“A dy­namic per­former”

FOR Full-bod­ied pre­sen­ta­tion; times well with good dy­nam­ics AGAINST Rega Fono MM MK3 of­fers a tad more punch

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - First Tests -

Pro­duc­ing any five-star duo re­quires com­ple­ment­ing tal­ents, dif­fer­ent enough to val­i­date the in­clu­sion of both par­ties, while sim­i­lar enough to form a co­he­sive whole.

The Duo re­ferred to by the moniker of Cam­bridge Au­dio’s lat­est phono stage – re­leased along­side the mov­ing-mag­ne­tonly Solo pre-am­pli­fier – seems to refer to its abil­ity to han­dle both MM and MC turntable car­tridges.

But like­wise it could in­di­cate the Duo’s in­clu­sion of an on-board head­phone am­pli­fier, for use in ei­ther a tra­di­tional hi-fi sys­tem or solely as middleman be­tween your deck and a suit­ably tal­ented pair of cans. Or, as we’re about to find out, it might be that so-of­ten-elu­sive re­la­tion­ship be­tween strik­ing de­sign and sump­tu­ous sonic per­for­mance. Few phono stages at this price of­fer such a so­phis­ti­cated vis­ual. From the off­set vol­ume dial dom­i­nat­ing the Duo’s oth­er­wise min­i­mal­ist fas­cia, to the smaller, in­tu­itive quirks such as mir­rored la­belling on its rear, al­low­ing for the eas­i­est of con­nec­tions whether look­ing face on or peer­ing over the top of its chas­sis.

Well-con­nected

There’s a 6.3mm head­phone in­put and but­tons for power and car­tridge op­tions strad­dling the sub­stan­tial dial, with MM and MC ins and sin­gle-ended outs and a small bal­ance level on the other side. Aes­thet­i­cally, it’s a de­light – un­clut­tered, un­der­stated and al­most ob­jec­tively stylish.

Cam­bridge has also paid cour­tesy to the lit­tle things in terms of the Duo’s run­ning and per­for­mance. The sub­sonic fil­ter is there to help elim­i­nate low-fre­quency rum­bles, while its auto power-down af­ter 20 min­utes of in­ac­tiv­ity, and 0.5W us­age in standby, keeps power con­sump­tion to a rea­son­able min­i­mum.

Dy­namic sounds

Good in­ten­tions do not a five-star re­view make, of course, but such at­ten­tion to de­tail is of­ten in­dica­tive of a honed sonic per­for­mance. So it is with some an­tic­i­pa­tion we hook the Duo up to our ref­er­ence sys­tem and shuf­fle our first record from its sleeve.

Our con­fi­dence is re­paid within the open­ing ti­tle track of The Blue Nile’s

A Walk Across The Rooftops. It’s a de­tailed and dy­namic per­for­mance that doesn’t shy from the warmth of the record, but nor does it wal­low or war­ble in it, ei­ther.

Pizzi­cato strings are buoy­ant, the bass gui­tar stabs with suf­fi­cient weight and agility and the snare cuts through with re­verb that is al­lowed to de­cay in its own time. The pre­sen­ta­tion is spa­cious but co­he­sive, of­fer­ing di­men­sion while hang­ing its image in front of our noses, im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore.

Clear dy­nam­ics help the mu­sic drive rhyth­mi­cally, sup­port­ing the Duo’s def­i­nite tim­ing with beats of vary­ing in­ten­sity, while also etch­ing in the ex­pres­sion of Paul Buchanan’s soul­ful and of­ten mourn­ful vo­cal. While the Duo doesn’t per­haps match the punch har­nessed by Rega’s Award-win­ning Fono MM MK3, it doesn’t lack bite, ei­ther. More driven tracks on the al­bum such as Stay or

Tin­sel­town In The Rain are de­liv­ered with verve, though the Cam­bridge’s smooth­ness and warmth come into their own with its op­u­lent per­for­mance of the more sen­ti­men­tal, in­ward-look­ing Easter Pa­rade.

That kind of sonic glow is one rea­son you might opt for a phono stage such as the Duo over its class-lead­ing coun­ter­part. It flour­ishes un­der these kinds of con­di­tions, of­fer­ing sim­i­lar lev­els of de­tail, tim­ing and dy­nam­ics but with a fuller body and per­haps more whole­some pre­sen­ta­tion.

Hit­ting a bulls­eye

That isn’t to ne­glect its com­pat­i­bil­ity with mov­ing-mag­net and mov­ing-coil car­tridges, nor, more im­por­tantly as far as we’re con­cerned, its in-built head­phone amp. Those ad­di­tions make the Duo a unique prospect as a five-star per­former at this price, and ought to earn it a rea­son­able amount of ad­mir­ers re­gard­less of its sonic char­ac­ter.

Rarely does Cam­bridge Au­dio fire wide of the mark, but the Duo hits right at the heart of the tar­get. For a full-bod­ied, dy­namic per­former with all the class of a white tiger in a smok­ing jacket, you re­ally can’t go wrong.

“Aes­thet­i­cally, it’s a de­light – un­clut­tered, un­der­stated and al­most ob­jec­tively stylish”

The min­i­mal­ist ex­te­rior is proud and classy

Note the thought­ful la­bels you can read ei­ther way up

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