A veteran of AVRev.com, Jim Swantko also wrote home theater and audiophile component reviews for HomeTheaterReview.com in the early days of the publication. His focus was on mid- to high-end audio brands like Mark Levinson, Classé, Noble Fidelity, Cary Audio, MartinLogan, and Paradigm.
Many companies try to walk the line between affordability and high-end performance, with few ever really being able to deliver both equally well. Cambridge Audio is a company that has been rather successful at delivering products that perform better than their competitors at given price points. Their products typically offer excellent performance for the budget-minded audio enthusiast and serve as a gateway brand, eventually leading to other higher-end manufacturers. Cambridge hopes that the introduction of their Azur 840W power amplifier will keep those customers returning to their showroom by providing a true high-end product to inspire lust.
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The $2,699 840W is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of high-end styling. The amplifier chassis is very distinctive, utilizing a unique perforated chassis, which is as functional as it is stylish. The face is a bit of a letdown, however, featuring a blank slab of aluminum, although it does have a few status LEDs. The rear panel features several decidedly upscale items, such as a detachable power cord, dual binding posts for easy bi-wiring and balanced XLR inputs and outputs. The most surprising feature was the bridged mono switch. Flipping this switch changes the powerful 200-watt two-channel amplifier into a 500-watt beast of a mono-block. The amplifier is extremely well put-together and is a definite step up from other Cambridge components.
Internally, the Azur 840W utilizes a patented XD circuit design, which allows for Class-A operation at lower levels, then gracefully switches into enhanced Class-B operation up to its full 200-watt output. The claim is that greatly reduced distortion at the crossover point, compared to traditional A/B amplifiers. Technical assertions aside, I can say with certainty that this is one excellent-sounding amplifier.
The presentation of the 840W can best be described as transparent. It especially excelled at revealing micro-detail information, which was missing with lesser amplifiers. It did an excellent job of locking performers and instruments in their own space across the soundstage, which was both wide and deep. At lower volumes, well within the Class-A operation, music flowed with an extra bit of sweetness and texture. Turn the knob to the right and the 840W jumped to life, kicking out serious dynamics, especially in the bass region. In this particular system, however, I noticed a bit of harshness in the upper midrange region when the amp was pushed very hard. The 840W behaved almost as if it were two separate amplifiers, one for low-volume critical listening and one that was built to rock.
• The 840W is a powerful amplifier that can drive virtually any loudspeaker with authority. This is not simply a muscle amp, however, as it also has the ability to convey detail and nuance against a very quiet background.
• For those who crave even more than the 200 watts of power the 840 delivers, the amplifier can also be bridged into a mono configuration for a staggering 500 watts. If this isn't enough to drive your loudspeakers, you seriously need to reconsider your speaker selection.
• The Cambridge amplifier is extremely transparent, allowing the listener to see deeply into the recording. If you are a detail junkie, this amp may be perfect for you.
• Build quality is excellent and true high-end features abound with this amp.
• The Cambridge 840W generates loads of heat, so be prepared to adjust your air conditioning accordingly. Those perforations in the chassis aren't just for show.
• The 840W face is a little bland for my tastes, and isn't the type of component which can pass as audio jewelry if you are into that sort of thing.
Cambridge Audio has built one hell of an amplifier with the Azur 840W and it is an absolute bargain at the price they are asking for it. It sounded terrific with virtually every style of music I put through it, especially intimate acoustic performances. It has the grunt to drive any speaker you can imagine, but does so with delicacy and clarity. I would like to see a little more effort put into the front-end styling, but this is a minor quibble when you consider just how much performance the 840W delivers. I believe Cambridge Audio will keep its customers very happy as they climb their product ladder and arrive at what may be their final destination amplifier.