Cambridge Audio CXA81 integrated amplifier Associated Equipment

Sidebar 2: Associated Equipment

Analog sources: Thorens TD 124 and Kuzma turntables, Jelco TS-350S Mk.II tonearm, Hana EL MC phono cartridge, Luxman EQ-500 phono stage.
Digital sources: BorderPatrol DAC SE, Asus laptop computer.
Integrated amplifiers: Schiit Ragnarok 2.
Loudspeakers: Polk Audio Legend L100, Quad S2.
Headphones: Master & Dynamic MH40.
Cables: Interconnect: Shindo Laboratory, Triode Wire Labs Spirit II, Furutech GT2 Pro Series USB cable. Speaker: Auditorium 23. AC: Triode Wire Labs Obsession NCF power cord, manufacturers' own.
Accessories: Kuzma Platis 65 isolation platform; IsoTek EVO3 Aquarius line conditioner; Salamander five-tier rack; IKEA Aptitlig bamboo chopping boards (under preamp, power amps); Mapleshade maple platform (15" × 12" × 2", under turntable), mahogany blocks (2" × 2" × 0.5") under platforms and boards; Sanus NF24B Natural Foundations Series 24"-tall medium bookshelf speaker stands; 3"-thick studio-treatment foam damping (ceiling, walls).—Ken Micallef

COMPANY INFO
Cambridge Audio USA
1913 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(877) 357-8204
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Long-time listener's picture

As it turns out, I AM in the market for a good, mid-priced integrated (since the NAD M32, highly recommended by Stereophile, didn't work out so well). But my question is, if Accuphase, Luxman, NAD, and many others can offer tone controls in their much higher-priced integrateds, why can't Cambridge Audio? Their CXA-61 has them, but I guess as we go up in price, we get FEWER options. That's nice. Cross another one off the list.

JRT's picture

...is listed on the Shiit website for $149, and might be a solution adequate to your need for parametric EQ tone control, but maybe not with this integrated amplifier, which I think trades away too much system flexibilty for that integrated functionality. Opinions vary.

https://www.schiit.com/products/loki

Note that it has single ended I/O, so I would suggest relatively short interconnections and shared ground potential with the equipment attatched at the other end of the interconnections.

Long-time listener's picture

It's too bad it has to come as a separate unit, which means more cables, but it's interesting nonetheless. I'm not sure I like the frequencies where they have set the four EQ bands (20, 400, 2kHz, 8kHz), seems kind of odd to me, but I'd have to use it to see. For my purposes, a simple set of bass and treble controls, centered at around 80/100 Hz and 10Khz, usually accomplishes all I need, or else maybe a "tilt" control as I've seen on some amps.

JRT's picture

...Parasound Halo P6 2.1 preamplifier/DAC is good quality, includes your desired tone controls among a wide variety of useful functionality, and has balanced outputs to interconnect to monoblock amplifiers located near the loudspeakers. Nord Acoustics makes some good moderately priced Hypex NCore NC500MB monoblock amplifiers with balanced inputs.

https://www.google.com/search?q=Parasound+Halo+P6+2.1

https://www.google.com/search?q=Nord+NC500MB

JRT's picture

If you do order from Nord, you might want to add this £10 option for US support.

https://www.nordacoustics.co.uk/orderinginfo

Long-time listener's picture

Will keep that one in mind for the future

Ortofan's picture

... tone controls and uses Hypex power amplifier modules.
https://www.stereophile.com/content/marantz-model-30-integrated-amplifier

SAllison's picture

This seems to be divisive. I see no tone controls as a big plus and am happy to see Cambridge get it out of the signal path. CXA61 also removed tone controls, it's the older CXA60 and CXA80 that had them.

Long-time listener's picture

... whenever possible, in which case I select "Direct" or "Tone Defeat." But the OPTION to use them can only be a good thing, providing a more versatile amplifier, and for me it's really necessary. I listen to such a broad range of music, with some recordings dating as far back as the 1930s, where a slight treble cut to reduce harshness or a slight bass boost to provide a more solid foundation makes the experience so much better. And out of consideration for my neighbors, I listen at low volume late at night, adding a bit of bass and treble for "loudness" compensation. Having tone controls on a unit doesn't hurt listeners like you, since you can bypass them, but leaving them off hurts listeners like me. It assumes you only listen to a narrow range of very well-recorded music from the last decade or two. Not the case with serious listeners.

partain's picture

Yea or nay ?

SimonK's picture

As I've experienced with all current Cambridge products, their speakers outputs have reversed polarity, so you need to actually go from minus to plus (black to red and red to black) to get the correct phase response. Cambridge has gotten somewhat of a reputation of being a tad laid back because of this - this is simply because they aren't when correctly wired. The CXA81 plays neutral and accurate. It is beyond me, why they don't inform their customers about this.

Jim Austin's picture

I realize I'm answering an older comment, but it's important to correct this. As you can see from the measurements included with this review, the Cambridge Audio CXA81 preserves absolute polarity.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

SimonK's picture

Hello Jim

Thanks for commenting and correcting. I just re-read the measuresments and it may very well do that, but the explanation to what I hear must be then, that the digital input is inverting the polarity as you measured. What would be the idea here? For my point of view it seems like you would have a polarity issue if using both analogue and digital inputs, so that you'd need to change the speaker outputs whenever you play from one or the other source.

SAllison's picture

Hi Jim, it looks like the digital inputs reverse polarity but analog inputs do not? Is that right?

Jim Austin's picture

their speakers outputs have reversed polarity, so you need to actually go from minus to plus (black to red and red to black) to get the correct phase response.

I'm truly not trying to split hairs here; rather, because of this phrasing, I simply wasn't thinking about the digital module. Yes, of course, it is true that the digital module is reversing phase.

Why would they do that? I'm only speculating, but I would guess it's a matter of convenience: It was easier to design the component that way, and to keep the design as simple as possible. Do keep in mind that while the audibility of absolute phase has been established with certain types of music, most recordings have mixed phase, and even in pure cases it's quite difficult to hear. A manufacturer could be forgiven for thinking it doesn't matter.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

SAllison's picture

Thanks so much for the speedy reply!

wozwoz's picture

I am fan of Cambridge equipment, and have one of their amps in a bedroom (not main audio setup) which is a very fine minimal classic design. Having said so, I would never purchase any amplifier that has Bluetooth built-in, (a) in part because I don't want to be needlessly radiated in my own home, and (b) because Bluetooth is a suboptimal typically compressed and lossy medium that is, in my view, inconsistent with the goals of hi-fi, and it disrespects the equipment to include such a format (leaving aside radiating your brain).

LogicprObe's picture

The review states that the amp has 'natural silicone rubber' feet.
No silicone products are 'natural'.
They are all man made.
Latex is the only 'natural' rubber product.
You can't believe anything from the marketing departments of these companies.

SAllison's picture

How does the CXA61 compare? On paper it looks like the same thing with no balanced inputs, less power and a slightly different DAC for $300 less. I wonder if there is anything significantly different in the measurements for the CXA61 model?

SAllison's picture

I just want to post that 33 ohm output impedance for the headphone jack is not low. Most quality, affordable headphone amps like the Schiit Magni and JDS Atom are below one ohm. 33 ohms is frustratingly limiting; I can use 250 ohm Beyers and 300 ohm Sennheisers and that's it. I suppose I could get away with flat impedance curve planars but power output will be limited.

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