Streaming music is the next big thing in audio, according to many industry insiders, but the sound quality of streaming audio can vary from not even worthy as background music to so good that it drags you in from another room. Obviously, we audiophiles are more interested in the latter than the former. The new Cambridge Audio Minx Xi attempts to bridge the gap between the convenience and reliability of a Sonos system and the sound quality of something better, such as the late, lamented Logitech Squeezebox Transporter or the new Sony HAP-Z1ES. For $999, the Minx Xi includes a plethora of features and capabilities in a relatively small and user-friendly package.
The Minx Xi is, in essence, an audio receiver brought into the 21st century. Inputs include two analog, one digital Toslink, one digital S/PDIF, two USB 2.0, and a BT100 Bluetooth receiver. Outputs include a 3.5mm stereo headphone output, a line-level subwoofer output, and one pair of high-level speaker outputs. The Minx Xi's power amplifier section produces 40 watts RMS into eight ohms and 55 watts RMS into four ohms. The Minx Xi supports a plethora of digital formats, including ALAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, WMA, MP3, AAC, HE AAC, AAC+, and OGG. High-resolution fans will be somewhat disappointed to find that the maximum sample/bit rate supported by the Xi is 96/24, regardless of the digital format or input used. Also, the Minx Xi does not support DSD and DXD. The Minx Xi's digital section is based around a Wolfson WM8728 DAC chip, and the Minx Xi uses external clocking taken from the Cambridge Audio NP30 network player to reduce jitter from digital sources.
The Cambridge Audio Minx Xi has what I would call a "half-size" footprint that is 3.5 x 10.6 x 11.2 inches. My review sample had a white chassis, but the Xi is also available in black. Given the number of inputs and outputs on the Xi and its small size, it's a wonder that its rear panel is not a complete jumble. Except for the speaker terminals (more about them later), physically connecting the Xi to a system is easy. The Xi can be operated from its front panel, where you will find a full set of controls that use eight dedicated push buttons and one large rotary control. The rotary control can also be pushed in to enter a selection.
The Xi comes with a full-featured, wand-shaped remote control that includes all the functions accessible from the front panel. For some functions, such as adjusting the treble or bass levels, the remote navigates through the Xi's controls quicker than its front-panel buttons. Cambridge Audio also has a remote control application available for Android or iPhone called "Stream Magic". The addition of a WiFi app increases the Xi's placement options exponentially. You can put it in a closet or inside a cabinet and still be able to operate it via the app, since line of sight is not needed for its WiFi connection.
Setting up the Cambridge Audio Xi was simple and straightforward except for one detail: the speaker output connections. Cambridge Audio developed a variation on standard speaker terminals that uses a special dedicated spade-lug-to-banana adapter. The problem with the adapter is that it moves freely and can swivel easily - so easily that you can, if you aren't careful, hook up large spade-lug-equipped speaker cable in a way that causes the spade lugs to touch. If that happens, you've created a short that could damage the Xi's power amplifier. I used a piece of cardboard between the two speaker connectors to prevent this from happening, but I can't help but think that some users will find, much to their dismay, that their Xi only works on one channel because they have inadvertently shorted out one of their speaker outputs during installation.
Once you've hooked up speakers, you're ready to turn on and set up the Xi. The turn-on sequence takes a while; I timed it at 50 seconds. While energy-use-conscious owners may want to turn the Xi off from the front panel when not in use, the long turn-on time may push many owners into using the mute button instead of powering down the Xi when it's not in use.
The Xi lets you use either a UPnP-aware NAS drive or a USB-2.0-compatible hard drive as your music library source. You can also access your music from USB thumb drives by inserting one into the front-panel USB connection (which can also charge your iDevice.) In my system, the Xi did not find my Buffalo HS-500 Linkstation NAS drive. After quite a bit of research, I found out that this particular NAS was not natively UPnP-compatible. Because I was near deadline and didn't really want to go out and purchase a new NAS drive quite yet, I used a large USB drive with my music files for most of my critical listening sessions. Later, I hooked up an old LaCie HipServe NAS that I had retired from duty a couple of years back, and the Xi recognized it immediately.
Once the Xi was fully set up, I found day-to-day operation to be glitch-free. I was able to find and access my favorite radio stations via the Internet, save them to the Xi's memory, and play them easily with no dropouts or buffering errors. My own music files on my attached USB drive also played flawlessly through the Xi. After a couple of days' use, I found that I preferred to control the Xi via its app, as opposed to using the wand remote or front-panel controls, as the app allowed me to navigate through my music libraries more quickly. I also preferred the app when surfing though Internet radio stations; again, the app delivered quicker response and more information than the Xi's front panel with its scrolling lines of LEDs.
Besides access to virtually every Internet radio station on Earth, by country, the Xi also supports "streaming radio" from BBC iPlayer Radio, Pandora, Live365, Rhapsody, and Aupeo! I have a Pandora account that I use on occasion, which worked fine with the Xi after a rather long initial search. I also connected the Olasonic Nano-compo Nano-CD1 transport to the Minx Xi via Toslink and S/PDIF digital connections and found it to be a very synergistic combination. The Minx decoded both digital streams from the CD1 transport without any issues. Due to the Nano-CD1's small size, it fit quite nicely on a shelf next to the Xi. The two components even had matching white cases. I also connected and used my Logitech Squeezebox Duet with the Xi via its S/PDIF and Toslink digital outputs. Once again, the Xi decoded and played all the files and streams that the Duet sent it without any hesitation or glitches.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, the Downside, the Competition and Comparison and the Conclusion . . .