Now here’s an eagerly awaited product. Having made the leap from Blu-ray player to universal disc player with the 751BD, the new Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD (opens in new tab) wants to be your complete network media hub.
Not only will it play any audio or video disc you can think of, the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD offers more inputs and outputs than any reasonable person could possibly need, and now has better support for portable media, streaming networked content and standalone streaming services.
With high-end components taking care of audio and video processing, this is much, much more than just a 3D Blu-ray player (although it’s one of those, too).
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD review: Design
Cambridge Audio made the high-end disc player market its own with the release of the 751BD, the predecessor to this product. In an age of basic Blu-ray players costing £50 and, more pertinently, Award-winning £100 Blu-ray players such as the Sony BDP-S390 packed with internet connectivity and more, Cambridge Audio sought higher ground, packing its players not just with features and functions but the necessary components to help the performance justify the premium.
And the 751BD was undoubtedly a success, taking home a five-star review when it first emerged just under two years ago. It has since gone on to be the company’s best-selling product – which is no mean feat for a brand that traditionally, in the UK at least, majors on budget hi-fi separates.
Easy to live with in terms of all-round usability, we definitely think this is an improvement on the previous model. Discs load more quickly, the on-screen menus are clearer and the remote is an improvement. Plenty of picture controls are available within the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD’s menus too, in case you want to further tweak your display’s settings.
The handset has had a redesign, and now has backlit keys. It’s nice to hold and use, even if the core controls feel a little cluttered. It’s still one of the better remotes we’ve seen on such a device.
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD review: Specs
The Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD really can play just about every video and audio format you can think of: 3D Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD, DVD-A and rewritable discs, AAC, FLAC, MP3 and WAV – it has it covered. And as well as playing discs, it can also accept files from a USB stick (there are now three USB inputs) or even a smartphone or tablet. This new feature comes courtesy of the MHL-compatible HDMI input on the front, which lets you play music and video directly from compatible devices.
Also new is the ability to connect to your network via ethernet or wi-fi (with the included dongle), and stream music directly from UPnP or DLNA devices. Then you can use an app such as PlugPlayer to access your library and playback controls from your phone or tablet. (Cambridge Audio hasn’t ruled out adding this feature to later incarnations of its own remote control app.)
A smart new on-screen interface will also guide you to streaming services such as YouTube and Picasa. But we are underwhelmed by the streaming services: why aren’t BBC iPlayer and Netflix on board?
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD review: Powerful processing
You can also connect sources directly. Two HDMI inputs, as well as digital coaxial and digital optical inputs, ensure you can connect anything from an Xbox 360 or PS3 to a Sky+HD box to make this a real hub for your home entertainment. Twin HDMI outputs let you separate audio and video or connect up two displays – a TV and projector, for example.
So why would you do this? Well, there’s the convenience, of course but the real benefit comes in making use of the video and audio processing inside. The Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD uses a Marvell Qdeo video processor, which will upscale any video source to 1080p or even 4K (should you have a compatible display).
What’s more, all audio sources, be they stereo or surround sound, have access to the five Wolfson DACs, meaning they too can be upsampled, to 24-bit/192kHz. Cambridge Audio tells us there’s essentially a DacMagic inside. It’s perhaps no surprise to find the digital filters found on the DAC are here, too. They’re very subtle, but definitely worth experimenting with.
On the outside, it’s pretty much as you were, except for those extra inputs. The 752BD still looks like a Cambridge Audio product, which is no bad thing. The metal case is well put together too, but we’re not sure it screams – or even murmurs – that it’s a slab of electronics worth £800.
With all this at your disposal it’s hard to know what to do first. We fire up the Blu-ray of The Amazing Spider-Man. Pumping video and audio out via HDMI, the sound is solid and crisp. Detail is good and there’s real pace and agility, while dialogue is clear. Deep bass notes are short and sharp and you can push it nice and loud without any danger of the sound hardening up.
It doesn’t have quite the excitement or dynamic power we expect, however. Action scenes that should fill the room sound a little smaller than on similarly priced rivals.
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD review: Great picture quality
We’re more impressed with the picture. Colours favour a natural rather than punchy palette, but regardless they deliver impressively subtle detail.
Motion is handled confidently and there’s little sign of digital noise or any other picture instabilities either. DVDs look great, too – and the 752BD even has a DVD 24P mode that gets the best out of discs made at this frame rate.
There’s still plenty more to enjoy, too. A new interface makes using the streaming feature a doddle, sniffing out our network no problem and letting us use the machine as a DLNA receiver from our networked hard-drive.
The selection of streaming services might not be too exciting but YouTube looks good (although it did prove prone to buffering in our test rooms).
Of course, there’s still the subject of stereo music. Connected to our reference hi-fi system and using the stereo outputs, we worked our way through every bit-rate going for digital music and the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD had no problem playing any of them.
It sounds good, too, although even with hi-res audio still lacks a little excitement compared with rivals, and gives detail and subtlety away to cheaper dedicated players (as we’d expect).
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD review: Verdict
This is an incredibly versatile machine. Rivals are thin on the ground, and almost non-existent if you want all these features and functions. Its performance is strong across the board, too – but not quite as entertaining and fulfilling, especially sonically, as the price tag demands.
If you want a performance machine as your complete content hub, you’ll be happy with the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD, but for pure picture and sound performance, it can be pipped.