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Audio

If you love CDs you need this

If you play CDs, Cambridge Audio's CXC transport will take your sound to the next level.

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Cambridge Audio's CXC transport 

Cambridge Audio

The CD format is still alive and hanging in there with the LP. While a lot of audiophiles still enjoy large CD collections, most of those folks use CD, DVD, Blu-ray players or computers to play CDs. That's cool, but for best sound they use CD "transports," such as this Cambridge Audio CXC. The CXC is part of Cambridge's CX-Series, and it looks and operates like an ordinary CD player, but unlike a CD player the CXC doesn't have analog audio output jacks. In their place the CXC has coaxial and optical digital audio outputs that must be connected to a separate digital audio converter (DAC).

Since digital converter technologies are still changing from year to year, and you want to hear the best from your CDs, you might want to upgrade your DAC when finances allow. For this review I tried two converters, an Arcam irDAC-II ($799, £495, AU$899) and the BorderPatrol DAC ($995, £721 and AU$1,330), but there's no reason why the CXC can't be teamed with any decent converter on the market, or even a good AV receiver. 

Of course you can use any CD, DVD or Blu-ray player with digital outputs as a CD transport, but will they sound as good as a dedicated CD transport? Are bits just bits? To find out I compared the CXC with my Oppo UDP-203 Blu-ray player by using them as transports paired with an Arcam irDAC II converter. The CXC sounded cleaner, with smoother, less aggressive treble, livelier dynamics, a deeper soundstage and firmer bass definition than the UDP-203. Basically, the differences were the sort you hear when upgrading digital converters.

Next I paired the CXC with my BorderPatrol digital converter, Pass HPA-1 headphone amp/stereo preamp, Pass Labs XA25 power amp and Magnepan .7 flat panel speakers, and it sounded positively vivid playing one of the finest solo piano recordings I own, "Nojima Plays Liszt." This is a dynamically uncompressed recording, the piano tone is excellent, but it's Nojima's deft touch on the keys that makes this CD a must-have.

The Cambridge Audio CXC is worthy of consideration by anyone who has already invested in a large CD collection and a decent DAC. For you, the CXC would likely be a very worthwhile upgrade. Cambridge offers the CXC in silver and dark grey finishes for $450, £299 or AU$650.