In this new feature in The Perfect Vision, we’ll seek out those “special” components that bring music into your home with an intensity, depth, and emotional connection you may not have thought possible. This class of components is designed by passionate artisans who combine technical skill with musical sensitivity to create products that take us one step closer to the musicians’ expression. Because these designers care about music and how well it is reproduced, they are driven to explore new circuits, parts, and design techniques in a quest to extract the highest possible musical performance from their products.
The new Azur 540A v2 stereo integrated amplifier and 540C v2 CD player from England’s Cambridge Audio are perfect examples of high-performance at moderate cost. Priced at $439 each, the 540A and 540C employ true high-end parts and design techniques, which translated to superb sound quality in my listening tests.
This Cambridge pair exhibited remarkable performance in my reference system, with an ease and musicality that reminded me of great tubed gear. Massmarket products of this price often sound a bit bright and hard in the treble, thin and threadbare through the mids, and with little soundstage definition. The Cambridge’s high-end design and parts quality were easily audible; the presentation was smooth and even a little soft in the upper-midrange and treble, a quality that fostered a sense of ease and musical involvement. The midrange had surprising clarity and freedom from the grainy texture that often overlays the midrange in lesser products.
Although the A540’s 60Wpc is a modest power rating, the amplifier had no problem driving a variety of loudspeakers, one of them a particularly challenging load. This amplifier had plenty of oomph and dynamic headroom. I was surprised by how dynamic and clean the 540A was at high listening levels. The 540A even reached down into the lowermost octaves with authority. This is an area where lesser components fall flat; the bass can sound a bit thin, with little dynamic contrast. You hear the kick drum, but it has little dynamic force behind it, sounding anemic.
The Cambridge pair also delivered a wonderfully open and spacious soundstage. I could clearly hear instruments and voices as individual sounds within the soundstage, with a sense of air and space between them.
I suspect that the sound quality from the Cambridge 540A and 540C is better than anything 98 percent of the population has ever heard. That is cause for both consternation and optimism; consternation that many consumers will spend the same or more on mass-market products and optimism that sound this great can be had for so little money. TPV