Cambridge Audio AXC35 / AXA35 CD Player/Amplifier Page 2

Right through the treble octaves, this Cambridge Audio pairing offered up impressive clarity, with little trace of hardness. The Usher S520's tweeters can be unforgiving in this respect but the AXA35 seemingly treated them with kid gloves and the results were crisp yet composed. There was an almost velvety assuredness here that, while an absolute delight, did not quite embody the sheer level of forensic clarity that more expensive designs can muster. But the AXC35 and AXA35 were never less than neatly and cleanly detailed, with a very easy-going and essentially transparent nature – a marked contrast to some of the more raucous budget designs that have graced the market over the years.

1119camb.remThe ability of the AX35s to develop a meaningful sense of soundstage width and depth was a little limited, the latter more impressive than the former, but it was their hesitance in projecting confidently out into the room that was arguably most disappointing. So, on the track 'Afterglow' from her eponymous debut CD [Bright Star Records BRIGHTCD10], British singer-songwriter Harriet was positioned well into the centre of the performance, but resolutely within the plane of the loudspeakers. I would normally expect to hear her brought more forward, and clear of the backing instruments.

On The Metal
That said, the AX35's tonal palette was pleasingly broad. Donald Harrison's soprano saxophone on the track 'Shadowbrook' from The Power Of Cool [Castle Communications ESJCD 238] had just the right amount of metallic rasp to sound really believable, and the backing bass and fretless bass were distinguishable and well presented. Once again, the subtle cymbal effects throughout the track were impressively delineated thanks to the top-end clarity of the AX35 pairing. This pitter-patter was rarely diminished as the performance progressed, a consistent presence that served to refresh and illuminate the music at hand.

The good things continued with 'The Certainty Of Chance' from The Best Of The Divine Comedy [Setanta SETCD100] where the AXC35 and AXA35 again launched into the track with controlled enthusiasm. The introductory drum roll rumbled across the soundstage in a fluid and confident manner more typical of a costlier and more powerful combination, while the percussion was snappy and Neil Hannon's vocals clear and passionate-sounding.

Treat Of A Beat
When time came for the chorus, however, there was a little sense of discomfort. This section of the track is typical of Divine Comedy's grander work where bold orchestral elements are developed in concert with the main band. When this took flight the Cambridge duo seemed slightly overwhelmed, rendering the track a little muddled and introducing a slight sense of compression across the midband. Rather than soaring outwards, the whole performance shrank into itself somewhat, leaving the admittedly firm low-end to carry the track.


Talking of bass, the AXA35 showed off another common 'Cambridge trait' for not only were the low frequencies typically solid, detailed and blessed with a good stop/start clarity, when things became more dance-orientated, they lapped up a decent beat. Skipping the Divine Comedy CD back to 'I've Been To A Marvellous Party' was a hoot as the Cambridge Audio duo made a great job of lead singer Neil Hannon's soft murmurings during the verses, and then hit their stride with the thumping techno beat that explodes in the choruses. Give them a proper bangin' tune and they love it – bashing it out with both confidence and punch.

With inbuilt phono stages still a rare thing on budget amplifiers, it would have been remiss of me not to spin some vinyl through the AXA35 amplifier. I connected up my usual Michell GyroDec SE/SME 309, complete with an Ortofon 2M Black pick-up, and while this might be rather more 'high-end' than a likely partnering turntable, the sound revealed in an instant that this phono stage is no last minute, spec-sheet boosting addition.

The AXA35 remained its composed and confident self and even developed a better sense of stereo depth than I had been experiencing via the CD input. The phono input is definitely a forte of the AXA35, suggesting it will power the heart of both budget CD and vinyl-playing systems successfully.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The Cambridge Audio AXC35 and AXA35 CD player and amplifier have a great deal to recommend them. They are stylish, well made, and combine to offer a wealth of facilities and connectivity. In sonic terms, both are fine performers and uphold the Cambridge Audio tradition of offering budget separates that comfortably punch above their weight. The AXA35's phono stage is no slouch, either.

Cambridge Audio Ltd
Supplied by: Audio Partnership PLC, London
0203 514 1521