Cambridge Audio CXN Network player

New range, new name, new marketplaces: that's just about the narrative of the Cambridge CXN network audio player. Not only does the new model carry the company's new, abbreviated corporate identity, shorn of the word 'Audio', additionally, it leads off an all-new CX range of hi-fi and home cinema components with freshened-up styling, and gets its streaming products to the mid-market hi-fi arena.

This isn't quite the flagship flowing music version, although that places it above the likes of the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic models that are existing. That accolade goes to the brand new accession to the upmarket Azur 851 variety, the GBP1,200 851N, which was launched alongside the CX range.

Both models are constructed around the same inhouse- developed streaming module, code named Zander, and can be driven with a redesigned Cambridge Connect program on smartphones and tablet computers. However, while the 851N has adopted the same digital-to-analogue technology as another digital merchandises in the 851 variety, the electronic soul of the CXN is the familiar Wolfson-sourced option seen in preceding streaming products from this business - but with some new turns.

The CXN shares the new appearance of the remainder of the CX variety, being available in black or silver, using a simple, clear fascia layout (including a striking dished primary rotary control and sharp images), and a curved under panel to break up the lines and transfer it beyond a simple, slimline slab.

The 'engineered in the UK' theme is played up with Union flags much in evidence, in the fascia as well as the packaging. The CXN boots up with all the flag and 'Amazing British Sound since 1968' about the screen, and I half expect to hear Land Of Hope And Glory through the loudspeakers!

Neither is this simply a streamer/ network player/whatever you opt to call it. The CXN can be designed as a digital preamp and a DAC, having a selection of inputs including an asynchronous USB, and also a selection of fixed or varying analogue output signals on both RCA phonos and XLRs. It also has AirPlay and Spotify Connect capacity, having a choice of wired or wireless network connection, and can also be utilized with the optional Cambridge Audio BT100 aptX Bluetooth receiver (GBP70) for wireless music streaming from smartphones, tablet computers and computers.

Well connected

It could manage content at up to 24-bit/192kHz over network connections or from USB storage devices, for which a Type-A USB socket is provided on the back panel (alongside another used for the wi-fi antenna that comes furnished), with a further outlet on the fascia. It's worth noting, however, these outlets are not designed for the connection of Apple iOS apparatus, so for those you'd best stick to AirPlay.

The CXN also has both optical and coaxial digital in and outputs, while its Type-B USB input has a ground lift switch should you encounter when joined, hum, and will even manage DSD content, albeit utilizing the DoP protocol instead of in native type.

All inputs are upsampled to 24-bit/384kHz using Cambridge's second-generation inhouse Adaptive Time Filter processing, running on a 32-bit Analog Devices SHARC chip. This also provides the digital volume control when the CXN is employed in preamp mode, allowing trying at each volume level, as opposed to the more common 'bit-reduction', which can influence on sound quality.

It's also worth noting that while the Zander streaming module useful for network playback has all sorts of technical advantages, according to Cambridge - not least of which is the fact it's "some 10 times faster than some off-the-shelf modules" - it's impressive in other ways too.

At the same time as it being striking that a UK-based business has developed its streaming alternative, which obviously is a classic case of 'doing things the hard way', additionally, it brings with it a clear display, complete with record/ radio station art, and that sleek smartphone/tablet program interface.

Cambridge Connect is unlike many familiar network player programs in that it browses UPnP servers directly, rather than doing so through the player, and then hands playback responsibilities back to the hardware when playing starts.

This method of cutting out the middleman and using the processing power now accessible iOS and Android hand-held apparatus causes it to be considerably quicker than if it were purely operating as a network-linked remote for the player with which it is operating. And the CXN/ Cambridge Connect mix is definitely one from which other manufacturers could learn a great deal and smoothest interfaces out there, a delight to use, and one of the speediest.

Actually, I'd go up to now as to suggest that, while the normal remote is sufficient enough (and also provides whole-system control, via Cambridge's C BUS), along with the mix of a decent display and that twist-and-push primary control makes using the CXN 'hands on' rather viable, I Had still invest the extra money to get a budget Android tablet PC to run the app to take advantage of this unit.

Sound quality

This is only the starter to what is a highly enjoyable sound from your CXN, which lives up to its promise of focusing on time rhythm and bass quality. Though it is not exactly without competition only at that price-level, the CXN shines through not only due to its simplicity of use and wide-ranging potential, but with a sound that sets it apart from those 'streamers' with an inclination to play things safe in the pursuit for a less 'digital' presentation.

Boy, can this player that is small thump and thunder! The Prodigy aural assault that is authentic is unrestrained, the area is shaken by bass lines as well as the electronica happening above it all is suitably sharp edged. Add in dynamics that is remarkable and there is an electricity track that is real, being managed with only the correct combination of definition and utter attack.

Impressively, the CXN repeats the trick when things are dialled down a few notches with Blur's reggae-tinged Ghost Ship, from The Magic Whip, (reviewed last month) dishing up a rumbling, but tightly defined, bass line while bringing out plenty of detail in the vocal and instrumentation. Play with this track through an adequate amplifier blended with a few speakers in a position to handle that powerful low end and you are not likely to be disappointed by the results.

Getting a bit into this whole bass matter by now, I give a spin to some tracks from an Ian Dury compilation, simply to appreciate that whip-crack Blockheads rhythm section, as well as the Cambridge doesn't let me down. Not in terms of motive power and certainly not when it comes to revealing all of the clever things the remainder of the tight-knit band is doing in its jazzy, funky style that is normal.

Keeping things well away from the audiophile approved, I play in a number of the Concert For New York from over a decade back, in a DSD64 tear from SACD.

Not in any way bad to get a record just about to hit at its 54th birthday, plus a great example of what good SACD/ DSD can do played on equipment that is excellent, and then when attentively mastered from old analogue cassettes.

But then whatever you throw at it, the CXN looks to shine, thanks to its successful mix of delicacy and resolution, allied to slam and all the weight that you would expect from streamer only at that amount - and then some.


By any standards, this is an impressive network audio component, going far beyond the' add on a DAC, purchase a platform that is streaming off the shelf and put it in a fine box' strategy of some similar products we've seen previously. Putting in the style time has paid dividends for Cambridge, and it might simply be something quite special, when the rest of the CX range approaches this high standard.

Cambridge Audio CXN Network player photo