Following a muti-Award-winning product is no easy task. Especially a product like the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2), which has won a What Hi-Fi? Award in the best music streamer category six years in a row and has the distinction of being the first network streamer to enter our Hall of Fame.
Can the new Cambridge Audio CXN100 streamer live up to such high expectations? Advances in audio technology and components in recent years clearly warranted a refresh and while we imagine there’s always a bit of a worry when introducing a successor to a performer that’s been lauded so highly, Cambridge Audio’s engineers seem very confident in the new CXN100 model.
It’s a complete mechanical redesign internally, they say, and results in a sound that both matches and improves upon the CXN (V2).
We got a chance to see and hear the new music streamer for ourselves at a launch event, so read on for all the details and our first impressions.
Firstly, the price. The CXN100 costs £899 / €999 / $1049 and is available to buy from today, 1st February 2024, at Richer Sounds and Cambridge Audio.
In the UK, the CXN (V2) launched at £700 back in 2018, but the RRP has since risen to £799 in recent years, although last year’s winter sales saw the price slashed to a very tempting £599. The new CXN100 fully replaces the CXN (V2) and the latter will now only be sold until stocks last – so look out for a good deal.
We’re not surprised to see a price hike in the new model, but we are pleased that Cambridge Audio has been able to keep the price under the crucial £1000 / $1000 mark for this streamer.
Build, design & features
At first glance, the CXN100 looks identical to the CXN (V2). After all, if it ain’t broke… It sports the same sleek, aluminium-clad chassis with a ‘floating’ design and comes in Cambridge’s trademark lunar grey finish seen in its other products. It looks and feels well-built. The brand’s CX range of integrated amplifiers – CXA61 and CXA81 – continues, so there’s no reason to break from the uniform aesthetic.
(Will there be a limited edition black finish available as seen with other CX products last year? Nothing’s confirmed yet, but we imagine Cambridge will consider if it’s a popular request.)
Look closer, however, and there are some refinements made in the new model. The front panel’s colour display screen is now a smidge larger at 4.8 inches (the predecessor’s display measured 4.3in), there are fewer buttons surrounding the screen with more straightforward menu shortcuts, and the USB type A port has been moved to the back. The changes are subtle, but they result in a cleaner, more minimalist fascia that puts the display’s colourful album art and song information at the forefront.
A more substantial change has been made to the volume dial. It now has 100 steps, up from the CXN’s 30. The volume control is internal to the DAC, with fewer components now in the signal chain.
There’s no remote control included in the box with the CXN100. Cambridge Audio states that the decision was made so there’s less cost to the customer and it’s also better for the planet. If you really want the reassurance of a physical remote handset, you can buy it separately, or use the same remote you get with any of the CX amplifiers or the CXC CD transport. Of course, the main ways of controlling playback, selecting sources, and changing volume (and all other features for the CXN100) can be accessed through the comprehensive StreamMagic iOS/Android app, yet another reason why Cambridge states there’s less and less reason for a physical remote for its music streamer.
In terms of connections, the back panel features both single-ended RCA and balanced XLR stereo output connections, optical and coaxial inputs and outputs, USB type A and USB type B ports, and an Ethernet port.
All the usual streaming smarts you’d expect to see here are present: wi-fi, UPnP compatibility, support for AirPlay 2, Bluetooth 5.0 (standard codecs) and Chromecast built-in. You get the benefit of Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect, while Deezer, Qobuz and internet radio stations are also available – all accessible through the app. The maximum file resolution supported goes up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512 and it can play MQA quality tracks, too. The CXN100 can also function as a preamp (you can set the settings in the StreamMagic app) and it’s Roon Ready.
At its heart lies the latest (fourth) generation StreamMagic streaming module, which you’ll also find in the MXN10 streamer and Evo 75 and Evo 150 streaming amplifiers.
So far, so good – the same streaming features and connections are all present and correct in the CXN (V2), too. So what’s changed?
Internally, it’s a complete redesign, says Cambridge Audio. Inside, there is a new DAC chip – the ESS ES9028Q2M SABRE32 – which was chosen specifically for its audio performance after hours of listening and comparing, and replaces the Wolfson WM8740 24-bit DACs used in the CXN (V2). Cambridge says this ESS DAC chip’s own timing filter is good enough that there’s no need for any post-DAC filters or EQs, and is designed to retain the original signal – and therefore the original sound of a recording – as much as possible.
Other changes to components, such as using more efficient op-amps and capacitors, in the post-DAC analogue stage aim to reduce distortion and deliver a better signal-to-noise ratio. A switching power supply is used in the CXN100, while a linear power supply is still used in the CX amplifiers.
When tuning the CXN100’s performance, Cambridge Audio’s engineers and expert listening panel aimed to respect and match the audio heritage of the CXN (V2), and elevate its performance further. The resulting sound, they say, is more detailed, refined, controlled and precise.
We were treated to a demo of the CXN100 at Cambridge Audio’s HQ in London Bridge, with the new streamer hooked up to Cambridge’s own CXA81 integrated amplifier and a pair of ATC speakers. Songs were streamed through Tidal.
We were played a variety of tracks to showcase the CXN100’s performance: Spiralling by Keane, Gabriels’ Love And Hate In A Different Time (Greg Wilson remix), Robert Wyatt’s At Last I Am Free and Chaise Longue by Wet Leg, to name a few.
We need to dispense our usual caveats here that listening to a new product in a demo environment, in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar set-up, isn’t an ideal place for any critical listening or for making any firm judgments. But we did get a decent impression of a clean, focused sound that was large-scaled, full of punch and verve, and sounded fairly controlled and dynamically engaging. The disco track sounded appropriately funky with a rich, deep bassline, while Wet Leg’s slouchy, indifferent tone came across in a rhythmically clear manner that was also fun to our ears.
In truth, overall, the CXN100 sounded not too dissimilar to the entertaining sound of the CXN (V2) that we’ve heard over many years. However, we need to get a sample of the CXN100 into our own test rooms and compare it against the CXN (V2) ourselves to judge whether the new model does indeed improve upon its predecessor’s sound, and if so by how much.
If it does, we could be in for a real treat. Cambridge Audio has been on quite the winning streak in recent years – from the CX range to its newer MXN10 – and we can only hope it continues to deliver the smooth, user-friendly experience and enjoyable, talented performance we’ve come to love about the Award-winning CXN (V2).
It will also be interesting to see just how much better the CXN100 is over the entry-level and Award-winning MXN10 (£449 / $499 / AU$899) and if the price gap between the two models is justified.
Our first impressions of the CXN100 are certainly positive – let’s hope it delivers on its full potential once we get a full sample in for extensive testing. Stay tuned for the full review.
Read our full Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) review
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