Cambridge Audio Azur 650C CD-player

Times are tough. There's less cash floating round the economy and folks are tightening their belts, debts are being paid off, holidays delayed or cancelled while the purchase of several luxury goods will be deferred or ignored entirely. Hi-fi is enduring too with many audiophiles deciding to stick with what they have got, for the moment, before the market picks up. This doesn't discontinue the hunt for the perfect sound, nevertheless, it just means that you may have to go about it otherwise, taking a more value for money approach and thinking laterally.

This is where the skill pool of Fidelity Audio might be a great option. In times that are hard, fact or not, the intriguing facilities of Fidelity Audio allow you to think about upgrading hifi in a sense that makes you see a hi-fi separate as not the end, but rather a new start point. DIY and hi-fi tweakers are very knowledgeable about this philosophy of course, but mere mortals such as myself aren't up to this sort of thing. Whether it is a phono stage, or a an amplifier you desire upgraded, DAC, network box, tuner or cassette deck, they could oblige. "No maker releases a product and after that pushes it, technically, to the boundary," said Fidelity Audio boss, Brent Rowe. "It is mainly regarding price points, naturally. Even a dCS DAC, which will be pretty well sorted, could be made better upon."

They did a a KI Signature, a SE and then a basic version - they used the same circuitboard and mechanism. The fundamental 63 used inexpensive parts, the SE used a marginally better transformer plus a number of improved capacitors while the KI had an increased transformer and a bit of copper in the chassis. But they all sounded different. That is part of the reason that audiophiles like changing Marantz hi fi, as the company designs its equipment extremely well and in such a manner that later upgrades could be retrofitted, obtaining a lot of models out of one circuit, basically."

Fidelity Audio applies turbochargers to the technique and takes the Ishiwata philosophy. Check the web site out and you will notice options to upgrade everything from Naim and Nakamichi, Sugden to Squeezebox and Denon. The things they upgrade and how is down to you, your needs, the rest of your hi fi and just how much cash you're willing to spend. The internet site provides tidy and neat 'levels' of prices and growing sophistication for each product but the sky is the limit. Additionally, personalisation is overriding. The upgrade must blend with your personal requirements.

In theory, you are able to upgrade your Creek Destiny CD player, say, to such an extent it ceases becoming a Creek and becomes a unique, personalised, excellent sounding beast. Rowe himself has proven the point with his own, personal, Marantz CD63 KI."It was only GBP400 when it was new. Now, it sonically compares to GBP 10,000-GBP12,000. players CD The sole first part of it's the mechanism, which I Have enhanced with extra damping, although, saying that. The machine has also jumped from having three to twenty-six electricity supplies."

A fascinating selection because, according to Rowe, "half of the player features the exact same elements as a Cambridge DacMagic." Cambridge has their very own name on the capacitors but they are rebadged inexpensive versions. You'll be able to tell by the cheap metal on the top, which resembles lead. Quality 'caps' have a tendency to be polished and gleaming since they use better stuff. We then alter each of the capacitors around the DAC processor. This enables the DAC to work more efficiently, giving you a cleaner punchy sound and more detail while the treble reveals real instruments rather than the usual twisted 'tizz'.The opamps - which the signal goes through and there are six in this machine - we shift to make the equipment sound more natural and linear."


Well, I decided to compare the Fidelity Audio-upgraded (FA) Cambridge (now, with all the price of the upgrade factored in, totalling GBP710) with my benchmark cost reference, the Naim CD5 (originally retailing around GBP1,400), in purely 'stock' factory kind of course. Spinning the compressed 2002 hit single,'Freak Like Me' by The Sugababes, albeit a touch digital and mechanical sounding and whereas the first Cambridge 650C machine was crisp and clean, the just fettled machine sounded more natural by comparison. Greater light and shade was revealed while greater tonal delicacy was offered by upper mids. For example, vocal harmonies sounded, for the very first time, such as, for instance, several person voices singing together rather than the usual melded lump. Against my Naim reference, a far tighter bass was created by the FA Cambridge 650, packing a punch but not overwhelming the listener.

Changing to jazz vocalist, Helen Merrill's 'Yesterdays' ('Jazz 'Round Midnight'; Verve), as well as the stock Cambridge is a clean, matter of fact machine that paints a nicely resolved graphic of the event, whereas the stock Naim looked to bathe in a sea of bass. The FA 650C rebalanced and yet refocused the track, creating spaces in-between the notes - real, tangible differences as opposed to the blurs provided by the CD5.

It recreated the fine reverb surrounding the lead sung, along with the trumpet playing is paused within by the breathy. That extra focus gave more edge and more precision to the track, imbuing a heightened sense of beat.

Playing 'Song For The Generals' from the post that was brand new rock/indie EP by Monsters Build Mean Robots, and this track was much adored by the Naim CD5, using its creamy sung and assembling, symphonic outro which stretched for half of the track.

The mandolin - those creamy vocals held more feel inflected guitar today danced onto the track as opposed to plodding and emotion while the lengthy outro sounded purposeful clear and considered. With it came a grandeur which was a magnificence that held you fixed in your seat and formerly missing.


The progress in the stock Cambridge 650C was dramatic then, the Fidelity Audio mods package taking the player not only up to the very commendable standards of the Naim CD5 but significantly beyond. I have to admit no small degree of surprise in this respect, not least considering the fairly modest outlay. Of course, approaching your hi-fi upgrade path from this direction as opposed to buying a totally new piece of kit does take a little shift in one's mindset (a bit like a Roman Catholic converting to Buddhism, maybe?), but I found that adopting this internal upgrade philosophy is a real life-altering experience, in a hifi circumstance.

Cambridge Audio Azur 650C CD-player photo