CAMBRIDGE AUDIO CXN (V2) network streamer
+ Musical and thoroughly enjoyable digital preamp/streamer; a big and fun sound which only gives a little away to much more esoteric DACs; great connectivity and very easy to use; can act as a single-ended or balanced preamp into a power amp; all the digital connectivity you might want or need.
– Only decodes up to single DSD; lacks a headphone output; not Roon Ready; not as detailed or transparent as the best digital sources.
CAMBRIDGE is a name which brings to mind great associations with the English city, the university and a plethora of technology companies which have sprung up in the vibrant eco-system in the surrounding area. Only recently has the name been marred by the alleged data mining by an analytical company. However, in the context of audio, many great designers and brands have their roots in the area. Cambridge Audio is one of the stalwarts and has been the vanguard for “proper hi-fi” but at prices which are affordable by people with normal incomes.
The Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) network streamer represents the third generation of its acclaimed StreamMagic platform. It is a handsome unit in the flesh, especially in the silver finish, with the large screen and control knob on the “floating” fascia making for a striking visual. The build is solid and there is nothing to complain about the quality, but it isn’t a heavy, over-engineered unit like the Sony HAP-Z1ES.
Connectivity is generous with network, optical Toslink, co-axial SPDIF and USB Type A and USB type B inputs, and outputs are also well specified with Toslink out, SPDIF, analogue single-ended and balanced.
Functionality is also generous – the streamer accepts uPnP, Apple Airplay, Spotify Connect and Tidal via the CXN Control App through the network port. You can also play files on a connected USB drive on the Type A port (though this port does not operate with an iOS device unlike some other streamers) and you can use it as a DAC through the SPDIF, Toslink or USB-B ports.
To top it off, a volume control is incorporated which makes the unit a fully fledged digital pre-amp. There is also Bluetooth Apt-X via the USB-A port, but that requires the purchase of an optional Bluetooth dongle, which I was unable to test. The streamer also connects to Internet radio stations via vTuner.
I tried the CXN principally as a streamer in a pre-amp configuration into an Audiolab M-PWR power amp and KEF LS-50 speakers. But I also tried it as a source into my main rig with an EAR 859 single triode amp and Audio Note AN-E speakers to compare versus my own Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ and a Chord Hugo2 on loan. My listening notes are largely from the first system. I tested it mostly in a balanced configuration which was superior to the single-ended outputs.
The Cambridge Connect app on your phone (iOS or Android) is your best friend – it provides a smooth and fast control experience (except for the volume slider which is inexplicably hard to use. My tip is to use your volume rocker on the phone, not try to slide the slider). The streamer saw my NAS and HAP-Z1ES as uPnP devices and pulled files off with both very little delay. There were no issues with PCM files I tried up to 24-bit/192kHz and single-rate DSD resolution. The CXN does not decode double or quad rate DSD. Apple Airplay works well, though there is a small penalty in fidelity. Spotify Connect is rendered well – the up-sampling filters make these compressed streams very listenable.
The initial impression after warming up for a couple of hours on BBC Radio 3 on vTuner was a big and fun sound – this streamer has a very lively presentation and there is nary a dull moment as you flit from track to track and genre to genre.
Back to my listening notes, the CXN really shows the skill with which the designers have tailored their polynomial digital interpolation filters (named ATF2), which up-samples all the inputs to 24-bit/38 kHz PCM and then are then converted to the analogue domain by dual Wolfson WM8740 DACs.
Overall, the tonal balance is even, with only a very slight warmth in the upper bass. The midrange is open. On female vocals such as Hannah Reid’s luminescent voice on Hey Now by London Grammar (24/44.1 FLAC from HDtracks), the solidity and projection of her voice in the context of the other instruments is painted in an enjoyable manner. Imaging is solid and stable, without any smearing or drift as instruments scale up and down their tonal range.
Listening to GoGo Penguin’s Prayer on Tidal CD quality stream, deep bass opening is rendered in a solid fashion, though it does give away a little to the more architectural bass which I have heard from DACs such as the Chord Hugo2. But rhythm and pacing are good, and conveys the rhythm of Dave Brubeck’s Take 5 (Single DSD rip from SACD) in a convincing manner.
Switching to the Bill Evans Trio’s seminal 1963 live recording of Sunday at the Village Vanguard (24/88 FLAC), the upper registers show good delicacy and shimmer on Paul Motian’s brush work on the cymbals, and good height and projection over the top of the speakers. Soundstage depth on those tracks also was good, with the diners in the Village Vanguard placed in context to the musicians.
I then spent the next few days just listening to Tidal streams and comparing tracks – it didn’t seem like I was missing much and I was really enjoying using the streamer to explore new music.
Now, the CXN vs the HAP-Z1ES – what became apparent was that the CXN isn’t quite as transparent to the source as the Sony, which pulls more detail out with more delicacy, more soundstage depth, a bit more air and more translucency to the images of the instruments. But what the CXN gives away in these aspects is made up by its fun quotient. The Sony comes off as a little too polite next to the CXN. Comparing to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, the CXN again has a little less air, a little less refinement and a little less detail but the Brooklyn costs a fair bit more and isn’t a streamer. As previously mentioned, the CXN doesn’t dig out detail or have as solid an architecture to its sound compared to the Hugo2.
THE LAST WORD
From a value for money perspective, the CXN is a no-brainer – it works and works very well. It’s musical and fun to listen to and for most people with real world hi-fi systems, it’s all the DAC or streamer that they will likely need. If you have a more esoteric system, there are DACs and streamers which will show your system off to better effect, but the CXN will not be embarrassed in that company.
If only it were a Roon Ready endpoint (I could only use it with Roon via USB or via AirPlay) and if it had a headphone output for those into head-fi – this would be an almost perfect streamer!
Sources: Denon DP-80 Direct Drive turntable, MicroSeiki MA-505X arm with Hana SL, ZYX Omega Premium MC, Miyjima Labs Koteu Mono MC cartridges; Roon Server on SonicTransporter i5 feeding a Sonore MicroRendu driving a Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ via USB,; Sony HAP Z1ES HDD player / Amplification: EAR 834P phonostage with Denon AU320 SUT; Project Phonobox RS; ADL GT40a Phonobox; Arcam SR 250; EAR 859 single ended triode, amplification / Speakers: Audio Note AN-E; Q Acoustics Concept 500; KEF LS50; Falcon LS3/5a / Wires: Belden, Kimber Kable interconnects; Isoda Electric Speaker Cable, QED Reference XT40 Speaker Cable
Malaysian price: RM4,999
Malaysian distributor: Perfect HiFi (+603-5882 1693) / Find your distributor.
Malaysian price error, updated on Dec 7, 2018
Johan is a business consultant by profession but an electrical engineer at heart. He has been building and tinkering with hi-fi and audio equipment since his teens. Loves jazz, classical and classic rock. He also used to live in Cambridge and so has a soft spot for hi-fi from Cambridge.
Does this streamer implement gapless playback? With local files? Spotify? Tidal? Across all available inputs?
I realize that most of the world today listens only to random tracks where gapless is not a factor, but to those of us who still listen to albums, the lack of gapless playback is a dealbreaker. As a professed lover of classical you should understand that. Assessment of gapless capabilities should be part of every streamer review.
Mark, sorry for the omission – it does do gapless playback: https://www.cambridgeaudio.com/en/blog/what-upnp
What are your impressions of the Cambridge unit compared to the Mytek? I have a Brooklyn DAC + and am looking at the CVN V2 for a second system.
I also have a Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ and as a DAC the Mytek wins on almost every category – comparing it would be somewhat futile. But for a 2nd system, the CXN is very good – musical and easy to listen to and use. I would recommend it for a 2nd system.
Have you tried its digital outputs? I want to bypass the DAC and it’s up-sampling and stream out to my active monitors.
I did test it briefly through the digital outputs to a Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ and there was a perceptible upgrade in quality – more so through the coaxial than the toslink output. But my review was a principally to test it as a complete streaming solution and as such, it’s no slouch. But if you choose to use it as a digital preamp, you can certainly hook it up via digital to your active monitors.
Which monitors were you planning to use with a CXN BTW?
Do it require to be connected to a NAS instead of connecting the portable hard disk directly to CA cxn
It is meant to stream from NAS drives, but it can also read hard disks connected directly to the unit.
Thanks. So is there a difference in sound quality for using the NAS which additional cost would be incurred. What is the benefits if any for using the NAS?
I didn’t detect much difference in NAS streaming vs local storage. A NAS offers more flexibility to stream to other uPnP devices.
Can the CXN analyze a usb hard drive and read M3U or other playlists? Does it have a feature to create dynamic playlists inherent to the unit, or will it only process playlists given to it? Is the cxn app as good as the HAP app by Sony? Thanks!
I did not test its ability to pick up playlists, but it does scan the local storage to play files on it.
CXN is supporting HLS and Dash-Mpeg that is supposed to give better internet radio experience. Can you tell actual about load time for internet radio? Usually there are 5-10 seconds buffer time to load an internet radio station (e.g. BBC) on my Raumfeld Connector even on a very fast broadband connection. I recently tried a Sonos system that had very fast load time – almost immediately. Curious how CXN would compare to that.
Unfortunately I don’t have the unit with me any more, so I can’t measure this. But I didn’t notice very long load times when I was using Internet Radio to warm up the unit.
The CXN will take about 5s to load radio stations. It ain’t that bad.
Question: Does a NAS / UpNp/ CXN v2 support ALAC (Apple Lossless)?. According to the CXN manual it will not
My digital collection is 80% ALAC and 20% FLAC. I already tried to use a USB hard drive directly to CXN, but it does not display the artwork for both formats, even that the metadata has been carefully embedded in the audio files. Apparently I need to have a separate JPG file with the artwork in order to CXN to display it in the USB hard drive mode. I have 5000 albums so that will take forever….very frustrating since I spent a lot of time making sure each album includes metadata
Hi there, I will get a Cambridge Audio CXN v2 in few days. Wonder how I shall connect to my PARASOUND HINT 6. Analog or digital. Who have the best D/A converter.??
I would try it both ways and see what you prefer – there will be a difference as I think they both use different DACs.
Sound so Good! I will subscribe to this author and
his potential publications.
As of March CXN v2 in now ROON Ready
Will the CXN V1 upscale APTX Bluetooth files from a tablet?
I am not sure about the v1, but I believe the v2 upscales all digital inputs for playback. I didn’t not test Bluetooth as I didn’t have the dongle.