Cambridge Audio may no longer operate in the collegiate city that gave the brand its name, but the product design and engineering is still very much British. Now based in Bermondsey in the heart of London, Cambridge Audio’s sizeable R&D team beaver away on products for the brand.
The latest creations from Cambridge include the Minx wireless devices (that compete with the likes of Sonos) and the ever-evolving Azur range; of which the 851W is one of two standalone power amplifiers, and the 851D the only dedicated DAC. Cambridge Audio also makes the DacMagic line of DACs, but not in the Azur range. The mix of 851D and 851W is a good one, because the 851D also functions as a digital preamplifier, with volume controlled output. It can support up to six digital inputs, including BNC, AES/EBU, asynchronous USB, and Bluetooth. So, for the contemporary listener who hasn’t got the vinyl or open-reel bug, it’s as much preamplifier as he or she will need. As with many Cambridge Audio Azur components, the 851D is replete with features; such things are clearly still selling points despite the ‘less is more’ zeitgeist that dominates the high-end.
Each input can be named, and you can choose a filter setting for each input from three options; linear, minimum phase, and steep. These are all easy to differentiate, and you can even change filters on the fly from the remote handset. You can also bypass preamp mode and use the 851D as a conventional DAC, and connect up PCs of most stripes in USB cclass 1 or 2; the former does not require a driver to be installed, but does limit the maximum sample rate to 96kHz. Everything that goes into this DAC is upsampled to 24-bit/384kHz and jitter is kept at bay by Anagram Technologies adaptive time filtering.