Considering a Cambridge CXA61 - thoughts?

billfort

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I've been missing music in the new place, so have to get something going on the main level – the big system will remain packed away until I have a basement audio room ready to set it up in again.

Big difference in what I want on the main level though, as it's more about convenience, flexibility and appeal to a family full of cell phones, in addition to sounding decent! I've got the speakers covered – Paradigm Monitor 7 v2 which are supposed to be 90db sensitive/8ohm – which should make for some flexibility in amp choice. I've done full home-theater and am fully done with it; stereo only this time around.

I'm thinking SS class AB, 60wpc or so integrated, in a small, good looking package that wont look too nasty sitting out in the open on a cabinet in our living room. Something with a built-in DAC would be best so that I can plug the toslink optical out into it from the Sony xbr65x950h smart TV, and Bluetooth (even the aptX flavor) would be nice as it would eliminate the use of marginal Bluetooth portable speakers on the main level. Even better – a decent built-in DAC with a USB input to allow connecting a streamer (Raspberry Pi?, Mike!) to leverage Roon and all it brings to the system. Wav, FLAC, Mp3, Hi-res and DSD 64/128 decoding would be my target, and I don't want MQA at all – no sign of it would be a strong selling point actually.

Been doing a lot of looking, and the piece that seems to check all the boxes, gets good reviews for sound quality and isn't too steep price-wise is the Cambridge CXA61 integrated. Pretty hard to have a listen to one in the Calgary area so almost have to take a flyer on a new one – the used market seems thin here too.

Anyone have any experience with this integrated, good, bad or indifferent? Any other suggestions that might fit the bill?

Cambridge CXA61
 

Ernie

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Calgary's The Audio Room is listed as a Cambridge dealer. Full disclosure, the website pictures older models, some 6 years out of date.

I have an older CA system, A500 integrated, D500 cdp, and T500 tuner, in the library, with mmf5.1 and Tangent RS-4 speakers, and I think it was and is a great value for the money. It runs when guests are over, or we're at the pool table. I don't regret that purchase for a second. The sound still pleases, and occasionally amazes, when a special record hits the platter.

I haven't read where Cambridge has slipped in reputation, so I would be pretty confident that you would like the sound. Especially with those Paradigms. A friend of mine has a pair, and he drives them with Musical Fidelity separates. I enjoyed that pairing.

I think you'll have to spend a fair bit more to find another piece so feature-laden, and, more important, sounds good to your ear. I have an idea of what you like in presentation, and I'd be surprised if the Cambridge didn't tick off all the boxes for you.
 

MikeyFresh

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L
I've been missing music in the new place, so have to get something going on the main level – the big system will remain packed away until I have a basement audio room ready to set it up in again.

Big difference in what I want on the main level though, as it's more about convenience, flexibility and appeal to a family full of cell phones, in addition to sounding decent! I've got the speakers covered – Paradigm Monitor 7 v2 which are supposed to be 90db sensitive/8ohm – which should make for some flexibility in amp choice. I've done full home-theater and am fully done with it; stereo only this time around.

I'm thinking SS class AB, 60wpc or so integrated, in a small, good looking package that wont look too nasty sitting out in the open on a cabinet in our living room. Something with a built-in DAC would be best so that I can plug the toslink optical out into it from the Sony xbr65x950h smart TV, and Bluetooth (even the aptX flavor) would be nice as it would eliminate the use of marginal Bluetooth portable speakers on the main level. Even better – a decent built-in DAC with a USB input to allow connecting a streamer (Raspberry Pi?, Mike!) to leverage Roon and all it brings to the system. Wav, FLAC, Mp3, Hi-res and DSD 64/128 decoding would be my target, and I don't want MQA at all – no sign of it would be a strong selling point actually.

Been doing a lot of looking, and the piece that seems to check all the boxes, gets good reviews for sound quality and isn't too steep price-wise is the Cambridge CXA61 integrated. Pretty hard to have a listen to one in the Calgary area so almost have to take a flyer on a new one – the used market seems thin here too.

Anyone have any experience with this integrated, good, bad or indifferent? Any other suggestions that might fit the bill?

Cambridge CXA61
Looks pretty nice Bill, I have no experience with that particular unit, but a friend of mine had a rather inexpensive 60 watt Cambridge integrated amp 15 or so years ago, and it really was both quite nice sounding and surprisingly powerful too.

I do own one CX series piece, the now discontinued CXU Universal Disc Player, and that is a really fine sounding unit, perhaps the best sounding disc player I own.
 

billfort

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Thanks guys, this helps!

And yes Ernie, you probably do know what I like in presentation. :)
 

MikeT.

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@billfort , please take a look at Yamaha A-S801 here in the same price bracket here in the US, in fact $100 less than the Cambridge amp. DAC is very convenient but I did add a Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital using the same chipset as the Yamaha, just implanted in dual mono configuration with more filter options. With tone controls in circuit, it’s very nice, with variable loudness. In the Pure Direct mode it’s a whole ‘nother animal, pretty amazing.

Cambridge Audio was a go-to brand for many years but I found other alternatives which I thought took the SQ slightly up-market. I had a Cambridge DacMagic DAC which I thought was very good, and flexible, comparable to the built in Yamaha.
 

Ernie

Me
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Bill, I think the Paradigm/Yamaha pairing will present a slight up-tilt to the sound, compared to Cambridge/Paradigm. It might be do-able in your new LR.

I was surprised to see that Darko review that the PM posted, where Darko was using a CA DAC to tame the Gato Amp-150. If you find the Paradigms generous in the treble, with your previous setup, the Yamaha should keep it the same, versus the CA providing a slight leveling of HF.

If you are using it for TV as well, you might wish to retain all of that, for crisp dialogue, in which case, the Yamaha might be the better choice. The A-S801 also has an available BT dongle, the YBA-11, which you will probably need. For appearance, I prefer the Yamaha, a cleaner, more sophisticated presentation, FWIW.
 

MikeyFresh

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please take a look at Yamaha A-S801
That too is a nice unit for sure, but at one time there were known issues with the USB input and Linux incompatibility. Perhaps that's now been sorted out with a firmware update, but it can be a challenge to find proper documentation on that sort of thing, because many manufacturers are evasive about it.

In their defense, there are all kinds of weird flavors of Linux, so providing support for all of them is not something many of these manufacturers care to undertake, and in some cases these products do work with most Linux distros, but the manufacturer is reluctant to state that due to the support nightmare that might ensue, it's just easier for them to say Mac and Windows only.

But it's worth noting if one wishes to use a Raspberry Pi, or even a repurposed laptop running Ubuntu or Mint for example, not all DACs fully support Linux.
 

billfort

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Yes Erik, a scary thought - purging SS at every turn (hell, even my main DAC has them in the output stage!) has been my ticket to a blissfully ignorant audio existence for years, but in this room, with this family and this checklist, well, maybe, just maybe, something SS...

And I haven't ruled out tubes just yet. :)
 
My opinion is to go with the AXR85 or 100. I REALLY enjoy those pieces for the money and they get you most of what the 61 does with more power and massive savings. On the other end, stepping up to an Evo75 or 150 is really a pinnacle of lifestyle product. It is the piece I get asked most about and its the only lifestyle product I've endorsed as it just WORKS and is super easy for even the wife or kids to operate.

I mention the more expensive Evo series simply because its the family room and the Evo can be controlled completely through a phone or tablet without hiccups.
 

MikeT.

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USB input and Linux incompatibility. Perhaps that's now been sorted out, but it can be a challenge to find proper documentation on that sort of thing,
The built in DAC was good but not great, my one disappointment of the amp. Yamahas DAC software development hasn’t kept pace but I’m sure it’s tough with the speed the tech changes. I added the Pro-Ject because I had owned it before, big surprise me buying the same thing more than once.
 

billfort

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The Yamaha A-S801 yes! I keep going back to that one for consideration as well. Bluetooth seems a bit of an afterthought but to be honest, I'm not too hung up on that; the family have become heavy Spotify users on their phones and Spotify Connect seems to work well with the Sony TV, their phones can then get to the DAC through toslink.

Another concern with the Yamaha is exactly what Mikey mentioned - I've read of some problems connecting something Linux based like a Raspberry Pi to it's DAC. This is a real grey area that would hurt large if it didn't work; I really want to be able to connect Roon to the internal DAC of whatever I choose.

Sound will also be a crap-shoot as 'laid back' (the Cambridge?) I tend to like, but I've certainly heard some of Yamaha's amp offerings sound very nice.
 

MikeT.

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The Yamaha A-S801 yes! I keep going back to that one for consideration as well. Bluetooth seems a bit of an afterthought but to be honest, I'm not too hung up on that; the family have become heavy Spotify users on their phones and Spotify Connect seems to work well with the Sony TV, their phones can then get to the DAC through toslink.

Another concern with the Yamaha is exactly what Mikey mentioned - I've read of some problems connecting something Linux based like a Raspberry Pi to it's DAC. This is a real grey area that would hurt large if it didn't work; I really want to be able to connect Roon to the internal DAC of whatever I choose.

Sound will also be a crap-shoot as 'laid back' (the Cambridge?) I tend to like, but I've certainly heard some of Yamaha's amp offerings sound very nice.
I owned the Claas D Hybrid Rogue Sphinx V2 before the Yamaha and I have to add that the Yamaha detail and soundstage was clearly superior. DAC be darned.
 

airdronian

Radar Member
Calgary's The Audio Room is listed as a Cambridge dealer. Full disclosure, the website pictures older models, some 6 years out of date.
Web presence isn't a strong suit for most of the dealers here. They need a visit. The guys at The Audio Room are pretty easy to talk to, though I haven't been there in a while.
 

airdronian

Radar Member
The Yamaha A-S801 yes! I keep going back to that one for consideration as well. Bluetooth seems a bit of an afterthought but to be honest, I'm not too hung up on that; the family have become heavy Spotify users on their phones and Spotify Connect seems to work well with the Sony TV, their phones can then get to the DAC through toslink.

Another concern with the Yamaha is exactly what Mikey mentioned - I've read of some problems connecting something Linux based like a Raspberry Pi to it's DAC. This is a real grey area that would hurt large if it didn't work; I really want to be able to connect Roon to the internal DAC of whatever I choose.

Sound will also be a crap-shoot as 'laid back' (the Cambridge?) I tend to like, but I've certainly heard some of Yamaha's amp offerings sound very nice.
If what I read in the A-S801 specs here is correct, the unit has a coaxial digital input. In this usage I doubt it cares if the spdif stream comes from Linux or otherwise. A Pi with a spdif HAT could possibly work with that - I have a Pi 3b so equipped if you wanted to test sometime.
 

MikeyFresh

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If what I read in the A-S801 specs here is correct, the unit has a coaxial digital input. In this usage I doubt it cares if the spdif stream comes from Linux or otherwise. A Pi with a spdif HAT could possibly work with that - I have a Pi 3b so equipped if you wanted to test sometime.
It shouldn't care at all. So the USB port is just for firmware updates and/or service?

If so then I don't know what these various web mentions of Linux incompatibility are all about, as that would only pertain to a USB input.

Then again, that would also un-tick one box on Bill's checklist, highly doubtful this unit would do DSD over SPDIF, as that's a somewhat rare feature, especially on slightly older designs.
 

MikeT.

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Seems the 801 does DSD via USB unless I am reading this wrong. I know DSD plays just fine through the USB even though I don’t have a lot of titles in the format.

 

MikeyFresh

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Seems the 801 does DSD via USB unless I am reading this wrong. I know DSD plays just fine through the USB even though I don’t have a lot of titles in the format.

Yes that clearly states the USB input is for audio, and DSD compatible to boot. So right back to the original concerns about various mentions on the web of Linux incompatibility. Those could be old or have been addressed by now via firmware updates, but it's worth looking into for anyone wishing to use a Raspberry Pi, or any other Linux box as a source with that amp.
 

billfort

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The Yamaha is certainly looking interesting and maybe better suited power-wise to the speakers I'll be using. I'm wondering if the balance may be too SS for a non-SS guy, but as I mentioned, I've liked a few of the Yamahas I've heard in the past.

The grey area around Linux and any streamers that use it (Raspberry Pi) is certainly a concern, but I could try one first (thanks for the offers Mikey and Mark!) and do have a Windows 10 mini-pc I'm not using anymore - seems there are no Yamaha USB driver issues with Windows, even up to DSD 5.6. A Raspberry Pi running RoPieeXL would get me to a Roon endpoint and Spotify streaming, but the little Windows box and Spotify Connect>spdif out from the TV gets me there too.

A tough one, but I might be leaning Yamaha A-S801.
 
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