I was equally excited and scared to do this review. Excited because I love seeing amazing products go through an evolution. Scared because it hasn’t been very long since my lovely wife got me the CXA60 Integrated Amplifier 2 years ago and here I am drooling over its successor. I’m admittedly smitten with my CXA60 and paired with the CXN v2 Network Streamer my living room set up has never sounded better. And now, for better or worse I’m about to blow that all up as I have the opportunity to run a direct A/B comparison between the CXA60 and CXA61.
Cambridge Audio CXA 61 Integrated Amplifier with CXC CD Transport
What’s the same:
60W RMS into 8 Ohms
4 line-level inputs, 2 optical inputs, 1 coaxial input, a 3.5mm aux input & a 3.5mm headphone jack
- Subwoofer out
Upgraded ESS Sabre ES9010K2M DAC
USB Input! (compatible with sources up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD256 in quality)
Integrated aptX HD Bluetooth for wireless streaming up to 48kHz 24Bit
The original CXA60 is pretty spectacular. It’s been belting out music for the past two years and has become my reference amplifier for any speaker that comes my way. The original CX series is far from long in the tooth however and Cambridge Audio has never been known to rest on their laurels, so updates to the line were inevitable. From the range, the new CXA61 (USD $999.00) and CXA81 ($1299.00) integrated amplifiers have been fully ‘reimagined, reengineered and reinvigorated for 2019.” In particular, the CXA61—the subject of this review—has seen some major hardware updates. The CXN V2 and CXC have undergone cosmetic changes only.
CAMBRIDGE AUDIO CXA61
60W RMS into 8 Ohms, 90W RMS into 4 Ohms
<5Hz– 60kHz +/-1dB
ANALOGUE AUDIO INPUTS:
4 x RCA, 1 x 3.5mm MP3 input (front panel)
DIGITAL AUDIO INPUTS:
1 x S/PDIF coaxial, 2 x TOSLINK optical, 1 x USB audio, Bluetooth (integrated)
COMPATIBILITY TOSLINK optical:
16/24bit 32-96kHz PCM only
16/24bit 32-192kHz PCM only
audio profile 1.0/2.0 (default 2.0), up to 32bit 384kHz PCM, up to DSD256 or DoP256
4.2 A2DP/AVRCP supporting up to aptX HD (24bit 48kHz)
Speakers A+B, 3.5mm headphone, Preamp Output, Subwoofer Output
MAX POWER CONSUMPTION:
STANDBY POWER CONSUMPTION:
DIMENSIONS (H X W X D):
115 x 430 x 341mm (4.5 x 16.9 x 13.4”)
CAMBRIDGE AUDIO CXC
DIGITAL AUDIO OUTPUTS:
S/PDIF coaxial and TOSLINK optical, 1 x USB audio
S/PDIF OUTPUT IMPEDANCE:
MAX POWER CONSUMPTION:
STANDBY POWER CONSUMPTION:
DIMENSIONS (H x W x D):
*85 x 430 x 315mm (3.1 x 16.9 x 12.4”)
IN THE BOX:
CXC CD Transport, Power Cable, 3 x AAA Batteries, Remote Control, Control Bus Cable
Cambridge Audio, Cambridge Audio Amplifier, Cambridge Audio Integrated Amplifier, CXC CD Transport, Cambridge Audio Transport, Integrated Amplifier Review 2019, CD Transport Review 2019
Cambridge has opted for a more elevated approach to the CX design. They have favored evolution over revolution and I’m glad to see that the overall look of the new components hasn’t changed. The range retains the same striking floating design however the casework feels decidedly more upmarket. The rounded buttons that adorned the metal face no longer protrude and are flush with the facia. The black buttons in the center strip are flat as well and protrude by a hair.
Speaking of buttons, SOME BUTTONS ARE MISSING on the CXA61! Two of which are a bit of deal-breaker for me. They’ve gone and removed the Mute, Balance, Bass and Treble. Seriously???? C’mon guys! I know it’s typically more ‘HiFi’ to not have tone controls, but this guy prefers to have them. Because of the missing tone controls, the ‘Direct’ button has understandably been removed. From a design perspective, the removal of the excess buttons does make for a cleaner face. But damn.
The other big change is the color. Cambridge has opted for a single-color line-up for the CX Series. It’s as if they’ve mixed the black and silver finishes to create a new color. Called Lunar Grey the new color looks essentially the same as Apple’s Space Gray. It’s a beautiful finish and coupled with the elevated cosmetics the results are very striking.
Just for fun, Cambridge might want to consider including stickers along with the CX Series so some of us Apple users can cover up the Apple Logo and pretend we’re using Cambridge Laptops. I know I’d do it!
On the inside, the older CXA60’s DAC has been replaced with a cutting-edge ESS Sabre ES9010K2M, and there’s now (nestled in on the back of the unit) a USB B input compatible with sources up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 in quality. Additionally, aptX HD Bluetooth is now integrated (maybe they read my review?), allowing you to stream wireless audio up to 24-bit 48kHz quality. The integration of Bluetooth aptX HD is amazing, as a purchase of a separate Bluetooth dongle was required for my older CXA60 and it was such a pain to it connect to most of the time that I stopped trying. Connection to Bluetooth on the CXA 61 is pain-free and rock solid. I’ve only had to connect once and the CXA61 remembers every time I startup.
Around the back of the CXA61, the aforementioned USB B has been added alongside the optical and analog connections. There are 4 Analogue (A1-A4), 3 Digital (D1 & D2 are Optical, D3 is Co-axial) and there is a screw connection for the supplied Bluetooth antenna. You also have Pre-Outs, Subwoofer out, Control Bus and new to this version, RS232 port and trigger inputs for use with an automated system.
The CXC CD Transport received the same cosmetic casework changes to match the amplifier. It’s all very clean and elegant and looks great sitting below the CXA 61. If you’re into matching kit, this combination will turn your crank. You also get a remote with the CXC as well so, if you’re prone to losing or trashing remotes you’ll have a spare.
The CX hardware isn’t the only thing that got refreshed. Cambridge Audio has released a new Stream Magic App for iOS and Android. Compatible with the CXN (V2) and the company’s other network audio streamers, it has been given a major feature overhaul and rebrand. Built from the ground-up by Cambridge Audio’s in-house team of app developers, the new Stream Magic app is said to offer a smoother network performance, with a customizable Hub tab giving fast access to the most-used features and an improved interface.
So here we are. I have these attractive metal boxes sitting on my cabinet, each engineered to deliver stunning audio clarity. One is brand-spanking new and the other, just two years old.
Setting up amplifiers are just so easy. And Cambridge makes it even easier with their addition of a second set of upside-down labeling on the back of their products. In our living room, I set up the CXA61 and CXC on our 7ft wide sideboard flanked by my Monitor Audio Rx2’s on stands. My CXA60 is already set up, paired with the CXN V2 in our built-in, and wired to my B&W 685 S1’s. Funny thing is since the remotes have stayed the same, hitting power on the new remote fires up all of the components at once.
I started all my listening through the CXC via optical. The CXC is a transport only and sends the untouched digital signal to the CXA61 to handle the conversion. I haven’t bought a CD in a hot second. So, I dug into my archives and pulled out some golden oldies. I also have the good fortune of having the Pro-Ject Essential 3 turntable on hand for review and it is connected via Pro-Ject’s own Phono Preamp to an analog input on the CXA61.
After a few days of breaking in, I could hear the difference between v1 and v2. The CXA60 was a very clean, detailed and revealing amplifier. The CXA61 takes this even further. The detailed retrieved from recordings is astonishing. I would have thought doing a direct A/B comparison would have taken a very critical ear and lots of listening to pick out subtle nuances in recordings. Not so, The CXA61 is a completely different beast.
Exit Records “Mosaic Vol. 1”
This compilation from Exit Recordings features a deep and varied selection of bass music. I own this on vinyl as well as CD giving me the opportunity to flip between them both.
Whatever changes Cambridge has made to the CXA61 are on full showcase. Moving back and forth between the CXA60 and 61, the newer amplifier sounds more expansive and detailed. Because of this, even though they both share a 60W rating the CXA 61 feels as though it’s working with more power. Tracks like dBridge’s Rendezvous and Skeptical’s Another World have a bit more sparkle and air about them, while deeper tracks like Genotype’s Further Searching feel weightier and the bass feels more controlled. The same tracks played via Pro-Ject’s Essential 3 have a good deal of added warmth overall.
Serum “Mixed Grill”
I couldn’t resist. I own this on vinyl and digital and it has stayed on my rotation for months now and I had to give it a go. This is one of those tunes that you don’t listen to quietly. So clockwise went the dial. What happened next was a bit curious and is something for potential buyers to keep in mind. I was compelled to switch out my choice of speaker. I was initially using Monitor Audio’s RX2. It’s a larger stand-mount speaker with an 8-inch aluminum woofer. With the CXA60, in my everyday listening, I had the treble turned down a touch and the bass turned up (direct engaged for this review). With the CXA61, no such tone controls exist and the RX2’s came off brighter than I would have liked so I switched out to my B&W 685 S1’s which have a warmer presentation but smaller mid/bass cones. I paired these up with B&W’s 610 subwoofer to handle the lower depths.
Holy shit! This was great! It was like listening to it for the first time. The warmer presentation dulled the ear-piercing highs while the sub shook the walls. I might have lost a eucalyptus candle in the process (sorry honey!)
Oscar Peterson Trio Live from Chicago “(in the) Wee Small Hours”
Switching gears to some lighter fare, and now paired with the CXN V2 connected via analog. It was one of the first pieces of music I bought as a teenager with my own money, on cassette (I think I paid in quarters). Now, via the magic of Spotify, I have it on-demand. This is a live recording so it’s not one to be judged for dynamics, I just know this music this like the back of my hand and I’ve taken the time to listen to this on every system I’ve owned. From the coughs and clinks of glasses, I can almost smell the second-hand smoke. The biggest change with this was the atmospherics felt more pronounced. The inclusion of the Subwoofer helped to add subtle weight.
William Orbit “Adagio for Strings”
A retake on a classic. I like this version just as much—probably because of the added bass note, and my love of synths—it’s another one of those tracks that I tend to throw on when listening to a new system. The expansiveness on display is pretty stunning. It’s only when things get high pitched that I’m glad I don’t have the RX2’s connected. I tried this via Spotify off my phone, then the CXN V2 and CD. I might be going deaf, but I was hard-pressed to hear any difference. If I said that I heard even the subtlest change I would be lying. Everything sounded great. And this might be the best selling point of the CXA61, providing you have a great source your music will sound great.
I would be remiss however if I didn’t mention my WBMX experience. Since I got the CXN V2, I haven’t been pouring through my music library like I thought I would have. Partly because the Cambridge Connect app was a pain to use and I also never quite figured out how to migrate my iTunes library over to my hard drive and properly organize my music on a UPnP server. Instead, I’ve been listing to music streamed from my phone, SoundCloud, Spotify, and internet radio. My current fav is WBMX ‘Hot Mix Classics’ Chicago. It’s essentially a throwback station that plays club classics all day. I love it, my kids love it. We have it on all day and we have daily dance parties. As great as the station is, the stream coming in isn’t always of the best audio quality. On my CXA60 I’m able to adjust for this somewhat with the tone controls. On the CXA61, I’m SOL and frankly that sucks. It sucks to the point where I ended up finding something else to listen to.
Although more expensive than its predecessor, the CAMBRIDGE CXA61 is a sonic improvement with added features that justify the price. I just miss my tone controls!
- Beautiful Cosmetic Evolution to the CX Series
- Built-in Bluetooth aptX HD
- USB B input
- Tone controls brought back (puh-leaze!)
- Maybe EQ modes added to the CXN instead of tone controls?
- How about a separate CXGE Graphic equalizer! Remember those?
Dear Wife, and love of my life:
I loved and continue to love my CXA60 Integrated Amplifier. But sorry, the CXA61 is a much better amplifier. If you value transparency, detail and a wonderfully open soundstage then run out to the store and pick one of these up. The addition of Bluetooth aptX HD and a USB type B input make this an even more appealing proposition, especially if the CXN V2 Network Streamer isn’t in your purchase plan. Streaming off of a laptop or smartphone is excellent and sounds great.
Now from a personal (and extremely biased standpoint), the removal of tone controls hampers my day-to-day listening. Contrary to the points that I listed off above, I prefer a slightly colored sound over a critical and clinical one. I also prefer to have the option of being able to adjust the sound to suit either a less than perfect source or, brighter sounding speakers. Add to that the sentimental value and a genuine desire to maintain a happy household, I am content to keep my CXA60 over the CXA61. But don’t let that stop you from checking out the Cambridge CXA61. If you don’t already own a CXA60 or don’t care about tone controls the CXA61 could be very much worth your while if you’re in the market for a modern and great sounding integrated amp.