And this amp has some real guts. It doesn’t shrink from a big operatic track like Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road.” This fourteen-minute cut has a wide dynamic envelope that intensifies into a meter-pinning crescendo before it begins a slow fade many minutes later. Any amp worth its salt needs to be able to hang on to the bite of the lengthy Knopfler guitar solo, the piano fills, and the runaway-train drum fills; otherwise the song loses its scope and scale. I’ve rarely heard an amp in this price range match the CXA80 in this regard.
At the other end of the dynamic range, Norah Jones’ cover of “The Nearness of You” is reproduced with nice sensual intimacy on her close-miked vocal, and authentic weight and rich timbre on the piano accompaniment. Tonally, the A80 is firmly midrange-centric, but on a vocal like this one I found that there’s a slightly artificial coolness and whiteness that hardens the edges of vocal transients. It’s a narrow-band coloration, to be sure, and its relative presence will likely depend on the rest of your system.
Singling out the DAC for a moment, I found its performance lively, with swift, clean transients, stable imaging, and surefooted bass. It was very good in general (and excellent in this segment), but some fine resolution was lost. For example, it didn’t fully exploit the dynamic gradations and the tactile and harmonic complexities that are revealed in the 24-bit/96kHz version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and soundstage depth was slightly truncated during “Gold Dust Woman.” Certain elusive musical elements, both intimate and tactile, such as the skin reverberation of a drum, fingertips on a Steinway keyboard, or a short breath escaping a singer’s parted lips are a bit obscured.
When it comes to representing three-dimensional acoustic space, volume, and hall boundaries, nothing can match a great orchestral track. Most often I call on the brilliant recordings of Keith Johnson on the Reference Recordings label, which are nothing if not revealing of the exact balance of the music, the musicianship, and the acoustic space. No matter how many times you listen to one of his recordings, you never lose sight of how much liveliness and immediacy fill every moment. As I listened to the Rutter Requiem, and the array of the vast Turtle Creek Chorale, there was no denying the expanse of the huge, vaulted space, and the weighty voice of the pipe organ. Although the bottom octave of the pipe organ was less than fully realized in pitch and grip, the A80 did more than a commendable job delivering most fundamentals. Certainly if the A80 had a Soulution badge across its prow, I would have expected a more fully realized expression of dimension and ambient space, but given that the A80’s price is missing a couple of zeros compared with that marque, I think I’ll tip my hat instead.
So, well played, Cambridge. Except for one particular grievance, the CXA80 was a delight to have in my system. It’s pleasingly styled, forward thinking, and sonically appealing. And priced in a sweet spot for audiophile first-timers. I haven’t done any polling myself, but I would have to believe that the youth market would be nicely served by this highly connectable and competitive integrated amplifier and DAC. Recommended with enthusiasm.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 80Wpc into 8 ohms (120Wpc into 4 ohms)
Inputs: Analog, one balanced XLR, four RCA; digital, one SPDIF, two TosLink, USB
Outputs: 3.5mm headphone, preamp, subwoofer
Dimensions: 16.9" x 4.5" x 13.4"
Weight: 19.1 lbs.
AUDIO PLUS SERVICES (U.S. Distributor)
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919