Cambridge Audio is back with a splash. The new CXN streamer – part of their new CX series launched earlier this year with an all-new design and improved sound – is a stonkingly good high-resolution network streamer for £700.
The Cambridge CXN streamer is built on the success of the Award-winning Stream Magic 6 v2 (also £700), but its fresh, modern design makes it feel like a complete overhaul.
But it’s the hugely enjoyable sonic performance that really singles the CXN out. It sounds fantastic. There’s an enthusiastic drive to the performance, combining subtlety, snappy timing and rich detail to deliver a sound that’s just wonderfully entertaining.
It’s a punchy sound that has a really good grasp of rhythm and low-end impact. We’ve seldom heard a Cambridge product sound so muscular. Basslines are meaty, textured and bound along happily to the lively sense of rhythm.
The stop and start of notes are precisely and snappily delivered, and there’s seemingly no end to the streamer’s energetic drive. The CXN is skilful at conveying the space between instruments, too, with Ghostpoet’s atmospheric X Marks The Spot filling the room with easy dynamics.
The sound isn’t overly smooth, but the Cambridge delivers a full-bodied performance that’s hugely pleasing to listen to. The CXN certainly doesn’t hold back from delivering the full impact of a song: the intensity of The Dead Weather’s brooding, screeching 60 Feet Tall is fully conveyed, while you’ll be blasted with the full force of Extreme’s funk-metal anthem Rest in Peace.
The admirably balanced tone in evidence on these samples never puts a foot out of place, either. Drums hit accurately, the bass digs deep, and the top end sparkles – but stops shy of sounding bright or coarse.
The midrange in particular sounds lovely, with voices fully fleshed out and packed with character. The streamer is not fussy with file type either, it sounds fluid and dynamic with high-resolution and Spotify-streamed tracks alike.
The CXN is fully decked out with all the latest streaming features, so it’s crucial you have a stable network connection. You can connect to your home network via ethernet, but Cambridge does include a wi-fi antenna in the box if you prefer the flexibility of a wireless connection.
All you need to do is make sure your NAS drive, laptop or smartphone is connected to the same network, then press play. Setting up the network is swift, and we experienced no dropouts while streaming.
Apple users can stream songs stored on their devices using AirPlay, but we’re not too keen on the rather weedy sound quality that results.
The front or back USB ports can charge your iDevice (or Android handset for that matter) but for playback, both inputs are only compatible with USB hard drives and memory sticks.
The CXN also features Spotify Connect and internet radio, so you have access to a few million songs from around the globe. File support is extensive: all the popular formats like WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC and MP3 are supported, as well as DSD 64 files (which you can only play using the back-panel USB input).
All digital inputs on the CXN are capable of playing high-resolution files of up to 24-bit/192kHz, and they can be upsampled to 384kHz, too. That includes the USB type B input for your laptop, and the optical and coaxial inputs. There’s also a pair each of RCA and balanced XLR outputs, along with two digital outputs.
Build and design
We have to hand it to Cambridge Audio – the CXN is one classy-looking streamer. It’s a neat, modern construction that’s moved away from the more traditional looks of the previous Azur 351 and 651 components.
The ‘floating design’, the brushed aluminium chassis and the sleek finish (in either black or silver) look and feel premium quality. We have to give special mention to that volume dial. It has a smooth, perfectly weighted resistance, and the way the menu responds is delightful.
We also like how neat the front panel is, as it shows off the crisp and punchy display in all its glory. The 4.3in screen is packed with information but never looks cluttered. Track, artist, album and sampling rate are all displayed, as is album artwork in full colour.
You can use the panel buttons to control playback and access the input menu, but using the included remote control (also redesigned) is far more intuitive.
We tend to use the remote interchangeably with the new-look Cambridge Connect app, as the app is more suited to scrolling and selecting lists of songs. There are some hiccups in operation, but it’s not enough to stop us from using the app.
Another masterstroke from Cambridge Audio is its ongoing policy of writing input labels upside down, which means you can easily read the inputs when you’re leaning over the unit.
It’s clear that a lot of thought and attention has gone into the Cambridge CXN. The functionality, design and ease of use are the best we’ve seen at this price, and the engaging, punchy sound is sure to win people over.
Those in the market for a streamer should really give this one a listen – and be prepared to put it at the top of their wishlist.
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