Four years ago, Cambridge Audio (opens in new tab) dominated the sub-£500 market for hi-fi electronics.
The company’s most recent efforts have been solid rather than spectacular, however, now is as good a time as any for a new CD player and amplifier to take centre stage.
Attractive design and great finish
Stacked together, the Azur 651A amplifier and matching 651C CD player make an attractive pairing (although we always recommend placing kit on a dedicated rack – and that’s how we tested this twosome).
For the money, build quality and finish are excellent, with solid, chunky fascias on both components and wrap-around metal covers adding the finishing touches.
The 651A's fascia is a busy affair. It features a volume dial and tone-and-balance controls, as well as individual buttons and blue lights for selected inputs.
On the rear are speaker A and B outputs, five pairs of RCA phono inputs, a recording loop, a pair of analogue pre-outs and a subwoofer output.
For those of us whose music collections are stored on a laptop or desktop computer, Cambridge Audio has also fitted the amp with a USB input.
It can handle standard-resolution CD-quality files, but won’t work with any high-resolution material you might have downloaded, although this might not be an issue for the vast majority of potential buyers.
Impressively engaging performance
One of the perks of having multiple components from the same company is being able to use a single remote control.
The Azur wand is nice to use, if a little long in the hand, while the circular D-pad is springy and responsive, and lets you play, skip tracks and alter the volume.
In action, the 651A amplifier is a meaty-sounding proposition and, unsurprisingly, is a
really good match for the CD player.
If your speakers are a little bass-shy, the amp will infuse a more heft into proceedings. Play Jay-Z’s Empire State Of Mind and you hear an immediacy to the amp’s delivery that won’t fail to impress, especially if you only have a few minutes to audition it.
Low frequencies sound powerful, really driving home Alicia Key’s delivery
of the chorus. Vocals sound expressive and confidently showcased, too, while the highest frequencies are smooth, informative and well-behaved.
There’s plenty of appeal to this matching pair. They look the part and work well together to produce a grand sound that isn’t short on scale. They’re not the most sophisticated sounding machines and bass can get a bit tubby, but on the whole, this pairing is a covetable enough set-up.