High-end streaming in Hong Kong with Cambridge Audio’s Azur 851N


The Azur 851N is Cambridge Audio’s network streamer; it isn’t new to the world but it’s new to me.

Feeding an internal pair of Analog Devices AD1955 chips are the 851N’s coaxial, TOSLINK, AES/EBU and USB inputs. Converted PCM or DSD content spills from the rear panel’s balanced XLR or single-ended RCA outputs. In other words, Cambridge Audio’s flagship streamer is also a DAC; bypassable should you prefer to BYO.

The special sauce is Cambridge’s Adaptive Time Filtering (ATF) upsampling digital filter, developed in collaboration with Switzerland’s Anagram Technologies:

“All incoming audio data such as a CD 16-bit 44.1kHz signal, is upsampled to 24-bit 384kHz using a high-end 32-bit Analog Devices DSP (Digital Signal Processor). ‘Polynomial Curve Fitting Interpolation’ provides a much more accurate upsampled audio soundwave than traditional upsampling processes. And a unique timing system buffers audio data to almost eradicate digital jitter. Vital – as jitter, common in digital audio devices, loses vital detail, often leaving digital audio sounding flat and lifeless.”


On the front panel, a rotary control navigates the streamer’s menu system read from a covert-art-tastic 11cm TFT screen. This same rotary applies digital-domain volume attenuation (should you need it). That makes the 851N a digital pre-amplifier.

Price? US$1695.

Dig a little deeper and we soon open the book on Cambridge Audio’s StreamMagic hardware/software, a platform that enables a wider-than-average range of connectivity options: Apple Airplay, Bluetooth, UPnP and (one of this reviewer’s favourites) Spotify Connect. The 851N will also play content from a direct-connected USB drive.

This isn’t a hockey-puck streamer either. A full-width aluminium chassis hides a toroidal power supply. A switch-mode wall-wart-free zone.

However, the first question I ask of any digital streaming device is: does it do gapless playback like a CD or vinyl record does gapless playback? Cambridge Audio’s website responds in the affirmative. Phew.

Cambridge chaps: Stuart George [left] and Greg Chopper [right].
Those are the details that await the curious customer. But what draws him/her closer in the first place?

Great British Sound is the UK manufacturer’s latest branding wrapper for a range of electronics that additionally features CD transports and amplifiers and loudspeakers, developed using tech-tips picked up from Mordaunt Short. The two brands report to the same Audio Partnership mothership.

On the ground at the Hong Kong High-End AV show, that meant staff t-shirts with back-prints that listed song titles of Brit-rock classics from Blur, Oasis, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Stranglers, Joy Division, The Clash, The Stone Roses and…

…The Kaiser Chiefs, whose singles “I Predict A Riot” or “Ruby” leave this Britpop devotee cold but ANY exhibitor spinning ’em should be given a solid gold award for steering things away from the done-to-death audiophile music that rules every other corner of this show and Munich High-End.

Similarly, Cambridge Audio should be applauded a thousand times over for championing more contemporary/leftfield music choices.

The pedal push on Great British Sound also meant hearing David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” – the full seven minute version if you please – occasionally leak from the prefab listening room built behind a wall that name-checked The Maccabees (who ironically announced their split on Facebook during the second day of the show). Unfamiliar? Their knockout debut album Colour It In is right here. You’ll soon be chanting “Latchmere’s got a waaaaave machine!” in your sleep.

In the meantime, direct from Hong Kong, geezer talk from Cambridge Audio’s MD Stuart George comin’ at ya:

Further information: Cambridge Audio


DAR 750 x 290

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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One Comment

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  1. A lot of technology/hardware for $1695. When you consider the price of a separates (streamer, DAC, associated power supplies and cables) or something similar from the likes of Naim for example.
    It does gapless but the more obvious question is: Does it sound like music?

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