Cam­bridge Au­dio Azur 851N £1399

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Awards 2018 -

This time last year, we said it takes some­thing spe­cial to win a Prod­uct of the Year Award two years on the trot. The Azur 851N has just made it three.

A step up from the CXN, which it­self takes an­other Award here, the Azur 851N re­mains an as­ton­ish­ingly com­plete, high-end hi-fi streamer – par­tic­u­larly if you’re in the mar­ket for one that can also per­form the role of a pre-amp.

Punc­tual and de­ci­sive

While the CXN is an ex­cep­tion­ally mus­cu­lar, full-bodied, de­tailed and en­thu­si­as­tic per­former for the money, the Azur 851N is all of that and more, de­liv­er­ing ex­tra help­ings of ex­pres­sion, dy­namism and spa­cious­ness.

The com­plex, col­lage-like con­struc­tion of MIA’S Bird Flu is more solid and co­her­ent through the 851N than it is via the CXN (or prac­ti­cally any other streamer, for that mat­ter), while Nick Cave and War­ren El­lis’s The Mother has a greater sense of del­i­cacy, open­ness and nat­u­ral res­o­nance.

Switch to Rolo To­massi’s Rit­u­als and rhyth­mic ca­dence and pre­ci­sion come to the fore; the track’s polyrhyth­mic struc­ture isn’t lost on the shrewd Cam­bridge as it keeps tabs on the chal­leng­ing drum beat and jagged gui­tars, en­hanc­ing the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the two with­out break­ing co­he­sion. It’s punc­tual, de­ci­sive and quick on its feet with the fluc­tu­at­ing tempo.

With bal­ance on point, there’s punch and depth down low and sparkling bite up top, with all-you-can-eat so­lid­ity flesh­ing out a clear, ar­tic­u­late midrange.

In Suf­jan Stevens’ Jack­sonville, cas­cad­ing vi­o­lins, tread­ing key­boards and lu­cid banjo strum­ming are all won­der­fully tex­tured around his ex­alted, ten­der vo­cals. Trum­pets soar freely through the mix, and the del­i­cate bells never need fight for at­ten­tion.

Strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween power and del­i­cacy, the Cam­bridge en­sures there’s never a dull mo­ment in Hans Zim­mer’s

Su­per­ma­rine (from the Dunkirk sound­track). It has the punch and dy­nam­ics to up your pulse with the re­lent­lessly build­ing, chug­ging in­stru­men­tal, and drives home the in­tense cli­max while en­sur­ing the ar­range­ment’s more pen­sive el­e­ments un­der­neath are spared a thought.

Bells and whis­tles

At this price you ex­pect all of the techie bells and whis­tles, too – and the Cam­bridge de­liv­ers in spades.

Three USB and twin op­ti­cal and coax­ial in­puts join an asyn­chro­nous USB socket for your lap­top, while out­puts in­clude a pair of RCAS and bal­anced XLRS, and sin­gle dig­i­tal op­ti­cal and coax­ial sock­ets.

The Cam­bridge Con­nect app is the best way to ac­cess your net­worked mu­sic (up to 24bit/192khz) and gives ac­cess to thou­sands of ra­dio sta­tions. Spo­tify Con­nect and Air­play are present too, as is Blue­tooth via a £70 don­gle.

In all, the Azur 851N is a glit­ter­ingly bril­liant hi-fi streamer that ri­vals are still find­ing im­pos­si­ble to beat.

The 851N has most of what you need built in, with an op­tional don­gle for Blue­tooth

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