Blu-ray Players

Cambridge Azur 650BD Universal Blu-ray Player

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Cambridge Azur 650BD Blu-ray Universal Player

I began my evaluation with several Blu-ray titles. If a player is doing a proper job decoding what’s on the disc, it’s difficult to tell the difference between models. After all, the material is native 1080p/24 and that’s what the display puts out. Modern titles such as Twilight, New Moon and Terminator Salvation showed every color, detail and nuance possible. I saw no banding or other video artifacts at any time. New Moon has a rather filtered color palette and the 650BD rendered it accurately without flattening the image. Terminator Salvation is much the same but also presents a real challenge with its many dark and murky scenes. No problems there either as the Azur displayed excellent shadow detail and noise-free blacks. This indicates a correct gamma curve which matches the 2.2 my projector is calibrated to. Some players will alter the gamma a bit and I have confirmed this with measurements. The Azur was accurate to a fault.

Cambridge Azur 650BD Blu-ray Universal Player

I covered the CGI animation genre with the new release of the Toy Story movies, and with Astro Boy. The Pixar titles are a bit old and don’t quite show the intricate textures of newer titles like Up. The lighting and shading however still best most films from other animation studios. Characters and action popped from the screen with total realism. Honestly, with a high-quality display and Blu-ray content, who needs 3D? Astro Boy isn’t quite up to the level of Pixar releases but it still is a thoroughly enjoyable film. Color was excellent with plenty of saturation and sharp delineation. The lighting of objects and people was very realistic and created a tremendous sense of depth. Again I asked myself, who needs 3D?

Cambridge Azur 650BD Blu-ray Universal Player

I also covered catalog titles with Blu-ray re-releases of Apollo 13 and Running Man. The vintage feel of 80s and 90s era special effects was very obvious. Apollo 13 is a poor re-master with heavy doses of edge enhancement and distracting film grain. Once again, the 650BD showed the bad with the good with great accuracy. Running Man is a bit better but still has the soft and flat image that most movies of the 80s have. I knew by this time the Azur was simply doing a proper job of showing me precisely what was encoded on the disc. For Blu-ray content, the 650BD is every bit as good as the best players I’ve experienced.

Cambridge Azur 650BD Blu-ray Universal Player

Standard DVD performance exceeded my expectations. I’ve become a bit spoiled by the Anchor Bay processing in the OPPO BDP-83 so when I learned the Cambridge did not employ an additional video processing solution, I was skeptical. I can say that the decision to use only the Mediatek chipset for scaling and deinterlacing duties was a good one. Poor-quality DVDs like A Beautiful Mind and The Count of Monte Cristo looked quite good. While soft, they were artifact-free and color was rendered properly. There was no hint of moiré or jaggies at any time.

Since this is as much a fine audio player as a video unit, I wanted to compare the analog and digital output from Redbook CD. I have a modest but carefully chosen collection of old discs. Many of these do not display the finest in recording or mastering quality so it takes a decent component to flesh out the best from these titles. I used three different output configurations in my listening sessions: HDMI, analog with processing in the pre-pro, and analog direct. Over HDMI and processed analog, I engaged room correction and matrixed the two-channel content to Anthem Logic-Music which uses all speakers save the center. Analog direct was of course, two-channel only.

Cambridge Azur 650BD Blu-ray Universal Player

First up was a 1986 recording of Yo Yo Ma performing Dvorak’s wonderful Cello Concerto. Solo string instruments contain an incredible amount of detail and airiness in their sound and any deficiency in the signal chain will result in a veiled sound. I had quite a reversal of my expectations. The purely digital signal over HDMI sounded great but I found the soundstage a bit recessed. All the information was there but I was missing a real sense of depth. Analog direct was similar but with a muddying of detail. Quieter passages were very nice but when the music got loud, the complexities of orchestral sound were lost. The winner was processed analog. This is counter-intuitive since the original material is converted from digital to analog, then from analog to digital to apply processing, then digital to analog again. Nonetheless, it was my favorite presentation. The detail was superb at all frequencies and the soundstage was quite deep with great presence. It was obvious that the analog output of the 650BD was very true to the source content.

Next I dropped in my favorite Brahms Symphony recordings from the Chicago Symphony and Sir Georg Solti (1978-79). These CDs don’t exhibit great fidelity but the performances are simply wonderful. Once again, the processed analog presentation won me over with its large soundstage, forward presentation and strong detail. I most prefer to listen to these discs through in-ear monitors but even in my theater, I could hear the musicians turning pages or Sir Solti’s creaking conductor’s stool.