In­te­grated am­pli­fiers

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The am­pli­fier may not be the most glam­orous el­e­ment of the hi-fi chain, but it is most cer­tainly cru­cial. At their core, amps should make lit­tle sig­nals large, with­out chang­ing their na­ture in any other way. Sound easy? It isn’t. There are as many ways a to de­sign an amp cir­cuit as there are ways to de­sign a loud­speaker. And th­ese days, that’s just the half of it.

The rest cov­ers all the sec­ondary tasks an am­pli­fier is now ex­pected to do. Where once there were just a few ana­logue in­puts, now we want lots of them, and dig­i­tal in­puts for mod­ern sources too, so that am­pli­fiers are very of­ten DACs as well (in­deed once we all have dig­i­tal am­pli­fiers, the mar­ket for stand­alone DACs will pre­sum­ably re­cede once more).

Cam­bridge Au­dio is a UK brand which made its mod­ern name with some rock-solid but im­pres­sively priced am­pli­fi­ca­tion, one of its great early suc­cesses, the A1 (and later the A3i), com­ing qui­etly from the de­sign board of Mike Creek (who tells us that back in 1995 he was given a whole month to de­sign it). From such pres­sures do suc­cess grow, and here we have the thor­oughly mod­ern CXA80 (80 watts per chan­nel), big brother to the CXA60. But there’s a lot more to it than a few more watts. The CXA80 is dual mono; the CXA60 isn’t. The CXA80 has a USB DAC; the CXA60 doesn’t. The CXA80 has bal­anced in­puts; the CXA60 doesn’t.

It has a proper toroidal trans­former, though this is shared by both sig­nal paths (so not purely dual mono), and the com­po­nent count in the direct sig­nal path has been dras­ti­cally re­duced, adding a great many “sup­port” com­po­nents but keep­ing that es­sen­tial direct path pure.

The CXA80 also has an in­ter­est­ing anti-clip­ping sys­tem. When pushed to de­liver more than rated power, many am­pli­fiers just do noth­ing about it, oth­ers put clip­ping in­di­ca­tors on the front panel which flash to alert you, still oth­ers (NAD for ex­am­ple) ar­ti­fi­cially ‘round off’ the edges of the wave­form to min­imise the au­di­ble ef­fects (‘soft clip­ping’). The CXA80’s an­ti­clip­ping cir­cuit just turns the vol­ume con­trol an­ti­clock­wise a few notches, drop­ping the out­put level to stop the clip­ping — it’s a quite bril­liant so­lu­tion.

Mean­while the Cam­bridge is loaded with in­puts both ana­logue and dig­i­tal — six ana­logue in­puts (in­clud­ing an op­tion to switch one to bal­anced sock­ets), plus two op­ti­cal dig­i­tal, a coax­ial dig­i­tal in­put, and two USB in­puts, one B-type to play from your com­puter, and one A-type in­tended for use with Cam­bridge Au­dio’s BT100 Blue­tooth don­gle (sold separately for $140) which al­lows you to stream Blue­tooth and aptX Blue­tooth.

The CXA80 is an au­di­bly pow­er­ful am­pli­fier — its Class-AB high power out­put com­bined with the abil­ity to drive low-im­ped­ance loads, and beau­ti­fully clean-sound­ing when do­ing so, able to de­liver the in­tri­ca­cies of a mu­si­cal per­for­mance while still sound­ing mu­si­cal.

We were also im­pressed by the su­perb build qual­ity (in­clud­ing an ALPs film type vol­ume po­ten­tiome­ter) and we like the so­phis­ti­cated in­dus­trial de­sign here; even the re­mote con­trol was of a very high stan­dard, and log­i­cally laid out.

This is an amp which fits in tra­di­tional sys­tems, but of­fers throughly mod­ern con­nec­tions and op­er­a­tion, plus high power per­for­mance. Price is $1699.

More info: www.

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