Top critical review
Lively amplifier, some early quality issues
Reviewed in the United States on May 10, 2018
I recently ordered the Duo to replace a Cambridge Azur MM phono amplifier. The Azur had developed a fuzz in the left channel that was particularly prevalent when using some sensitive headphones (Sennheiser HD 600). After spending three hours with the device, I have enough information to draw a conclusion.
First off, the product came in a nice large box with the typical Cambridge nylon-like wrapping around the amplifier. It also uses a traditional 3 prong cord that you see on a computer desktop or laptop. Presumably it is powering a strong power supply housed within the unit. Strangely, it came with two power cords. There were two spots for them, so it appears to be deliberate.
System - Pro-ject Debut Carbon with acrylic platter, Ortofon 2m Blue (MM), ->phono amp->Yamaha Aventage 1030 (functioning as preamp) -> Outlaw 5000 amp -> B&W 683 towers. Also using Sennheiser 600 cans.
+ Nice fit and finish, solid feel to the case
+ Labels for the inputs are written upside down and right side up, which is a nice touch
+ Balance knob in the back, useful if using the headphone amp that's built in
+ Having the headphone amp allows you to spin your vinyl without turning on the downstream components.
+ Sound - it has a nice musical quality to it. The unit sent a nice strong signal. It did not get lost in some of the more difficult records I spun.
- Steely Dan Aja, original pressing, White Stripes Icky Thump TMR reissue (lots of deep bass, heavy sounds, etc.) QOTSA ...Like Clockwork 45 RPM, John Coltrane Blue Train Music Matters mono release
I was really enjoying the Cambridge for the first few hours UNTIL...
- A low hum emitting from the unit began a few hours after using it. It was quite noticeable and constant. When Jack White was ripping through Rag and Bone, you couldn't hear it. But when the music mellowed, it was in your face. It's clearly the unit because you can plug your cans right into the Cambridge and the hum was there even when everything else was off. This hum was a deal breaker. I also know I don't have a ground loop or anything else. I changed the plug (hey, they sent two!) and it was there still.
- As a negative, or a neutral, the headphone amp made no difference in musical quality compared to the built in headphone amp on my Yamaha. The reason I bought this particularly unit was the hope that it would stronger voltage numbers compared to my Yamaha, that I would get an improvement, along with the fact that it is a shorter signal path. Alas, it made no difference in sound quality. It also isn't as powerful as the Yamaha. I had it at about 85% volume and that was equivalent to about -20 db on the Yamaha.
So in sum, the Cambridge gives you quite a bit for a pretty good price. The amp was lively and musical. It is not as detailed as my Emotiva XPS-1 (2nd gen), but in some ways that is good. The Emo seems to reveal every flaw in the vinyl. The Cambridge seemed to blow right over those without muddying the music. The headphone amp and volume control is a nice feature, but if you have a decent pre amp or stereo that you are feeding, you may not gain a benefit. Having an upgrade path to Moving Coil is convenient, but I didn't test that quality. At the end of the day, the hum was bad and necessitates a return. I did order the Solo to see if Cambridge has a bigger problem If it sounds as good as the duo, without the issues, I will probably keep it. I would probably have returned the Duo either way, since the headphone amp wasn't a benefit for me.