Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD Universal Disc Player

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Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD Universal Disc Player


Cambridge-Audio-752BD-Universal-Player-review-front-small.jpgLet's just go ahead and get this out of the way right from the start: Cambridge Audio's Azur 752BD universal disc player is built on the same MediaTek foundation as the OPPO BDP-103 and BDP-105 universal disc players. The players boast the same video processing, the same menu structure, and most of the same advanced options. As long as you ignore the stereo audio outputs, digital audio inputs, and silk-screening of the 752BD, their back panels are virtually identical. This isn't controversial info, nor is it a new revelation, given that Cambridge's previous universal player, the 751BD, was built on the same foundation as OPPO's BDP-93 and BDP-95. Cambridge has never attempted to hide that fact. I'm merely trying to head off the "It's just an OPPO!" comments at the pass.

Additional Resources
� Read more Blu-ray player reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's writers.
� Explore more reviews in our HDTV Review section.
� Find some Bookshelf Speakers or Floorstanding Speakers to go with the Azur 752BD.

This is because the Cambridge Azur 752BD isn't just an OPPO, any more than the Porsche Cayenne is just a Volkswagen Touareg. Cambridge may have built its player on the same platform as the OPPOs and with pretty much the same chassis as the BDP-103, but it has also equipped its player with a different power supply and different audio circuitry and processing, which edge it closer - in spirit, as well as price - to OPPO's flagship BDP-105. Granted, the Cambridge player lacks the BDP-105's 32-bit DAC, balanced outputs, asynchronous USB input, headphone amp, and increased girth, which puts the Azur 752BD, for the sake of comparison, somewhere betwixt the OPPO BDP-103 and 105.

If you're unfamiliar with OPPO's offerings or just sick of the nitpicking, let's talk for a moment about the 752BD on its own terms. It's a beautiful beast of a universal disc player, with support for virtually every five-inch media disc format known to man or Wookiee, except for VCD. It plays Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, AVCHD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R DL, DVD-R DL, and BD-R/RE. It also features 4K video upsampling and, in terms of digital file playback, if the file has a dot and three letters after the name, chances are good that the 752BD will play it (unless those three letters are I, S, and O). The 752BD lacks the integrated online streaming services found in many of today's Blu-ray players, including the OPPO models.

In addition to dual HDMI outputs (either to drive two different displays or, more typically, to split the audio and video output and route HDMI 1 directly to a 3D-capable display, with HDMI 2 providing sound to a non-3D-capable processor or receiver), the 752BD sports a Marvell DE2755 QDEO video scaler for the HDMI 1 output, which will also scale any source plugged into the two HDMI inputs (one of which is MHL-capable). Add in a really nice backlit remote, which is a huge step up from the remote for Cambridge Audio's recently reviewed Azur 751R, along with all of the same Anagram Technologies Adaptive Time Filtering 192-kHz/24-bit upsampling technology built into that receiver, and you have the makings of an incredibly versatile full-featured Blu-ray player that's certain to delight many audiophiles and videophiles alike.

Cambridge-Audio-752BD-Universal-Player-review-back.jpgThe Hookup
Given the numerous connectivity options of the Azur 752BD, I took several approaches to integrating the player into both of my home theater systems, starting with a simple HDMI connection from the 752BD to the Cambridge 751R receiver presently in my secondary home theater system. I also tested a dual-HDMI setup, with video going straight to the Panasonic TC-P50GT30 in that room via HDMI 1 and audio straight to the 751R via HDMI 2 (just to make sure that it worked; no extensive testing was done with this setup). Finally, I settled on an HDMI connection to the 751R for video, with audio provided by the 752BD's 7.1-channel analog audio outputs (downmixed to 5.1 via the player's setup menus to match the Monitor Audio MASS speaker system still attached to the receiver for consistency's sake), with a custom six-channel Straight Wire Encore II bundle serving as the interconnects.

The home screen for the 752BD is laid out identically to that of my OPPO BDP-103, except for the lack of links to Netflix, VUDU, Film Fresh, CinemaNow, and Rhapsody, as well as the fact that its icons are a bit more colorful. The setup menus for both players are identical in every way, from the backgrounds to the fonts to the numerous setup options, including features that fans of constant-height projection will appreciate, like Subtitle Shift, which moves player-generated subtitles up and out of the black bars for scope films. The 752BD also includes an anamorphic stretch mode amongst its many zoom options, so those of you with ultra-wide projection screens are covered. Will you use all of the 752BD's numerous setup options and features? Almost certainly not. However, in terms of high-performance home cinema flexibility, it's nice that Cambridge Audio leaves very few bases uncovered, and the setup menu is so well organized that it makes finding and tweaking the things you want to find and tweak a snap.

For control, I tried out the included remote to make sure that it worked (it did, wonderfully, from all the way across the room), then switched to a direct IR connection from my Control4 HC-250 home controller. Unfortunately, Control4 doesn't have drivers available for the Cambridge player, and OPPO's control codes don't work, but Cambridge provides both IR and RS-232 codes on its website. I found it easier just to use the remote learning capabilities of the HC-250. IP control doesn't seem to be an option at all.

Read about the performance of the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD Universal Disc Player

Criteria Rating

Performance

5

Value

3.5

Overall

4.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Cambridge-Audio-752BD-Universal-Player-review-anlged.jpgPerformance
I began my evaluation of the Azur 752BD as I always do, with Spears & Munsil's High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray. The player's Marvell DE2755 QDEO processor unsurprisingly aced every test of this, with lightning-fast response on all of the Source Adaptive Deinterlacing tests, exceptional performance on the Jaggies test, and none of the minor artifacts I noticed on Cambridge's 751R receiver. A switch to HQV's Benchmark 2.0 DVD revealed - again, unsurprisingly - the truly excellent 1080p upscaling capabilities of the 752BD, although I wasn't able to test its 4K scaling.

I have very few standard-definition DVDs left in my collection to use for testing the 752BD's real-world 1080p upscaling capabilities, but an old copy of Moulin Rouge! (Fox) that somehow survived the culling process beautifully demonstrated the player's ability to suppress noise, smooth out rough edges and, when employing its 24p DVD playback capabilities, knock the judder out of quick side-to-side pans. I actually got far more use out of the 752BD's upscaling prowess when I attached my Dish Network Joey DVR client to its HDMI input.

Honestly, despite its literally flawless video performance, the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD is first and foremost an audio lover's universal disc player, so I quickly switched my focus from watching to listening. With a simple HDMI connection between the 752BD and 751R, the sonic performance was, of course, defined by the receiver. The switch to analog outputs revealed a very similar sound, but one that made for a striking contrast when compared with the analog output from my OPPO BDP-103 (unfortunately, I don't have a BDP-105 for comparison). With movies - especially action movies - I have to give the OPPO a slight nod for being more robust and capable of kicking ass, especially in Chapter Five of The Incredible Hulk (Universal) on Blu-ray. With music, though? I'll admit my preference wavered back and forth between the Wolfson WM8740 DACs and Analog Devices SHARC DSP of the Cambridge and the Cirrus Logic DACs of the OPPO, depending on my listening material. There's no doubt that the 752BD is smoother, more refined, and oddly more detailed (I say "oddly" because the OPPO sounds a little brighter, although it's hard to do such direct A/B comparisons when you have to swap six analog interconnects).

More often than not, I actually think it's the space between the notes that benefit from the 752BD's processing. I know that sounds like namby-pamby audiophile hand-waving, so let me give you a precise example of what I'm talking about. Pop in Styx's Greatest Hits (A&M) on CD if you have it, and cue up the track you're most likely to skip: "Mr. Roboto." I know it's cheesy. I know it's Styx's most overrated song by a mile. But skip to the 2:40 mark, right about the point where Dennis DeYoung's belts out "We all need control ...!" and the instrumentation just stops dead in its tracks.

There's this amazing split second during which the faint whispering echoes of the now-silent bass, guitar and drums waft through the room. I've savored that moment through every disc player and every sound system I've owned since 1995, and I've never heard it so deliciously rendered as this. Close your eyes, and you feel like you're literally in the recording studio with Tommy Shaw et al. As overused as that analogy is, I just can't think of any better way to convey how utterly dimensional and open that moment is by way of this player.

That sense of dimensionality positively defines the 752BD's musical performance, as does its all-around smoothness. In my opinion (and we're talking about subjective preference here), that smoothness works best with less rocking music, like Abigail Washburn's City of Refuge (Rounder) or Joanna Newsom's three-disc epic Have One on Me (Drag City). It's the latter that I used to assess the difference - or lack of difference, I should say - between the 752BD's stereo analog outputs and its 7.1-channel outs. If there is any difference, I couldn't hear it. Also, I'm ashamed to admit, I couldn't hear any real difference between the player's three selectable digital filters, which Cambridge describes thusly:

� The Steep roll-off filter exhibits strong attenuation of aliasing images outside the pass band (i.e. above 22.05kHz) at the expense of a little pre and post-ringing in the time domain.
� The Linear phase filter uniquely features "constant group delay," which delays all audio signals at all frequencies by the same amount, meaning all audio is fully time-coherent at the output.
� Minimum phase meanwhile does not feature constant group delay, but rather the co-efficients have been optimized without feed-forward, so that the impulse response exhibits no pre-ringing in the time domain.

Maybe I just didn't find the right source material in my collection to reveal the differences, or maybe I'm just not the audiophile I thought I was, but I didn't hear any ringing - pre, post, or otherwise - with any listening material, either through the Monitor Audio speakers or Audeze's LCD2 headphones. All three settings delivered impeccably smooth, jitter-free performance. And all three really brought out the delicious analog qualities of Newsom's "On a Good Day," drawing out the richness of her voice and giving each plucked harp string a precise and airy attack that I simply adored. That track, in particular, also proved that the depth of the image isn't the 752BD's only strong point; it's a rather forward mix, with a simple soundstage, but the player does a beautiful job of accentuating and enhancing its delicateness.

The Downside
Like I said, while fully half of my music collection sounded better to my ears through the Cambridge Audio 752BD than through OPPO's BDP-103, some cuts didn't fare as well to my tastes. I popped in Girl Talk's mashup masterpiece All Day (Illegal Art) to assess the 752BD's FLAC playback capabilities and, although I thought the player did a wonderful job of smoothing off the rough edges of this frankly low-fi recording, I also felt it damped the dynamics a bit. The album also revealed that the 752BD doesn't support gapless playback of FLAC files.

The same overall improvement in clarity and smoothness held true for my MP3 copy of Danger Mouse's bootleg Grey Album, as did the decrease in oomph. I felt that, all things considered, the OPPO handled both better. Then again, neither album is likely to appear in audiophile recording collections.

The only truly objective downside to the Azur 752BD is its complete and utter lack of streaming services. In fact, the spots normally filled by Netflix, VUDU, and other icons on the OPPO player are replaced by little dots on the Cambridge, which really serves to highlight their absence. To get those services, you're going to have to add something like Google's new $35 Chromecast to either of the 753BD's HDMI inputs.

Cambridge-Audio-752BD-Universal-Player-review-DAC-chip.jpgComparison and Competition
Although I feel like I'm belaboring this point completely and utterly to death, it should be obvious that the only serious competition that the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD player has are the OPPO BDP-103 and BDP-105. The former, at $499, is quite a bit cheaper than the $1,299 752BD and lacks the Anagram Technologies Adaptive Time Filtering upsampling and processing, but it gains oodles of streaming video and audio services. Aside from the DACs, power supply, front panel, a few outputs and inputs, and the 752BD's filters, though, the two players are otherwise virtually identical. The $1,199 BDP-105 is probably a much better comparison in terms of audio clout (and price), but it also features quite a number of options that the 752BD doesn't, including balanced XLR outputs, an asynchronous USB input, a headphone output, 32-bit DACs (which should theoretically result in greater dynamic range but, again, I haven't auditioned the BDP-105), and of course all of the streaming AV services. For more comparisons, please visit Home Theater Review's Blu-ray player page.

Cambridge-Audio-752BD-Universal-Player-review-silver-background.jpgConclusion
When it comes to the world of high-end audio, there are objective measures and subjective measures, and I've never felt those two coming into such conflict as they do when evaluating the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD universal disc player. By most objective measures, I would have to say that either the OPPO BDP-103 or BDP-105 offers a much better value for your player-purchasing dollars. If you're planning on connecting the player to your system via HDMI, there's no question about it: save your money and get the OPPO BDP-103.

On the other hand, in terms of build quality, the Cambridge Audio player wins hands down. It's a gorgeously-built device that looks simply smashing sitting next to the 751R upsampling receiver, which by the way includes the asynchronous USB input that the 752BD lacks.

But then there's the subjective audio analysis, and this is where things get trickier. There's no doubt that, for many people and for many media collections, the 752BD is going to deliver preferable audio performance. As I said, with the sort of music you typically associate with audiophile demos, I did like it better. A lot better. As for those tracks in my collection that didn't sound their best to my ears via the 752BD, I'll say this: it wasn't enough of a difference to make me want to kick this beautiful player out of my bedroom. And again, it wasn't a matter of better or worse, merely of preference.

Additional Resources
� Read more Blu-ray player reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com's writers.
� Explore more reviews in our HDTV Review section.
� Find some Bookshelf Speakers or Floorstanding Speakers to go with the Azur 752BD.


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