Budget Hi-Fi Still Has Plenty Of Fi

First there was ten months with nothing more than an iPod Classic and a set of of Ultimate Ear in-ear ‘phones to keep me company. Then a few weeks with my headphone rig, which was bliss but I couldn’t stay away from the speakers and amplifier routine, so I’ve finally got an audio system set up.

It’s not my personal system because I’m too lazy to lug my floorstanders, four box amp setup and SACD player around town from the storage locker, so I arranged a review system to dip my toes back into the game. It’s simple enough to make my usual setup seem insane and it’s very much real world in terms of pricing.

Take a Cambridge Audio Azur 651A integrated amplifier ($1,199), add in a set of Paradigm Monitor Series 7 Mini Monitor standmounts ($899) and add in a Cambridge Audio DacMagic+ ($799), a computer and some cables and you’ve got an affordable system that really does the business without a silver disk spinning device in sight.

I’ve fired it up with my Pro-Ject Dock Box Fi as the source while I run in the speakers and my initial impressions are more than a little favourable. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed having some real hi-fi in my life and believe me when I say that this is real hi-fi. Much as I love hearing gear from the high-end of the hi-fi world, it’s always encouraging to listen to music that puts a smile on my face without having a break the bank series of price tags attached to that sound. Best of all, it’s possible to entirely drop the DacMagic+ from the equation (initially or forever depending on your preferences and hearing) because the 651A has a USB input round the back – so plug in a computer full of music and you’re away with one power cord and a set of speaker cables. Given the complexity of some audio systems, that’s a gift.

I’ll be comparing the amp’s USB input to the much more capable DacMagic+ and will report back in due time but right now, with a 320kbps rip of Tony Joe White’s swamp boogie sounding rich and mellow, I’m just enjoying myself.

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