Cambridge Audio was a relatively late arrival in the all-in-one, just-add-speakers, network audio arena, although the company has been making streaming products for many years, based on its in-house-engineered StreamMagic platform. But it was well worth the wait: its two Evo systems, of which the Evo 150 is the more powerful and better equipped, are hugely flexible, easy to set up and use, sound superb and – in a market where style counts – look gorgeous.
Designed and engineered at Cambridge Audio HQ in London, the brief for the Evo models was to create a timeless design, both in aesthetics and in performance, and that specification has been met big time here: visual style is a matter of taste, but it’s hard to argue with the opinion that the slimline Evo 150 is one of the best-looking models of its kind, from the multifunction main control, combining a large volume control with a neat concentric input selector, to simple buttons for play and pause operations beside the large, bright colour display screen.
It’s compact, too: at just under 32cm wide it’ll slot in almost anywhere, yet it has more than sufficient power, at 150W per channel of energy-efficient amplification, to drive even hefty speakers with ease. And you can even choose your own style: it comes complete with a choice of side panels, which snap into place with magnetic attachments, enabling you to go with a sculptural black style or traditional wood finish.
The Evo 150 comes with a conventional, but sleek, remote control, but is even better when operated with the StreamMagic app, designed alongside the streaming platform at the heart of the unit, running on either iOS or Android devices. This will lead you through the initial set-up process, and then makes using the Evo 150 simple, whether you’re streaming from music stored on your home network or accessing online services including Qobuz, Spotify, Tidal and tens of thousands of Internet radio stations. There’s also Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth and Google Chromecast for streaming from portable devices and computers.
Also provided are a very good moving magnet phono input for a turntable, analogue and digital inputs including a USB Type B for computer connection – able to handle ultra-high-resolution audio up to 384kHz/32bit and DSD256 and even an HDMI for your TV’s sound – and outputs for two stereo sets of speakers and headphones (either wired or Bluetooth). In addition, there are preamp outputs to add a more powerful amplifier (though why you’d want to isn’t clear, given what on the onboard amplifier can do), and a subwoofer for more bass, not that the Evo 150 is shy in this respect.
The Evo 150 looks great, and it sounds even better: this is truly large-scale hi-fi in a very compact form, and while there’s a matching set of bookshelf speakers, the Evo S, this all-in-one can drive everything up to big floorstanding models, delivering a massive, room-filling sound with plenty in reserve for even the most dynamic of music. And it does it all with complete ease, retaining all the detail and subtleties of the music even when driving hard, and always maintaining complete focus, whether with small-scale studio music or massive live recordings. Get past the idea of an almost comically small system driving huge speakers – which will take you all of about five minutes’ listening! – and you can just sit back and enjoy the way the Evo 150 delivers music.
There’s plenty of detail in its sound, from the electronic fuzz of a distorted guitar to a thundering bassline or the clatter of a drummer having a workout, and from the bite of bow on a violin string to the rasp of orchestral brass, and it’s fabulous with voices, too – they’re delivered with superb clarity and character. Best of all, the Evo 150 hangs it all together in a beautifully integrated, and exceptionally natural wash of music, whether you relax back or sit up and listen in to all that detail on offer.
The integration of the two components of the StreamMagic system – the system and the app – makes the Evo 150 a breeze to set-up and operate: connect it to your home Wi-Fi or cable it to your broadband router, choose whatever speakers you want, and you’re in business. Connect a turntable, CD player and/or computer, and you have every music source you could want, or just use it alone with a pair of speakers and enjoy all those network and streaming options – there’s plenty on offer. Now you just have to decide between the modern black look or classic wood…
By any standards, the Evo 150 is a remarkable achievement: it’s cute, beautifully designed and built, simple to use and yet capable of the kind of sound you’d usually associate with a stack of exceptionally good hi-fi separates – both powerful and exceptionally refined, and equally adept across a huge range of musical genres. Add in regular automatic updates to keep pace with an evolving network audio world, and this could be the only hi-fi system you’ll ever need.
The Divine Comedy: In Pursuit of Happiness
Taken from A Short Album About Love, the fifth release from Neil Hannon’s ‘chamber pop’ outfit, and streamed from Tidal, this live track builds from a simple brass-backed intimacy to a great blare of 30-piece-orchestra drama, and all in three and a half minutes. Magnificent over the top stuff
Elgar: Symphony No. 1 (Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim)
Barenboim’s recording of Elgar’s First is at turns stately, dramatic and poignant, as the piece should be, especially in the 96kHz/24bit Qobuz download, and the combination of the Evo 150 and suitably large speakers brings out all the scale of the music, while giving superb insight into the colours of the orchestra
Ry Cooder and Buckwheat Zydeco: Let’s Work Together
From the Our New Orleans album, released to support those affected by 2005 Hurricane Katrina and a 96Kz/24bit HDTracks download, this rocker is one of the standout tracks from a set with not a single dud on it. Rough, ready and full of hope, it will put a smile on your face
This compact, ultra-stylish network amplifier does everything almost anyone could ask of a hi-fi system – and more. Its looks and flexibility have been achieved with no compromise to sound quality, making this the most completely resolved product of its kind you can buy.