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Cambridge Audio Azur 851N Review and Measurements

Stephen H

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Oct 23, 2022
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Below you can see my Cambridge Audio Azur 851n network streamer. I purchased it for £1199 back in 2018 from Richer Sounds (UK). It is a heavy/chunky beast with a satisfying, well-made feel to it.
DeLaSoul.jpg


Features/Useability

The feature list for the 851n is extensive. You can use it as a USB DAC, or stream directly from internet services such as Tidal and Spotify. Roon is supported, as well as internet radio. Access to local DLNA servers is provided via the StreamMagic android app. You also get lots of connectivity to choose from, rear IO can be seen here.

Useability is excellent. The built-in software provides a logical, easy-to-navigate menu system which is quick and responsive. No hangs or lags when selecting options. The rotary control feels good, with a nice smooth, weighty action to it. The included remote control is a full-sized chunk of a thing with lots of buttons. The LCD display is bright and clear and looks great showing album artwork. Volume level is displayed in large numbers, making it easier to see when adjusting from a distance. See below:

Volume.jpg


Technical stuff

Please note, the below measurements will not be as accurate as ones taken with an Audio Precision analyser. Also, this is not my area of expertise, so please notify me if you notice any peculiarities/inconsistencies with the data.

Devices used for capture (in loop):

Windows PC -> CA Azur 851n -> Nihtila ADC -> SoundBlaster 1240 (via Toslink) -> Windows PC

Documentation & Notes:
  • Audio Precision results for ADC can be found here
  • Toslink connects ADC to SoundBlaster 1240.
  • SoundBlaster connects to PC via USB.
  • SoundBlaster responsible for digital-to-digital conversion only.
  • ADC and SoundBlaster @ 96Khz (unless stated otherwise).
  • Multitone software: https://distortaudio.org/multitone.html
  • dBr used instead of dBFS.
  • Balanced XLR output used.
  • 0db = 3.8vrms(ish)
USB Measurements

1Khz Tone:

1Khz.png


Nothing special compared to some equipment on this site. However, it is far from broken. Main harmonic spike is kept below -110db. Not much else to say other than I’m happy with this.

32-Tone:
32-tone.png


Again, nothing special, everything kept below -110db. No complaints from me.

Frequency Response:
FR.png


I would have been highly annoyed if the above was any worse. A flat frequency response seems like a basic requirement for any modern hi-end audio product. You can see the above is a little wiggly. Nothing major, so I’m not going to obsess over it. Still seems a bit odd though.

Intermodulation distortion:
IMD.png


Everything kept under control. It’s safe to say we’ve seen better results here, but this is good enough. To confirm the validity of this test I quickly swapped back to my SMSL SU-8 to see if I could measure the infamous ESS hump. Which I could:

IMD.png


Linearity @ -20dB:
Linearity.png


Linearity is good. Nice and flat.

Jitter (JTest 24 @ 44100hz):
Jtest 24.png


Seems good and clean to me. Lack of any noticeable jitter spikes.

TD+N vs Frequency
TD+N.png


Everything kept below -100db, so I’m happy.

Filters:
Filters2.png


The 851n comes with 3 filters that can be selected via a button on the remote control or front panel. The filters are Linear (Yellow), Minimum (Red) and Steep (Blue). I’ve seen better attenuation from other DACs. However, I’m not certain how valid the above result is. It seems strange that the Linear and Minimum filter are basically identical. Maybe I’ve missed something? I haven’t spent much time testing this further, as I can’t hear a difference anyway. I use the default Linear filter.

Streamer Measurements

Unfortunately, I cannot run all the above measurements when streaming. However, I have done a few basic ones to compare results against USB.

To perform the below measurements, I first saved the tones from Multitone into WAV files and streamed them via the StreamMagic app. Once playing, I put Multitone into silent mode and ran the capture.

1Khz Tone:
1KHz.png


I was very pleased to see more or less identical results. I was worried USB performance would be better than streaming performance. Glad to see that is not the case.

32-Tone:
Multitone.png


Spectrum seems a tad noisier, but nothing I’m concerned about.

Frequency Response:
FR.png


Looks virtually identical to USB.

Jitter @ 44100hz:
JTest24.png


Again, more or less identical to USB.

Conclusion

I have enjoyed this device from the day I bought it. You can really start to appreciate the price point from the moment you begin setting it up. It’s great looking, well-made, easy to use, feature rich and most importantly, sounds amazing. £1200 is a lot of money, but man do you get a nice piece of kit for it.

Happy to report there is seemingly nothing broken or flawed about the design. Measurements show performance is good and solid. Not cutting edge, but certainly good enough.

I won’t be upgrading anytime soon!
 

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DonR

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Very nice. For me, any of those measurements would be well beyond audible. Looks the business. Hopefully, it will give you years of trouble-free enjoyment.
 

Gyosa1

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I’ve had one of these for a few years now and really like it.
it really does sound fantastic. I’m using it in preamp mode - plugged directly into my amp via XLR cables.

Cambridge Audio sells these on eBay as “refurbished “ highly discounted- that’s where I got mine - looked brand new when I got it , not a scratch on it.

my only complaint is that it falls out of “network standby” after a few days of non-use , have to physically turn it on via front panel or remote. Dunno if that’s by design or not , either way , just a minor inconvenience.

thanks for the review , was hoping someone here would eventually do one !

bk
 
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ahofer

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I had one of these and it failed (no output) in 2018. It was out of warranty, but CA gave me purchase value against the new Edge player, which is still too expensive, but it's a nicely put together unit.

Great features, works beautifully (both). Not sure what failed in my first one.
 
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McFly

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Loved my CXN v2 for 3, maybe 4 years now. Im waiting for a CXN v3 or similar, hopefully a CXN V2 but with hdmi eARC and maybe even a selectable subout w/mains highpass.
 

Gyosa1

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Loved my CXN v2 for 3, maybe 4 years now. Im waiting for a CXN v3 or similar, hopefully a CXN V2 but with hdmi eARC and maybe even a selectable subout w/mains highpass.
Yeah ,
that‘s what i am waiting for … HDMI ARC ….

interested in the Matrix Element M2 , it looks perfect- but also seems to have all kinds of perpetual software / firmware issues..
would love to see someone here test it.

bk
 

RenSong

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They are still releasing updates for this every few months. It's menus/UI are noticeably snappier and more reliable in terms of streaming strength and features in the past year I've purchased it. It's my Roon endpoint, dac, streamer, preamp straight into a power amp. Sounds absolutely fantastic in my system.
 
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