Cambridge Audio Azur 840C CD player

E

earl of sodbury

Guest
Cambridge Audio Azur 840C CD Player

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This is the latest addition to Cambridge's top-flight 840 series of dedicated stereo components, and very sensibly in the present marketplace they have limited themselves to what still remains the most popular musical format: stereo red-book CD - a format that, remarkably, proves itself capable of replay quality to ever-increasing standards with succeeding generations of players even this late in the day. In this latter respect the 840C is no exception within its price bracket, as we shall see...

Wossit do then?

The 840C shares the size and build of its natural partner, Cambridge's 840A class
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amplifier ( see: here ), and in that respect is large, solid and quite conventional in appearance, with nicely finished anodised aluminium casework available in black (as for this review) or silver. The central display is a good quality black-on-white LED with defeatable backlight, above which is a drawer-loading CD mechanism of notably smoother action than the now almost ubiquitous Philips VAM1202 whose rattly action is letting-down so many competing machines. These are flanked by a restrained number of buttons (cf. the latest hideous super high-end monstrosity from Krell) which nonetheless allow access to this highly versatile machine's full range of functions; naturally these are duplicated on Cambridge's excellent aluminium-fascia Azur series remote control.

Detouring inside the machine's casework for a moment, and the nerdily inclined (me for one) encounter a case with little breathing-room - unlike some big-name competitors at this price level. The transport is notably solid, incorporating an alloy energy sink, while the digital and analogue sections share a decently-sized bespoke toroidal tranformer. Power regulation is extensive and discrete for each subsection, while the transport servo board has its own screened enclosure! General component quality is moderate to high - certainly comparable with some players up to £2K retail. It is clear that much thought has gone into producing something that's very much more than a follower of established formulae, and that that care has extended to build standards, which are very good indeed.

Every tactile and visual impression of this player - with the possible exception of the LCD screen about which some are prejudiced - bespeaks a quality of build far in excess of what we would normally expect of a player costing £750: casework is well finished, tolerances approach Japanese standards, button actions are firm and positive, transport smooth and quiet and disc-read the fastest I have ever encountered in any silver-disc reader...

Functionality is also disarmingly flexible - firstly in employing unique DAC and filter chips that upsample any suitable digital input to 24 bit / 384 Hz standard in a unique application of Anagram Technologies of Switzerland's "Adaptive Time Filtering" upsampling process. DACs are Analog Devices AD1955 chips used in dual differential mode - meaning the left and right channel data and output are separated at an early stage -supposedly reaping benefits in soundstaging and instrument/vocal definition.

Now all that's fine and dandy, but it would seem a shame to restrict this leading-edge technology to just one source: well that's not Cambridge's way - unlike many manufacturers with more badge-cachet, they seem to have realised that customers nowadays want versatility and performance - and so the 840C functions as an upgrade DAC for 2 additional external devices - and in both cases either can be input via RCA SP/DIF electrical or Toslink optical cables.

Aside from the digital input connections, outputs include both Toslink and RCA SP/DIF digital should you wish to use an external DAC or digital recording/archiving device, while analogue output can be via either unbalanced RCA or balanced XLR. Power is supplied via a switchable IEC input, while software upgrades can be input via an RS232 interface, and external control for installation use is possible via the RS232 port, an infrared input or a looped control bus option! Short of telling jokes or taking the dog for a walk, this CDP does about as much as one can reasonably expect from Any CD machine, never mind one with this relatively modest price tag - but does it do those things Well? And has that leading-edge technology proved itself here?

Wossit sound like then?

I'm in the fortunate position of owning one of a few CD players that offers a comparable remit to the 840C - the Stello CDA320 has a very similar general specification, though only upsampling to 24 bit/192 kHz, it too functions as an external DAC to several devices, and internally also utilises extensive regulation and dual toroidal transformers for analogue/digital sections. It also costs more than twice the price of the Cambridge, yet for its performance and flexibility I consider it an unfairly neglected bargain: like Cambridge it lacks the tuft-hunter appeal of big name/big price competitors...

Slotting the Cambridge into my system I used identical homebrew silver/teflon interconnects, connecting it to a 30W Cairn 4808 integrated amplifier which in turn drives large floorstanding high-sensitivity Triangle Stratos Naia loudspeakers in a room approximately 4 x 5 metres in size. This arrangement meant I could instantaneously A/B identical tracks using the remote control.

After a suitable warm-up period, and carefully matching track times, initial listening was to a variety of Doors tracks - notably "Light My Fire" and "Love Her Madly". I was pretty apprehensive - here was every possibility that my beloved Stello would get its arse kicked. Either way, given that these machines shared few components or detailed technical design approaches in common, I expected radically different sounds...

There were none!!!

Quickly switching between Cambridge and Stello, and were it not for a microsecond's hesitation while the Cairn amp's relays muted and switched, I would not have known any change had taken place: despite differences in power supply, the Cambridge's capacitor-less signal path, and the Stello's pure class A analogue output stage, no difference was immediately evident!

No wonder people say there's no difference between CD players. At this point a wave of ennui overwhelmed me: I already own a Cambridge 640C Mk1 and considered flogging the Stello and reverting to much cheaper kit, at the same time I planned a brief review praising the 840's good build and undoubted versatility and passing fairly lightly over sound quality...

Fortunately, two things got this exercise back on track. Experimenting with cheaper kit quickly revealed clear sonic limitations - not so obvious in A/B mode, but after an evening's relaxed listening to familiar music, significant musical oversights and omissions started driving me batsh... er... crazy: "where's the backing vocals?" "Where's the plucked bass gone?" "Ouch! Those sibilants HURT!" &c. So enough of that detour...

I realised that the unquestionably subtle differences in modern CDPs just don't leap-out on A/B listening: indeed might even be being obscured by it. Now many folks use the fact that brief A/B tests are not very revealing to argue that small but vital differences in hifi kit are actually insignificant and even largely delusional - BUT who the f*** listens in 5 second segments? Music lovers want and expect long sessions with their cherished music collections, and don't want to risk permanent damage to their sanity by playing the same segments again and again: a pointless exercise anyway since the second listen will always reveal more than the first, while subsequent plays are a slow decline as boredom sets in and attention spans sputter-out and die...

Enough with the philosophy already...

So taking a few days out for a seasonal alcoholic neurone cull I returned liverish but refreshed with a fresh approach, and it was during the longer listening sessions to well loved discs that the Cambridge's special character revealed itself and differences became clear.

The most obvious differences were revealed not with CD replay at-all, but using both machines as DACs supplied with a variety of DAB stations from a TEAC T-H300DAB mkII unit: first and most obvious was the Cambridge's HUGE soundstage - deep, wide and completely AWOL from the speakers - and even more bizarrely this was most obvious in some mono jazz tracks on Stuart Maconie's Freak Show on 6Music: I didn't even realise they were mono until I reverted back to the Stello part way through!!! If you listen to a lot of old rock & roll, blues, jazz or classical mono recordings on CD, this machine is not just recommended, it's essential, as it brings this kind of source to life in a way I have never heard at any price - at least aside from vinyl, which is quite another story!

On more familiar turf the Cambridge also led the way with detail resolution - perhaps not surprising given the care given to upsampling and preserving signal integrity, but in lesser machines this ability can be a real liability, highlighting deficiencies in recording or excessive studio compression, and over-emphasising certain sonic components, sterilising the sound or giving too much weight to the "hi" component of hifi. Not so here, the 840C is as sweet as an objective approach to replay will allow - never sugar-coating the music, but not putting your tooth enamel at risk in any other way, either.

Midrange reproduction is beyond my ability to reproach: it is indeed largely characterless - this is expressly not a negative, all it means is that everything that should be there, is there: nothing added, nothing taken away. The benefit of this lies chiefly in vocal and instrumental intelligibility - and here that is the equal of anything within a disturbingly wide price range.

Bass, especially lower bass is another matter - tonally it is superb, being characterful, complex and lithe; it times well and is never intrusive, it does however lack some depth and slam in my system, something which the Stello most definitely does not. This I suspect is something that a different amplifier would portray quite differently: the Cairn amp swings massive current but at relatively low wattage, and its rendering of bass is wholly within its class A envelope, giving it a quite unique signature: my Musical Fidelity X-Ray v3 suffered similarly in the Cambridge's place, so this is something to be aware of in system matching and nothing more.

Furthur comparison with the Stello chiefly highlighted how close these two players are in performance; the Stello's class A output stage did give it an ultimate edge in overall musicality - rendering slightly more complex, involving and tuneful intrumentality, and increasing the naturalness and believability of music - but this difference was relatively slight, noticable chiefly in extended listening, and after-all commensurate with the two players' 100% price differential!

In summary, this court finds that...

Overall the Cambridge is a highly competent and honest player, its complete sonic package is extremely well-judged, it makes the most of any signal it is asked to process, and resists any attempt to prettify or dress-up the sound, yet is as much devoid of solid-state digital's nasties as it is possible to be at anywhere near this price with current technologies.

Its competence, build, versatility and bargain price make it the Swiss Army Knife of CD replay, and just as with the amplifier I reviewed a few months ago - if this was 2 years ago and I was buying in this price range this is the CD player I would be purchasing; if YOU are looking to spend up to £2000 on a new CDP you MUST audition this player: you may or may not like it, but it IS the new benchmark in the £1K to £2K price range: not bad for a £750 player...

For £750 the Cambridge Azur 840C leaves nothing wanting in the way of facilities, build or sound quality unless you are a competitor, when your price-matched kit starts to look distinctly shame-faced, while players at twice the price will be shouting a little less loudly from now on.

Cambridge have pulled-off a double-whammy with their new 840 series components: at any price they are high quality, innovative and supremely competent products, at their retail price they are simply the most hifi-per-pound available new today.

See - http://www.cambridgeaudio.com/ for more info on boring meaningless technical what-nots
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churz, eofs

NB: thanks to Audio Partnership's Ed Selley for loan of this machine - voluntary on my part, regrettably no beer-tokens changed hands during this review
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Uncle Bob

Wammer
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Sep 23, 2005
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Another excellent review, top marks that man!

Agree with 100% about the A/B comparisons not being particularly revealing of subtle differences in presentation which tend to be processed IMO on a more subconscious level

 

JamPal

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James
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Great review Paul.

Always nice to hear of great kit at sensible prices. People will wake up and smell the Richer Coffee before long.

I had the pleasure of the 840 amp you reviewed, and it really is as good as they say. If this Cd players keeps to the 840 amplifiers level of performance then we really all ought to be flogging all of our over priced kit right away.

 
B

batman

Guest
you don,t have to tell me all cd spinners sound the same ... whers tones when you need some back up ...

 
E

earl of sodbury

Guest
Thanks very much for the positive comments chaps.

People need to ignore badges and let their lugoles do the legwork
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Anyone who wants an earwig is welcome to drop by - I'm around most evenings and prolly the next couple of weekends too; not sure when Ed wants it back.

churz, eofs

 

Boxer

Wammer
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Nov 2, 2005
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As good a write up as I've come to expect from the Sodbury keyboard: makes me want to go back & re-do my MF one (bastard! Bastard!
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).

Good one!

Boxer

 

Tons of Fun

Wammer
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Apr 26, 2006
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Ed
Thanks for the kind words and the excellent review Paul. There is no rush to get the machine back. I am sure that we can make the unit available to others as well if people are interested.

Ed

 

Tel

Wammer
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Aug 13, 2006
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Excellent review, well written and entertaining!

I popped into my local RS while walking by on Friday to have a look at one of these.

Why do they make life so difficult?

This has to be the top of the range for RS yet it was displayed in the middle of the floor (sensibly with the 840 Amp)flanked by two Kef floorstanders two feet apart.

The manager spoke to me and was excellent, he knew his product and chatted about it in comparison with Arcam and Creek models which retail above this price. Unfortunately we couldn't really hear it, Neither the Amp or CDP were switched on, to be fair I had walked in close to closing time and we didn't have 20 to 30 mins to allow the equipment a fighting chance!

It was also impossible to make any comment regarding imaging or soundstage with the speakers acting as bookends to the rack.

I appreciate that this is a busy retail shop and they probably sell 10 times the LCD and Plasma screens than they do CD players but if they want to sell against Arcam and the like then they need to allow their customers to hear the product in reasonable surroundings.

I am sure that they have a demo room, but it wasn't mentioned or offered.

Sorry, most of that post was totally off topic but I will have to rely on the excellent review as I was unable to 'use my own ears'!

 

Glens of Antrim

Wammer
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Jul 25, 2005
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Soddersthe fluency of your reviews leave me spitting with jealousy. If I hadn't gone down the MF path and like the sounds I'd demo CA. A wee bit of the problem is that Richers has a chav reputation. Still...

 
M

murray johnson

Guest
earl of sodbury wrote:

NB: thanks to Audio Partnership's Ed Selley for loan of this machine - voluntary on my part, regrettably no beer-tokens changed hands during this review
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You really haven't got the hang of this, Earl!

fine review btw

 

SSM

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Qn: Is the 840C's disc transport the same as the one used in the cheaper 640/540/340C series? I inspected the latter's and thought it a bit plasticky. And the raspy sound it made while sliding into the player is similar to that of a PC's CD drawer, zzzzhhh!
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Please tell me the 840C has a different/better-speced disc tray.
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Nice review, as always, Sod.
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You're like a nice, fresh daisy to Auntie's cut-and-dried-flowers style.
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rabski

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Superb review and a couple of very valid points.... Not the least of which leads me to suspect that there is very little point in looking at upgrading from my 640C V2.

Excellent. That's about 600 beer tokens towards the next set of cables then!!

 

Tons of Fun

Wammer
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Apr 26, 2006
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Ed
SSM wrote:

Qn: Is the 840C's disc transport the same as the one used in the cheaper 640/540/340C series? I inspected the latter's and thought it a bit plasticky. And the raspy sound it made while sliding into the player is similar to that of a PC's CD drawer, zzzzhhh!
52_52.gif.e7819fa8e7d4f2f3fde0ccbe63a52c2a.gif
Please tell me the 840C has a different/better-speced disc tray.
71_71.gif.90e48c720ca56a2d2fa0532dd3380cc7.gif
The physical mech is the same but the mount, motor gearing and servo are all higher spec. It is a rasp free zone in that regard.

Odd to relate, I haven't used the tray very much on mine as I seem to spend quite a bit of time using it as the DAC for my Yamaha 1300.

 

SSM

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Jul 20, 2005
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Ta, ToF.

Well, the disc tray may be the same but kudos to the CA designers for de-rasping its sliding action in the 840C.
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It would be a shame on a CDP priced in the £750-1000 range to have a ssshhleazzy sliding tray.
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I am actually more than half interested in the 840C - given its raft of useful features. Hope to make a date with it in Mar or May.

SS

 

Boxer

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Nov 2, 2005
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SSM wrote:

Nice review, as always, Sod.
thumbs_up.gif.3c8ee62eda0e86146178ab30b9facd86.gif
You're like a nice, fresh daisy to Auntie's cut-and-dried-flowers style.
biggrin.png
tongue.png
:p:p

Might've known you'd like something more florid!

I revise one of my previous statements: maybe I am a Hemingway wannabe at heart, rather than, as claimed a Genet wannabe??????
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Boxer

 
S

s2000db

Guest
Tons of Fun wrote:

Thanks for the kind words and the excellent review Paul. There is no rush to get the machine back. I am sure that we can make the unit available to others as well if people are interested. Ed
Due to EOS's rave review, would love to give it a whirl, submit a review - and if favorable would look to change, please let me know.

Rgds DB

 

They call me Ron

Wammer
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Nov 18, 2005
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This review attracted my attention since on a whim (well, it was more complicated than that, but I won't bore you with the detail) I went out and bought a 640c v2 just before Christmas and still can't quite believe the level of performance it offers.

It's what I call the physical weight on the sound that is so impressive. That and the sort of tonality I've only ever from vinyl beofe – in fact, I think I'd be just as happy if I'd paid £500 let alone £250. This may sound mad to some, but to my ears it has seen off a Rega P3 and is not that far behind a Systemdek IIx (both with a Incognito rewired RB250 and Denon DL110). The icing on the cake is that the equally splendid remote can also control my Rega Mira amp.

Given all this, I can imagine the 840c is a belter. All the same, I can't help feeling these players should be creating more of a stir. The presentation they receive in Richer Sounds is hardly inspiring, and how many people won't take them seriously at all simply because they are sold only there? I know I almost didn't.

 

rabski

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SSM wrote:

Ta, ToF. Well, the disc tray may be the same but kudos to the CA designers for de-rasping its sliding action in the 840C.
thumbs_up.gif.3c8ee62eda0e86146178ab30b9facd86.gif
It would be a shame on a CDP priced in the £750-1000 range to have a ssshhleazzy sliding tray.
biggrin.png


I am actually more than half interested in the 840C - given its raft of useful features. Hope to make a date with it in Mar or May.

SS
Whaddya have to go and point that out for? Now instead of marvelling at the sound stage, weight and detail of my ridiculously good value 640, I'm forever going to be whanging the drawer in and out to listen to the graunching noise.
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SSM

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Jul 20, 2005
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rabski wrote:

SSM wrote:
Ta, ToF. Well, the disc tray may be the same but kudos to the CA designers for de-rasping its sliding action in the 840C.
thumbs_up.gif.3c8ee62eda0e86146178ab30b9facd86.gif
It would be a shame on a CDP priced in the £750-1000 range to have a ssshhleazzy sliding tray.
biggrin.png


I am actually more than half interested in the 840C - given its raft of useful features. Hope to make a date with it in Mar or May.

SS
Whaddya have to go and point that out for? Now instead of marvelling at the sound stage, weight and detail of my ridiculously good value 640, I'm forever going to be whanging the drawer in and out to listen to the graunching noise.
wub.png
wahahahahaha!
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egyptian.gif
egyptian.gif
egyptian.gif
IME, even a Japcrap minisystem's or cheapo DVD player's disc tray is smoooother and quieter than the 640C's.

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Time for you to upgrade to the 840C...
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SSzzhhh!

 

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