Via a 24-bit/96kHz FLAC rip of Tom Waits’ ‘Satisfied’ from Bad As Me , the amps presented the music with just the right amount of vitriolic sting, without the music straying into hard-edged or fatiguing territory. I could enjoy Waits’ performance as it should be heard – loud, raucous and reminiscent of Captain Beefheart (revered by Waits) at his best.
Cambridge Audio Azur 851W – Front Panel
Moving into smoother territory via a vinyl re-master of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album [Harvest SHVL 814], fed from my Pink Triangle Export turntable and Primare R32 phono stage, the Cambridge amps handled the opening track’s dynamic swings with consummate ease. With the amps in the driving seat, Nick Mason’s drums kicked in with real impact when required, before moving to one side to allow the more delicate passages to draw me in. Perhaps telling of the 851W’s substantial reserves, the amps never sounded wrong-footed when asked to scale the sonic heights with each towering chorus from ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’.
The 851W’s bass is well controlled and never lethargic, although it’s not as bottomless as some. On the Floyd album, for example, Roger Waters’ bass guitar notes sounded well rounded with excellent texture that gave them plenty of body. Rehearing the earlier Kristin Hersh material revealed that, although the track’s kick-drum had all the presence of low rolling thunder, via the Cambs combo it was perhaps not as bone-shakingly powerful as I’ve heard it on some of the cost-no-object breeds.
However, this is actually a compliment, because these Cambridge Audio products sound so good you couldn’t help but compare them to alternatives from way up the price ladder to really discover their limits.
Hi-fi news verdict
Cambridge Audio Azur 851W – Rear Panel
These amps represent a genuine introduction to true high-end amplification at the same time offering real value for money. Features-wise they’re fully loaded – although a digital input or two would perhaps have been welcome. But where they really score highly is in their sound. They’re clean, neutral and engaging across the board, and there’s plenty of power to drive most speakers with ease.
Sound quality: 87%
The technical prowess of this pre/power is beyond doubt, so there’s greater interest in comparing the new 851E/851W with the older 840E/840W. The gain of the 851E preamp, for example, is unchanged at +18dB (balanced in/out) and the A-wtd S/N ratio is actually 1-2dB less than that of the 840E at 101dB (re. 0dBV), but this is still state-of-the-art. The response is unchanged – flat to within ±0.08dB out to 100kHz – but distortion has been halved down to a ludicrously low 0.00007-0.0004% (20Hz-20kHz, re. 0dBV)!
The overall gain of the 851W power amp is also unchanged at +22dB and the power output exactly the same at 2x243W and 2x400W into 8/4ohm respectively. There’s slightly more headroom under dynamic conditions, however, as the 851W stretches out to 295W, 565W and 965W into 8, 4 and 2ohm loads. The 2ohm figure represents the 851W’s current limit of 22A, so the power into 1ohm almost halves to 490W [see Graph 1, below]. Interestingly, levels of compensation look to have been slightly relaxed in the 851W as distortion increases beyond that measured for the 840W at 20kHz/10W (0.0085% versus 0.0016%). Once again distortion on the left channel is higher than the right (0.019% for 20kHz/10W). The amp’s output impedance is reduced from 0.032ohm (840W) to 0.022ohm here but high frequency stereo separation is slightly inferior (84dB versus 90dB at 20kHz) as is the A-wtd S/N ratio (96dB versus 99dB re. 0dBW).
Cambridge Audio Azur 851E/W Panel
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