We’re surprised Cambridge Audio managed to find the time to build the AXA35 stereo amplifier. After all, it’s been a busy 12 months for the British hi-fi brand – first we saw the launch of its high-end Edge range of separates, with its fantastic Edge NQ streaming preamp, then there was the Alva TT turntable, a premium Bluetooth deck with plenty going for it.
More recently, Cambridge Audio made a big splash with its first pair of true wireless headphones, the five-star Melomania 1, and yet it has still found time to launch a new entry-level range of hi-fi separates, the AX series, consisting of two CD players, two stereo amplifiers and two network receivers, all under £500. We're getting to know the range with this, the Cambridge Audio AXA35.
The Cambridge Audio AXA35 is a 35W per channel stereo amplifier, positioned at the budget end of the market. Out of the box, it looks understated and reasonably elegant for an affordable amp. The dark grey finish that Cambridge has adopted for many of its recent products looks stylish and helps add a sense of purpose.
At just over 8cm tall, you’re confronted by quite a slender hi-fi separate. This, combined with a minimalist front panel, makes a rival amp such as the Marantz PM6006 UK Edition look fussy and messy in comparison.
From the front, it looks as though the AXA35 is floating. It’s an effective illusion created by a thin plastic wedge running under the front edge, which lifts up the chassis and is set back just enough to blend into its own shadow.
The dot-matrix display in the middle of the amp is bright and easy to read head-on, but because it appears to be set back quite far from the front panel, you don’t always get a clear view if you’re looking at it from a more acute angle.
Under the display, there’s a row of four buttons, each corresponding to the relevant analogue input on the rear. A volume dial and menu button are on the right, while a 6.35mm headphone output and 3.5mm auxiliary input sandwich the amp’s infrared receiver on the left.
There are balance and tone controls, but these are tucked away in the amp’s menu system. Strangely, both bass and treble can only be adjusted in steps of two, although we doubt you’ll have much reason to use them.
If you happen to own a budget turntable, you can take advantage of the amplifier’s built-in moving magnet phono stage. There’s no Bluetooth connectivity or USB input for the AXA35, though – the absence of the latter is understandable at this price point, but the lack of the former is a little disappointing.
The remote that comes with the Cambridge Audio looks like a DVD player remote, minus a few buttons. It’s a bit messy and you can even feel through the top surface where the holes are for the missing buttons. It’s perfectly functional, though its ability to communicate with the amp does seem to suffer off axis.
The first thing that strikes you about the Cambridge Audio AXA35 is just how confident it sounds. There’s no wavering over the placement of notes, no blurring of lines. Whether it’s carving out a bassline, delivering the leading edge of a drum thwack or positioning a vocal inside its stereo image, the AXA35 delivers them all in a precise and assured manner.
There’s a real sense of power and weight attached to the rolling, rumbling bass notes during Like A Dog Chasing Cars from The Dark Knight soundtrack. Those low notes are tricky to master at the best of times and the Cambridge Audio does a commendable job of controlling them.
The AXA35’s dynamic skills come to the forefront when conveying the drama of the track. The dynamic swell of each wave of drums powers through the track like a powerful riptide. It’s a spirited sound, but by no means aggressive. There’s no harshness or brightness, nor is the amp’s sound coloured or tainted in any way.
Power output 2 x 35W
Line level inputs 4
Phonostage Moving Magnet
Preamp out No
Headphone out Yes
Tone controls Yes
Dimensions (hwd) 8.3 x 43 x 33.5cm
Play Alicia Keys’ Fallin’ and there’s an impressive sense of transparency to the track. Her vocal sounds precise and tightly focused – the Cambridge Audio has no trouble communicating a track’s midrange – as does the piano, percussion and pointy bass line. All the elements sound clear, yet closely knit.
We experiment with both the amplifier’s phono stage and its headphone output and we’re pleased to report the sound stays consistent with the same bold character traits shining through. It’s easy for a manufacturer to take its eye off the ball here, but credit to Cambridge Audio for making sure there’s no sacrifice.
One thing to bear in mind is that the AXA35 doesn’t leave you much room for manoeuvre in terms of speakers. We’d have no hesitation partnering a £500/$500 pair of standmounters or floorstanders, but any higher and you’ll start to expose the amp’s slight lack of bass grip when pushed. During testing, we found the Dali Oberon 1s to be a great match for the Cambridge Audio, forming a lively and hugely entertaining partnership.
There’s a shortage of high-quality hi-fi electronics at the budget end of the market, so it’s good to see Cambridge Audio produce an amplifier with the musicality and all-round appeal of the AXA35.
A Marantz PM6006 UK Edition will get you greater subtlety and refinement and it can also be partnered with more expensive speakers. Perhaps not surprising considering it is a little more expensive – and it started life a fair chunk more expensive.
Having said that, the AXA35 arguably sounds clearer and has a more neutral tonal balance, doing more than enough to justify a five-star rating at this price point. It looks and sounds the part, and if this is just a hint of what the rest of the Cambridge Audio’s AX range has to offer, we’re in for a sonic treat.
- Sound 5
- Features 4
- Build 5