Cambridge Audio 751bd (£800)

Universal playback, 3D and a huge feature set for £800? Cambridge Audio are at it again.

The story here begins with Cambridge’s first universal player, the £400 Azur 650BD [HFN Jun ’10], which set the benchmark for sub- £1000 players. So while the 650BD lives on, albeit temporarily, the new £800 751BD is very definitely its high-end big brother. Like its sibling, the 751BD handles CD (HDCD), DVD-V, DVD-A, SACD and BD media, now including 3D movie discs. It also supports lossless Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding through a full 7.1 analogue channels with an additional stereo output to boot.
   The 751BD is based on a Mediatek platform whose high level Linux-based processor handles everything from on-screen display to audio and video decoding. While the latest chipset can support two HDMI 3D-ready outputs, the primary HDMI 1 port here is driven instead via a superior Marvell QDEO scaler.
   The 751BD is also replete with added connectivity. There’s a Wi-Fi dongle and wired ethernet port to support BD Live and other interactive services via the internet, plus an e-Sata connection for playing HD audio and video content from a remote hard drive. The e-Sata drive is typically a faster option than USB which, for reasons of completeness, is also provided on both the rear panel and fascia.
   Key to the 751BD’s audiophile credentials is its bespoke tenchannel audio board. The more affordable 650BD employed a highly integrated multichannel DAC. By contrast, the 751BD includes a SHARC processor loaded with custom 24-bit/192kHz upsampling and digital filter algorithms, feeding no fewer than five Wolfson WM8740 stereo DACs. The analogue output stage is a multichannel version of the tried-and-tested circuit used in Cambridge’s 6-series CD players.

With its analogue outputs hooked into our Krell S-1200 multichannel processor/preamp the potential of Cambridge’s analogue stage was revealed. And what a job its engineers have done. Even well-worn favourites like Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms [Vertigo CD 824499] took on a very fresh aspect, the keyboard opener to ‘Money For Nothing’ preparing a broad and open acoustic for the ensuing crack of the percussion and free and easy bass.
   Brothers... also proved an ideal vehicle with which to test drive the 751BD’s three digital filter options, selected directly from the front panel. Our preference wavered between Linear and Minimum Phase, the former leaving little of the brassy percussion to the imagination, the latter sounding subjectively smoother but also a little less open and transparent.
   The temptation to graduate directly to hi-res multichannel audio without first stepping through stereo SACD and DVD-A was too much. Within seconds we were sitting transfixed by the swirling clarity of Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D Major presented on the 2L label [2L38BD]. Delivered in lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio at a full 24- bit/192kHz per channel, the 751BD delivered a believable picture of the church venue and performers as strings, high and low, shimmered in a torus that enveloped the room.
   The same recording rendered via multichannel SACD proved instructive, for here the flighty exuberance of the violins was clipped and the vaults of the church seemingly diminished. Evidently the player’s downsampling of SACD to 88.2kHz LPCM is insufficiently transparent, the multichannel analogue output too revealing for this format to be enjoyed at its best.
   DVD-Audio was another matter. Faith Hill’s Cry [Warner 48001-9] sounded punchy and detailed in both multichannel and stereo guises. This early 5.1 channel mix attempts to place the vocalist and harmonies smack inside the listener’s head and the 751BD certainly played its part.

Frighteningly close to offering all things to all audiophiles, the 751BD demonstrates the Cambridge team’s grasp of how to engineer superlative sound into an economic package. Lord knows what they’d achieve if cost was no object...

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Originally published in the Yearbook 2011