Sound quality is ephemeral and next to impossible to quantify, so it's no wonder most audio companies load on features to attract new customers. We buy audio to listen to music when it's all said and done, and the Cambridge Audio AXA35 integrated amp aces that department. It sells for $350 (£299, AU$599).
The features set is downright minimalist. The AXA35 serves up 35 watts per channel of Class AB power, but Cambridge doesn't specify whether the rating is for 4- or 8-ohm speakers (I assume it's for the latter). There are a total of five sets of RCA stereo input jacks, one set of which is exclusively for use with turntables fitted with moving-magnet phono cartridges. There's also a set of "rec out" jacks, for people who still use tape recorders, and a 5-volt USB port to charge phones and other devices. A single stereo set of speaker cable binding posts complete the rear panel connectivity choices.
The front panel hosts one more stereo input, a 3.5mm jack and a 6.3mm headphone jack. A menu button provides access to the AXA35's bass and treble tone controls. The easy to read display indicates selected input, volume level, bass and treble settings.
What's missing? The AXA35 lacks digital inputs of any kind, but I don't view that as a serious lapse. High-quality converters such as the Schiit Modi are likely better than the internal converters built into most affordable integrated amps.
The Cambridge AX Series also features a lower-power integrated amp, two stereo receivers and a CD player.
Listening to the AXA35
I mated the AXA35 with two different sets of speakers -- theand the -- and had great results with both of them. The AXA35's sound had some heft to it, and stereo imaging was decent. Bass may not be the tightest or best defined, but it was excellent overall.
In a shootout with my long-term reference budget integrated amp, the NAD C 316BEEv2, the AXA35 sounded like a much more powerful amp on Kraftwerk's Tour de France album. The C 316BEEv2 sounded leaner, and a little lacking with the music's dynamics, while the AXA35 more fully liberated them. The C 316BEEv2 sounded harder edged while the AXA35 sounded effortless by comparison. I also noted the C316BEEv2's soundstage was smaller and flatter, while the AXA35's opened up more.
That was especially apparent when I took in the natural detail on the high resolution Blu-ray audio sound on the Hoff Ensemble's Polarity and Nadarosdomen Jentekor & Trondheim Solistene's Lux, two albums of extraordinary audiophile recordings of contemporary Norwegian classical music and jazz.
These two recordings were truly extraordinary, and highlighted the differences between amps. I used a Mytek Liberty digital converter with the C316BEEv2 and the AXA35 amps. Bass had more heft over the AXA35, the C 316BEEv2's bass seemed better defined, possibly because there was less bass. So much so I wondered if I had accidentally turned on the AXA35's tone controls and boosted the bass, or if the C 316BEEv2's tone controls were reducing the bass, but no, both amps' tone controls were set to flat.
I also spent some time listening to a set of Massdrop X Sennheiser HD 6XXs and loved the way the AXA35 played with these headphones.
The Cambridge AXA35 integrated amplifier is ideal for dedicated audiophiles on a budget. Sound quality is excellent, and its minimalist features set makes it a delight to use.