UK-based Cambridge Audio has been churning out home cinema components for many years, and based on the strength of its DacMagic alone it seems that the company is really coming into its own for sophistication and audio quality.
The 650R receiver is part of the company's recent 650 series which also includes the Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD Blu-ray player. The 650R is a 7.1 receiver at 100w per channel with decoding support for most of the latest formats, though not including the newest Dolby Pro Logic PLIIz, but this is no great loss.
The 650R is also the first to feature automated setup via the Cambridge Audio Mic Controlled Auto Set-up (CAMCAS) with a supplied microphone and it comes with a LipSync feature to adjust for processing delays in the source or TV.
The receiver features three HDMI version 1.3c inputs which is both a) too few for this price and b) not compatible with 3D video. The 650R is an AV-centric amp and apart from the CD input every other input has AV attached — unusual given CA's hi-fi roots. But at least you get a healthy three component inputs.
The remote control looks nice in its metallic clothes but unfortunately it's not very intuitive. Every button is the same shape and there are no dedicated volume buttons — just the up and down arrows on the D-Pad. It's not backlit either. We'd suggest you buy a Harmony One instead and keep this one in the drawer.
Despite the brand new automated setup we didn't find the Cambridge Audio all that easy to install. Once all the speaker connections had been made and we connected the mic we were greeted by a "speaker fail" message on our first runthrough. This isn't FailBlog guys, you could be more descriptive.
With some tinkering we found that the system was failing because we had connected a 5.1 system instead of the receiver's expected 7.1 (hands up anyone who has the room for a 7.1 system ... grumble ... lucky beggars), and to fix this necessitated diving into the manual setup. While within this mode we did appreciate the ability to choose stereo or stereo plus subwoofer when listening to two-channel material — great for supplementing the bass in rock or dance music.
If you're buying a receiver it's a good bet you want to use it to watch movies, and so that's where we began our testing while bringing the Pioneer Series 8 speakersalong for the ride.
We experimented with a mix of disks, starting with Spider-man 3 on Blu-ray. The street chase scene between the new Hobgoblin and Spider-man is a great test for speakers as it packs everything in: breaking glass, explosions, dialogue, surround sound effects, and general ambience. Through the Azur receiver the result was exciting and cohesive between our five surround speakers and sub, though there wasn't the high-end sparkle we'd heard in competitors such as the more expensive Sony STRDA5500ES
While we found that the receiver can go quite loud without distorting, when swapping out our disk for The Matrix DVD the receiver wasn't quite able to fill the room with sound, and lacked the guts to run all five speakers. Presumably you won't be using a AU$12,000 speaker package in your own home with this receiver, and if you are we'd suggest a component in the AU$3000-plus range.
Like most receivers before it we found the Cambridge to be quite energetic with movies, but how did it cope with music? Well, a little lopsidedly. We tried using the 650R's onboard digital converter and compared it with the company's own excellent DacMagic, and to our surprise found the pairing wasn't very successful. Most music through the DacMagic was rendered too harshly, and we found it best to leave the receiver to decode music instead. Music had decent stereo separation through the receiver, and a reasonable balance, but lacked the visceral bass thump that makes you want to shake your hips.
The only exception to this was that the receiver was a little shrill with the DVD-A of Fight Test by Flaming Lips. Using the Cambridge Audio DacMagic sounded a bit more scooped in the midrange, but a lot less hash and more focused. But this may not matter to you as who listens to DVD-A anyway, right?
Unlike the playback of 5.1 soundtracks, we were able to push the receiver much harder with stereo music and found that there was further harshness with the dial at -20. Distortion set in at maximum volume, which was set at -10 for some reason. Most receivers go to +10, and while +0 is supposed to signify "reference level" this arbitrary and not a real measure of volume.
Apart from some setup problems and a little harshness here and there there were a couple more things that niggled us during our testing period &;mdash; all of them seemed to be related to the receiver's handling of digital sources. Firstly, when detecting a digital input the receiver would transmit an audible "thunk" through the speakers, and when changing between HDMI inputs the wait could take up to 10 seconds. Lastly, if you accidentally pressed "analog direct" when listening to a digital source the 650R got confused and went silent, and pressing the direct button again didn't help. We had to press audio input type a couple of times to get the sound back.