- Elegant design and superb build quality
- Extensive features
- Slick, intuitive operation with full-colour screen
- Dazzling sound quality
- Bluetooth is optional
Key Features: Wi-Fi and Ethernet connection; UPnP & Apple AirPlay support; High-resolution music playback up to 192kHz/24-bit; Spotify Connect & internet radio; 4.3in colour screen.
What is the Cambridge Audio CXN?
CXN is a network music player that lets you stream music from PCs and NAS drives, including high resolution files up to 192kHz/24-bit. It comes equipped with eye-catching features like Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect and internet radio, as well as a wide range of sockets for hooking up external audio gear.
It hails from Cambridge Audio’s CX series of hi-fi components, which also includes the CXA60 and CXA80 integrated amplifiers, the CXC CD transport and two CXR AV receivers. CXN uses the same core technology as Cambridge Audio’s Stream Magic 6.
Design and Connections
One glance at the CXN and we’re smitten. It’s a gorgeous piece of kit, sporting an elegant silver finish (also available in black) and an upward-slanting ‘floating’ chassis.
What’s more, it’s built to a very high standard and easily justifies the price. The solid-as-a-rock bodywork would give Ashford & Simpson a run for their money (Google it kids), while the thick brushed metal faceplate and smooth, robust control dial are the sort of swanky touches you’d expect for the money.
But the icing on the cake is the 4.3in colour screen on the fascia, which displays text and cover art in a sophisticated manner and makes it easy to browse your music library. Otherwise the fascia is relatively uncluttered, with only a power button and USB port.
The back panel has more connections than Heathrow Airport. There are optical and coaxial inputs and outputs, analogue RCA output, a set of balanced XLR outputs and an asynchronous Type B USB audio input that lets you hook up a PC and use the CXN as a high-quality sound card.
You’ll also find two Type A USB ports for the Wi-Fi antenna and a storage device, an Ethernet port for those who prefer a wired network connection, plus IR and control bus in/out. An optional Bluetooth aptX receiver (BT100) is also available.
Connect the supplied antenna and you can connect the CXN to your home network via Wi-Fi, but the wired Ethernet connection is there if you want a more stable connection.
You can stream music from any UPnP server, and in terms of audio format support CXN leaves no stone unturned. Among the playable formats are 192kHz/24-bit FLAC, ALAC, WAV and AIFF, as well as MP3, WMA, AAC, HE AAC, AAC+ and Ogg Vorbis. You can even play DSD files from storage media hooked up to the rear USB port.
Any gaps in your own music collection can be filled by Spotify Connect, or you can browse thousands of internet radio stations.
Inside the CXN is a powerful second generation ATF2 engine that upsamples any source to 384kHz/24-bit to reduce jitter. Two high-quality Wolfson WM8740 chips handle digital-to-analogue conversion. The CXN can also be used as a digital pre-amp thanks to an on-board 32-bit Blackfin DSP that controls volume in the digital domain.
The superb 4.3in front display is key to the CXN’s user friendliness. Cover art looks crisp and colourful, plus it’s packed with info without seeming cluttered. During playback, all the details are placed next to the artwork, including track, artist, album, elapsed time and selected playback functions.
The CXN comes with a multipurpose remote that controls any component in the CX range. It’s a high-quality zapper that feels weighty in the palm, with a stylish brushed-black finish and tactile rubberised back end. The buttons are solid and satisfying to press and each one is clearly labelled. Top work.
But this intuitive remote’s greatest trick is how is manages to cram in the controls for three different types of component without feeling cluttered or confusing. The central direction pad is surrounded by playback and volume keys and sandwiched between banks of controls for CXA and CXC components.
Alternatively, you can control CXN using the Cambridge Connect app on your smartphone. Its simple, spacious layout is easy to follow, allowing you to control playback, explore the settings or switch inputs easily. But the app really comes into its own when browsing music libraries, which is much quicker than using the remote or front panel controls. A playback queue function lets you replay tracks you’ve just heard.
Whatever method you choose, the CXN is an absolute joy to operate. Wi-Fi setup is quick and easy, even when using the front panel controls, and once connected it finds laptops or smartphones on the same network instantly. It needs a bit of thinking time to load up large music libraries, but it general it doesn’t take too long to find your music. We didn’t experience any drop-outs or unreasonable delays during our test either.
For our test we paired the CXN with the CXA80 amplifier and together they produce a wonderful sound. It’s remarkably detailed – hi-hats and percussion sparkle and you can pick out the sharp twang of guitar strings – but it’s also dynamic and weighty, resulting in an enjoyable performance no matter what the source.
Play Peaches N Cream by Snoop Dogg via Spotify and there’s a palpable snap to the drums, while the bubbly funk bassline is punchy and agile. The tightness and timing of the sound makes it hard not to nod your head.
Switch to Unstoppable by Lianne La Havas and not only is the drum-heavy track delivered with drive and precision, but the top-drawer midrange reproduction makes her voice sound textured and life-like.
There’s a pleasing sense of balance across the frequency range too – bass is deep and hard-hitting but never overpowers the other elements, while treble has plenty of bite without ever sounding harsh. It sits right in the sweet spot between excitement and refinement.
It’s rich and full-bodied but leaves enough space for each instrument to shine. Play a high-resolution file and CXN takes things to the next level, teasing out the extra sonic detail in a way that’ll send shivers down your spine.
All-in-all this is a first-rate musical performance from a British hi-fi brand operating at the top of its game. Sparky, refined and full-bodied, we can’t speak highly enough of it.
Should I buy the Cambridge Audio CXN?
The CXN’s slick operating system, gorgeous design and sparkling sound quality make it a must-buy for any self-respecting music lover.
Aided by a large colour screen, intuitive app and well-thought out remote, it’s a joy to use, while its classy floating design is sure to set tongues wagging in any living room.
But the main reason to stick CXN on your shopping list is its fantastic sound quality, which makes your digital music sparkle. It’s detailed, weighty and articulate, particularly when you team it up with the equally adept CXA amplifier.
With style in abundance, intuitive operation and entrancing sound quality, the CXN deserves a place at the top of your streamer shopping list
Scores In Detail
- Design : 10/10
- Features : 9/10
- Sound Quality : 10/10
- Usability : 10/10
- Value : 9/10