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Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

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qz.martin's picture
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Hello,
my girlfriend and I are looking into buying a new audio setup for our apartment.

I've been shopping around for recommendations (online / at Richer Sounds), and was hoping to get some additional impartial expert advice from you here. This is my first post; please be gentle with me.

The current setup is a very old Philips record player in the living room and a Pure DAB+CD Player for the bedroom. The CD Player is dying slowly, as is the record player, so we're thinking of restarting from scratch.

The bedroom setup should be small and needs DAB, a CD Player and an alarm clock. We use it mainly for Radio 4 and a random selection of CDs.

In the living room we mainly listen to vinyl (classical, rock and electronic music), but would like the ability to also connect a laptop to the system.

Our budget is limited to approximately £900 for both rooms.

Current ideas:

Bedroom
Roberts CRD37 ~£70

Hifi system
Cambridge Audio 651A (£360)
Marantz TT5005 Turntable (£150)
Cambridge Audio S70 Speakers (£230)

With the idea of buying the CA Stream Magic 6 at a later time and using the 651A's USB input for streaming music from the computer for now.

While this setup seemed quite impressive in-store, I've been reading a lot of negative comments about Cambridge Audio since (including on this forum). I'm now wondering if there is a point in spending the extra money on the 651A, when other amplifiers (Marantz PM6004 / Denon PMA720AE / Rotel RA-10) get better reviews.

Would you still recommend going for the 651A, or would my money be better spent on a less expensive amplifier with the spare money going towards better speakers / turntable / an external DAC / preamp?

Thanks!
Martin

Dommer's picture
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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

Hi Martin, i would consider the Marantz PM6004. i use to have the 6002 and it was a very good budget amp but you would need to get a DAC for attaching a laptop. However, since the Marantz TT5005 has a built-in phono stage, you could use the Marantz MCR603 All-in-one system that can be found new for £330. I would also look at better speakers. The Q Acoustics 2020i Speakers or KEF Q100 or Tannoy Revolution DC4 should all work well and be within your budget.

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matthewpiano's picture
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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

The Denon PMA720AE is a much better amp than the 651A in my experience.  I've owned the 650A as well as the Marantz PM6003, Rotel RA-04SE, Yamaha A-S500, NAD C326BEE (still have this), Yamaha A-S700, Arcam A18 and others, and the Denon is the best amp I've had.  I have also heard the PM6004, which I didn't think was all that much better than the 6003.  The Denon is involving, detailed and very good at describing the tonal characteristics of voices and instruments.  It is dynamic and yet very atmospheric as well, and build quality is superb.  It is also very even handed with different styles of music - as adept with a Mahler Symphony as it is with Black Sabbath.  In fact mine is so impressive that my Dad ended up buying the same model for his system, and we've both been into hi-fi for a long time.  I notice Peter Tyson have it at the fantastic price of £250 - http://www.petertyson.co.uk/ebuttonz/ebz_product_pages/denon_pma-720ae.shtml

You can do much better than the Cambridge Audio speakers as well.  For similar money I'd suggest auditioning the new Wharfedale Diamond 121, but do also consider the excellent Mordaunt-Short Aviano 1XR or the Mordaunt-Short Mezzo 1s.  MS speakers seem to work really well with the Denon.  If you must have floorstanders look no further than the Tannoy V4s.  Dad uses the V1 standmounters with his Denon and the pairing works very well.

For a DAC, consider the Arcam rDAC, which should work well in such a system.

If vinyl is important to you, do consider stretching to the Rega RP1.  It is a superb turntable and the Denon has a great phono stage too.

 

Denon - £250

rDAC - £260 (Peter Tyson)

RP1 - £230

Aviano 1XR - £200

Total = £940.  A great system for this money that should provide years of enjoyment and flexibility.

 

 

 

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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

I don't think there's that much negative feedback about CA on here, it's simply that most members have 'risen above' their range.  Some people find them a little trebly or bright.

The 651A would be an excellent option at your price range if only because it has a USB input/DAC and is currently £350!

CA components can be iffy on reliability...get the 5 year guarantee for £35 if you're unsure.  But yeah, go for some different speakers, Monitor Audio Bronze would be a safe choice, or Q Acoustics

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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

HDNumpty wrote:

I don't think there's that much negative feedback about CA on here, it's simply that most members have 'risen above' their range

Whereas I have gone back to my slum roots Smile

I think the 651's a great amp, yes, and the USB input is fantastic if you're happy to be tethered.  There's no doubt that Marantz, Yamaha and Denon do some interesting alternatives, though, and some are better value if the USB is less important to you.

I haven't heard the S70, but given my experience with some of their speakers I'd certainly be keeping my mind open about other brands as well.  My Diamond 9.1s sound great with the Cambridge, for example.

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qz.martin's picture
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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

Thanks for all of your comments!

There seems to be consensus that I should look into other speakers, so I will go out and sample the various ones mentioned above at the next opportunity.

As for the comments re the amplifier and DAC, I will have another look at the Marantz PM6004 and Denon PMA720-AE. If they deliver the same or better quality than the CA 651A, I guess I might as well give them another try, even if that means that I need a separate DAC.

As I mentioned in the original post, the CA Stream Magic would have been on the Christmas shopping list, but if I need a separate DAC anyway, I might as well combine these two things immediately. Do any of you have experience with the Denon DNP720-AE (as a cheaper alternative to the Arcam rDAC)? The £900 budget was including the internet-radio for the bedroom, which will presumably eat up £70, so the setup suggested by matthewpiano is somewhat over budget unfortunately.

matthewpiano's picture
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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

The DNP720 is very good for the money although it doesnt support gapless playback. An excellent alternative would be to seek out a used Squeezebox Touch, which does do gapless. 

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Sources: Rega RP3/Elys 2 - Roksan Kandy K2 CDS Phono Stage Cambridge Audio 540P

Amplification: Exposure 1010

Speakers: Dynaudio DM2/6  Stands: Atacama Nexus 6 + Blok 300

Cables: Chord Co. and Merlin

Head-Fi System: PC/Qobuz Hi-Fi - NAD C521BEE - Musical Fidelity V90-HPA - Sennhesier HD595

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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

Nice post Matthew about the PMA-720

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matthewpiano's picture
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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

dalwen wrote:

Nice post Matthew about the PMA-720

Thanks dalwen.  It really is a very fine amp. 

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Sources: Rega RP3/Elys 2 - Roksan Kandy K2 CDS Phono Stage Cambridge Audio 540P

Amplification: Exposure 1010

Speakers: Dynaudio DM2/6  Stands: Atacama Nexus 6 + Blok 300

Cables: Chord Co. and Merlin

Head-Fi System: PC/Qobuz Hi-Fi - NAD C521BEE - Musical Fidelity V90-HPA - Sennhesier HD595

Listening to MUSIC!

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RE: Full system for less than £900: Cambridge Audio 651A?

I have a Marantz MCR603 with Kef R100 speakers which can be had for less than your budget with a little haggling and it's a superb sounding minimalist set-up.

Orininally I had the Mcr603 paired with Monitor Audio BX2's but the R100's are totally on another level and just make the system sound fantastic. The quality of the bass is stunning from such small speakers (as good if not better than the Kef q35.2 floorstanders I had with my old system)  whilst maintaining excellent clarity and musicality (which the BX2's did not).  

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