Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD Blu-ray player Review


4.5 stars

The first Cambridge Audio Blu-ray player predictably provides attention to sonic detail that leaves the other brands lagging. And it’s a truly universal disc player, as well.

With DVD as a format seemingly headed for the great technology graveyard (joining its ancestors, VHS & Betamax), Blu-ray has now become the home entertainment video format of choice with astounding picture quality and a corresponding improvement in audio reproduction.

These days big brand players are priced from $300 or so, but spending a bit more wedge can pay dividends not only in terms of improved picture quality, but audio capabilities as well.
British hi-fi specialist Cambridge Audio has recently introduced their 650BD Blu-ray spinner, and the mission statement for their first foray into the format was that the new machine had to cut the mustard as a genuine hi-fi audio source.

The 650BD is a genuine universal player, and as such can play all available formats including SACD and DVD-Audio along with the now ubiquitous CD and DVDs.

Any BD player can play CD and DVD of course, but the sophisticated circuitry and beefy power supplies contained within the 650BD’s stylish gunmetal case mean the device is a cut well above the average.

Audiophile grade Crystal 24 bit 192khz digital to analogue converters are employed to extract the maximum detail from any disc inserted, while any HDCD encoded discs (over 5000 on the market – they’re out there) can be heard in all their 20 bit glory.

Furnished in gunmetal grey, the 650BD isn’t exactly going to win any beauty contests, but the front fascia is well laid out and functional in use. A peek at the rear panel revealed a full set of 7.1 channel analogue outputs, so those without HDMI-equipped receivers can still enjoy the sound of the player’s on-board processing of DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital True-HD.

What you won’t get with the 650BD is 3D or any sort of web streaming (an Ethernet socket is for BD-Live and firmware upgrades only), but it sure did the business with movies. One peek at Megan Fox’s arse on the first Transformers flick on Blu-ray was enough to convince me of the 650BD’s video quality, but like a sucker for punishment I soon had James Cameron’s epic space flick Avatar enthralling me on the big screen. Exceptional detail met a superb colour palette on this disc, and even though the plot seemed eerily similar (Pocahontas, anyone?) the sheer excellence of picture and hi-res soundtrack was simply stunning.

The following night and still reeling from the whiz-fest of action movies, I hankered for some more down to earth fare, so into the player went The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. The muted tones of the film were rendered extremely well here, and after a few tweaks to the colour temperature on my Panasonic PT-AE4000 projector, I was soon watching a movie with gorgeous picture quality. Flesh tones were realistic and detailed, and the desolate hues of the Wild West were captured with great realism.

The 650BD performed above average in terms of movie picture and sound quality, but what about the other formats out there?

Not surprisingly, music on both DVD and Blu-ray was also a real treat, and the few DVD-Audio hi-res discs I played showed the mettle of this almost extinct format with outstanding sound quality. DVD-A discs like The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and Beck’s Seachange were simply excellent, the wrap around 5.1 channel surround sound creating real mood and tension. Then came SACD in the form of Bjork’s Medulla and Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side Of The Moon, the 5.1 mix giving this listener’s ears a real workout with dramatic 360-degree panning around my comfy sofa.

Music Blu-ray discs then took centre stage with the likes of Legends Of Jazz (including a repulsively fluoro-shirted Marcus Miller) and Iron Maiden’s cutely named Flight 666. As expected, these were thoroughly entertaining (for different reasons), and the picture quality on both was razor sharp through my high-resolution LCD projector.

Lastly, I played a few CDs including Boards Of Canada’s gloomy electro-masterpiece Music Has The Right To Children, to weird guitar hero Buckethead’s Monsters And Robots. Although the 650BD didn’t quite scale the heights of absolute performance when compared with a dedicated quality mid-priced CD player, it was by no means disgraced in terms of sound quality.

Cambridge Audio have a winner in the shape of the 650BD in spite of the apparent high price – so much so that I decided to buy one. This one’s a keeper. GARY PEARCE

[Check out our interview with an actual living breathing Cambridge Audio person right here –  Adam Shaw-Cotterill, Cambridge Audio’s International Sales Manager gives us the real story behind the 650BD]

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