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Blu-ray player (multiformat)
Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD

Price in Poland: 4590 zł

Manufacturer: Audio Partnership Plc

Contact: Cambridge Audio
Gallery Court, Hankey Place | London SE1 4BB
United Kingdom

Distribution in Poland: Audio Center Poland

Country of origin: Great Britain/China

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Pictures: Wojciech Pacuła/Piksel Studio/Cambridge Audio
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Dust hasn’t settled after the test of the player Azur 650BD, which was tested for the May edition of “Audio” (5/2011), together with other similar players, yet I received the information, that Cambridge Audio has a new, completely different Blu-ray player. It was clear, that it will be a 3D player – this is the sign of the times, without any correlation to the future of that format (quite doubtful – due to the glasses). But it was more important, that the 751BD should be an universal player, which can be used to play Blu-ray, DVD-Audio and Video, SACD, CD and even HDCD discs – the device has a built-in decoder for those (which can be switched off). Even more – it can work with other, external data sources, like a pendrive or hard disk – there is even an e-SATA port. The sound and vision can also be played from NAS discs.
The most important is what the unit can do with the signal. Both in the audio and video paths splendid DSPs were used. Audio is handled by the DSP SHARC Q5 programmed by Anagram Technologies. This chip was used in the player Azur CD 840C and the DACMagic converter. Now it is owned by the London based company, which wanted to have influence on the applications, so they bought Anagram… The chip allows to apply one of the three digital filters, also for upsampling of all signals to 24 bits 192kHz. In this form it reaches the converter chips on the audio outputs. The extrapolation circuitry built-in them was switched off to not repeat the work done in the DSP.

And now: anyone, who will take a look at the back plate of the unit, or a peek inside, will not need to be told, that this device was built in the same factory, than manufactures players for Oppo, one of the biggest specialist of multiformat players. In the Internet you can find the information, that this factory is called Winbase.
The 751BD is actually a kind of “premium” version of the BDP-93EU manufactured in China for Oppo. According to Adam Shaw-Cotterill, the head of marketing of CA, all the previous DVD players and one BD were manufactured there. But after some time CA bought from the Chinese partner some of their projects, and their units are made on a different production line. This because, the British company made some changes to the basic unit. The most important is the large audio PCB I mentioned before. In the Oppo everything is done by a single DAC CS4382, used for all channels, without any digital signal processing before it. The second thing is about controlling the drive. The CA glues a black, plastic element to it, which has actually only a visual effect. However, according to Adam, the servo program was changed and re-coded at CA.
In terms of picture everything remained the same – this is a fantastic chip Marvell QDEO 88DE2750-BIF-2, which upconverts the signals from the DVD. Only that… CA has long term relationship with Mediatek, the manufacturer of the chipset, and that company made some improvements to it on request of CA.

To date we tested:

  • Digital to Analog Converter DACMagic, test HERE
  • Line preamplifier Azur 840E, test HERE
  • CD player Azur 840C, test HERE
  • Phonostage 640P, test HERE
  • Integrated amplifier Azur 340A, test HERE


Recordings used in the test (selection):

  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD.
  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Popular Selection, Stereo Sound, SSRR5, SACD/CD.
  • Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, FLAC 24/44,1.
  • Carol Sloane, Hush-A-Bye, Sinatra Society of Japan/Muzak, XQAM-1031, CD.
  • Chet Baker, Chet Baker Sings and Plays, Pacific Jazz/EMI Music Japan, TOCJ-90028, HQCD.
  • Coleman Hawkins, The Hawk Flies HighRiverside/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2030, SACD/CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Violator, Mute, DMCD7, Collectors Edition, SACD/CD + DVD;
  • Ella Fitzgerald, The Cole Porter Song Book, Verve, 537 257-2, Verve Master Edition CD.
  • Frédéric Chopin, The Complete Nocturnes, piano: Gergely Bogányi, Stockfisch, SFR 357.4051.2, 2 x SACD/CD;
  • Jim Hall Trio, Blues On The Rocks, Gambit Records, 69207, CD.
  • Jim Hall, Concierto, CTI/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2012, SACD/CD.
  • King Crimson, In The Wake of Poseidon, 21st Century Complete Edition, Universal Music Japan, UICE-9052, HDCD.
  • Laurie Anderson, Homeland, Nonesuch, 524055-2, CD+DVD;
  • Peter Gabriel, So, RealWorld/Virgin, SAPGCD 5, SACD/CD.
  • Roxy Music, Flesh+Blood, Virgin, 847439, HDCD.
  • Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 036, K2HD;
  • Sting, Sacred Love, A&M Records, 9860618, Limited Edition, SACD/CD.
  • Suzanne Vega, Close-Up. Vol 1, Love Songs, Amanuensis Productions/Cooking Vinyl, COOKCD521, CD.
  • ZZ Top, Eliminator, Warner Bros., R2 238204, HDCD+DVD.

Japan versions of CD, SHM-CD, XQCD, SHM-SACD etc. you can find HERE.

The listening session of this player brought some surprises, among which one is not really nice, and it requires, in my opinion, a change in the player’s firmware (if this is possible). I will tell about that during talking about SACD discs, because it is related to them.
Devices like the 751BD require to set priorities – not only during testing, but also during normal use. Because in the very beginning we have to pose a question: “What do I expect from it?” The degree of complication, the amount of possible sound sources is so large, that it escapes a simple comparison.
Looking at it from the manufacturers side the case seems simple – the Azur 751BD is most of all a Blu-ray and DVD-Video player. The biggest investments were made in that aspect and this is how the unit is named – “Blu-ray Disc Player”. But because we deal here with a classic of the audio/hi-fi, so directly after that goes the audio section, where the investments were not much smaller than in the video one, or maybe even more. Vision is important to me, I watch (or rather we watch – because my family is part of it) many movies and some concerts. But for me the audio part is more important, the more as we watch the movies in stereo, using a classic audio system, with a file player and BD as the source of the picture. And this is how I tested the Cambridge.

I think, that most recordings in the collections of music lovers and audiophiles are still on CDs (except for systems built around a turntable). So this is why those were for me the starting point of the test.
Their sound is very mature. It reminds, timbre wise, what I have from my Lektor Air. The resolution, differentiation, stage, shapes, etc, everything is of course much worse, but taking into account the price of the CA, and also that this is in fact not a CD player, I must say, that we deal here with a big event. I remember well the sound of the six BD players I tested for “Audio”. It was quite OK, but among them, the sound of the Azur 650BD was exceptionally good. But nevertheless everything improved, when I attached the Arcam rDAC to the digital output, one of the most important discoveries from the last two years. I will say it short: the 751BD sounds with CDs and high resolution files as well as the 650BD with the Arcam DAC (without the Pardo power supply). And in addition it shows more from the HDCD. And handles the SACD discs much better. But about that in a moment.

The sound of the CA player with Compact Discs is very saturated and dense. Its tonal balance seems shifted to the lower as well as upper frequencies. This is however not fully true, because the midrange is also dense and saturated, it can also be palpable. I will explain. The treble of the device is strong, and it is not hidden in any recording. But it is also very clean and free from most distortions, which are usually associated with “digital sound”. The sound of the triangles, hi-hats is full and has its weight, what differentiates the 715BD from for example the DACMagic. The treble comes a little to the front, it is not as integrated as in the Air, but it isn’t unpleasant, it is not annoying in being mechanical, or something like that. It is similar to the rDAC with an external power supply.
Also the bass is strong. It has a nice timbre, it is not contoured, it does not sound in an unpleasantly “overcontrolled” way. Its attack is slightly soft, but when needed, like on the discs Flesh+Blood Roxy Music and 99 Abraxas, it can hit stronger, showing dynamics and coherence known from large guitar amplifiers (for the bass). It seems, that its medium and upper part sounds a bit stronger than the lower part. This results in an attractive sound, which will fit best with smaller loudspeakers. With wide band loudspeakers this should also not be a problem, because then everything will just sound more energetic, but in certain conditions, for example in a given system, in a given room, there is too much bass, then you should test the CA for this.

But the midrange is as usual most important. Not only the timbre, but also its energy and microdynamics. Those are elements, which are neglected in almost all DVD players, and now BD players – the sound from those sources, similar to a large part of the USB DACs, is puny and boring. It is about weak resolution and extinguished dynamics. Attaching an external DAC to such a source improves only some of the problems, generating new ones, like choosing the right digital cable, etc. Here you do not have those problems. The sound is energetic and dynamic. It is not the level of the best CD players from that price level, like the Music Hall or Cyrus, but those are not differences, that would decide about the be or not be. It seems, that dedicated CD players, with such drives, can draw the shapes better, extract the voice nicer from between the instruments. But the CA also does it nicely, so that there is no impression of losing something, or any errors.

And here enters the SACD. Already earlier, with HDCD discs – please look at for example the King Crimson and Roxy Music discographies, or the First Impression Music discs – it was clear, that improving the resolution of the resolution of the file results in smoothing out the sound and better embossing of the vocals, guitars, etc. It is about that embossing – better defined shapes. This is a very coherent sound, still with strong treble, but even smoother, fitting even better. After some time the most important characteristic of this sound becomes even more visible – it is coherence.

Music has sense, I mean it is internally logical, it can be heard what the musicians wanted, and what the engineers. Of course the discs recorded and mixed in the DSD domain sound best. I said it many times before, that a recording should be played back in the same form as it was recorded in, because every conversion, even in the digital domain, from PCM to SACD leaves a trace, which is not a good trace. So you get the best sound from discs (recording-mixing-playback) DSD-DSD-DSD, then A-A-DSD and A-DSD-DSD and finally PCM-PCM-DSD. The last ones can really sound pretty bad. It is of course a problem, that most of the music that interests me was created in the 50-ties, so it is analog recorded and mixed. The second problem is, that a large group of music I listen to, rock, and it is nowhere in terms of SACD. Given away a few exceptions, like the Depeche Mode collection, most of the DSD editions, like discographies of Peter Gabriel or Genesis, or Sacred Love Sting are badly recorded and their CD counterparts from Japan are many times better.
But I tried to make a diagnosis using the CA – why did that happen? In case of the Genesis and Calling All Stations the case is clear – the recording was done badly. With the Sting I think, that they had some problem in creating the multichannel mix and matching it to the stereo one – they have added lots of spatial elements in counterphase to the latter. But they did forget, that this is not Q-sound, which makes the first three discs of Sting sound so good, or which makes the Amused to Death of Roger Waters be a frequent guest in audiophile collections. Anyway, the Cambridge Audio plays the SACDs in a very resolved and fluent way. The upper midrange, like in players for comparable money, is still quite strong, but here it serves the greater good – dynamics, openness and spaciousness. Yes, this is a player, where it is worth to buy SACDs for.

Only that… Here we come to the surprise about which I talked in the beginning – the player plays SACDs, DVDs and BDs but also files, when the HDMI output is connected to a TV or receiver, in other words – when the handshake occurs with another input. If not, then the disc spins, the counter counts but there is no sound. Maybe I missed something, maybe there is a simple solution, but I did not find it and nobody could answer my questions. Anyway this means that using the CA in an audio system we need to connect it to some screen.
We can of course use the “Pure Audio” mode, switching off the display and screen, but this is only a half-measure – because the HDMI output does not switch off, only the screen is blanked…
But maybe we could profit from a small screen nearby the place we are sitting – the player handles files nicely – it plays FLACs and WAVs up to 24/192. And it does play them splendidly. It cannot play gapless, but this should be corrected with the nearest firmware update. The hi-res files resemble what I heard from SACD. This is a smooth sound, much better than CD, what confirms the good resolution of the unit.

And the picture? Only a few words, because I was mostly interested in the sound. The picture from BD and DVD was splendid. Not so long ago a picture of that quality, with such saturated colors, so detailed, was only available from expensive players from Denon or Arcam, which were exceptional in that aspect. The CA does it here and now. Also the picture from files recorded on HDD was very good, but for me, my player HDI Dune HD MAX does it much better. The picture with the Dune is more precise, more resolved and most of all more “lit”. And I am not talking about brightness or contrast, because those can be set in the CA, but about some kind of naturalness. And the CA cannot add subtitles, when those are not included in the file, what excludes the viewing of most serials.


The CA player has classic proportions for this manufacturer. Most clearly they have the idea, that when something is not broken, you should not repair it. Not mentioning the savings – Chinese factories, where the Cambridge Audio devices are manufactured work in mass production. This means, that the more units are produced, the price of one will be lower. But now let’s get to the main description.
The front of the device resembles a CD player. This is of course an universal player, with the capability to handle hard discs, but most interactions will be done using the remote and screen. This is the reason, that on the front we have only the basic buttons for using it. They were placed on one side of the display and tray. To their other side we see something that was before on the DACMagic – a button and LEDs related to the digital filter. We can choose “Linear Phase”, “Minimum Phase Shift” and “Steep” filters. The choice will be done by individual taste of the listener. Next there is an USB type A socket and a standby switch.

On the back we have lots of sockets, as usual for CA. Currently there is a tendency to minimize the number of sockets, especially the analog ones – audio and video – changing them to HDMI. The player was however created as an universal digital center and thus has to be as versatile as possible. Hence the presence of analog video outputs – composite and component – and a set of 7.1 multichannel audio outputs. Separately is also a stereo audio output, with the sockets placed wider apart, what allows for using cables with thicker plugs. There is of course also a HDMI socket. Actually there are two HDMIs – one HDMI 1.4 with 4DTV and Deep Colour, with a Marvell QDEO 88DE2750-BIF-2 scaler with “Motion Adaptive” noise reduction and a second one, with a worse scaler. This should resolve compatibility problems with older receivers, not working well with 3D signals. In that case we can use the second socket to send the signal to the AV and the first one to the TV. I see another advantage of such solution – in the future, we can send the signal to an external DAC. Unfortunately I do not know, if there are solutions, where the clock is in the receiver and not the source. The newest Arcam receivers allow for that. And one more thing – through the HDMI we can send all kinds of signals, also from the SACD disc. It can be sent in the native format or as PCM, most probably 24 bits and 88.2kHz. We have also digital audio outputs – coaxial and optical, sending signals up to 24/192. Links to the external digital world are supplied in the form of an Ethernet socket and for connecting with external disc drives – USB type A and eSata. In a conversation with Adam Shaw-Cotterill, the head of marketing at Cambridge Audio, the player can receive audio and video streams via the Ethernet port, for example from a NAS. But because it was not certified to be used with various servers, the company does not really brag about that.

The insides will enchant each audiophile, because it remembers what we can find in a worked out CD player, like ones from Cambridge Audio. The circuit is divided into a few PCBs. On the back there is the audio PCB. Those are five identical, stereophonic DACs from Wolfson Audio, the WM8740. So the stereo output uses exactly the same chip. Actually all channels are exactly the same, with NE5532 on the output and nicely looking Wima polypropylene capacitors in the sound path. The stereo output has gold plated sockets, all the others not. The signal to those flows from a large DSP Sharc Q5 192kHz, covered with a metal plate with the logos of Anagram Technologies and Cambridge Audio. This is an upsampler, with the code designed by the Swiss company, now owned by Cambridge Audio, according to Adam Shaw-Cotterill. He claims that it is easier to adjust everything to a certain device, when you own the technology. Cooperation with external companies is very difficult. So this is a chip already owned by CA. All the signals are converted inside to the 24 bits 192kHz form and sent to the converter chips. So their interpolation unit is switched off. The mentioned chip also has the built in digital filters we can select. On the same PCB there is also a separate power supply, where separate output from the switching power supply provides voltage. Next to the chip there is the main clock of the device, a very good clock from XO. Let us add, that this upsampler was used for the first time in the CD player Azur CD

The video part is on a separate PCB. It is made around two main chips – one, Mediatek, decodes the sound and vision, the other, close to the HDMI output, processes it. This is one of the best chips available on the market, the Marvell QDEO.
The signal is read by a modified, universal drive from Sony – at least this is claimed by Adam. The drive is seated on a thick, metal frame and bolted to the bottom by thick distances and decoupling springs. Those are quite stiff, what suggest the choice of the resonance frequency in a way it will not interfere with the readout of data.
I mentioned the power supply – it is a switching one, very worked out, with lots of nice capacitors damping oscillations. /p>

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Dimensions: 85 x 430 x 312mm
Weight: 4.8kg
3D: yes
Played disc types: BD/DVD/CD/DVD-A/SACD/HDCD
DAC chips: Wolfson WM8740 x 5
Upsampling: Anagram Technologies 24/192 kHz
Decoded audio formats:
DTS HD Master Audio | DTS
Dolby True HD | Dolby Digital Plus | Dolby Digital
AVCHD, MP4, DivX, MKV, FLAC (do 24/192), WAV (do 24/192)
HDMI outputs: 2 x HDMI 1.4a
Wi-Fi: yes, n type adapter supplied
HDD inputs: USB x 2, eSata x 1

Distribution in Poland:
Audio Center Poland
ul. Malborska 56 | 30-646 Kraków

tel.: 12 265 02 85 | 12 265 02 86
fax: 12 425 64 43


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"High Fidelity OnLine" is an internet magazine, published since may 2004, devoted to high quality reproduction of sound and picture. It is a monthly magazine, but the articles are uploaded twice a month - in the beginning of the month and in the middle. The news column is updated on on-going basis, if possible. The main sections are: "Tests", "Events" (interviews, reportages, and similar), "Hyde Park" (user tests, opinions) and "Who asks..." (readers questions and HFOL answers). Articles from earlier issues can be read in the "Archive". Have a nice read!

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