Already having been intrigued, and subsequently surprised, by the Azur 840C player I felt it only natural to investigate the newer offerings of the Azur line, the 840E Preamp and the 840W Amp. They have a lot to live up to, as the player is a pleaser. If this combo would surmount the challenges and rise to the same level of performance, Cambridge would have a trinity of tasty components worthy of consideration by anyone who wants better than average separates or a quality one-brand system.
It seems every few years the hot manufacturers swap positions, with newer, cutting edge designs taking the lead. Jockeying occurs even in the middle of the High End pack, where Cambridge holds a solid position. While more recognizable in Europe, the name seems to be gaining ground in America as their gear becomes more upscale in its performance. The Cambridge line is to me a “European Parasound”, only a bit less ambitious price-wise. Both have smart designs with respected performance. The Cambridge design team caught the leading edge of a wave with the Azur 840C player, which you are welcome to read more about. Now they are in position to capitalize on it through their preamp and power amp. I will tell you if they succeeded.
Just how many features can be packed into a component? One might think that was the driving ambition of Matthew Bramble’s design team. Nearly every conceivable option, and a few that the majority of owners would not have conceived, has been incorporated. I could spend the length of a normal review simply discussing them but I won’t. I’ll let the hefty, thorough manuals flesh out the intricacies of the operations while I will point out the salient features to two-channel enthusiasts. Before I leave discussion of the literature, I appreciated the Quick Start guide enclosed with the 840 series components. It is a thoughtful way to help busy buyers get their rig set up. The 840W has another polite gift for purchasers, a low voltage trigger cable and a cable clasp for wrapping up untidy cables; these are signs that Cambridge is thinking about the real world needs of the buyer.
Contemporary and clean marks the style of the Azur line. Both the deep charcoal colored player and the brushed silver pre/amps in my possession are simple, but aesthetically pleasing in the way that a crisp dollar bill is simple but enjoyable. Tiny blue LED’s contrast the wide, strong looking facade. A light gray illuminated display on the preamp matches that of the player. Many functions of the remote carry over between the player and amp; when the amp is selected one can have nearly complete control over it using the CD player’s remote. Since I had the player’s remote handy I never bothered using the one for the amp. An “amp” button on the player’s remote toggles commands to and from the amp. Even the modular packaging is a thing of wonder; utilization of the same scheme is evident in all three pieces. Some boxes sustained hits en route, but no components were scathed.
The Azur series is a statement grouping, displaying Cambridge’s genius and lavishness in packaging features for the dollar. A partnership with Anagram Technologies for the 840C player led to a cascade of development, first with the 840A integrated, then the 840W amp and 840E preamp. Once the amp was finalized, a return visit to the integrated was justified, thus the generation 2 class XD technology was incorporated in the 840A v2.
Just as I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of a digital input on the 840C player, so also with this combo I was delighted by the panoply of functions. The preamp’s front has a headphone jack, “Direct” (bypassing tone controls) function for each input, and one touch access to all seven of those inputs, not counting full tape deck compatibility.
Looking in back, such a dizzying array of connections makes one wonder what isn’t incorporated into this piece? Here is what I found: Low voltage trigger linking the pre and amp, IR emitter input, Control Bus in and out, RS232C port for custom installations, and the proprietary “A-Bus/Incognito” multi-room outputs, allowing for additional PS5 Power Supplies for multi-room installations which would incorporate the use of A-BUS KP10 Keypads and Incognito AS10 Active Ceiling Speakers. Cambridge is seeking to bridge the gap between audiophile two-channel sensibilities and real world quality multi-room AV lifestyles.
I wasn’t motivated to wire my house to test the Incognito system; I’ll leave that for an AV magazine reviewer. My attention was the two-channel capabilities of the Azur team’s efforts. To that end the unit has switchable single-ended / balanced #1 and #2 inputs. The subwoofer out features a choice between flat (unfiltered) signal or application of a 200Hz Low Pass filter (the main outs remain full-range regardless of this setting). Balanced or single-ended preamp outs are supplied. The unit has a power rating of 230V and sports a detachable IEC.
Would you believe that the amp is just as feature-laden? When it has indicators on the front for STANDBY/ON, OUTPUT, PROTECTION, CLIPPING, BRIDGED, and MONO it’s going to have some extra doodads on the back. Those doodads are comprised of easily gripped terminals (spaced a wee bit close for larger spades; watch the positioning of spades and make sure they are locked down well.) and the expected full complement of both RCA (single-ended) and XLR (balanced) inputs as well as loop outputs. Those outputs are to be used in conjunction with the Control Bus system for custom installations using more than two amps. The RCA/XLR inputs are selected via a clearly marked toggle switch for each channel. Two other switches are conspicuous, one for “Stereo/Mono” and the other for “Mono Mode” versus “Biamped Mono”.
Here’s how these last two switches work; the “Stereo/Mono” switch determines if the unit will operate overall with two channels or one. The “Mono Mode” switch determines how many Monos you get. Those Cambridge folks are so accommodating that they insist on offering you the option of not only one mono, but two! Here is the breakdown of what would happen based on the switch placement:
Top Switch Bottom Switch Result
Stereo Bi-Amp Normal stereo function
Mono Bi-Amp Two Mono Channels per 840W
Mono Bridged One Channel per 840W
In the event that the top switch were to be put on “Stereo” and the bottom switch on “Bridged”, the amplifier “would simply go into protection… no possible damage,” according to Daniel Jacques of Audio Plus Services, the U.S. Importer of Cambridge. Only the left input of each amp is used in “Mono Bridged” mode, and the directions seemed to indicate only balanced connections in this mode. When one considers bi-wiring, the complexity of just hooking up speaker cables is potentially daunting! But fear not, visuals for each option are meticulously laid out in the manual along with instructions.
This information is critical to obtaining the ultimate performance of the 840E/W combo. The power yielded by each amp in either stereo or “Mono Bi-Amp Mode” is 200wpc into 8 Ohms, 350wpc into 4 Ohms. However, when the entire amp is mono bridged it becomes 500wpc into 8 Ohms and a whopping 800wpc into 4 Ohms. For those seeking a capable stereo amp for general purposes one 840W will suffice. However, those looking for high quality solid-state amplification will want to move to the “Mono Bridged” mode, that is, obtain two of these units. The performance elevation is such that it is easily merited.
What else can this amp conceivably have? I mentioned the RCA/XLR outputs (I am speaking of the amp here), which are technically named LOOP OUTPUTS by Cambridge. If you want to play on the playground of the “Really Complex Rigs” use these outputs to connect a few more 840W amps! I think that’s leading back to the custom install thing, so I’m staying away from it. Then again, four “Mono Bridged” 840W’s would be cool…
But, if I did that, I’d have to get an additional air conditioner just for the listening room. Yes, they run hot, as hot as notoriously high-power Class A amps or behemoth tube amps. They aren’t nearly as hot as the surface of the sun, nor singe the finger upon contact (thanks to the perforated protective casing over the heat sinks), but they do kick off prodigious amounts of heat. My listening room is so acoustically well insulated that having only one HVAC supply and return I need shorts in the winter and sweats in the summer. The room absolutely blocks dissipation of the temperature through the walls. I get chased out after about 2 hours of nonstop listening using the Azur amps. If your place is more open with good circulation this issue will be less noticeable. It is unlikely little ones would be seriously injured by the amp’s heat, but it’s still best policy to keep them away.
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