Cambridge Audio CXR120 A/V Receiver Review

Audio Performance
Video Performance
PRICE $2,399

Nuanced, open, uncolored sonics
Stream Magic module
Auto setup imposes no room correction
Bluetooth requires adapter
A $2,400 AVR with no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X
Auto setup imposes no room correction

This receiver makes idiosyncratic audiophile choices—omitting Atmos, Bluetooth, and other features—but the revamped look and feel are great, and the sound is reliably musical.

At first glance, the cosmetic difference between Cambridge Audio’s new CXR receivers and the company’s previous Azur line is almost shocking. The older receivers were stellar performers, but their look was strictly utilitarian, even a bit dowdy. They were the consumer electronics equivalent of Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever her traditional virtues may be, she hasn’t won many beauty contests lately. What a difference a new look makes! The CXR receivers have a cleaner, sleeker front panel, with fewer controls and a generously oversized display. They’re less QEII, more Kate Middleton—who, coincidentally, is also known as the Duchess of Cambridge.

Full Disclosure Specs
The CXR120 ($2,399) is one of two new Cambridge receivers, the other being the CXR200 ($3,299), which has twice the rated power. The Azur name has been retired. While CXR receivers still use fan cooling, it’s a new design with new components. Using the industry-standard (if slightly deceptive) method of power rating, the CXR120 offers 100 watts into 8 ohms with two channels driven. At 6 ohms, that rises to 120, and at 4 ohms, 155. In an unusual and praiseworthy step, Cambridge also specifies the receiver at 60 watts into 8 ohms with all seven channels driven. That is the kind of information that most manufacturers prefer to conceal. Compare it with our Test Bench measurements—and competitive AVRs.

Cambridge has dramatically reduced the number of buttons on the front panel. The old same-priced Azur 651R had 22 buttons. The CXR120 has eight, and seven of them are cunningly camouflaged, tucked into the four corners of the large display. When the receiver is powered down, you hardly notice them—but when it’s powered up, the backlit legends pop up brightly. If only I could be that cheerful when I wake up in the morning.

The pair of buttons in the lower right corner are home menu and back keys. In an inspired touch, the volume knob scrolls up or down menu items; press the knob for enter. Brilliant! While I’ve seen this before, I haven’t seen it often enough. Two other keys cycle among sources. The remaining controls operate the direct modes and the tuner. Yes, older Cambridge receivers offered more front-panel functionality independent of menus, but their control layouts were harder to learn. The new ergonomic choices make it simpler to find what you need.

The cosmetic redesign extends to the graphic user interface. The new look, like the old one, is mostly monochrome except for a speaker-setup diagram in color. But the font is more attractive and smaller, presumably sized for a large HD screen. The remote distinguishes controls by shape but, oddly, not by color. The home menu and volume buttons are both integrated into the ring surrounding the navigation controls, which is convenient but takes some getting used to.

There’s always a tradeoff between features and performance at a given price point. To reserve more pounds sterling in the design budget for audiophile-grade build quality, Cambridge has passed over some high-profile features that other manufacturers deem indispensable. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the new object-oriented surround standards, are nowhere in sight. Cambridge agrees with Dolby and myself that the 7.1.4 configuration is better for Atmos, which would require an additional pair of amp channels. The receiver can derive front height channels using Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing, but that’s no substitute for decoding discrete Atmos soundtracks. Also missing: any form of automatic room correction EQ, though an auto-setup routine is present.

An increasing number of manufacturers are integrating Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay while eliminating extra-cost adapters. Cambridge does bake in Wi-Fi, including a supplied antenna, but Bluetooth requires the BT100 adapter ($109). If you want AirPlay, buy Apple’s AirPort Express.

It’s not that Cambridge is uninterested in audio streaming. The CXR120 includes the same Stream Magic module found in Cambridge’s CXN and 851N network music players. As most receivers do, Stream Magic supports Spotify and streams lossless audio via Wi-Fi or Ethernet or from a USB hard drive. But it offers wider file support than some, benefits from regular firmware updates and improvements, and consolidates streaming and simple receiver control features in the Cambridge Connect app. The app is for both Android and iOS. One of the HDMI ports is MHL capable, though the USB port isn’t iOS compatible—so Android users have the advantage in streaming with a wired connection.

This is one of the few receivers I’ve seen that entirely omits the HD component video interface—and the first I’ve seen that omits SD composite video as well. Thus, Cambridge eliminates the need for an analog transcoder and scaler, simplifying the design and freeing up resources for sound-enhancing components. HDMI 2.0 is supported, not 2.0a, so you’ll have to do without being able to pass HDR video to a 4K display. But the receiver does support Ultra HD at a 60-hertz frame rate, 4:4:4 color depth, and 21:9 widescreen passthrough—and it offers the updated HDCP 2.2 digital rights management, so it can pass copy-protected UHD.

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K.Reid's picture

Seasoned readers know that Cambridge does not include gimmicks and useless features in its receivers? That Cambridge would sell a receiver for over $2K and not include Dolby Atmos or DTS-X or a form of room correction is grossly unacceptable. Yes, it's an audiophile quality receiver - I get it - but to not have the new surround formats available through future upgrade is unthinkable. One would be better off getting a mid grade a/v receiver with pre-outs so one can use an outboard multichannel amplifier that is likely to have better sound or save and get separates (preamp/surround process and multichannel amp). Let's hope that other audiophile grade offerings like Arcam, NAD and Anthem, when they are refreshed, will include the new surround formats. I don't understand how S&V can grant a top pick designation with these big ticket features missing. Mark, can you or Rob Sabin offer some plausible explanation as to why the company omitted the referenced features in a A/V surround receiver and would you personally purchase it without them given Atmos and room correction are mostly ubiquitous in other brands?

Mark Fleischmann's picture
...noted the lack of these features in the description section and added in the final graf: "It's not the right receiver for someone who wants Atmos, room correction, or integrated Bluetooth or AirPlay, all of which are available at much lower prices." Readers are free to draw their own conclusions. If it's not for you, don't buy it.
goodfellas27's picture

My problem is with S&V giving out Top Picks on something that doesn't have the value to earn one.

goodfellas27's picture

I fully agree with K.Reid. In addition to not having Room EQ/Atmos/DTSX --this "audiophile" AVR has a crappy amp. A Pioneer SC-97 AVR would sound better with its SABRE DAC/better AMP/RoomEQ/Atmos/DTS-X, etc; and it's 400 dollars less. Lots of other better choices for that much money. S&V "Top Pick" lost its value.

Mark Fleischmann's picture
I should have noted in my answer to the first reader above that the "at a glance" section at the top of the review includes the following under the list of minuses: "A $2,400 AVR with no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X." That seems pretty clear.

Does the "crappy amp" comment mean that you've heard this product demonstrated? If not, that would tend to invalidate the comment.

goodfellas27's picture

as for the amp, it's a feeble amp that other AVR like the Pioneer out class it, for much less!. I would like to hear it moving a pair of Revel Salon2 versus the Pioneer. The bass would a joke.

See the amp's specs! $2400 for this??? crappy indeed.

"A $2,400 AVR with no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X." ...and still get "Top Pick" Please set standards for the Top Pick products.

harbir's picture

At this price, I expect solid all channels driven performance, not necessarily because I need 100x7 actual output but as a proxy for the manufacturer not having skimped. The Pioneer SC-89 is an example of how it's done right.

Inadequate feature set, poor amp performance, but we're supposed to overlook that because Mark is selling Golden Ears subjectivity of sound quality.

Emperor's New Clothes dynamic going in here. "accept that it's top pick because I say it sounds exquisite, and never mind that there isn't anything there to justify it objectively"


Mark Fleischmann's picture
Our reviews provide both subjective (text) and objective (measurements) assessments. I am not privy to the measurements before I write; readers are invited to look at both text and measurements and draw their own conclusions. I stand by my conclusion as written. Finally, you provide what purports to be a quotation from my work -- in quotation marks. Please don't do that. I am willing to defend my work but I am not willing to defend rhetorical straw men or products of your imagination.
K.Reid's picture

I think the readers and audio/theaterphiles like myself would really like to get some feedback from Rob Sabin on the issue of this receiver being designated a top pick given Mark's listing of the features in the minus column....nowadays, those are some hefty (emphasis added) missing features pristine audio notwithstanding. Mark, I usually read your reviews in earnest each month and count on your good judgment, so hopefully you can value why many of us are taken aback by the Top Pick designation with those missing features. Perhaps S&V needs to revisit its ratings for Top Picks as it concerns receivers and adjust as necessary for those that don't include ubiquitous useful features. Rob, please respond to this.

harbir's picture

Mark, perhaps you might consider being less combative and more open to considering where your readers are coming from?

At any rate, I'm not in the market currently for an AVR so I'll withdraw from this conversation and leave S&V, not you specifically, with the thought that the usefulness and dependability of S&V as a resource is dissolved when top picks are handed out on the basis of little more than subjective opinion, objective factors that matter are inadequately addressed, and an attempt to have a conversation about it is met with hostility.

I apologize if I've caused any offence and I look forward to reading future reviews by you :-)

prerich45's picture

It's rare that a reviewed receiver gets almost a perfect 5/5 on video and audio. That's an achievement right there. There are many that are not going to go the Atmos route. I could do it - but I don't see the reason to do it...yet. A high performing (yet feature weak) receiver deserves a Top pick just as well as one that has decent performance but high features and value. There are quite a few people out there with Atmos machines that can't do DTS-X, and there are some that are not HDCP 2.2 compliant. I agree with Mark, if it's not for you...don't buy it, but if it fits your desires - and you're performance driven - it just may fulfill your needs.

K.Reid's picture

At this price level, it is inexcusable the Cambridge does not offer room correction or Dolby Atmos or DTS-X. Mark was wrong to give it a top pick. What disturbs me more is Rob Sabin's reluctance to admit it and correct his employee by removing the Top Pick status. Go Look at The Absolute Sound's website, new receivers from Arcam and Anthem offer more with the same degree of sound quality at comparable prices. BTW they have room correction and Dolby Atmos. There is no excuse for Top Pick status. None.

prerich45's picture

The Sound and Vision review kiss of death....I've gone back through many reviews, and the the kiss of death is any audio performance under 4. Generally if you can get audio performance of 4 or better - you can get a "top pick".

K.Reid's picture

Let's see if Rob Sabin can address this matter given Top Pick status should not be solely based on audio for AVRs getting 4 stars, but also features comparable to peers unless audio is weighted differently for AVRs. Maybe there needs to be a new ratings scale for Top Pick+ Designation. It's unbelievable that the editor has turned a blind eye and deaf ears to this issue. Stereophile has Class A+ if memory serves correctly - maybe S&V can do something similar.

K.Reid's picture

Seasoned readers know that Arcam and Anthem are audio first oriented manufacturers. Guess what? On The Absolute Sound's website. Both Arcam and Anthem released AVRs featuring room correction and Dolby Atmos and DTS-X. What Cambridge is doing is wrong and fleecing potential customers. S&V, with Rob Sabin at the helm, is wrong for not amending the Top Pick designation. It is akin to catering to a manufacturer and undermines the ratings system that readers factor heavily into purchasing decisions. Shame on Rob for not speaking up....or even letting his readers know he is investigating the matter. I would expect an editor to have some courage to address this issue, but.....I suppose we readers should have known better and tempered our expectations.

T. Martindale's picture

Exactly why would you rate this a "Top Pick". It is overpriced and lacks the features of a modern receiver.

The comments are fairly one sided. No one wants to read another receiver review on a product that they would not consider buying.

I have to wonder at the reasoning here. If you aren't catering to the readers tastes, then who are you publishing these reviews for?

Also to reply in the comments by saying "don't buy it" (if we don't like it) doesn't reflect well on your writing skills.

stokesy's picture

I am not sure I really understand the criticisms here. Looks to be a pretty good review - well done.
Having heard this amp only once, I was blown away by it for music, and am very interested in it but am only starting to look at systems.
I gather from the review that it sounds fantastic enough to earn top marks without some features other amps may have, which seems fair enough if the listening experience is as good or hopefully better without them. I assume it is a "top pick" because this is the case.
What I want to understand is do i realy need these other features? I am not about to install speakers in my roof, so I dont think I will want Atmos feature anytime soon.
DTS:X looks interesting but what is better...DTS:X or just great quality sound ?
Bluetooth - well i am not gonna play anything from my iphone (it doenst hold much audio tracks), so dont really need it.
Am I dont know anything about "Auto setup imposes no room correction " (which is listed as a positive and negative).
I want great sound and was looking to find an amp to match B&W 683S2 speaker system.
So should I buy this over similarly priced av receivers like a Pioneer SCLX59 ?

stokesy's picture

I did buy the CXR120. I compared the sound in the should to the most highly rated AV receivers at the time (a year ago, including Pioneer SCLX59 and a yamaha), and I thought this just blew all away especially for music. Been very happy with it.

MuSid's picture

Hi Mark
Just wanted to thank you for the review. I ended up buying it’s bigger brother Cxr200 as my room is larger. Your review is spot on - the sound of this avr absolutely justifies buying this system. Prior to this I had a Onkyo (admittedly mid-price model). It had all the bell and whistles but sound was average. I keep the same Speakers and simply upgraded the amp to this one and wow. What a difference. The reason I like this website is because it includes the objective measures and judgemental aspects. Having some objective specs and tests is useful; but at the end music is so more complex than a few numbers - anyone trying to match something as simple as even as amp and speaker knows that - keep up your reviews.