The Cambridge Audio AXA35 is a $350 Integrated Speaker amplifier with a built-in phono-stage. I must say, I am pleasantly surprised by Cambridge Audio recently.
I have been on a little bit of a speaker binge lately, so forgive me for my enthusiasm. Getting to hear so much amazing gear in the context of speakers vs headphones has been absolutely stellar for me.
Let us go right ahead and drop this AXA35 into the fray and see how well it performs.
Packaging & Accessories
The standard box includes just cardboard and foam cutouts for protection. Nothing but a logo for Cambridge on the box and no actual container for it beyond that.
Inside, we get a power supply cable and the unit itself, as well as the remote control with the needed AAA batteries.
For a speaker amp, I do not desire nor want anything more beyond the needed cables. True, it would have been nice to have a set of cables included, may that be a set of RCAs or a banana plug adapted set of speaker cables. But I am talking about 5-$10 cable sets I can grab most places.
My views on included cables have changed lately, so I fully admit that I was pretty rough on past companies for not including them. But now, I mean…a set of 3.5mm female to RCA males cost so cheap a price these days, as do speaker cables.
Most of us have the interconnects already. I have a great set of pre-made speaker cable(s) already. So, I digress these days on that issue.
Cambridge Audio does not screw around with its build quality. It is solid aluminum in exterior chassis material and the rear ports are soldered very well. By that, I mean they do not jiggle around or feel loose.
I prefer to use banana plug adapters that I place together myself, but in this case and for this review, I will be using a set of speaker cables that was pre-made that came with another set of speakers I currently own.
I like the cable, so I have been using it with my Planar Magnepan LRS, as well as My Q Acoustics 3020i. I feel perfectly happy with it and do not feel the need to massively go all out on expensive cables for this review.
The front panel button array is also sturdy and well setup. I do not feel any looseness or weirdness in the button toggles, so I consider that a win.
So, speakers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as power output ratios. This AXA35 dishes out 35w into 8ohm, which is good for very efficient amp required speaker setups.
For example, the Q Acoustics 3020i, which is a magnificent set of speakers for just $314! 35W is more than enough to properly drive them and blast the walls down.
However, this amplifier is not going to be sufficient for usage with my Magnepan LRS, which my Harman 3770 at 120w still does not power quite enough. So, probably best to not use this with very needed speakers out yonder in ‘The Audio Void’.
True, 35w is enough for most bookshelves and moderately powerful tower speakers out there. I do not feel underfed at all with the 3020i speakers.
The reason I can confirm that is that I hear no difference in firmness or bass, smoothness, or really anything at all between the 120w Harman 37770 and the 35w AXA35. So, I have hit right on the money with this 3020i set of speakers for that is likely to max out their potential.
I highly doubt 250w or more will change anything on that Q Acoustics speaker. 35W is perfectly sufficient. Sometimes, it is not about numbers. You do not need serious power with efficient speakers and as I always say, rig pairing is more important at this point.
Finding the right tonalities offered in the speaker amp that can jive with the speaker is what you should be aiming for with those efficient to mildly efficient bookshelf speakers.
Let us talk about the stock flat EQ (disabled) low end on this amplifier before we talk about what it offers when it is boosted. The unit has a software bass boost built-in that you can access on the front panel.
So, before that, let me discuss the non-EQ’ed version of this experience. The AXA35 is a surprisingly firm feeling and pure for the price. In fact, I have been super happy with what it offers in terms of tonality.
That purity factor is genuinely nice, and I cannot see anyone saying otherwise, as even with the very inefficient Magnepans, this AXA35 still sounds so clean. True, that experience is lacking quantity, but not quality.
With the 3020i (my choice speaker at the moment) the low end is quite subject to sounding fantastic regardless of the music source. Drop a YouTube low bitrate track, or streaming, or run off Foobar2000 with DSD tracks and it will still feel pure. I am actually quite astonished by the raw fidelity offered for only $350.
Yes, I think the amplifier is a bit underwhelming in the quantity of the bass experience when not boosted, so I usually run a +5 on it and max it out and that really smooths out the experience for me.
I need to confess. I am a huge Tim Henson and Polyphia fanboy. Running the track “O.D” from this band through the 3020i and the AXA35 is a gift from God. The low end is just so yummy and not overbearing, but firm and so enjoyable. I do not think this is a warm amplifier, it is still a bit on the neutral side, but that bass boost helps without a doubt.
I prefer warmth, but as a reviewer, I objectively look at both the neutral and warm characteristic potentials in products. I feel this AXA35 is more toward the neutral tonality overall and you can feel that in the bass texturing for sure.
With the boost active, I very much prefer the depth offered with just a small +5dB boost there. I can go further and drop another +5dB with realbassexciter (a Foobar2000 DSP) and that really makes me so happy. Is it basshead worthy, or sub worthy? No. I have the AKG Harman Citation Tower for that, which literally melts my walls with bass quantity.
This setup here is more bassy than the same rig and track with the Magnepan LRS. Without question, the 3020i from Q Acoustics is the bassier of the speakers I have at the moment that requires amplification. And I can satisfy that need with the +5dB boost internally offered on the Cambridge Audio AXA35. I am quite happy with what it can produce.
Side by side with the Harman 3770, I can hear the midrange placement shift when swapping between the two. The Cambridge is more forward, less wide feeling, more personal and involving. The Harman is wider, a bit more recessive in nature.
This is easy to spot with live Jazz recordings. I enjoy my Sinatra, so playing the old school classics through this setup really portrays a forward midrange sensibility. If you enjoy forward midrange, this is a great speaker amplifier for you. It does a good job projecting that vocal frequency area, at least to my ear.
Also, I have to say that the tonality, again, is so smooth and pristine. As for the price, I am very satisfied with this unit. I prefer it over the Harman + Magnepan setup even though the Magnepans run thinner sounding off this AXA35.
Sometimes, you can sacrifice some of the experience and come out with something better elsewhere. A tribal offering of vividness and heft in the bottom end that is lost with the AXA35 is compensated with an excellent midrange positioning performance. Rig pairing is so important.
The AXA35 also has a treble function EQ as well as a bass boost, so feel free to tap that when needed. Although, I do not recommend you use it unless your speakers are dim on the top end and highly reserved. I do not need to touch this toggle; I leave it at 0 value at all times.
Testing on the Magnepans and the Q Acoustics revealed way too much brightness factor at +5dB of treble. So, caution there. Unless your speaker is incredibly soft on the top side, odds are good you will not need the treble booster.
As far as treble fidelity goes, the Cambridge Audio AXA35 offers excellent quality. I have an SMSL DA-8 speaker amplifier ($179) that sounds pretty much how an average $179 amplifier should. There is an audible and prominent quality increase when swapping to the AXA35, so I can safely say the good $100-200 amps are bested by this $350 AXA35.
I mention this because I consider the AXA35 an amp priced on the bottom side of the middle tier for pricing but offering something more in the $600ish tier.
How do I know? The Harman 3770 is $700+ and was a great amp unit when it was released a bit ago. This AXA35 sounds like it plays ball with the more expensive upper mid-tier amplifiers on the top side. You get a nice, smooth sound. And that smoothness factor, that luster…is something I highly prize and seek in my treble needs.
I can recommend this AXA35 for those interested in some shine, but with a smooth quantity factor that never seems overly blaring or impactful in a physical manner.
When I swap between the Harman 3770 and this AXA35, I can feel the stage widen while using the Harman, then drop off when using the AXA35. So, I do not consider this an imaging titan or something to be used with extremely spacious sounding monitors.
However, again, Cambridge clearly set this amplifier up for intimacy and not spaciousness. This is like a fight between the Beyerdynamic T1 headphone and the Sennheiser HD800. One is forward and coherently involving. The other is expansive and not physically engaging in forwardness.
This is a pick your poison type of event for me. Sometimes, I prefer the AXA35. Other times, I do not. It depends on the track. The depth of field factor, as well as the realism factor in density, is equal between the two amps I just mentioned. Remember, the AXA35 is roughly half the price of the HK3770, which is discontinued, by the way.
Height & Width
Stage width and height factor are much better set up with the Magnepan speakers than the Q Acoustics 3020i, which I find funny because of the sheer size difference between these two speakers.
You would think the Magnepans project more to stage right and left, but that is not so much the case. I feel like the Q Acoustics 3020i, running out of the AXA35, projects more width.
However, the Magnepan LRS projects more height factor and realistic physical size. By that, I mean the LRS speakers are so large that it feels like an actual human is talking to me and not coming out of a speaker.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The SMSL Da-8 sounds nice for the price, but you can really feel the staging size expand when swapping over to the Cambridge here. I recommend the AXA35 for those who love intimacy, very forward and involving speakers.
I am extremely happy with this amplifier. I now use it just as often as my HK3770 and that is really saying something, due to that Harman being double the price.
As mentioned, it is not always about power. You can live with a sacrifice here and there where higher voltage might equate to better performance. I am perfectly happy using 35w on the Magnepans. They are not tremendously inefficient, and they do run fairly well of low-power amps like this AXA35.
With all that said, this amplifier has a forward and immensely coherent feeling. It really plays so well with forward-sounding speakers and ones that project stage depth forward and backward.
It is also extremely well built, punching above its own weight class in price to performance ratio in the context of raw fidelity. It is smooth and not at all overly bright, or painful to listen to. I have used it for hours with my Magnepan LRS’s and also the 3020i’s, I have never felt any sonic fatigue.
For $350? This is a steal of a unit that can be connected to multiple sources that will all output to one speaker. The exterior front-panel headphone out is also a pro for me. I am now a Cambridge fanboy, too.
Cambridge Audio AXA35 Specifications
POWER OUTPUT 35 Watts (into 8 Ohms)
THD (UNWEIGHTED) <0.01% @ 1kHz, 80% of rated power <0.15% 20Hz – 20kHz, 80% of rated power