Cambridge Audio about its new Evo system: “I can settle for the phrase ‘lifestyle’, however it is a actual hi-fi product. “

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As much as we love it, hi-fi is traditionally not synonymous with convenience – all those stacks of components and tangled cables, the Rigamarol around the turntable assembly, the terminal annoyance caused by repeated bites from the HiFi upgrade bug becomes. But a new era of streaming systems with just additional speakers is one of the burgeoning product categories trying to bring the two closer together. In recent years, electronics brands have combined music streamers and amplifiers into all-round boxes to make the prospect of hi-fi sound less daunting and more attractive domestically, both to the hi-fi system and the general public. One could say that the microsystem has grown up with protean streaming boxes like this.

Given that Cambridge Audio is well established in both areas of audio expertise, it is not surprising that Cambridge Audio has now entered the thriving market with the Evo 75 and the more sophisticated Evo 150. We sat down with the company’s CEO, Stuart George, to talk about his approach to creating something that extends so much across hi-fi and lifestyle design; something that is inherently more relevant to a larger audience than its dedicated separate.

It all started with Edge, Cambridge’s flagship hi-fi range launched in 2018. “One of the biggest inquiries when Edge was introduced was,“ Why didn’t you add a streaming module to the Edge A amplifier? “And to a certain extent that was part of the inspiration for the Evo. Previously, we believed that an all-in-one product had to contain a CD player. Evo was never meant to be exactly a “Mini Edge”, but our concept was to bring all of Edge’s qualities into a small form factor. “

Now George does not claim that Edge’s sonic qualities match Evo. After all, Cambridge’s Edge NQ streaming preamp and Edge W power amp are a combo of around £ 6,000, while the Evo is around a third of that price – and even less comparable in terms of space requirements.

Cambridge’s mid-range CX series streamer and amplifier, a combination more or less the same price as the Evo, is a fair comparison – and was indeed the company’s benchmark for the Evo. “I’m not going to tell you that it sounds as good as a CXN and a CX81 put together,” says George. “But it sounds pretty similar. We’re not talking about differences between day and night, we’re talking about shadows. I can accept the word ‘lifestyle’, but this is a real hi-fi product.”

Cambridge Audio Evo 75

(Photo credit: Cambridge Audio)

These one-box concepts should not be expected to perform better than or even individual components with similar combined value. After all, there are only so many electronic devices you can fit into a box this size. They, including Evo, are typically smaller than traditional full-width chassis so they can be easily accommodated. “How these things fit into people’s lives is very important. And having that in your living room is no problem compared to having multiple edge boxes, ”says George. He admits that the original size Cambridge went for the Evos had to grow to fit everything inside. “Getting all of the stuff in the 150 was a challenge – the back is covered!”

These products need to be more efficient because of this modest real estate and are therefore, like all hi-fi equipment, a compromise in one way or another.

Because of this, Cambridge ventured outside of its own Class XA and AB amplifier designs, which form the core of its dedicated amplifiers. It came to Class D reinforcement and more specifically, it came to the realization that it was a specialty area that it wasn’t done and after testing several options to Hypex’s NCore solution.

George explains, “Evo’s goal was to use a much smaller footprint. So we knew we had to go somewhere with Class D. The technology has been around for a while, of varying quality, but in recent years it has to be a level where our engineers said we had to use it. And Evo, with its small form factor and energy efficiency, was the perfect way for us to do that.

“It [Hypex] is an intelligent solution, it is a versatile solution. It’s good at delivering power and output in such a way that it can handle the different resistance and impedance in different types of speakers. “

Cambridge Audio Evo 75

(Photo credit: Cambridge Audio)

Cambridge Senior Electronics Engineer Francesco Bettucci says Hypex differs from other solutions in its own development of the feedback loop: “This means that, like many other Class D amplifiers, it achieves very low output impedance and no resonance at high frequencies have – this means that there are no artifacts in the high frequency range. It also achieves extremely low distortion, on par with the best Class AB amplifiers. “

How does Cambridge take a third-party gain design and make it a Cambridge-sound product? “Our tuning element comes into play with the preamplifier,” says George. “Our engineers spent an enormous amount of time there designing the components that affect the performance aspect of the product. How we do this is a demanding exercise, sitting down and optimizing and listening with different components – endless hours of listening. If you’re designing it on paper, it’s a relatively quick exercise. What takes all the time is to optimize it. The hearing performance is more interesting to us than the measured performance. “

Cambridge Audio Evo 150

(Photo credit: Cambridge Audio)

Just as important as the amplification electronics in a multi-faceted product like this is of course its streaming capability. Cambridge’s own StreamMagic platform was featured in their NP30 streamer a decade ago and has been the foundation for more than 10 Cambridge products since then. The StreamMagic module in the Evo is a brand new variant of the fourth generation (called ‘Salefish’ internally; Cambridge engineers like to name each new version after a faster fish than the last!) That brings improvements over the previous one (Black Marlin). through a quad-core processor (compared to a single one) for better handling of higher audio quality and the large display as well as integrated Wi-Fi (as opposed to a Wi-Fi dongle).

Much to his credit, the platform meets many criteria for music service and file compatibility. However, the streaming world is far from static – new levels of service, codecs, and protocols are a constant threat – so products like this must be ready. Manufacturers are aware of the need for future-proofing and are increasingly relying on modular designs so that the connectivity and streaming hardware can be updated later at the request of the market. For Cambridge, the traction of MQA (the technology behind high definition Tidal Masters) proved problematic, requiring hardware that existing music streamers like the CXN did not have. The new Evo has the in-house capabilities to support MQA and Cambridge is committed to providing wireless updates to existing users of its products whenever possible. The Evo isn’t physically modular, however – and if it’s another MQA-like barrier coming down the line, that could potentially be problematic.

“Back when we launched the Zandor [iteration of StreamMagic]What we specified before Black Marlin was way above the requirements of the time, “says George.” As far as we could see, nothing would stop us from doing what we were doing. What came along and changed things at that time was Chromecast. Google’s requirements were so enormous and non-audio that it was difficult to meet in the area we assigned this aspect of processing [that platform version] and had to go on. We are committed to these guys! It’s a tough entrance. At the moment, however, we are not planning any changes that would mean this [Evo] won’t stand the test of time. “

Cambridge Audio Evo 150

(Photo credit: Cambridge Audio)

So is there scope for a much higher quality flagship edge streaming system, or is such a product more relevant on this more humble level? If people are willing to spend a lot of money on a system, wouldn’t they be more inclined to go down the separate hi-fi system in search of maximum performance?

“I think there is room to go further with these designs and one-box solutions,” argues George. “But if we’re going to do a more expensive, bigger design – what it would have to be with bigger components – I can’t see how we’re using Class D. Edge was about taking Class XA on a journey to the extreme ends that we could at that point. It turned out to be something for us: What Cambridge Audio can do. In this case, the aim was to bring as much functionality and technology as we currently master into the smallest possible form factor while maintaining the properties in terms of performance and sound quality. “

Wherever the streaming system is used for Cambridge Audio and other participating players, Evo and its best competitors such as Naim Uniti Atom, Arcam SA30 and Linn Majik DSM are successfully bringing broader relevance to the hi-fi market. Just plug it into a network, add a pair of speakers, and you’re cooking on gas. How convenient is that!

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