Test Report: Cambridge Audio Azur 551R A/V Receiver

Most A/V receivers with any pretensions toward high performance — and most audio and video products in general, for that matter — are designed and marketed for hardcore hobbyists, not average consumers. What’s the difference? The hobbyist revels in scores of setup options, dozens of surround modes, and fistfuls of video-processing choices. Hobbyists demand high power specs — at least 100 watts per channel — and accept and even welcome the bulk and mass usually associated with it. The hobbyist welcomes buttons, knobs, and remote-control functions, relishing the opportunity to customize command options and?to even program macros.

And the consumer, meanwhile, just wants to watch the freakin’ movie.

She, or he, probably doesn’t even expect things to look great and sound great. But when they do, the more awake sort of viewer quickly comes to value quality reproduction, and to value it highly.

British A/V electronics maker Cambridge Audio has presented us with a true rarity: a new, high-quality receiver designed for consumers, not hobbyists. For the most part, it’s a highly successful attempt: The Azur 551R is very nearly as simple to use as an A/V receiver can be, yet it gives up little or nothing to the bristling, feature-laden models in its same price range.

The first thing you notice is the size: The 551R is truly half the size of many a line-topping A/V receiver of the current age and weighs in at a comparatively svelte 22 pounds. The second thing is the construction: The Cambridge appears milled out of a solid block of aluminum, with the kind of fit and finish you expect on expensive German cars but rarely find on audio/video gear. (My sample looked gorgeous in silver; black is also available.) The third is the simple front panel: A handful of buttons, a modest display, and just a single volume knob complete the fascia.