Cambridge Audio and PSB system review
A winning combination of audio components that delivers fantastic sound
Dave Bar has worked for Crutchfield since 1981. After a brief 23 year stint in the sales department, he now writes about home audio gear and camera equipment for Crutchfield's catalog and website. Dave has been hooked on electronics ever since putting together a 5-tube AM radio in his high school shop class, and still enjoys tinkering with stereos in his spare time. His interests include gardening, cooking, fishing, photography, and music.
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A match that's music to our ears
The right combination of audio gear can provide a deeper emotional connection to your music. But how do you know what the right combination is? Often it simply comes down to intuition, experience, and a little luck. We're fortunate enough to have the Crutchfield Labs here as our "test kitchen" where we can experiment with a wide variety of "ingredients" to come up with the best sounding combos. We recently headed to the Labs listening room to check out a system of critically acclaimed components from Cambridge Audio, PSB, and Furman first hand. Read our impressions below.
Our capable cast of players
Starting with Cambridge Audio’s beefy 851A integrated amplifier, we added the multi-talented Cambridge 851C. This versatile component not only plays CDs, its built-in DAC (digital-to-analog converter) also does a fantastic job decoding audio signals from a PC, network music streamer, or any other digital music source you care to play through it. We then connected PSB’s Imagine T2 tower speakers, and finally plugged our electronics into the Furman Elite-15 PFi for clean, safe power.
A combination made in hi-fi heaven
A panel of experienced listeners from our Creative department spun CDs and used the USB output from a Wi-Fi®-connected laptop computer to play music from MOG, a high-quality online music streaming service. Overall, our panel found this musically satisfying system exceptional at re-creating a near-live listening experience with stunning dynamics, and for its ability to reveal the vast differences in recorded sound from track to track.
Impressions from the panel
“I was sitting on the far left edge of the room on the floor, at the end of the row, but I was still able to hear a pretty good stereo presentation, even from the corner.”
"When we switched over to an acoustic swing track, it really slapped me in the face how different the recording was from the previous Fairport Convention cut. (As you would expect.) I was really digging on the warmth and the laid-back feel of the Fairport Convention mix ... sounded kinda like vinyl. I did not particularly dig the slightly colder sound of the second cut...it had a bit of a brassy edge. But those are differences you'd want your audio system to be able to reproduce."
"I liked all the MOG tracks. The system did a nice job of resolving complex mixes. In the quieter guitar passages, there was a whole array of subtle tonal colors that SRV (Stevie Ray Vaughan) was able to evoke, just by varying his hand techniques -- not sure I'd heard that particular quality in his playing before yesterday, at least not to that degree."
"When Jim brought the computer down and let the DAC do some work, HO-LEE-COW! I began to hear things in the stream that provided me with realistic information about the room, as well as the full dynamics of the instruments and their characteristics. I guess that’s just a fancy way of saying that the last two recordings I heard made me feel like the artist was in the room. I can’t really give any system a higher compliment than that."
"The 851A integrated amp was able to drive the T2s without any compression to levels beyond what I’m normally comfortable listening to (that is, fairly loud but realistic concert hall volume when appropriate). I couldn’t help but feel they might need even more power for those who listen to bass-heavy content at near-insane levels. PSB says the T2s will handle 300 watts RMS — I totally believe them. However in my opinion, this system is all about finesse, head bangers really needn’t apply."
"CD playback was more than respectable, but where this system really shined was streaming audio. When used as a USB DAC with a laptop connected, the 851C was brilliant. It burnished compressed MOG audio files (streamed at a better-than-average 320 kbps) to a fine glow. The degree of detail resolution was astounding, yet there was a pleasant analog-like smoothness to the sound that invited you to listen fatigue-free for hours."
Our Cambridge Audio System in Detail
|Cambridge Audio Azur 851A amplifier|
Cambridge’s flagship integrated amp will spoil you with its astonishing levels of musical detail, finesse, and speaker-gripping power. This component features: two toroidal transformers supplying pristine, supercharged power. But let's break this statement down to its nuts and bolts. The toroidal transformers are nearly impervious to hum, buzz, and interference. And Cambridge Audio's patented Class XD amplification technology combine the sonic refinements of a Class A amplifier with the cool-running efficiency of a Class AB amp.
|Cambridge Audio Azur 851C CD player, DAC and digital preamp|
This upsampling digital-to-analog converter makes the most of your CD collection, as well as all of your other digital music sources. The player's full complement of digital inputs include USB for your computer, coaxial digital inputs for a DVD or Blu-ray player, or a Sonos® Connect player; and optical digital inputs for an HDTV, Apple TV®, or game console. There's also a balanced digital XLR input that provides an ultra-low-noise connection for a compatible high-end transport. Plus, this player's balanced XLR audio outputs provide a low-noise, pro-quality connection to a compatible high-end amplifier (like the Azur 851A, above).
|Furman Elite 15 PFi power protector|
Exclusive Furman technologies help maximize the protection and performance of your audio gear. The Elite-15 PFi constantly monitors the incoming AC, and if voltage reaches 15% above normal, it automatically shuts off power to all connected equipment. Wide-bandwidth noise filtration reduces the AC line noise that can mask low-level audio and video details. The result is noticeably improved picture and sound quality.
This slender, elegantly curved tower speaker conjures up a wide, deep soundstage with pinpoint accuracy and clarity. The Imagine T2 uses a five-driver array made up of three woofers, a midrange, and a dome tweeter. Each woofer is isolated in its own sealed chamber to provide more precise cabinet tuning. The T'2s are capable of powerful, controlled bass down to 34Hz. The T2's present a superbly accurate and stable stereo image.