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Cambridge Audio CXC Transport Review

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Finding a dedicated and reasonably priced CD transport in 2018 is no easy task. Indeed, it is difficult enough to find CD players nowadays dedicated to playing Compact Disc.  Before I continue a question that needs to be addressed, especially for younger readers as the CD is almost becoming the relic of LP, what is a CD transport and how does it differ from a CD player?

A CD player is made up of two main sections. The first being the transport and disc reader while the second is the digital to analogue converter (DAC). The transport and reader is responsible for spinning the CD and reading the digital bits from the CD and sending the information to the DAC portion of the player, which takes the digital information and converts it into analogue or the music you end up hearing.

Buying a CD transport means that you are buying only half the CD player – the first half that spins the discs and reads the digital information. You then need to buy the other half of the machine via an outboard DAC. In most modern surround sound receivers, there is already a DAC included.

The natural question then becomes, ‘why would anyone want to buy “half” a CD player?’ The answer is similar to the reasons why people buy separate preamps and power amps instead of integrated amplifiers.  Part of it is sound quality and part of it is flexibility.  In theory, the CD transport and separate DAC each has a dedicated power supply instead of being shared and there will be less interference (noise) affecting each unit.  Of course, theory is theory and reality is reality.  Yes, a CD transport and separate DAC may indeed sound better than a one box CD player, just as a separate preamp and power amp can sound better than an integrated amplifier; but in audio, there are rarely absolutes.

It should be noted that, pretty much, every CD player on the market over the last 30 years has a coaxial output on the back of the player.  With this output, a CD player can become a dedicated transport bypassing the player’s internal DAC.

Nevertheless, here we are in 2018 with the Cambridge Audio CXC, seemingly a unicorn in the audio world of under $500 components.  Cambridge Audio makes several disc spinners including a Blu-ray player that will also play CD and other formats. They make less expensive CD players that have a coaxial output and as I just noted can be used as a transport.

Thus, in order for the CXC to hold any value, it has to acquit itself as being a better sounding machine, and I would argue, a better ergonomically designed machine than the competition.

As a long time Cambridge Audio CD6 owner, I was pleased to see that Cambridge Audio still remains as one of the few bastions of the format. My Cambridge Audio CD 6 was purchased back in 1996 and was the in-store demonstration model. Customers poked and prodded the CD 6 for a full year before I purchased it. My personal experience with the build quality aside, I always enjoyed the sound of the relatively budget CD player which utilized the same transport mechanism of the famed Disc Magic transport of the time.

With my Line Magnetic 215 experiencing some mechanical issues recently and some noise issues from the coaxial output, I felt the need to purchase a new transport mechanism.  I looked at several budget players including the OPPO 203 and 205 Universal disc players, as well as dedicated CD players such as the Marantz 5005 and 6006 as well as Cambridge Audio’s own Topaz 10.

Now let us get to the meat of the review.  Opening the box reveals excellent packing and a nice solid CD transport for the money.  A high quality and hefty, albeit irritating (more on this later), remote is included.

Running my own coaxial cable (do not worry, one is included in the box), it was easy to set up by simply plugging it into the coax input of the DAC (or receiver whichever the case may be).  The CD tray slides out quickly and is not a rickety affair.  Do not expect a drawer that is weightier than what you would find in a regular CD player or you will be disappointed.  This is still a budget machine and while it has some nice brushed aluminium finishing and looks solid enough, it is not going to wow older audiophiles who remember the old Pioneer Stable Platter CD players.

Before I get to the sound quality, I will mention a few missteps with this player.  Firstly, the display is rather small. When a disc is inserted, it will read the song title; however, if you are 8 feet away from the player you may have trouble reading anything but the track numbers.  The second problem is the inexcusably horrible remote control for a dedicated transport.  A CD transport really should come with a premium remote control and in lieu of that a fully functional remote control.  The CXC comes with neither.

The problem is that the CXC is part of a family of ‘CX’ products that include amplifiers and streamers. The remote control has three sections to operate those other components. The top 1/3, middle 1/3, and bottom 1/3. I understand having a remote control that can operate all the CX components, as I am sure there are customers who would like to purchase a complete CX system. However, if you did buy the other components you would in fact have three identical remote controls.  Personally, I feel like the amplifiers in the CX series should come with these “control” remotes and the CD transport should come with a more functional dedicated remote. I have not tried the streamers, but I would think that those users would want a more featured filled remote as well.

Looking at the remote, there is no number pad to access a specific track.  Thus, if you wish to access the eighth track you cannot just push the number ‘8.’ Instead, you have to use the skip function pressing it until you get to the eighth track.  I understand creating a remote control to operate several components but someone at Cambridge Audio should have foreseen that they would get numerous stand-alone transport sales. Puzzling!

Aside from this major gripe, I look back at the price and shrug.  Okay, at the price I can’t expect the world here and I can live with the skip button – I suppose!  Maybe the sound will make up for it?

The sound quality was immediately a big step up over my $1,500 Line Magnetic CD215 being used as a transport.  First, there is no hiss or hum or any other noises emanating from the CXC.  Score a big blow for a budget player right out of the gate.  This, after all, is the main reason for buying a dedicated CD transport – a lower noise floor. The CXC succeeds here in spades.  Secondly, there is a nice immediacy and attack, which makes music seem fresh and alive.

The CXC is a well-made machine with a nice front panel and a drawer that is slick and quiet, albeit not as solid as higher end (ahem much more expensive) transports.  Bass is nimble but the CXC does not possess the weight and magnitude of other machines housing the likes of the Philips Pro 2LF mechanism. Still, all of those machines run 10 times the price.

In 2018 where many people feel CD has run its course, and with so many people having left CD for computer audio replay, the Cambridge Audio CXC is a well-made CD spinner that sounds very good, and is fairly priced.

Having said that I will try to address a few predictable questions in how to value the CXC Transport against current competing CD Players and Blu-ray players.  Most Blu-ray players for example will play CD and possess a coaxial output so that you can run your Blu-ray player as a CD transport. Is not the DAC the most important thing for sound quality? A question asked on forums for many years. My answer to that is yes. The DAC is generally the most important part of the resulting sound quality. However, in higher end systems I have been surprised at the impact that a quality transport can offer. Indeed, you will read so often about the quality of the computer and the interface and the cables have on a dedicated computer audio system.  Well that holds true of the CD transport’s ability to suppress various nasties in the audio chain.

Further, many people feel that CD sound is best played from a CD only reader played at CD’s spin speed as opposed to multi readers in Blu-ray players.  I think you will find that the CXC will sound superior to any multi-reader (perhaps without regard to price).  I find the CXC sounds better than the Oppo 205 for CD replay for example.

The toughest competition though may come from the Marantz CD players currently on the market in the CD5005 and CD6006.  Both of these machines are less expensive, at least in Hong Kong, and are both full function CD players rich in features.  Both CD players come with headphone outputs and dedicated headphone volume controls.  Both Marantz CD players are well built for the price.  They both have full function remote controls for CD operation with track direct access and they control Marantz amplifiers.

Thus, you will have to weigh how much better the CXC sounds in your particular system over the Marantz, and various other CD players used as transports, to determine how much value you place on the sound quality of the CXC.  I chose to purchase the Cambridge Audio CXC transport because I already have an external DAC (Audio Note DAC 0.1X) and I already have a headphone amplifier (Kingko KA 101) so the added features offered by some of the other CD players I find to be redundant.

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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10 Responses to Cambridge Audio CXC Transport Review


  1. Cambridge Audio, Cyrus Audio, Mission, Audiolab, Creek Audio were among the dozen or so British companies that accompanied my college years and made me the audio sophisticate of my group. What fond memories…

    I am very glad we get to publish a review on Cambridge Audio.

    • J Lambert says:

      Hi,

      Does your Rotel remote operates the time remaining function as well. The CXC remote code pdf shows code 61 for time remaining.

      Your reply is much appreciated.

      J.

  2. Harold says:

    I have the Cambridge CXC. I also have an old Rotel 965 CD player. The Rotel’s remote and all its functions operates the CXC perfectly.

  3. Allen Edelstein says:

    I have a similar situation to you. I use a rare GeorgeMark Audio DAC with an old Pioneer 565 DVD player for a drive(with 2 monarchy anti jitter boxes between) and have often considered a pure CD only drive as CDs are the bulk of my music. The Cambridge CXC was on my radar and your review helps a ton. Now if some one would do a review of the NuPrime CDT-8, the other reasonable CD drive, I’d have a good starting handle on what direction to risk my dollars on.

  4. J. Lambert says:

    I bought the Transport yesterday based on several reviews including yours and from those who own the Cambridge 851N which I also own. Even though it is a budget unit, Cambridge could have used an LED display in stead of backlit LCD. Further, there is no time remaining on a track or total time remaining on the CD. I use a PHILIPS and Marantz remote and I can access tracks directly. Even with the unit having no break in time, there is clarity and very low noise floor as compared with my Marantz SA-15S1. Looking forward to hearing it when it is fully broken-in.

    • Charlie Kalloon says:

      Hi Sir,
      I own the CXC player, too and would appreciate if you could reveal which model of the Philip and Marantz remote control that allows direct access to an individual track. Many thanks.

  5. Nathan Jonese says:

    I have a Yamaha A-S801 Integrated Amp, replete with a 32 bit Ess Sabre DAC, feed, coaxially, from the Cambridge Audio CXC, using a Blue Jean Coaxial Cable…all attached to a pair of Wharfdale 230 Tower Loudspeakers…all gotten for less than $1,800.00.

    You will look long and hard before you will find such a combo that sound better than the aforementioned. The CXC is not without compromises but for the price, look at what you get and how well it sounds.

    The Yamaha 801 is superb through its coaxial and paired with a good quality power strip, with 2 Shunyata;s Venom Defenders and multiple Shaki Electro Stones, and you will have a very find-sounding system.

    I am amazed at how good The Supremes sound through the combo and it is high praise that those old recordings sound glorious…in 2018 – 2019.

  6. Frank Brook says:

    With respect to Richard Austen.
    I would just like to correct a comment that he made regarding that a coaxial lead is provided with the CXC. The lead that is supplied is an orange coloured lead, and is actually provided for the control bus inputs on the back. Other than that, I enjoyed reading your excellent review. I have just purchased the CXC, have had it a few days now, and it is running in nicely using the DAC built into the Marantz PM 6006 UK Edition. I would recommend this pairing to anyone! Once again, thaks for the excellent review. Frank, from England.

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