Cambridge Audio EVO 150 Integrated Streaming Amplifier

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In 1968, I was a 2 year old toddler living in Paris, France – my hometown – on the 14th floor of an apartment complex occupied by diplomats overlooking the Seine. My father, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was stationed in Paris, working in security at the Canadian Embassy. My mother and I were there with him.

At that time, a six-hour drive across the English Channel in the neighboring country, a new audio company sprang up that surprised and delighted the audio world with its inaugural product, the Cambridge Consultants P40 20Wpc integrated amplifier. It sounded particularly good and made history as the first amplifier to use a toroidal transformer.

Cambridge Audio has emerged from the shadow of Cambridge Consultants. It built transmission line amplifiers, tuners and speakers, and from 1985 the world’s first dual-box CD player, the CD1. Next come two iconic products: the DacMagic D / A processor and the 30Wpc A1 integrated amplifier.

In the 80s and 90s Cambridge Audio left an indelible mark on me, a young audio idealist of modest means. Along with a handful of other salt-of-the-earth audio companies of the time, Cambridge made cutting-edge equipment that I could aspire to own and instilled in me the belief that even though audiophile products might cost more than those that you might buy at the nearby big box store, the performance benefits almost always justify the price difference.

EVO 150
The EVO 150 continues Cambridge’s tradition of delivering state-of-the-art products that don’t break the bank. In hi-fi economy, $ 3,000 isn’t particularly cheap or expensive, but when you consider that the EVO 150 is an all-in-one DAC, amplifier and streaming preamp and you don’t have need to buy interconnects, it is an attractive price if it works well and sounds good.

The EVO 150 is a network streamer with built-in Class D amplification, two technologies that began to find favor with hi-fi enthusiasts after some early reluctance. Class D suffered from the stigma associated with starting Class D which frankly didn’t sound very good. Streaming has long been associated in many audiophile minds with low bit rate lossy compression, a correct perception until just a few years ago, when Tidal started streaming at 16 / 44.1; soon after, hi-rez streaming arrived.

And yet, there has been some resistance to streaming as a central listening activity. I’m a good example: on my office computer system while I’m doing something else? You bet. On my main rig where the goal is to focus on the music? For me, the experience did not live up to its theoretical promise of being a super practical repository and infinitely rich in new musical discoveries. Compared to playing a CD or LP, streaming has long been seen as a cheap copy of reality. Maybe I was unfair to the medium. Maybe it’s just a matter of habit.

As a person eager for musical connection and fond of new musical discoveries, I want to streaming works as advertised, so that it matters not just because it’s convenient, but because I want to listen to it. Across the large platform. Because it sounds good. So when I saw this statement in a paragraph in Cambridge Audio’s product documentation, the challenge was posed: “Unless (streaming) sounds good, what’s the point?” I read. “Our in-house engineers designed StreamMagic to be the highest performing streaming platform on the market, and 10 years after its development, that’s exactly what it is.”

Was it the doorbell?

The description
The EVO 150 is Roon Ready, which means it is a network-enabled device that communicates with the Roon main device via Roon’s Advanced Audio Transport (RAAT). Additionally, it supports aptX HD Bluetooth, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, Qobuz (but not yet here in Canada) and Tidal, including Tidal’s MQA encoded Masters series. It is said by Cambridge that it is future-proof when it comes to new streaming formats and services, likely because software and / or firmware updates can extend its streaming functionality. The EVO also has a headphone jack and a moving magnet phono stage that would be similar to the company’s standalone model, the Solo.

The EVO uses the Class D NCore module rated at 150 Wpc into 8 ohms, built by the Dutch company Hypex Electronics, which has been in the Class D sector since 2003. The DAC of the EVO 150 operates asynchronously via USB and uses the same Saber ES9018K2M chip used in Mytek’s Liberty DAC, which Art Dudley reviewed in November 2018 Stereophile. He liked.

The EVO 150’s rear panel is a connecting playground: two sets of speaker terminals; preamp and subwoofer outputs; USB connections for both a source (server or computer) and a storage device (flash drive, hard drive or SSD); a pair of balanced analog inputs (XLR); a pair of unbalanced analog inputs (RCA); a pair of moving magnet phono inputs (RCA); three S / PDIF digital inputs (one coaxial, two TosLink); and an HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) TV connection so that the EVO can easily handle audio from your TV or other A / V source. Via USB Class 2, the EVO can accept up to 24/384 PCM and DSD256. If you’re streaming from a PC, you’ll need to download a custom driver to access Class 2. If you’re a Windows audio user, you’re probably already familiar with this exercise.

Installation and configuration
The EVO came well packaged and in a double box. Sliding it out of its burlap sleeve, what I initially mistook for the top plate shine was instead a stiff, semi-gloss instruction sheet that promised I would “listen in one.” no time ”. It describes five easy steps, four of which are unboxing the EVO and downloading the StreamMagic app. The other step, sandwiched in the middle of the other four, shows how to plug the EVO: into the speakers, into the electrical outlet, into the Ethernet jack. I asked myself and hoped: can life really be that simple? It was.

My EVO 150 came with the walnut side panels that would have been inspired by the company’s P40 integrated amplifier. Do you prefer black side panels to match the rest of the frame color? Just replace the walnut panels? are they magnetic? for corrugated panels in Richlite, a material composed mainly of recycled paper; both are included in the box. I found both sets to be attractive.

Seeing the EVO for the first time with its walnut accents and oversized, jewel-like volume and source selector, my son, who watched me extract the EVO from its pouch, exclaimed: “Hey, that’s pretty. !” This made.

The EVO aesthetic extends to the remote, a satisfyingly heavy metal remote with a well-equipped and well-organized push-button layout. I was glad it came with batteries; When I was young, I was marked by the “batteries not included” period in toy history (footnote 1). I was forced to download the full manual ?? it was not in the box ?? but then it is a Diffusion DAC: it is intended to extract data from the internet, so no surprise.

Using the simple and clear instructions in the quick start guide, I hooked up the EVO. When its widescreen came to life with big, bold letters engraved on it, I decided it was the most visually striking screen I’d seen on an audio product? like the volume knob that turns on the right side of the screen. I felt lucky.

Listen
What could be better than unboxing new equipment? Listening! No sooner had I downloaded the StreamMagic app to my phone and selected the pre-listed American Roots radio station than I was listening to Colter Wall, George Jones and Brent Cobb singing “Plain to See Plainsman”, “The Door” and ” Black Crow, “respectively. I knew then that the EVO was a product according to my heart, bearer of good taste and diffuser of a mythical musical culture.


Footnote 1: Who was not ???Jim austin


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