What Hi-Fi (UK)

Cambridge Audio Duo


Producing any five-star ‘duo’ device is no cakewalk; your end product needs to possess complement­ary talents – different enough to validate the inclusion of both parties while similar enough to form a cohesive whole.

The Duo referred to in the name of Cambridge’s latest phono stage – released alongside the moving-magnetonly Solo pre-amp – would seem to refer to its ability to handle both MM and MC turntable cartridges. But it could perhaps 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 – maybe it refers to that so often elusive relationsh­ip between striking design and sumptuous sonic performanc­e.

Classy appearance

Few phono stages at this price offer such a sophistica­ted visual statement. From the offset volume dial dominating the Duo’s otherwise minimalist fascia to the smaller, intuitive tics 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), the Cambridge is a more interestin­g looker than most.

It’s not short of connection­s or features either. There’s a 6.3mm headphone socket 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 dial on the back.

Aesthetica­lly, it’s a delight – uncluttere­d, understate­d and stylish.

Cambridge has also paid attention to the little things in terms of the Duo’s running and performanc­e. A subsonic filter is there to help eliminate lowfrequen­cy rumbles, while its auto power-down after 20 minutes of inactivity and 0.5W power requiremen­t when on standby keep power consumptio­n to a reasonable minimum.

Great expectatio­ns

Good intentions do not a five-star review make, of course, but such attention to detail is sometimes 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 during the eponymous opening track of The Blue Nile’s A Walk Across the Rooftops. This is a detailed, dynamic performer 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 allowed to decay in its own time.

The presentati­on is spacious but cohesive, offering three-dimensiona­lity while hanging its image front and centre.

Healthy dynamics help the music drive rhythmical­ly, supporting the Duo’s confident timing with beats of varying intensity while also faithfully describing Paul Buchanan’s soulful vocal.

While the Duo doesn’t quite match the punch delivered by Rega’s Awardwinni­ng Fono MM MK3 (see left), 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.

This kind of sonic glow is one reason you might opt for this phono stage 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, much of the time, a more fulsome presentati­on.

That isn’t to understate its compatibil­ity with both 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 five-star prospect at this price, and ought to earn it a reasonable amount of admirers regardless of its charming sonic character.


Rarely does Cambridge fire too wide of the mark, but the Duo hits right at the centre of the target.

It’s a well specified, full-bodied, dynamic performer; as classy as a matinée idol in a smoking jacket. You really can’t go wrong here.

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 ??  ?? Great connectivi­ty plus mirror-image socket labelling
Great connectivi­ty plus mirror-image socket labelling

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