Cambridge Audio’s new range-topping AV receiver is content to leave home networking to its rivals and concentrate solely on its AV performance.
Designed in the UK at Cambridge Audio’s rather slick new London-based offices and Cambridge technology lab, the Azur 751R is the latest evolution of the company’s flagship AV receiver. And, far from following the Japanese herd, the 751R is a bit, well, different. Eccentric, even.
For starters, this must be the only AVR currently on the market that does not have any networking features. No Wi-Fi, no Ethernet, no internet radio, no network streaming and therefore no remote control app. What the 751R sets out to do is be the very best-sounding AVR, for both music and movies, for the money . To these ends, Cambridge Audio has gone to some serious lengths to get the 751R sounding spectacular, including a Toroidal power supply the size of an electricity substation, discrete amplifiers and near noiseless cooling.
The Azur 75IR is big and heavy – but good-looking, too
Audiophile refinery doesn’t stop there either. The chassis has been designed to reduce vibration MicroPhony and feel uber-solid when you pick it up. Meanwhile, at the heart of the 751R you will find a pair of top-spec Texas Instruments 32-bit processors. Unlike any other AV receiver I can think of, the 751R up-samples all incoming audio signals to 192 kHz/24-bit before applying any DSP and outputting them to the DACs for each channel. Upscampling has been a feature of the high-end digital hi-fi scene for some time and can deliver a much more organic and analogue-like sound (purists should note that with stereo inputs you can elect to bypass this processing).
Each channel is then routed to Cambridge Audio’s discrete power amplifier modules that deliver a claimed 120W-per-channel with all channels driven. In two-channel mode the Toroidal transformer supplies only the active channels, meaning the power output supposedly increases to 200W-per-channel.
If you have evolved your music collection to PC or have high-res audio files in your collection the 751R has a very neat solution for that, too. On the back panel is an asynchronous USB input for direct connection to your PC. While some USB DAC makers have basic plug-and-play firmware built into the DAC, Cambridge Audio has gone a step further and developed its own USB Class 2.0 drivers that sync with the input to reduce jitter and improve sound quality. You will have to download these onto your source PC, but the results, particularly using ASIO mode, more that justify the agro. I’d argue it sets the standard for AV receivers at this price point.
Built for purpose
If this is all starting to sound a bit too Hi-Fi, be assured that this is definitely a home cinema receiver. Integrated decoding for the high-res Dolby and DTS movie sound formats, the option of height channels, an Anchor Bay 1080p video Scaler and Audyssey 2EQ are all on board. The latter handles the auto setup routine and can be run with or without applying any room correction. Once set, options also include Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume for those who don’t always listen at 100dB SPLs. There is a basic second-zone setup with a neat credit card-style remote supplied for the second room – this is, of course, a seven-channel amp.
The main handset is accompanied by a second Zone 2 remote
That is pretty much it for features, though – a far cry from the flexibility and gadgetry of the Denons, Yamahas and Onkyos at the same price point. The feature frugality extends to the onscreen interface, which remains block white text menus on a blue background rather than overlaying video on screen. A full color GUI with explanations of each feature, it isn’t. And, given the plethora of buttons on the
Rather cluttered fascia and the familiar sparse Cambridge Audio remote control, you will need to keep the manual close at hand.
It’s worth running the full Audyssey EQ setup mode as this measures your room from three different seating locations and can smooth out bumps in your room’s acoustics. However, given the results of the EQ in the Stevenson house, I would then nip straight back into the menus and turn the Audyssey EQ to ‘off’.
‘The 751R’s robust character leaves you in little doublet that this is a first-class home cinema receiver’
It really doesn’t do justice to the audio engineering of the AVR and manages to flatten the sound into a two-dimensional mush. That is not uncommon of earlier/lower-spec Audyssey implementations and I suspect Cambridge Audio may have put the feature on just to borrow the auto setup system without having to design its own. Either way, all further sound quality comments in this review are with Audyssey EQ very much ‘off’.
Cambridge Audio Azur 751R – The Importance Of Being Earnest
Not that that’s a problem – the 751R’s innate balance is smooth, sophisticated and rich, with superb bass weight and a naturalness that’s far removed from the harsher tendencies of lower-spec AVRs. An evening with Avengers Assemble on Blu-ray sees the 751R draw you inexorably into enjoying the daft plot with its fulsome and room-filling sound. Details and effects have their place in the mix and are nicely executed without appearing exaggerated. The scene where the fight breaks out between Thor and The Hulk is a rollercoaster of crashes and explosions, and the 751R delivers it with plenty of dynamic heft and a robust character that leaves you in little doubt this is a first-class home cinema amp. Better still, dialogue is supremely articulated, pushing through the chaos with ease.
The absolute volume at which you are listening has quite a dramatic effect on the sound, and those listening at normal TV levels will find the presentation rather too smooth and a little lackluster. This is where the Audyssey Dynamic Volume control comes in to its own. Adding a fair bit of body and spice to the mix at lower levels. However, to really get the 751R singing at its best it likes a good handful of volume. Past the magic -30dB indicated mark (about 85dB average SPL in my room) it suddenly wakes up, with the top-end getting more air time in the mix, the soundstage widening and whole sound gaining Hulk-sized body. The fun just keeps on coming, the amp seeming to breathe more easily and getting more open by the click. The -20dB mark (95dB in my room) delivers a grin factor the Cheshire cat would be proud of.
The Azur 751 uses a thermostatically-controlled rear-mounted fan as part of its X-Tract cooling system
Switching to music, either CD or via USB, sees the 751R play its absolute trump card. Very few AV receivers achieve such a great balance with music, irrespective of price. The Cambridge Audio’s rich and articulate presentation is the kind that would have the reviewers on our sister title Hi-Fi Choice reaching for their Pink Floyd albums.
So, for movie fans with a musical bent – those who want a combined stereo and multichannel amp – the 751R is a perfect fit. However, those after cutting-edge networking features will invariably be disappointed. So it’s a Best Buy, but with caveats…
On the menu
The Azur 751R’s stripped-down menus feels positively antiquated compared to the competition and you might expect a little more panache considering the AVR’s price tag. Setup is not overly complicated, but keep the remote juiced and manual close to hand. There’s no app control option
The Azur 751R’s stripped-down menus feels positively antiquated compared to the competition
Produce: 7.1-channel ‘upsampling’ AV receiver
Position: Top of Cambridge Audio’s current Azur range
Peers: Arcam AVR360; Pioneer SC-LX56; Marantz SR7007
Highs: Superb build; high-fidelity sound with music and movies; asynchronous USB input; plenty of connections
Lows: Feature light; no networking and no app control; Audyssey room EQ sounds flat
- Performance: 5/5
- Design: 4/5
- Features: 3/5
- Overall: 4/5
· Dolby true HD: Yes. And Dolby Pro-Logic IIz
· DTS-HD master audio: Yes
· THX: No
· Multichannel input: Yes. 7.1 Phono inputs
· Multi-room: Yes. Second zone
· AV inputs: 4 x composite; 4 x S-video; 10 x digital audio (5 x optical and 5 x coaxial)
· HDMI: 6 x inputs; 2 x outputs
· Video up-scaling: Yes. To 1080p
· Component video: Yes 3 x inputs; 1 x output
· Dimensions: 430(w) x 420(d) x 150(h) mm
· Weight: 17.4kg
· Also featuring: 192kHz/24-bit up-sampling; dedicated stereo DACs; asynchronous USB input; Audyssey 2EQ room EQ and auto setup; Toroidal transformer; rigid chassis; ‘follow main’ zone two output; Audyssey Dynamic Volume; 6.35mm headphone output; FM/FM tuner; TI Aureus DA788 32-bit DSPs