What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Fri, 15 Jul 2011, 12:14pm

Cambridge Audio NP30

Tested at £400
80100
4

This is still a fine streaming option, but rival machines now have the edge

Write your own review

For

  • Small form factor
  • easy to read display
  • integrated wifi
  • neutral sound
  • intuitive app

Against

  • Rivals boast more features – and superior sound quality

Cambridge Audio NP30

The Cambridge Audio NP30 was one of the hi-fi highlights of last year – an affordable streamer which combined a decent feature set, ridiculous ease of use and impressive sound quality.

The NP30 was one of the hi-fi highlights of last year – an affordable streamer which combined a decent feature set, ridiculous ease of use and impressive sound quality. The Cambridge even received a What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision award for its benchmark-setting abilities. But the market has changed in the months that have passed since then and there’s a new generation of streamer chomping at its heels.
The design of the NP30 hasn’t dated too badly and it’s still a relatively modern-looking box, the compact form factor matching other components in Cambridge’s Sonata range. The fascia doesn’t have the pizazz of the coloured screens you’ll see fitted to other machines in this group, but the brightness and contrast of the display ensure you’re never left squinting across the room. Combine this with a fully functioning, button-tastic remote and an impressive control app (see panel below) and you’ve got a very intuitive and likeable package from the off.
The impact of some of the newer machines means that the NP30’s feature count is now starting to look a little ordinary. Built-in wifi is a definite bonus, but there’s no digital optical or coaxial inputs for connecting external sources. 
And, although the USB sockets on the unit are compatible with external hard drives, they’re incompatible with iPods. In this Apple-friendly world, this really needs to be included, especially when all your competitors are doing it.
Besides streaming CD rips across a wired or wireless network, the NP30 will also stream internet radio and tracks from MP3 Tunes and Aupeo. In terms of file support, the NP30 supports everything up to 24bit/96kHz. Well, kind of. Rather oddly, it doesn’t support 24bit/88.2kHz sample rates, not that they’re widely available. Cambridge doesn’t try to hide this fact, but it’s worth noting if you’re banking on a machine with that compatibility.
If you want to get your music from a smartphone to the NP30, you’ll need to employ Cambridge’s BT100 Bluetooth dongle (£70). Up until the most recent firmware update for the NP30, Bluetooth streaming wasn’t possible, so this is great news – and updates such as these are all the more reason to make sure your software is up to date. 
Besides being able to accept a standard Bluetooth connection, the BT100 dongle is also aptX enabled should you be using a compatible source. We’re big fans of aptX and would definitely recommend you use it over standard Bluetooth where possible. 
Pairing devices with the dongle takes a matter of seconds, and on the whole the aptX stream sounds much more lively and vibrant than the heavily compressed, traditional Bluetooth stream. Of course it can’t match a wired connection to a NAS device, but you still hear the essence of the track. 
The only downside was that during both normal and aptX streams, every track we played suffered an occasional tiny dropout of sound.
A good tempo to suit all tastes
But fed a 24bit/96kHz file or a CD-quality FLAC, the Cambridge is still capable of mixing it with the best. Prince’s I Would Die For You sounds crisp, sharp and keeps a good tempo for you to tap along to. It’s an exciting detailed delivery, and the Cambridge showcases decent dynamic clout even though it can’t quite match class-leaders for outright authority or subtlety. Timing is still impressive and the neutral delivery ensures the NP30 suits all manner of musical tastes.
Previously, the Cambridge has done enough to see off any challenge to its five-star rating. In isolation, it’s still a good streamer; but in the jostle for class-leading status, it’s been muscled out. The emergence of one machine in particular, coming to a page near here soon, has seen to that.

It even received a What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision award for its benchmark-setting abilities. 

But the market has changed in the months that have passed since then and there’s a new generation of streamer chomping at its heels.

The design of the NP30 hasn’t dated too badly and it’s still a relatively modern-looking box, the compact form factor matching other components in Cambridge’s Sonata range. 

The fascia doesn’t have the pizazz of the coloured screens you’ll see fitted to other machines in this sector, but the brightness and contrast of the display ensure you’re never left squinting across the room.

Combine this with a fully functioning, button-tastic remote and an impressive control app and you’ve got a very intuitive and likeable package from the off.

Cambridge Audio NP30: StreamMagic app
That app has recently been revamped and renamed as StreamMagic (it was formerly called UuVol). It's optimised for tablets as well as smartphones, so you get the full-fat experience on both screens.

There's little difference between the two, but we preferred the smartphone version; the layout seems to work better on a smaller screen. It's uncomplicated and simple to use.

Album art and track info look great on both the small and the big screen, and if you get lost in the menus you're only a button press away from jumping back to the current track.

The alphanumeric search function allows you to insert more than one character and tracking down your favourite artist or track takes just a couple of seconds. Hold the desired track down and it will automatically be added to a queue, which is nice.

Cambridge Audio NP30

Cambridge Audio NP30: Features
However, that smart app not withstanding, the impact of some of the newer rivals such as the Pioneer N50 and Marantz NA7004 means that the NP30’s feature count is now starting to look a little ordinary. 

Built-in wi-fi is a definite bonus, but there are no digital optical or coaxial inputs for connecting external sources. 

And, although the USB sockets on the unit are compatible with external hard drives, they’re incompatible with iPods. In this Apple-friendly world, this really needs to be included, especially when all your competitors are doing it.

Besides streaming CD rips across a wired or wireless network, the NP30 will also stream internet radio and tracks from MP3 Tunes and Aupeo. 

In terms of file support, the NP30 supports everything up to 24bit/96kHz.

Well, kind of. Rather oddly, it doesn’t support 24bit/88.2kHz sample rates, not that they’re widely available. Cambridge doesn’t try to hide this fact, but it’s worth noting if you’re banking on a machine with that compatibility.

Cambridge Audio BT100

Cambridge Audio NP30: Bluetooth streaming
If you want to get your music from a smartphone to the NP30, you’ll need to employ Cambridge’s BT100 Bluetooth dongle (£70).

Up until the most recent firmware update for the NP30, Bluetooth streaming wasn’t possible, so this is great news – and updates such as these are all the more reason to make sure your software is up to date. 

Besides being able to accept a standard Bluetooth connection, the BT100 dongle is also aptX enabled should you be using a compatible source.

We’re big fans of aptX and would definitely recommend you use it over standard Bluetooth where possible. 

Pairing devices with the dongle takes a matter of seconds, and on the whole the aptX stream sounds much more lively and vibrant than the heavily compressed, traditional Bluetooth stream. 

Of course it can’t match a wired connection to a NAS device, but you still hear the essence of the track. 

The only downside was that during both normal and aptX streams, every track we played suffered an occasional tiny dropout of sound.

Cambridge Audio NP30

Cambridge Audio NP30: Sound quality
But fed a 24bit/96kHz file or a CD-quality FLAC, the Cambridge is still capable of mixing it with the best. 

Prince’s I Would Die For You sounds crisp, sharp and keeps a good tempo for you to tap along to. It’s an exciting detailed delivery, and the Cambridge showcases decent dynamic clout even though it can’t quite match class-leaders for outright authority or subtlety. 

Timing is still impressive and the neutral delivery ensures the NP30 suits all manner of musical tastes.

Verdict
Previously, the Cambridge NP30 has done enough to see off any challenge to its five-star rating. 

In isolation, it’s still a good streamer; but in the jostle for class-leading status, it’s been muscled out. 

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