If you've read our other Great British hi-fi systems features (Naim-powered CD/vinyl, terrific value hi-fi and CD and streaming) then you'll have seen that those other three systems in this high-performing quartet are multifaceted – in that they each have at least two sources on offer.
It makes sense, though, to have a system in this group that is more streamlined in outlook. This set-up keeps things as simple as possible by dealing with streaming music in its many forms – and leaves it at that.
You, as the end user, should know that this trio of Award-winning products can form the basis of a far expanded set-up easily enough: just add CD player, turntable (with a phono stage), even a tape deck if that’s your thing, at a later date and it will be a system that will serve you wonderfully. But not everyone has need of any extra fripperies in their music listening. If you have young kids or unruly pets, pretty much the last thing you would need exposed in your home is a valuable turntable and fragile, vulnerable 12-inch vinyl records. No, a couple of well-built pieces of kit married to a solid pair of loudspeakers will serve you very well indeed.
Which is what we have here. The Cambridge Audio pairing are long time favourites of ours here at What Hi-Fi?, and they work brilliantly together, not surprisingly. And the original B&W 606 certainly wasn’t broken when the S2 Anniversary Edition was introduced – it won What Hi-Fi? Best Buy Awards itself – but the new model is an undeniable step up, and will suit any number of set-ups.
Network streamer: Cambridge Audio CXN V2 (£799 / $990 approx / AU$1495 approx)
Integrated amplifier: Cambridge Audio CXA61 (£699 / $865 approx / AU$1308 approx)
Standmount speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 (£599 / $899 / AU$1299)
Total: £2097 / $2754 approx / AU$4102 approx
Music streamer: Cambridge Audio CXN V2
We’ll start with the source, as it is a real superstar of its type. Most importantly it sounds really vibrant and enthusiastic, whatever type of music you throw at it. As we describe in our review of the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2): “We play Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, and Stevie Nicks’ soulful, sweet singing is full bodied and beautifully conveyed. The way she shifts between notes is smooth, and the occasional words clipped to keep her rhythm are snappy and insightful. Even the odd vocalisation – the hums and aahs – are detailed and full of melancholy musings.”
As our review points out: “Most half-decent streamers could reproduce the basics of this song, but it takes something more talented to dig into the emotional core of this track and deliver it – and that’s what this Cambridge does.”
The Cambridge streamer is wonderfully even across the range as well, delivering hard-hitting bass with a light-stepping, twinkling treble – all of which helps convey a tune with tight timing and provide a sound that is dynamically entertaining.
And, naturally, it covers pretty much all bases as far as digital music options go. It will play hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD64 from a NAS drive, and it is equipped with streaming options to die for, including Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, Roon, Deezer and more. More than enough for most end users, in other words.
Integrated amplifier: Cambridge Audio CXA61
As with its streaming brother, the Cambridge Audio CXA61 is an updated version of a product that we weren’t particularly aware needed updating; and, as with the CXN, we are extremely glad that the boffins at Cambridge went to the trouble. It was well worth it, both times.
The main obvious difference in the next-generation amplifier is the addition of a USB input that sits alongside the digital and coaxial inputs on the rear panel. There is also a new DAC module that will play 24-bit/384kHz PCM files and up to DSD256 data streams. And, to cover pretty much all bases, aptX Bluetooth is now included in the package as well.
On the face of it, though, those are the only obvious changes. The power output remains a solid 60W per channel and there’s no change as far as connectivity is concerned. This integrated still has four line-level stereo RCA inputs on the back and a 3.5mm jack for portable music players on the front.
While the basic analogue circuit hasn’t been revamped, the engineers aimed to improve sound quality by changing most of the op-amps in the signal path and upgrading the capacitors in both the pre and power sections of the amplifier.
And that work has certainly paid off. While still recognisably related to the older amp, this new version sounds more transparent and playful. It’s simply more fun to listen to, regardless of input chosen.
Bookshelf speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2
Using these Bowers & Wilkins speakers with the Cambridge pairing, our system sounds firmly in control of proceedings with punch, scale and authority at all times, as well as a cheerful refusal to get stressed or uncomfortable when the musical requirements get demanding. Overall it has a nicely judged tonal balance that walks a delicate path between attack and refinement; there’s spaciousness here too, and the kind of outright clarity that sets a high bar for the price.
And that third What Hi-Fi? Award winner for 2022 rounds things off nicely. As we say in our 606 S2 Anniversary Edition review, “It has dominated the mid-priced standmounter market over the past three years with nothing we have reviewed coming close to knocking it off the top spot.”
And, while we loved the predecessors, this pair of updated speakers proves significantly more capable.
The biggest differences with the S2s are heard in the bass, where the new version is so much more precise and controlled; these speakers are cleaner, more insightful and have notably more punch than their forebears.
Move up the frequency range and the steps up in articulation and clarity are striking. Voices come through with greater subtlety, and it’s easier to hear changes in intonation and phrasing. The B&W 606 S2 offer a clearer view of the recording and sound more balanced overall.
They deliver a sound packed with authority, and don’t struggle in the face of large-scale crescendos. As the music builds in a piece, these speakers have the composure and organisation to keep things under control. They rarely sound flustered or stressed no matter how demanding things get.
Consider that these speakers, like both the electronic units in this system, are the next generation of already impressive Award-winning products, and these clear improvements are all the more surprising – and, of course, all the more welcome.
This stunning system manages to dial things up a notch on what, three or four years ago, could easily – as ‘version one’ – have been a top set-up that we would most certainly have highlighted in a similar feature. With the upgrades to each unit, however, things have stepped up more than a level. This is a three-way combination that shows just how impressive a mid-range streaming hi-fi system can be.