Music in the Round #43 Page 2

The rear panel has all the requisite connectors for the many functions of this universal player, including lots of outputs—7.1-channel analog audio, coaxial and optical digital audio, component/composite/S-video, and HDMI—as well as USB and Ethernet ports, an IR emitter input, and an AC power input. Considering all the connection options, and that our major concern here is sound, I concentrated on the HDMI and 7.1-channel analog outputs, and only briefly sampled the coax and optical digital outputs. I connected the analog outputs to my Parasound P7 preamplifier, as I'd done with the Oppo BDP-83SE and Lexicon BD-30 Blu-ray players I reviewed in March. HDMI output connection was to the Meridian HD621 HDMI converter. I also auditioned the Azur 650DB briefly with the Integra DTC-9.8 and Classé CT-SSP preamplifier-processors.


Setup was simple—the on-screen menus are much the same as in Oppo's players, though the color scheme and wallpaper are all Cambridge. I disabled Secondary Audio, in order to ensure full-resolution sound, and defeated Auto Play Mode to avoid truncation of the first second or two of the first track. After I had the player run a quick check with Cambridge Audio's server for new firmware, I was good to go.

The Azur 650BD had no problem playing any disc I fed it. I'm often amazed at the comments I read about certain discs causing problems. Most of the problem discs turn out to be films on Blu-ray, with their ever-increasing BD-Live and Java restrictions and controls; I have yet to experience any such problems with music discs, including BDs. Second, while the 650BD did make a very, very quiet tick at the beginning of each track of SACDs, I didn't find this much of a bother with most recordings; the tick irritated me only with those discs that lack an inserted break between tracks. It was most noticeable with pianist Denis Matsuev's recording of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with Valery Gergiev and the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra (SACD, Mariinsky MAR0505); the variations are played without breaks, but the 650BD inserted a tick at each transition. However, OEM Mediatek says that a firmware update will eliminate this problem, as it has with other Mediatek-based players.

I was happy with the 650BD's sound via its analog outputs, but, as with the Oppo BDP-83 I found that using the HDMI output feeding an external processor was better in many ways. Generally—and I noticed this more easily with two-channel signals—the midrange was richer and warmer, not covered by a tinge of brightness in the treble, and the bass was firmer. Corollary to this is that, because the Cambridge player's DAC can't process DSD, all analog outputs are first converted to PCM. I don't regard this as significant, though some will. The other big problem affecting the 650BD's playback of multichannel discs is that its bass and channel management are simply not as flexible or effective as those of most competent preamplifier-processors.

Compared to the Oppo BDP-83SE or the Sony XA-5400ES SACD player, it was apparent that the Cambridge is not the last word in detail or smoothness. Nonetheless, the Azur 650BD, even through its analog outputs, is a very competent universal player that would not be embarrassed in almost any audio system.

Via its HDMI output, the 650BD sounded superb. It outputs full-bandwidth high-definition audio, either bitstreamed or PCM-converted, and SACD signals as either DSD or PCM. Even with A/B comparisons, it was hard to hear any differences between it and the other players when all were used as transports. The solidly constructed Sony was mechanically more secure and silent, but the Cambridge was actually quieter than either the Oppo BDP-83 or BDP-83SE, whose fan noise can be a problem in very quiet environments. I couldn't reliably distinguish it from either of the Oppos, though the Sony did seem a bit mellower. But even this was dependent on the level of ambient noise and the processor to which a player was connected. For example, the difference was more often apparent with the Classé CT-SSP surround-sound processor (see below) than it was with the Integra DTC-9.8.

Overall, the compact and attractive Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD, with its competent circuit design and attention to layout and power supply, is a player that one can enjoy with any good system, even one based on speakers and electronics costing many times as much.

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