Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD 3D Blu-ray Player Page 2

Sweet Sounds
Having just reviewed the Oppo BDP-105, making the transition to the Azur was a snap. I replicated all of the settings from the Oppo in the Azur setup menus and off I went. Connections were made using Audioquest cables for all outputs and inputs. I connected the Azur directly to my reference Anthem Statement D2V-3D surround processor via HDMI for Blu-ray playback. All video processing was defeated in the Anthem, providing a pure video path to my reference JVC X75 1080p 3D projector. For analog audio, I connected the Azur 752BD to my reference Parasound Halo JC2 analog preamplifier. This preamp, along with my Anthem D2V, fed a pair of Parasound Halo JC1 monoblocks and Paradigm Signature S8 loudspeakers. I also had the Oppo BDP-105 connected to the JC2 for level matched comparisons between the two. I had the Oppo connected via both RCA and XLR.

I had a great time with the Azur in my system. Not surprisingly given its platform, the Cambridge performed flawlessly in our video test bench and sets the bar for Blu-ray playback.

Highlights included a nice array of hot Blu-ray titles, including Skyfall, Wreck-It Ralph, and last year’s Best Picture winner, Argo. If you haven’t had to chance to watch any of these, I recommend them all, but none as much as Bond’s latest adventure, Skyfall. This was definitely the highlight of the movie-watching experience for me. Roger Deakins’ photography showed just how spectacular the 752BD’s video section could be, and the soundtrack was one of the best I heard last year. I don’t know if I’m ready to call Skyfall my favorite Bond film of all time, but it’s easily in my top 5.

Argo was another great film to serve up on the Azur. The mix of film stocks made for an interesting visual experience that wasn’t as cut and dry (or gorgeous) as Skyfall. Still, the Azur held its own with no artificial ringing or any other artifacts. For 3D testing, I threw in Disney’s latest animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph, which is a great piece of nostalgia for any gamer, but it also delivers a lot of heart. 3D rendering was perfect with the Azur, and I didn’t notice any crosstalk during playback. Since the Azur supports two HDMI outputs, you could easily connect the player straight to your display with one of the HDMI outputs if your receiver or processor lacks HDMI 1.4a switching and have the other HDMI output feed the soundtrack to your audio processor.

What I was most curious about was the audio, and whether the Cambridge approach would make a noticeable difference or improvement over my reference Oppo BDP-105, which, at $100 less, is within spitting distance of the Azur 752BD. The Azur takes a vastly different approach to audio processing. Cambridge Audio has employed an Analog Devices DSP to up-sample all digital audio to 192 kHz/24-bit to reduce jitter and improve the sound. From there it goes to its Wolfson DACs, of which there are five, for digital to analog conversion. By comparison, the Oppo uses the Sabre32 Reference DAC. Cambridge Audio also employs some proprietary filters to allow users to try some different options for their anti-aliasing filters, which are a necessary (and often audible) component for digital-to-analog conversion.

I spent about a week listening to the Azur 752BD before I went into comparisons with anything else. I wanted to see how much I would enjoy it for day-to-day listening, and I must say, this is one sweet-sounding piece. I was immediately impressed with the textural details and how good the Azur brought out even the slightest nuance in everything I threw at it. Highs were delectable and vocals were rich without sounding overbright or cold. The soundstage was also a highlight. The Azur threw a very wide soundstage that extended well past my speakers and gave an amazing sense of dimension to good recordings.

I was particularly impressed by the way it handled my 96/24 Blu-ray Audio version of the Oscar-winning soundtrack of The Social Network by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. This instrumental piece has some absolutely amazing sonics and a soundstage that is second to none. My speakers absolutely disappeared throughout, and I was amazed at how convincing the Azur made the two-channel mix sound like a multichannel piece. This also came up again with the SACD of Alison Krauss + Union Station’s New Favorite. I love the back and forth nature of this record as it bounces between Krauss’s more radio-friendly tunes and the band’s more classic-timey instrumentals. This is a showcase piece for vocals and detail and the Azur never disappointed.

During the week I did some rather exhaustive listening tests of the Azur’s custom filters. I know these have been a trademark of Cambridge Audio’s players for quite some time now, but honestly, I couldn’t hear any sonic differences in my system. I tried just about every type of music I could think of with varying degrees of quality just in case that would bring to light any noticeable differences. I tried music selections with high noise floors, low noise floors, intense bass, lots of details, lots of spatial separation, lots of dynamic range, and just about anything else I could think of—but I couldn’t hear anything that stuck out as different among the various filters. Still, every mode sounded great with no obvious signs of degradation at all.

After about a week, I decided to move on to some comparisons with the Oppo. Both of these players use outstanding DACs, but the Oppo’s 32-bit DAC theoretically offers a bit more dynamic range. While I didn’t think this would translate into much audible difference given the caliber of the two DACs, I was curious if the bit depth would have any influence at all. Going through my Halo JC2 preamp, both sounded amazing. I made sure both were level matched, and I compared both using standard RCA analog interconnects from Audioquest. Differences were subtle at best, and most of the time I would wager I wouldn’t be able to tell you which was playing in a blind test. I thought spatial cues were slightly better with the Oppo, but the Cambridge had a very detailed sound that at times seemed to bring out a tad more inner detail in the music. Moving over to the Oppo’s balanced outputs seemed to help the Oppo resolve the bottom end a bit better, but the difference was very slight.

The comparison took a different turn when I connected both players directly to the amps, bypassing any external preamp and using their own internal volume controls. Here I thought the Oppo sounded a touch more detailed on both the upper and lower end. The Cambridge still sounded fantastic, though, with the same exquisite soundstage and detail. The Oppo just delivered a bit more of the air in the soundstage, providing a little more of a sense of being in the recording studio. Bass definition was also a bit tighter with the Oppo. This was pretty noticeable with the standup bass plucking on my 96/24 DVD-A of Diana Krall’s “All or Nothing At All.” I don’t want to overstate it, though—the differences were still very slight, and I would not have felt the Cambridge fell short in the slightest if listening to it on its own. I came out of all this feeling that these two were pretty evenly matched overall sonically, with only a slight edge given to the Oppo for my ears and taste. But I should emphasize that I definitely would not be disappointed replacing the Oppo with the Azur 752BD in my system as my reference piece; it delivers a sensational audio experience.

The Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD has definitely found a place in my recommended source component list. From the exceptional build quality to its flawless Blu-ray performance, it really doesn’t leave much on the table. The list of great universal Blu-ray players is pretty small, but if you’re in the market for one, this is definitely one to look at.

Cambridge Audio

BrolicBeast's picture

I've been wondering who the first Oppo competitor to include HDMI inputs would be. Cambridge Audio should come as no surprise, as their Azur universal players have been going toe to toe with Oppo's higher-end offerings for years. I will say this about the company though--Cambridge Audio's DACMagic is the only DAC that corrects the delay that my Integra DHC-80.3 introduces to my Sonos' zoneplayer signal (my old 80.2 also added a delay in direct mode.) My Oppo BDP-105's DACs can't even get rid of this delay. Cambridge knows how to do DAC technology well. (I, also, found the inclusion of the filters to be somewhat dubious, as I haven't been able to hear any differences in the 3 DACMagic filters).

Great review, Kris.

Kris Deering's picture
What do you mean by "delay in the zoneplayer signal"?? The Cambridge video section is built by Oppo, the whole player is built on their platform. The only part that Cambridge is largely responsible for is the audio board. So in this case are you taking the digital output of the zone player and feeding it to the Cambridge? What type of delay? I have a zone player here at home and could test for this on both players (CA and Oppo 105).
BrolicBeast's picture

I left a key part out of my original comment, actually....the delay in the zone player signal was caused by my Integra processor (even in direct mode, so direct isn't really direct), and only the DAC in the Cambridge DacMagic can correct it. My living room theater has a zone player and the adjacent kitchen has an S5 (now called the Play 5) so any loss of synch is very apparent. I first discovered the issue with my 80.2 (my previous Denon 4310 introduced no zone player delay) and the issue was reproduced on the AVS Integra 80.2 thread by another person...

I say all that to say that the Cambridge DAC is the only outboard DAC that corrected this issue (the issue was also present in the 80.3), as even the Oppo's DACs in my old 95 and current 105 did nothing for the delay..... Cambridge's DAC clocks (do those determine the purity of signal?) do the trick.

If you have an Integra DHC 80.2/3, try passing the zone player signal through it with a standalone somos device playing in the same room and the Integra system will have a delay. Try routing through the Oppo to the ingra, and the delay will still be there. But if you route the signal through this Cambridge 752, and If the Cambridge players DACS are at least as good as those in the DACMagic, then the 752 goes above and beyond in this regard.

Kris Deering's picture
That doesn't sound surprising. All the electronics for the Sonos are within the Play5, whereas with your zone player they have to be processed by whatever your Integra is doing (DSP, bass management, etc). Have you tried to put your Integra in Pure Direct to see if that alleviates the issue? You may be doing the same thing with the DAC Magic as the Integra may be in a pure direct mode for its analog inputs. I have a zone player and a few Play5s and Play3s but I never run them simultaneously like this. They are all in completely different rooms so time delay is never an issue.
BrolicBeast's picture

Oh yes, pure direct was one of the first things I tried...I dug up the thread below where the issue was first reported:

and user SPLawren replicated it here:

And then I found the Cambridge:

I too have Sonos devices all throughout the house--upstairs, the stairway itself (in-wall speakers), and downstairs. It's a rare situation for one's theater to be right next to the kitchen.

amenda8998's picture

wow~~$1024, expensive! maybe i should continue my totalmedia. I have used it for almost 2 years and never had any problem. it plays blu ray on pc( smoothly. when i bought it, to my surprise, it can change region code, thus i'm never worried about relaxing myself when on business. It's an easy to use and professional blu ray player software( for windows; including Windows 8. of course, it fully integrates with Windows Media Center too. beyond your surprise, it's also a 3d video player(

Daniel Lindstrom's picture

Nice sales pitch for Totalmedia there. But in terms of picture and sound quality it doesn't stand a chance against a really good BD-player like the 752BD.

Daniel Lindstrom's picture

I actually have a delay problem when I connect a SONOS Connect through my 752BD coaxial input. It's even worse if I go through the optical input on the 751BD. Is it really the same DAC in the 752BD as in the Dac Magic?