Review: Cambridge Audio Sonata NP30 Network Music Player Page 3

Finally — and this one’s not Cambridge’s fault — the player is limited to the organizational structure of the services it, uh, serves, whether these are external ones, like a Pandora or a Net-radio listing service or that of your own networked music server. Local streaming is flat-folder access only, so your only choices are to navigate “all songs” or “by folder.” There’s no ability to search by artist, genre, etc., nor does the NP30 read iTunes playlists. At least you get local display of album, artist, track, and file-format info, and even album art where available, right on your iDevice via the Uuvol app, which is huge.

The NP30’s operation proved bug-free, although 88.2-kHz/24-bit high-rez FLAC files played half-speed and an octave low. (Perhaps a third of high-rez offerings from HDtracks, among others, are so formatted, instead of in the more common 96/24 format.) This turned out to be not a bug at all, as I eventually discovered another owner’s manual footnote: “88.2-kHz material is not supported.” Since 96/24 files (the difference originally arose from double-clocking either CD-format 44.1 or “pro-digital” 48-kHz sampling rates) played at the correct speed and octave, and since the NP30’s clock ran fine on 32-, 44.1-, 48-, and 96 kHz files, I fail to see the “why” here: Surely 88.2 compatibility would require only another line or two of code in the player’s firmware?

Bottom Line

In terms of audio performance, Cambridge Audio’s Sonata NP30 network music player is impossible to fault. If you simply want to get streaming music into your serious hi-fi system, for serious listening, we’re done. If you are also looking for an Internet-radio/music-server solution to deliver an elegant user interface and substantial ergonomic sophistication, the discussion’s ongoing — either way, you’ll want to consider using the NP30 with an iPhone/iPad.

I’d be delinquent to pass over the fact that, purely from a functional standpoint, the Cambridge does no more than any of several under-$200 media receiver boxes, such as WD Live, Boxee, and Asus O-Play, can do — less the video. True, the NP30’s digital and analog audio circuitry is doubtless superior, but these cheap media receivers have digital outputs.

So, there’s a value question. But audiophiles to whom price is not the primary factor have always been happy to pay for peace of mind, knowing that sound quality will not be a concern, and this the Cambridge NP30 unequivocally delivers.

Test Bench

All data were obtained from various test CDs using 16-bit dithered test signals, which set limits on measured distortion and noise performance, imported as uncompressed AIFF files. Reference input level is –20 dBFS, and reference output is 200 millivolts. All figures worst-case where applicable.


STEREO PERFORMANCE, streaming source

Reference level is –20 dBFS; reference output 200 mV.

Output at ref: 219 mV

Distortion at reference level: 0.03% (0.0035% at o dBFS, 2V out)

Linearity error (at –90 dBFS): –0.2 dB

Noise level (A-wtd):–75.0 dB

Excess noise (with/without sine tone)

16-bit (EN16): 1.2/0.5 dB

quasi-20-bit (EN20): 15.4/11.4 dB

Noise modulation: 1.2 dB

Frequency response: <10 Hz to 20 kHz +0, –1.1 dB (–1.1 dB at 20 Hz; ±0.1 dB, 45 Hz to 20 kHz)

Cambridge Audio’s network player exhibited the outstanding digital audio performance I expect from this manufacturer. Signal-to-noise, linearity, and distortion were all superb (linearity error remained less than 0.25 dB even at –100 dBFS!). Only noise modulation was merely average, but it remained far below audibility on our specialized fade-to-noise listening-test tracks, even on headphones at quite absurd master levels. Frequency response was essentially flat, other than a very gradual rolloff in the lowest half-octave — probably an artifact of infrasonic filtering, which I at least very much approve of. — D.K.

Note: All tests reflect 44.1-kHz/16-bit uncompressed data, streamed as AIFF files. Tests of 96-kHz/24-bit “high-rez” FLAC audio are not included, as I could not successfully import these test tracks from DVD format.