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Ever since the company was founded in 1968, Cambridge Audio has been expanding the borders of what a home Hi-Fi system should sound and look like. The brand was acquired in 1994 by Audio Partnership Plc and came to be synonymous with audiophile grade sound equipment, receiving numerous awards for its amplifiers,  CD and DVD players and DACs all over the world. Their flagship product, the Cambridge Audio Azur 851C is an upsampling DAC, CD Player and Digital Pre-amplifier rolled into one. In a word, this is an audiophile’s dream come true.

(Images via Cambridge Audio.)

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C - Silver

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C – Silver – Front View

The Concept

The guys at Cambridge Audio set on a difficult task of creating a complex, multifunctional audio device that could be the very center of your Hi-Fi system, enable you to easily connect any device you may use and deliver the genuine studio sound quality. Combining the finest components on the market and smart engineering, they succeeded. We all know that the audio source (i.e. a CD player) is the first in the chain of sound quality, that a  good DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) is essential in making the music come alive by converting the digital signal into the sweet, pure, rich analogue sound we all love and that a good  digital pre-amplifier must be there for increased flexibility and precise control of volume levels. Cambridge Audio Azur 851C is all of this and much more.

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C - Inside

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C – Inside

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C as a DAC

Arguably the most important element of Azur 851C is its DAC system. Boasting the ground-breaking ATF2™ audio up-sampling technology, enabling the upsampling of up to 24-bit/384kHz, the DAC of Azur 851C can make even the lossy formats like MP3. WMA or AAC sound significantly better, with improved clarity and detail. When it comes to lossless formats, from a standard Red Book Audio CD to more sophisticated SACD, SHM or DVD-A disks and high definition audio downloads, it’s needless to say they sound terrific on Azur 851C, delivering the studio master sound quality in all its glory.

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C - Inside - 2

Only the finest components can be found in Azur 851C

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C as a CD Player

While most CD players on the market use noisy, plastic computer optical drives, the guys from Cambridge Audio decided to build a custom servo mechanism for Audio CDs that will function silently and be able to extract all the information from a 16-bit Red Book CDDA, making this a truly high-end, audiophile grade CD player. There simply isn’t a note on a CD the laser of Azur 851C will skip.

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C - Back

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C – Back

Connectivity

One look on the back of Azur 851C is enough to see that there’s hardly a device you can’t connect to it. There are input options for  TVs, streamers, digital iPhone/iPad docks, desktop and laptop computers, both PCs and Macs. There is also a USB: 24-bit/96kHz (and 192kHz) port for the real studio master tape quality from the high resolution audio files. In addition to the standard Hi-Fi connectors, there are optional S/PDIF (coaxial) inputs and two Toslink (optical) ports, so Heaven is the limit when it comes to connecting external devices to Azur 851 C.

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C - Black

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C – Black

Build Quality

For enhanced resonance control, the housing of Azur 851C is completely made of metal, with brushed aluminium front panel, making this baby 10kg (22lbs) heavy, just like the good old audiophile equipment used to be in the days before the companies switched to plastic.

Wrap-up

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C is a ground-breaking device and an exceptional piece of high-end audio equipment, the one that seems to have come straight from an audiophile’s dream. The plethora of advanced technologies and high build quality make Azur 851C worth every cent of its $ 2,000 price tag.


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