Cambridge Audio CXR120 A/V Receiver Review Page 2

Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers and Paradigm’s Seismic 110 subwoofer. Signal sources included an Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player, Micro Seiki BL-21 turntable, Shure V15MxVR/N97XE cartridge, the phono stage of a Denon PRA-S10 preamp, and an iPad mini retina. All movie demos were on Blu-ray Disc with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.

Gimme Some Truth
What should an audiophile receiver sound like? Should it be rigorously neutral, or should it dole out a little extra gravy in the form of midrange warmth? Previous Cambridge receivers tended toward neutrality, with highs that were refreshingly detailed but proportionate. The Duchess was no exception. The top end was open and uncolored. The receiver could muster decent bass, too, though this became a double-edged sword due to the lack of room correction.

As Taken 3 got underway, I quickly noticed that the receiver required three-quarters of its volume scale to muster audible dialogue and action-movie-worthy effects in my relatively modest listening space and with my speakers of average efficiency. However, the way a volume control’s range is calibrated is not an indicator of its actual power output capabilities; as usual, see what our measurements say. The Duchess was graceful and well behaved at volume peaks, smoothly integrating effects and remaining listenable under duress. Bass was as full and clean as a good amp should make it but lacked the sculpting I’ve gotten used to with well-executed room correction. I found that everything from the movie’s copious explosions to Liam Neeson’s tense, gravel-voiced fury—the nemesis of kidnappers everywhere—tended to detach and localize in the subwoofer. I compensated with a minor adjustment to the sub’s volume control, preferring less bass overall to congested bass at certain frequencies.

The bass adjustments continued with Blackhat, a Chris Hemsworth hacker-thriller with an unusually bassy soundtrack. The opening scene punctuates a nuclear meltdown with throaty synth effects that bounded out of the speakers and especially the sub, prompting another lunge to the sub’s volume control. But that was only one-tenth of the story. The other 90 percent was just how pleasurable even the most aggressive movie soundtracks could become via this timbrally reliable, dynamically assured receiver—even when it operated with the volume at 75 to 80 percent of the scale.

The alternatingly terrifying and wonderful historical events depicted in Selma showed how natural voices could sound with the receiver. The resonant tenor of leading man David Oyelowo, as Martin Luther King, Jr., fortunately didn’t localize in the sub but did blend well into the acoustics of public speaking venues. The orchestral score leading to the second encounter on the bridge was warm and heart-tugging. More voices—notably John Legend and Common singing “Glory” and the massed voices singing “This Little Light of Mine” in a Folkways historical recording—allowed the receiver to deliver the goods musically, as it invariably did in the music demos themselves.

From Naples with Love
An SACD of Baroque chamber works by the Neapolitan composer Francesco Provenzale was unexpectedly arresting. This collection, Amati Orrori: Lamenti & Cantatas, is performed by the ensemble Echo du Danube, and the multichannel version—in 5.0, with active center but no LFE—gave the receiver chances to shine at both the top and bottom ends. Prominent at the top was the salterio, a dulcimer-like instrument that can be hammered or plucked (in this case, hammered). The spidery runs of glittering tone color were startling and offered a counterpoint to the bright sunbeams of period violin and viola da gamba. When the percussion entered with a drum unspecified in the credits, the un-room-corrected bass was predictably full, but the firm control of its decay was also thrilling. The Duchess of Cambridge wouldn’t let me read a book while playing this music (which was my original intention). I had to put down the book and listen, spellbound. One quibble: The receiver is supposed to recognize DSD via HDMI but did not. I’m told a future software update will fix the problem.

One of my seven vinyl copies of The Beatles (yes, “The White Album,” and yes, I am obsessed) is a 1976 Japanese pressing that I prize for shining a light into the murky mixes of some songs. The tradeoff is that the shrieking jet noise of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” can be a tough way to get started. No, the Cambridge wouldn’t soft-pedal the aggressive effect—but once I got beyond it, the receiver’s clear-as-glass midrange delivered crystalline perfection with hypnotic songs like John Lennon’s “Dear Prudence” and “Julia” and George Harrison’s hushed “Long, Long, Long.” While it’s hard to find a pressing (or a receiver) that doesn’t flatter the beautifully balanced string and horn charts of Paul McCartney’s “Martha My Dear,” the Cambridge gave them extrawell-defined shape and texture. The magic vinyl and receiver delivered all four of the band’s voices (five, if you count Yoko’s) with every morsel of their glorious timbre.

The untitled CD of trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach is in 1954-vintage mono and therefore a good test for center imaging when played in stereo mode. The Duchess aced it, vividly defining the trumpet and Harold Land’s tenor sax without the crutch of room correction, with the piano, bass, and drums recessed behind them. She added something to this schematic but decent recording that’s hard to define. It wasn’t sweetness or warmth—just a high level of resolution that was easy on the ears. This familiar CD never sounded better.

Installing the Cambridge Connect app onto an iPad mini, I was able to access music from a network-connected PC as well as the iPad itself. The app is simple, quietly elegant, and easy to learn, though in some respects, it’s not as slick as a receiver with integrated AirPlay. The app adjusted volume only with its own control, not the tablet’s volume keys. And it wouldn’t operate in the background when I used a browser. So I finally spent some time with that book I’d put down a few evenings before, while Bill Evans’ Live at the Village Vanguard (ripped in Apple Lossless) played in the background.

Cambridge Audio’s CXR120 is an audiophile receiver par excellence, with all the nuance and finesse a music lover might crave. 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. But it’s a great choice if you’re into vinyl, high-resolution audio, and the streaming of hi-res formats. The Duchess of Cambridge is a great lady indeed.

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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.