I thought it was a beautiful piece of industrial design. Then, after glowing reviews industry experts, I was even more intrigued. Then, after visiting local hi-fi dealers for a quick listen, I fell in love. In person, it was just as beautiful as it was online and to top it off, the silver variant was actually available in Canada (which is almost never the case and that all but sealed the deal to me.
Just before the new year, my wife and I had begun a bit of a renovation to our living room. We were adding a gas fireplace which would be housed inside a custom wall unit with shelving. We had planned to in-set a tv just above the fireplace and I, of course, was looking for an excuse to purchase an integrated amplifier to compliment the build.
My thought was that the CXA60 Integrated Amplifier would be a perfect fit as it would match the clean modern look of the built-in wall unit and provide the space with great sound. My NAD 326bee is still kicking about and I love it to bits, but it isn’t going to win any beauty contests and found it somewhat limited in today’s digital age. I was looking for an integrated that could do more in the box while having some serious shelf appeal. My wife was adamant that I wait until the new year before making a purchase and I grudgingly agreed. She had something up her sleeve.
As luck would have it, my birthday falls just a few days after Christmas and as such, I usually get pretty spoiled with either a bunch of great small gifts or one big gift. This year, however, was quite a surprise and when I saw the large amp-box shape under the tree. Amplifier boxes are an unmistakable size so immediately I thought two things. 1: She’s the best wife ever or, 2: She’s messing with me. It’s an amp sized box with sweaters inside. Either way, it took every ounce of strength I had not to tear the box open before the 25th.
60W RMS into 8 Ohms, 90W RMS into 4 Ohms
4 x RCA, 1 x 3.5mm MP3 input (front panel)
1 x S/PDIF coaxial, 2 x TOSLINK optical, Bluetooth via BT100 (not supplied)
TOSLINK optical, S/PDIF coaxial, BT100 Bluetooth receiver
Speakers A+B, 3.5mm Headphone, Preamp Output, Subwoofer Output
115 x 430 x 341mm (4.5 x 16.9 x 13.4”)
Cambridge Audio, CXA-60, Integrated Amplifier, Integrated Amplifier Review 2018
After a few weeks of impatient waiting, Christmas day finally arrived, and I got to open the box. Lo and behold I’m now the owner of the Cambridge CXA60. I must say, the team at Cambridge did a great job in packing this product and making the unboxing feel like a premium product should. Once the box is opened you’re greeted to large foam supports and the CXA60 snugly wrapped in a black cloth bag. Separately, in their own cloth bag are the remote, the control bus cable and batteries. Also included was a small start-up guide. First impressions are positive. One of the selling points of the CX Series is the unique floating design of the logo, created by the sneaky design of the front panel so the illusion only works from straight on.
Admittedly the CXA60 sat on our dining table for more than a few moments as I longingly stared at it before going about setting it up. The front fascia is clean and simple and gorgeous in the silver finish. Cambridge has dropped ‘Audio’ from their products and has added a Union Jack badge to the front panel. It’s a nice touch. From left to right are; a 3.5MM line input for an mp3 player, a 3.5mm headphone jack, 4 analog input selections, a direct button, speaker A&B selectors, a mute button, 3 digital input selections, Bluetooth input selector, balance, bass, treble and a large volume knob. The balance and tone controls are nifty buttons that are flush in their starting positions but protrude when pressed so you can make your adjustments. They are slightly flimsy and best left depressed once you made your tweaks. I almost never listen to music in ‘direct’ mode, so tone controls are a must for me and I’m glad that they weren’t omitted.
Around the back of the amplifier are; two sets of speaker binding posts, analog and digital inputs, control bus inputs, pre-outs and a subwoofer out. This being my first Cambridge product, I have to say I really like the reverse labeling of the rear connections, it makes it easy to read when I’m peering over the amp from overhead. The top panel features a black plastic grill in the shape of a rounded ‘X’ for ventilation, it adds to the slick look of the CXA60. The remote is a sturdy well laid out affair. It isn’t back-lit, but it doesn’t really need to be. It is the same remote that is packaged with the other components in the CX series and one remote can control any of them. Batteries are included.
The Cambridge CXA60 sits on top of the cabinet to the right of my fireplace. The speakers, my trusty B&W 685 S1, sit one shelf (approx. 2’) above on either side of the fireplace. I know, it’s not ideal as speakers are best on stands yada yada, but this was to be the set up from the get-go and most of my day to day listening was done this way. I also tried the CXA60 paired with my Monitor Audio RX2’s for a change. The larger 8” woofer on the RX2 yielded a bit more bass, however the overall speaker cabinet dimensions combined with rear firing reflex port led to a stuffy or muddier sound over-all when placed inside the wall unit. I found the pairing with my 685’s best suited for the wall unit.
The source equipment I have connected are my Marantz CD5001, my MacBook Pro via digital optical cable and sometimes my Arcam rDac, our cable box and the aforementioned BT100 Bluetooth dongle to which I primarily stream music from my iPhone 8. Pairing the Bluetooth took a few tries to get going but once it connected it was stable. Once turned on, the CXA60 emits a clicking noise. And makes the same clicking noise whenever I switch inputs. It’s not bothersome but curious as I would have expected the modern looking Cambridge to be completely silent in operation.
I started off my listening via our cable box. It was the holidays, we had guests and none of them like the music I listen to, so 80’s and 90’s radio stations it was. Hall and Oates is a bit of a mainstay in our home so the first bit of music to which I paid attention. Without any break-in period, my Cambridge CXA60 pumped out the music rather easily and practically begged me to turn up the volume. I had read that Cambridge amps leaned toward the clinical side of reproduction. I didn’t find the CXA60 to be so much clinical as I did clear. Compared to my NAD 326bee it was certainly less dark but no less muscular in its presentation. I’ve thrown all my favorite music at this integrated amp, here are a few highlights:
I purposely delayed my review of the Cambridge so that I could include this release to my listening notes. Releases from Blocks and Escher are a buy-on-sight affair. Everything they put out on their Narratives music label is stellar and I was expecting no less from their debut LP on Metalheadz. While I waited for delivery of the vinyl I enjoyed their LP in WAV via my MacBook Pro connected via optical.
The album is a Drum and Bass masterpiece and will easily be the album of the year. The atmospherics, tight drums and beautiful arrangements inspire – one day I’ll make music like this. ‘Gulls’ is currently seeing the most playback from me. It’s a slow burner that pays off huge. The CXA60 seemingly begs me to turn up the volume and I happily oblige. Turn the dial up, the Cambridge doesn’t strain. I found that turning up the bass didn’t overly dominate the sound, instead, it thickened the low end a touch which was helpful as I was listening minus a sub.
The original LP itself was already great piece of music with tracks like Rollcage and Titans but the Calibre remix of ‘Keep it Together’ on the remix LP is something special. After months of waiting, I got my hands on the release. The CD copy was astonishingly good sounding via my Marantz CD5001.
I had it on repeat for a few days. I’m still not sick of it. For a hoot, I tried the same track via Bluetooth and my iPhone 8. There was a noticeable dip in sound quality and volume level along with the expected squashing of dynamic range. A wired connection certainly sounds better than Bluetooth on the Cambridge CXA60, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
This wonderful LP came out last year, but I still like to play this every now and again, from beginning to end its slick production and vibes. Lit might be my favorite track on the album. It’s an upbeat and friendly house track that incidentally my little two and a half-year-old daughter Winnie loves as well, and ‘Lit’ usually turns our living room into a mini dance party.
‘Thumb Piano’ by Zapatilla is another guaranteed toddler dance party starter. It’s a simple track with a simple riff that leads to a nice full piano-riff midway through. Winnie likes it. It doesn’t take long for little Winnie to change things up however as eventually, she’ll shout out “Spiderman!” which means only one thing. ‘Blitzkreig Bop’ by the Ramones 50 – 60 times in a row.
Blitzkrieg Bop was prominently featured in Marvel’s latest (and in my opinion greatest) incarnation of “Spidey”, Spiderman Homecoming. Sometimes I get away with streaming the track off my phone but other times I must pull it up off our PVR and rewind the animated end credits of the movie. The sound mix on the PVR sounds clearer than Bluetooth. But there is not much of a difference in sound between the PVR and my iPhone via the line-in on the front panel.
On the other end of the spectrum, I gave the electronic LP entitled ‘Malm’ by Acronym a play through my MacBook Pro via the Arcam rDac. It’s a bit redundant connecting an external DAC to an amp with an excellent DAC on board, but it made for a much more stable connection.
(I believe there’s either something wrong with the cable or my ancient laptop where the audio cuts out or crackles.) The album Malm is almost beat-less but the pads and soundscapes are all-enveloping and immersive, it’s worth turning up the volume on this one.
The Cambridge Audio CXA60 has been a much-welcomed addition to our home. It is arguably the centerpiece of our living room. I say arguably as my wife believes that the gas fireplace is the centerpiece but, clearly, she’s mistaken right? Not only is the amplifier a sexy piece of electronics but it sounds incredible as well. The ability to play music problem free via analog, digital and Bluetooth is frosting on the cake. Future inclusions of USB and Bluetooth built in would really make for an unbeatable product. The model up, the CXA80 does have USB built-in and more power for not too much more money.
After a few months of use, I see the benefit of the Cambridge CXN Network Streamer as a perfect companion to my set up. Having a streamer connected to a hard drive with all of my music at my fingertips vs having to fire up my laptop every single time is very appealing. Appealing too is a sleek stack of matching components, to be honest! Future purchase solidified. Now, I just have to convince the boss.
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