Another fine budget amp from the specialists in that field – but we’d pay a little more for the best
Sparkling design and sound
scale, dynamics and detail are very good
competition is very fierce
It's been a long time coming but we've finally got our hands on the Cambridge Audio Azur 550A, the less powerful sibling to the 650A seen this time last year.
We highlight the lower power – this amp pumps out 60W per channel as opposed to 75W – as there isn't much to tell them apart.
It's certainly every bit as smartly turned out as the bigger brother. There's a thick, brushed-aluminium front panel and sticklers for detail will be pleased to note some slight adjustments to the design of the control buttons.
Still, the general design of Cambridge Audio's amplifiers remains easily recognisable.
Stereo amplifiers haven't seen the revolution in functionality and features that products in other areas of the industry have enjoyed, so the inputs and outputs remain resolutely predictable.
More after the break
There's no phono stage, should you want to connect a turntable, but there are six audio inputs and two outputs in all, including an MP3, 3.5mm input on the front, plus two sets of speaker outputs.
Redesigned and upgradedOn the inside, compared with the 540A, there's a newly redesigned output stage, an upgraded CAP5 protection system – which monitors for overloads and clipping without affecting sound quality – brand-new signal capacitors and gold-plated speaker outputs.
Sonically, we're happy to report that this amp follows in the formidable footsteps of the 650A. Listening to Basement Jaxx's U Can't Stop Me, there's impressive control and sure-footed timing of what is an exuberant, busy track, while The XX's Night Time reveals plenty of scale, space and insight.
High frequencies again walk the line between exciting and bright so take some care when partnering this amplifier – and indeed playing edgy recordings at high volume. But otherwise dynamics impress, with solid bass to offset the lively treble.
Competition here is fierce; the 550A can't quite scale the heights of our Also Consider choices, but is nevertheless a good and welcome addition to the budget market.