The Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) is an app compatible ROON ready high-end desktop streamer with built-in Google Chromecast. It is priced at $1099.
Disclaimer: The Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Cambridge Audio for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about TWS products we reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
The Cambridge Audio CXN V2 is a $1099 network streamer and all in one product. I received this some time ago and am finally able to post the review. I have been using it extensively and have some thoughts I would like to share with you.
The package was relatively basic and bare, nothing interesting to report outside of a standard box with some foam protection. Beyond that, the exterior chassis is CNC’ed aluminum and the unit feels of very good quality in the hand.
Despite being so large, it isn’t a super heavy or supremely dense feeling. The volume knob doubles as a selection tool for the UI experience and feels rock solid.
I noticed absolutely no play (movement and jiggle) in the construction of this unit what so ever, even right down to the small button selectors for the home screen and a few other direct access buttons.
On the rear side of the CXN V2 is a plethora of output and input options. I feel the same about the rear panel construction quality as I do the front panel. Nothing jiggles and clicks when I unplug or connect any cables, I feel no loose connections what so ever. This is a great build quality from top to bottom, no doubt about it.
Dear Audio Gods…I mean, the list of functions that this product has is absurdly huge. I can be here all day reviewing each section of features. How do I even tackle this? Well, the only option is to be brief and specific, or else risk this review being 6+ pages long. Let’s start with the obvious functional core of the unit: the network streaming capabilities.
Cambridge has launched a compatible app with the CNX (v2) called StreamMagic which pretty much controls all your streaming features on the CXN (V2) and integrates 3rd party streaming apps or radio even. I have Spotify Premium and being able to connect via WiFi is a beautiful thing. True, I find it inferior in sound quality to TIDAL, but that is also connect-friendly to the CXN.
I am not big on this feature, we all have phones that will operate with Bluetooth receivers that are likely a better route for this. But, those who prefer not to do that will be happy to know you don’t need to route to a Phone or a Tablet.
You’ll need the BT100 Bluetooth Dongle Addon if you want any Bluetooth functionality though. This is Bluetooth input only, not output. Meaning, you cannot broadcast any BT signal, you can only stream Bluetooth from a phone, or tablet, or any other Bluetooth device, into the CXN. From there, you can route the output connections to another amplifier.
In this case, I am also using another Cambridge model called the AXA35 ($350) speaker amplifier that then routes into my…wait for it…Magenpan LRS speakers. Pure Bliss.
I would absolutely prefer to just run my phone through Bluetooth into this, proceeding to use my phone as a remote for Spotify. Either or works fine though, no real difference in sound quality between either route you prefer to take.
A Silly and Small Gripe
I hate LED panels being lit during play. I hate them. I hate when an LCD screen stays on and there is no function to remove the screen panel from activity while being used.
This CXN V2, god beholden, has an LCD off function. My God, do you know how happy this makes me? It doesn’t need to stay on or dim, it just shuts off entirely, totally black screen unless you are pressing buttons on it.
This is so great and overlooked in nearly every other DAC with an LCD out there. Just let me shut it off so I can keep it on and active in my darkened room and not have a spotlight shining on me.
The AXA35 has a very dim screen and thankfully, it just shows two letters on it and is not that bright. However, I place a small piece of black tape over the power LEDs because in a totally darkened bedroom/I prefer not to see them.
My Burson Conductor and my Feliks ANV amp have a spotlight LED that can light up the sky at night. I keep black tape over it at all times. Thankfully, the Cambridge LEDs aren’t nearly as bright. I see no need for this. I’d rather have the LED power off over a few minutes. I wish that were a stock feature on most sources and amps.
The Wolfson WM8740 is a fairly old DAC chipset but popular among many for its punchy and natural to a slightly warm sound signature. Today, there are many better options out there in terms of resolution and dynamic range.
So it is quite unique to see it deployed in an all-in-one that can be used as a USB DAC for Hifi audio usage via headphones, as well as a full-on network streamer.
Truly, the DAC experience is just fine and for the price, I would have liked to see something a bit better in there. But, I never found the 8740 series to be severely lacking. Implementation is key and it is not always just the DAC itself that is the most important feature.
It is the summation of all the qualities in the product and in this case, I would not have believed you if you told me this was an older generation DAC in there. I run this DAC into the AXA35 and the end result is something I am happy with for Hifi Speaker usage. That Magnepan LRS is really something.
Shockingly, the CXN houses Balanced XLR outputs and unbalanced RCA’s. I rig pair with the SMSL SPL400 amplifier that was recently released, in balanced mode. The end result is pretty good, to say the least.
The tonality of the CXN is not as neutral as the SMSL, which is something I prefer. The end result is a little bit warmer than a fully neutral rig, which again, is my preference subjectively.
I am able to tame the Sennheiser HD800 with this rig and have it sound far less painful. Not many DAC’s and amps out there can do that, so market that as a win for me.
For the price, I am thankful it is giving me so many options, truly, this is a ‘can do almost anything’ source. Hurts my soul though, as my amp of choice is the Feliks Audio Euforia ANV 20th Edition, which only has an unbalanced RCA.
UI and Remote
Thankfully, we get a nice and solid remote to use this bad boy with. Or…is it a bad girl? Hmm. Anyway. The CXN’s UI experience is just what I want to see in a very complex and fruit-filled product like this. With so many functions, I want things laid out as simply as possible. No complex menus what so ever!
The front panel of the unit has all the required buttons you’d want that will take you to any desired placement in the UI system. I am happy to see a simple home button return, which doesn’t force me to back out of menus and wait for them to load. Just tap the home button and you start over. Simple and good stuff here, I like it.
I can safely say that the experience is so simplistic and easy to navigate, that I don’t require using it. See how that works? Good UI design that doesn’t require me to toggle anything except for when I want to run Balanced mode. Plugin and forget it.
How I Use It
I have three, yes count em’, three USB DAC’s that output sound from my computer. One of them is for speakers only at the touch of a button. That is my Cambridge and Mangepan stack rig: The AXA35+CXN+Magnepan LRS. This is for speaker usage. When I am listening to YouTube or Music via Foobar, I have hotkeys on my keyboard to select this DCA output with one tap.
My secondary DAC is the Burson Conductor 3 Performance+Feliks ANV+whatever headphones I want. This rig is for the good stuff only, my HD800, my very high-end headphone private time.
The third is plugged into my SMSL SPL400, a near 8w balanced headphone amplifier that is sourced by an SMSL M400 USB DAC. This is for only headphones that are balanced in nature and that require serious power that my Feliks Audio rig cannot provide. I keep that one off to the side for when I am in serious need of power.
The reason I talk about all of this is that I can swap the CXN V2 in there for all 3 source routes and the end result still sounds good. It is just a great middle of the road USB DAC that I find no real faults with, one that seems to pair with many different types of rig experiences. And I love that about Cambridge. Their house sound is right in that preferred gray area with tone.
Bass and Mids
The CXN is what I would consider bass moderate in physical quantity, at least, that is, when I am not EQ’ing or DSP’ing anything. I consider this CXN V2 a mildly forward midrange sound.
I have a Harman 3770 that sounds more in your face with mids through the same source and speaker setup/headphone setup. But, that Harman lacks the refined tonality and smoothness of the Cambridge.
Sometimes, you just get a product that meshes with your personal set up very well and this is one of those cases where I had to shelve my HK3770. As nice as it is, it just doesn’t mesh with the CXN here and I find the cheaper AXA35 from Cambridge a much better fit for usage with bassy products. Bass Response
For example, I have a set of Sony XB1000 headphones, probably the best bass in a headphone in the world. I am amping the CXN with an SMSL SPL400 amplifier. The result is massive bass creaminess.
This is so hard to achieve and yet from a network streamer? Ok, Cambridge, you have my attention. I am able to ramp up to about -4dB extra low end before I can feel some shake, which is very apparent on the bass light Magnepan LRS speakers.
In headphones, this is far less noticeable, but still audible to my ear enough to talk about it. Dropping an extra +4dB in there is right on par for average before some bleed and mush start to appear in most USB DACs, amps, and headphones. So, it is still performing well in this area.
The top end of the CXN seems incredibly smooth and refined no matter what I toss at it. Any amplifier, even the harsh HD3770 from Harman feels more tamed up top.
I recently got a set of KOSS ESP 95x’s from Drop and the CNX pairing with the included electrostatic amplifier is really, really good. In fact, I actually find it preferred to the Burson Conductor Performance DAC and amp.
Why? Why would I even say that when we all know the Burson is significantly clearer and more spacious. Well, sometimes when you have headphones like the ESP950, that are not regarded for immense soundstaging, you can sacrifice some fidelity and imaging for preferred tonality.
In this case, the treble experience of the CXN is less prominent than the Burson’s house sound. While the Burson is not hostile by any means, you can clearly hear the difference when the source DAC is the CXN vs the Burson Conductor Performance. I found the Cambridge more elegant feeling, while the Burson felt a bit more engaging and vivid.
When using speakers, I feel and hear very little, if any at all difference in staging width and height factor between any of my DAC’s. The Burson, the newly reviewed Ultrasone Panther of mine, or this CXN V2.
What I do hear is a depth of field and realism differences between them, which are very apparent. I would not call the depth of field here prominent and deep-reaching.
I would use the term mellow to describe what is there. It is neither lacking depth or realistic flair nor does it wow me as the Burson does. But then again, the CXN V2 is an all arounder while the Burson is a more niche DAC and amp.
It isn’t until I start using headphones that I would be using the Burson almost exclusively. But, the CXN is still very nice when you consider the price and everything else it can do. Having the ability to stream and USB DAC output is lovely. So, I would call this CXN V2 a good overall performer in the sound staging department for usage with headphones.
Although, if you are getting an all arounder, I highly doubt you are going to use it with a super Hifi niche best headphones TOTL out there. Odds are good you are going to buy something else. So, for the general consumer or the entry audiophile with a good set of headphones? This is a definite recommendation.
The CXN V2 and the AXA35 are clearly made with each other in mind. I find their pairing very refreshing and neither sounding very different from the other. In my opinion, Cambridge makes sure the tonality of their sources will match the tonality of their amplifiers.
Thus, the AXA35 is a match made in heaven and the only real “great” add-on in my arsenal of amplifiers. My Burson’s, my Felik, my few other speaker amps did not pair well with the CXN as a source powering it in the chain.
Truly, only the AXA35 was a rig pairing that I came across that sounds fantastic. Synergy is wildly important and a lost art these days. Shilling a neutral amp with a non-neutral source is usually bad news, unless you are trying to tame treble or harshness. In this case, keeping to Cambridge’s house sound was a smooth, elegant, and powerful combination.
Tiering and Preference
The CXN is not in the same price tier as the AXA35, one is a mid-tier product and the other is a higher-end product. I am only using them because I found the tonality to match very well.
If you want even better fidelity, you’d want to drop in a higher tier amplifier from Cambridge. I can speak on that in the future if I can obtain one. But, for now, I really enjoy this pairing despite the AXA35 amplifier being what I would consider just fresh out of budget tier and into the middle tier pricing category.
I simply wanted to test Cambridge gear with other Cambridge gear to see if the tonality and house sound matched. I feel they do.
Ohhhhh, joy. The Magnepan LRS is really quite stellar, I’ll be reviewing that soon. It isn’t all about power, as the AXA35 isn’t very potent on that front. But, the combo of this CXN source and the AXA35 is a match made in heaven.
I really, truly believe it might be one of the best mid-tier rigs you can get if you want a natural house sound. This rig is not neutral or cold. It is not warm. It is a natural tonality overall with slight coloration, but not enough to call it warm.
The Magnepan LRS is also somewhere in the same ballpark, it is not warm, it is not cold. It has a gentle hue or very slight coloration, but overall, stays natural sounding. It is lacking a harsh impart and any icy treble prodding.
I am absolutely astounded by the level of naturalness here in this rig. It is relatively lowly on the list of what amps and sources generally are used for great speakers. But, this LRS is only $650 or so and it performs far beyond that price point.
I have a $3000 set of Harman Citation Speakers (originally that price, anyway, now they are heavily reduced due to no future support on them) and I can safely tell you that the LRS sounds cleaner and much more natural.
A large part of that natural flair comes from the CXN pushing immensely great synergy as the source in the chain. What’s more, I have a Harman HK3770 speaker amplifier and a few from SMSL that simply don’t mesh with the Cambridge DAC and this Mangepan LRS. But, I think that is my preference in tonality speaking.
The CXN is a $1099 can do anything source player. It almost doesn’t matter what you toss at it. Bluetooth, analog, digital, streaming services. All of it is supported and all of it sounds very good for the price. Not many fully endowed streaming source players exist that have a mellow tonality that plays well with headphone amplifiers that aren’t horridly neutral.
I am actually impressed by the well laid out UI system. I do not have to disconnect and reconnect, I do not have to power on and off. I’ve left the CXN on for weeks and it doesn’t get overly warm. Whereas some other DAC’s tend to get hot within a few hours.
Overall, this is one of the better network streaming devices out there and I absolutely recommend you buy the AXA35 with it if you have a good little speaker setup. It isn’t supremely powerful, so long as your speakers don’t demand 100W+ or more, you’ll be good on this rig and enjoy anything you use it with.
Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) Specifications
- DAC Dual Wolfson WM8740 24-bit DACs
- ROON READY Yes (Requires a Roon subscription)
- DIGITAL FILTER 2nd Generation ATF2 up-sampling to 24-bit/384khz
- ANALOGUE FILTER 2-Pole Dual Differential Bessel
- USB AUDIO INPUT USB Type B conforms to USB Audio profile 1.0 or 2.0 (user selectable)
- DIGITAL AUDIO INPUTS S/PDIF Coaxial and TOSLINK Optical)
- ANALOGUE AUDIO OUTPUTS Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA analog
- DIGITAL AUDIO OUTPUTS S/PDIF Coaxial and TOSLINK Optical
- UPnP, Local USB media
- USB audio 1.0 and 2.0
- S/PDIF Toslink and Coaxial
- Airplay 2
- Chromecast built-in
- Internet radio
- Spotify Connect
- Bluetooth aptX via BT100 Bluetooth receiver (not supplied)