Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD Blu-ray Player
Fastest Drawer in the West?
A quick Internet search can easily turn up a Blu-ray player or two for sale at close to $100—and plenty of decent-performing ones for less than $200. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a refurbished player for under a hundred bucks. The great thing about the situation for consumers is that there are plenty of goodperforming, affordable Blu-ray players out there—but that means any upscale manufacturer has its work cut out for it to distinguish itself from the herd. So if a manufacturer is going to be bold enough to come out with a Bluray player for $699 or so, that machine had better be top notch.
Cambridge Audio is a British A/V company. According to the company’s entertaining promo videos, audiophile passion is “encoded in its DNA.” A quick look at Cambridge Audio’s history and awards over the years shows that the company certainly knows two-channel audio. After all, they still make outboard phono preamps. So it’s not surprising that Cambridge’s second foray into the world of Blu-ray video is a player that focuses on audio capabilities—a universal Blu-ray player that’s just as at home with SACD and DVD-Audio as it is with high-definition video.
Cambridge Audio pitches the Azur 650BD to audio purists. It’s not a Blu-ray 3D player, it doesn’t have the ability to play DivX files, and it lacks Internet streaming functionality. The jury is out on the importance of 3D, and I have to admit I’m not sure how important the streaming capability is for most folks. (Because of where I live, I suffer with satellite Internet service—something I would only wish on my dearest enemies—and streaming movies are filled with intolerable delays. I’m certain that I would use the service if it were available to me. But I digress.)
As you’ve probably guessed (or simply read in the At a Glance above), the Azur 650BD isn’t a Blu-ray 3D player. It can decode both Dolby TrueHD and DTSHD Master Audio to PCM, or transmit them as native bitstreams over HDMI. The player includes an Ethernet port for Internet access, 1 gigabyte of onboard memory for BD-Live local storage, and it provides two USB inputs (one on the front, and one on the back). The USB inputs are good for transferring digital files from your computer to the player. Still, it would have been nicer if the player were able to access your home network and play the video and digital image files stored on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive or other computer on your network.
Feel and Loathing
After I’d finished my review of the impressive Azur 650R AVR from Cambridge Audio, I came away loving the unit but loathing the remote control. Unfortunately, the company decided it was important to keep a family identity with the remote controls, and the one for the Azur 650BD is very similar to the AVR’s remote—only with more of the stuff I didn’t like. Evidently, the folks who designed these remote controls are fluent in Braille. No one with average eyesight can use them without straining their eyes even in broad daylight. In a darkened theater room, unless you’re intimately familiar with using Cartesian coordinates, you’re screwed. The remote for the Azur 650BD is symmetrically laid out, with five rows of four small buttons above a central thumb pad and five rows of four equally small buttons below the pad. If you want to push the Play/Pause button, you find the central pad with your thumb, move down to the first row and then over two buttons to the left. You want to skip ahead to the next chapter? Find the thumb pad and then move down two rows and over two buttons. Popup menu? Move up from the thumb pad one row and over one button. If Dante were alive and writing today, one of his rings of Hell would involve remote controls that are laid out logically but not intuitively. You’d probably find the Azur 650BD’s remote floating around there somewhere.