Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD - £400

The budget-priced player of the bunch, the 650BD is remarkably good value and holds its own admirably

Is it hi-fi, is it home cinema, or is it a bit of home computer equipment? In the days of Blu-ray, USB and internet with everything, the Azur 650BD is all three – with bells on. The 10 front-panel logos denoting specific technologies suggest at once that this is a pretty well-featured unit, while closer investigation doesn’t disappoint.

It handles almost every variation of silver disc – CD, SACD, DVD and Blu-ray. Despite that, the insides are not really any busier than most CD- only players. Or, at least, the circuit- board area is no bigger – several of the chips on them have a squillion legs and the internal transistor count is probably in the billions.

The universal transport connects via a computer-type SATA cable, while the power supply is a switch-mode affair, but the audio output circuits are familiar stuff with dual op-amps and decent-quality passive parts. The critical DAC chip is from Cirrus and can handle six channels at 24-bit/192kHz resolution.

If we went into the details of the audio and video features we’d need most of this issue of HFC, but suffice to say that pretty much anything you can think of is in there somewhere.

Full set up requires a TV screen (although with careful use of the instruction manual we managed briefly without one), but of course, for our main purposes, playing audio from CD and SACD, the set up options are largely irrelevant. On the one hand, it’s unlikely that this machine will be used in pure audio systems, but on the other it’s actually quite a cheap option when viewed just as an SACD player.

Sound quality

So is it actually any good? No doubt to some people’s surprise, yes, it is. It’s tempting to think that with all that irrelevant video-related gubbins flying around, then the 650BD is going to struggle. But look at it this way: the video stuff doesn’t add much to the cost and as for spurious signals, CD-only players have got plenty of those already. In fact, with modern design methodologies they’re likely to be much better handled in a modern fully featured design than in the no-frills players of a decade ago And so maybe it’s not such a shock that this techno-wonder proved to be the favourite of our listeners. They found it musical, detailed, open and natural tonally.

One commented that it was perhaps a little brighter than the group average and another suggested that image depth wasn’t quite the best of the bunch, but otherwise the general tone was somewhere between positive and ecstatic. Cambridge should also be particularly happy with some sensational vocals!

At the same time, musical qualities are very much to the fore and the precision is always at the service of art, rather than being an end in itself. Performance is even across CD and SACD and this really is a very easy player to enjoy with any kind of music. That it does so much sophisticated video stuff, as well as multichannel audio (if you’ve got the software) only adds lustre to its decidedly sparkling value.

LIKE: Musical, precise, invloving and with great energy
DISLIKE: Maybe a shade bright of neutral, imaging not the best
WE SAY: Universal in terms of compatibility and features and very nearly in terms of sound

TYPE: CD/SACD/BD/ universal player
WEIGHT: 4.1kg
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 430x85x315mm
• Analogue output: 7.1 unbalanced
• Digital output: electrical and  optical S/PDIF
• Other connections: HDMI, USB x2, ethernet
DISTRIBUTOR: Audio Partnership
TELEPHONE: 0870 900 1000