Cambridge Audio’s position as a champion of the mainstream hi-fi consumer, who wants a bit of audiophile performance without automatically having to sell a kidney to get it, has been secured over quite a number of years and by quite a number of products. It saw the potential in digital audio streaming quite early on, and has turned out numerous products that have allowed the average hi-fi enthusiast a taste of the high end at a relatively affordable price. The company’s original CXN network streamer from the middle of the last decade is a brilliant case in point.
And now the CXN is revitalised with this second-generation machine. No, it’s not the most affordable product in Cambridge Audio's extensive catalogue, but it’s far from the most expensive - and in the tradition the company has established, it’s designed to help make audiophilia reasonably affordable rather than ruinously expensive.
Its feature-set, which now includes the likes of Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 alongside the obligatory Spotify Connect, is right on the money. It’s packing a faster, more efficient processor than the (extremely well-regarded) model it replaces. So it seems like it’s halfway to being a success before it’s even plugged in…
…and once it’s plugged in and connected to a system, the CXN v2 is, it’s safe to say, everything we hoped it would be. The changes - to specification and componentry - have made a great-sounding streamer even better.
‘Vibrant’ is a good word to describe the sound of the CXN v2. So is ‘positive’, and so is ‘convincing’. No matter the sort of music you like to listen to, the Cambridge Audio likes it too - and unlike quite a few streamers we could mention, the CXN v2 doesn’t throw its hands up in horror if your digital audio files are less than state-of-the-art.
Instead, it rolls up its sleeves and piles in. From the bottom of the frequency range (which is deep, textured, extensively detailed and properly controlled) to the top (equally detailed, similarly controlled and every bit as coherent), the CXN v2 is tonally consistent, expressive where rhythms and dynamics are concerned, and more than capable of organising a soundstage no matter how crowded or complex it needs to be.
It’s in the midrange, though, that the Cambridge Audio’s mastery of tonality and timbre is made most obvious. It communicates in absolute torrents, keeping a close watch on the finest details and most transient occurrences, but never at the expense of unity or musicality. There’s nothing uptight or analytical about the way the CXN v2 presents a singer - rather, it’s a born entertainer.
In fact, all the minutiae that is so important when creating a complete sonic picture - little harmonic variances, deep-breathing dynamic shifts, integration, the space and silence that surrounds sounds in certain recordings - is given just the correct amount of emphasis. And the result is an overall character that’s engaging and, yes, entirely convincing.
Visually, there’s not much to take issue with here - the Cambridge CXN v2 looks the part. Build and finish is unquestionable, controls feel good, and the bright, colourful fascia display is crisply informative. No system, at any price, is going to be made to feel down-market for having a CXN v2 as part of it.
As far as physical connectivity goes, there’s plenty. An Ethernet socket is always good to see (even if the CXN v2 features dual-band wi-fi), while three USB sockets (two type A and a type B), a digital coaxial and a digital optical input should prove ample. Balanced and unbalanced outputs to an amplifier, as well as digital outputs to a DAC (should you own one more capable than that fitted here), are thoughtful and worthwhile.
In addition to Chromecast, the CXN v2 is Roon ready, features Spotify Connect and its TIDAL equivalent, and has Apple AirPlay 2 on board. The remote control handset is pretty sensible, but better still is Cambridge Audio’s Connect app for iOS and Android - it gives access to internet radio and the likes of Qobuz.
Extensive functionality, good looks, great build quality and endlessly enjoyable sound. We’re tempted to ask what more you might realistically expect?
Donny Hathaway The Ghetto
We’ve already rhapsodised about the CXN v2’s midrange fidelity, and with the endlessly characterful and effortless vocals of Mr Hathaway (as Amy Winehouse always referred to him) the Cambridge Audio is explicit.
Mos Def Ms. Fat Booty
Hard-hitting low frequencies? Head-nodding tempos? Hectic levels of midrange information? This recording has plenty going on, and the CXN v2 is careful to ensure it controls the prodigious bottom end (no pun intended) while letting the tune roll forwards naturalistically.
They Might Be Giants Lucky Ball and Chain
As an exercise in detail retrieval, soundstaging, focus and separation, this recording is hard to beat - and that’s before you consider the wonkily heartbreaking vocal that muscles its way to the front of the stage. The Cambridge Audio never leaves you in any doubt as to what’s occurring.
As a combination of audio performance, robust build quality and straightforward value for money, the CXN v2 is almost impossible to lay a glove on