My Thoughts on the Cambridge Audio CXU

Discussion in 'Digital Sources' started by Vinyl Rules!, Apr 16, 2017.

  1. Vinyl Rules!

    Vinyl Rules! Well-Known Member

    Forget the Oppo's, this is the one to own if you want a player that is extraordinarily good sounding on audio discs AND is amazingly good with both DVD and BluRay video discs. I have an Oppo BDP-95D and the CXU is significantly better with audio and slightly better with video than my Oppo BDP-95D.

    Initially, I was leaning towards the Oppo BDP-105D and I almost ordered one, but I'm glad I waited. One reason Oppo discontinued the 1xx series players was that MediaTek, the vendor for one of the chips in the 105D, ceased production of the chip they were supplying to Oppo. This chip provided HDCD decoding for the 105D (and all the other Oppo models).

    HDCD decoding for HDCD encoded discs is important to me. Almost all Joni Mitchell and Grateful Dead CD's are HDCD encoded. And many country artists continue to release HDCD encoded CD's, but they are not always flagged as an HDCD disc. So what's the big deal about HDCD? Well, the HDCD encoding process adds an additional 4 bits of information to a CD. Standard Redbook CD's are 16 bit discs (16/44), but HDCD discs are 20 bit discs (20/44), and these extra bits add additional dynamic range to the recording. The result (IMHO) equals the sound quality of a SACD (Super Audio CD). And there is no loss of sound quality if you play back an HDCD disc on a non-HDCD player: The disc sounds like any other Redbook 16/44 CD. Microsoft bought the rights to HDCD several years ago but they've made no effort to market it to the major music labels.

    When I made the decision to add a newer player to my system I wanted a player that sounded good with music. About 75% of my listening is to Redbook CD's, some HDCD's, and a small number of SACD's and DVD-Audio discs. The other 25% is used to view DVD and BluRay movies.

    No one in my area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) had any Oppo BDP-105D's left in stock, but I found a couple of on-line retailers that had a few 105D's. I liked everything about the Oppo BDP-105D: I have their BDP-95D, and an older Oppo DV-970HD and and an Oppo DV-981D, and they have been fantastic machines. I've never had a problem and Oppo's customer service is legendary. And the 105D has the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip which is one of the best available. And the 105D has received stellar reviews for both its audio sound quality and its video playback.

    I was about to order the Oppo, but then I read a review of the Cambridge Audio CXU in "What HiFi," a British publication. They gave the CXU very high praise in their review, and they noted both the audio reproduction and the video playback was BETTER than Oppo's BDP-105D, which they had previously reviewed. I then did more digging in various Internet audio and video news groups and forums, and I found many people who thought the CXU sounded better on music and was slightly better on video when compared to Oppo's BDP-105D and BDP-95D. The only negatives people noted with the CXU were: (1) No headphone jack; (2) No balanced XLR outputs; and (3) No Netflix app, and general criticism for the few apps that came with the CXU. None of these were important to me. I have a separate headphone amp for headphone listening, I don't use balanced XLR connections in my system, and an inexpensive Roku device provides NetFlix and many more apps than any universal player on the market.

    Since music (and HDCD decoding) is important to me, I took a chance and ordered the CXU. I would be able to compare it to my Oppo BDP-95D, and if the CXU disappointed me, I was going to return it and order the Oppo BDP-105D. About a month has gone by and the CXU is a keeper! Music and film soundtracks on the CXU are more realistic, the CXU has more depth and "soundstage," and the CXU sounds much less digital than the 95D. Even my wife noticed the difference, and she began pulling some of her CD's out of our collection for me to play.

    I'm not sure how Cambridge Audio is able to get such great sound out of the CXU. The CXU uses five Wolfson 24 bit WM8740 DAC's (Wolfson has newer DAC chips that could have been used), and the CXU upsamples all data before it is sent to the Wolfson DAC's. Cambridge Audio says this upsampling reduces jitter and latency. And the CXU uses these five Wolfson DAC's for music decoding versus a single ESS 32 bit 9018 Sabre DAC used both by the Oppo BDP-105D and the BDP-95D for music decoding. So the Oppo should sound better than the CXU since it uses a newer 32 bit ESS 9018 Sabre DAC versus the older 24 bit WM8749 DAC used in the CXU. But it doesn't: Music (and film soundtracks) sound much more real on the CXU than on the BDP-95D, and the superior sound quality of the CXU trumps the Oppo BDP-95D.

    Most of you probably know Oppo is now selling 4K players. The Oppo UDP-203 is the replacement for the BDP -103D and Oppo's website says the replacement for the BDP-105D is coming soon. I've not read any reviews yet of the UDP-203, but it (and the replacement for the BDP-105D) does not decode HDCD. So they are not something I will buy. And I'm not convinced 4K Ultra High definition BluRay discs have a future. More people are streaming, more 4K streaming content is becoming available, and physical media sales continue to decline. And Hollywood is now asking retailers to stock THREE versions of popular movies: (1) 4K UHD BluRay; (2) "Regular" BluRay; and (3) Standard DVD. And the new 4K UHD BluRay's are not cheap. This is an untenable business model and I don't think the new 4K UHD BluRay's have a future. Most average customers can barely tell the difference between a DVD and a BluRay of the same movie, and there is not that much difference between a 4K UHD BluRay and a regular BluRay unless you have a 4K projector and a high-definition screen (both are quite expensive) or a 70" or larger 4K UHD TV. IMO, the market will slowly grow for 4K UHD streaming content, but I think the future for expensive 4K UHD BluRay physical media is bleak.

    Cambridge Audio uses the same MediaTek chip set in the CXU that Oppo used in their BDP-1xx series and their BDP-9x series players, so once they go through their remaining inventory of MediaTek chips, they will have to have a replacement for the CXU. The retail price of the CXU has been lowered in England (their home base) as well as in the US. This suggests to me that they, like Oppo, are discontinuing the CXU because the MediaTek chip set with HDCD decoding was discontinued.

    The Cambridge Audio CXU is a really good unit. It has the best video performance of any standard BluRay player on the market, and its audio quality is extraordinary. I believe you would have to spend more than $20,000 on a CD player (yes, there are some that cost this much, and more) to get something that sounded at least as good on music. Buy one while they are still available! As always, YMMV. :rockon::rockon::rockon::rockon::rockon:
    SoNic67 and boza like this.


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  2. boza

    boza Super Member

    Nice wright up. Thanks for sharing.
  3. SoNic67

    SoNic67 Well-Known Member

    As a side-note the HDCD decoding is available for any Analog Devices DSP's as a loadable module (extra fee for the royalty to Microsoft). My older Denon universal players and AVR still have it.
    It's just that not many manufacturers think that it's important, so they choose not to pay for it. Microsoft, after they purchased the format in 2000, they "bury" it in 2005.

    Anyway, I didn't play a Bluray disc in forever, so... Not sure if is still a viable format to invest into.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2017
  4. David Mroz

    David Mroz New Member

    Your comments about the OPPO vs the Cambridge CXU are extremely fascinating. I've just done EXACTLY the same test, and my results couldn't be more different. I bought the CXU as a backup for my present Oppo BDP-95, having read the review in WHAT HI-FI which said that the CXU pretty much walloped the Oppo in every way. I found exactly the opposite to be the case. I use only the dedicated stereo outputs for both units, and particularly in the bass region -- which WHAT HI-FI described as "grippier" from the CXU than from the Oppo -- what I actually heard is that the CXU bass is pretty much there, but just really a shadow of that in the Oppo 95. It's as if there's almost an entire octave of low bass in the Oppo which the CXU merely hints at. The CXU is very nice and smooth and polite -- the Oppo is thunder and lightning. (That's an exaggeration, but nevertheless the differences are not small.) I used some Bruce Leek recordings of wind bands on Klavier, and they sound polite and nice on the CXU while the bass from the Oppo has the glass in my living room wall pictures actually vibrating. I currently use four full range electrostatic speakers backed with two SVS SB-13 ultra subs. Believe me, the CXU is just not in the audio hunt here. The differences are there WHENEVER there is low bass in the recording, but is most pronounced when the bass is really, really, low. In the rest of the spectrum I don't hear much difference -- the CXU is certainly smooth, possibly suggesting some high frequency rolloff. I'd suggest that people who love metal dome tweeters might find this really attractive. But then they are giving up on big space, immediacy, superb power and deep slam.
  5. robert_kc

    robert_kc AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Midwest USA
    I agree that audiophile-grade “universal players” are an excellent choice for digital music. I own Oppo UDP-205, BDP-105, and BDP-95. (Plus an older DV-980H that plays SACDs and CDs.)

    I also agree that it’s important to get a player that supports all of the available recorded music formats for the music that you like – so that you have the most options for buying high quality recordings. I listen to classical music and opera. I don’t think that any of my classical or opera recordings are in HDCD format, so that’s not a factor for me. Years ago, I had an HDCD player, and the HDCD light never lit. (OTOH, apparently some genres have numerous HDCD recordings.)

    SACD (including multi-channel) is common for classical music. Downloaded hi-res (24bit/192kHz) FLAC is also common for classical music. Many operas and ballet (and some classical concerts) are on Blu-ray video. A few classical recordings are on Pure Audio Blu-ray. There are a few hi-res DSD downloads, but I don’t own any (yet). The difference with classical music (compared perhaps with classic rock) is that new performances of classics are being recorded all the time, and the new performances are typically recorded in hi-res, and are often available to the consumer in a hi-res deliverable (e.g., hi-res FLAC download, SACD, Blu-ray). (With all genre, high quality vintage analog recordings are sometimes remastered into hi-res digital – sometimes with excellent results.) Bottom line - for me - support for SACD (and Pure Audio Blu-ray, and hi-res FLAC) is important, HDCD not. Each person’s circumstances will be different.

    I don’t own a 4k TV, so UHD isn’t currently a factor for me. However, my Oppo UDP-205 supports UHD – so I’m ready for the future. There are currently very few classical or opera UHD discs, but of course some new Hollywood movies are available in UHD.

    I use the analog outputs from my Oppo players to drive vintage tube amps. (The Oppo’s variable output can directly drive power amps, in addition to integrated amps and preamps.) My hi-fi systems include 2.0, (two) 2.1, and 4.2 (LCR, single rear channel, 2 subwoofers). They are all capable of excellent audio quality. (I’ve never heard a Cambridge CXU, so I can’t comment.)

    I saw an ad for the Cambridge CXUHD (vs. older CXU). It says “player does not include any internal digital-to-analog converters”. Is the Oppo UDP-205 the only universal player (UHD, Blu-ray, SACD, hi-res FLAC downloads, hi-res DSD downloads, CD, DVD, etc) with built-in “audiophile-grade” DACs and analog circuitry?
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
  6. David Mroz

    David Mroz New Member

    I like those observations. One reason I got the CXU was that it has HDCD decoding. I have a large number of Reference Recordings HDCDs, mostly large-scale classical, and now it looks like ALL the new players have dropped this (what I thought) was a very successful recording format. The CXU, even though it has HDCD, just can't make the most of these well-engineered CDs because of its severe low-frequency limitations. Most people right now should maybe settle on the Oppo 205 if they're really serious about high quality sound from every conceivable source in one convenient package. (Picture quality of course is an entirely different discussion.) And, as an aside, one or two of the newly re-released operas on blu-ray audio only discs, like the Decca (formerly RCA) Aida with Price and Solti, really do rattle the wall.


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