly, what most people consider as good mid-price electronics becomes a neutral platform to play music with a great deal of integrity.
More than anything though, the Cambridge Audio combo makes inherently ‘likeable’ sounds. That doesn’t mean it makes everything sound nice; stick on Pantera and you are in for an aggressive angry rant; exactly what you expect from Pantera, in fact. No, instead it makes a sound that makes you want to play music through, whatever your taste in music. It is perhaps this, admittedly somewhat nebulous concept that lofts the Cambridge Audio Azur 650C and 650A above the mainstream. There’s none of that sense of great music, not so great sound here.
There’s a small, but growing movement, that suggests the electronics are relatively unimportant in the creation of good sound. The loudspeaker and the room acoustic treatment take centre stage in this audio ethos. This could be the CD and amplifier that proves them right (of course, we’d say it’s because these are the right CD and amp for the job). OK, some perspective is in order; anyone matching £700 worth of electronics with £7,000 worth of speaker is setting themselves up for major disappointment, but realistically the Cambridge Audio duo are capable of driving far better loudspeakers than they should be capable of.
In the insane world of high-end audio, this is the sanest choice you could make.
Cambridge Audio Azur 650C CD player
D/A converter: Dual Wolfson WM8740 24-Bit/192kHz capable
Filter: 2-Pole Dual Differential Bessel Double Virtual Earth Balanced
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz (+/-0.1dB)
THD @ 1kHz 0dBFs: <0.001%
THD @ 20kHz 0dBFs: <0.002%
IMD (19/20kHz) 0dBFs: <0.0005%
Linearity @ -90dBFs: +/-0.5dB
Clock deviation: +/-20ppm
Stopband rejection (>24kHz): >90dB
S/N ratio, A weighted: >104dB
Total correlated jitter: <140pS
Max. power consumption: 25W
Standby power consumption: <1W
Dimensions (HxWxD): 85 x 430 x 305mm
Cambridge Audio Azur 650A integrated amplifier
Inputs: 6x phono inputs (including tape monitor in), iPod minijack
Outputs: 2x phono outputs
Power Output: 75 watts (into 8 ohms)
THD (unweighted): <0.002%@1kHz, 80% of rated power. <0.03% 20Hz-20kHz, 80% of rated power, <0.02% 20Hz-20kHz @10W
Frequency Response: 5Hz-50kHz (-1dB)
S/N Ratio: (ref 1w) >92dB (unweighted)
Input Impedance: 47kohms
Damping Factor: >100
Max. power consumption: 600W
Standby power consumption: <1W @rated mains
Bass/Treble controls: Shelving, ultimate boost/cut +/-7.5dB @20Hz – 20kHz
Dimensions (HxWxD): 120x430x350mm