Cambridge Audio CXN100 review: sky-high streaming standards

World-renowned Cambridge Audio takes its music streamer portfolio to sky-high standards in the CXN100

T3 Platinum Award
Cambridge Audio CXN100 review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

Cambridge Audio didn’t have much to prove where high-performing music streamers are concerned - but with the CXN100 it’s improved on its own already sky-high standards and delivered a device that demands your attention (and quite possibly your money too).

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Rigorously controlled yet thoroughly musical sound

  • +

    Good interface and great control app

  • +

    Impressive specification

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Can be provoked by very careless system-matching

  • -

    Not available in black (unlike some Cambridge Audio kit)

  • -

    The CXN dynasty has inspired some very decent competition

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It hasn’t exactly been a one-horse race, but there’s no denying Cambridge Audio has been one of the front-runners when it comes to turning out competitively priced and high-achieving stand-alone music streamers. The CXN v2, in particular, is rapidly closing in on ‘classic’ status. 

Which means its replacement has it all to do. If this CXN100 knocks it out of the metaphorical park, well, that’s all that anyone expected. No surprise here: the latest flagship from Cambridge Audio hits all the high notes and takes one of the company's already best music streamers and truly levels up. 

Cambridge Audio CXN100: Price & Availability

The Cambridge Audio CXN100 music streamer is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it will set you back £899. In the United States it sells for $1099. Meanwhile, in Australia, you’re looking at AU$1899. 

This is not inconsiderable money for a music streamer, and it puts the Cambridge Audio into more-or-less direct competition with products from the likes of Arcam, Bluesound, and Eversolo. But it can hold its own, as I'll get to in the rest of this CNX100 review.

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review: What's new?

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review

(Image credit: Future)

Given that the original CXN and then the CXN v2 music streamers were such widely admired devices, the temptation for Cambridge Audio to slap on a new model number and carry on regardless must have been strong. But the company is not as cynical as I am - and so the CXN100 represents a thorough reworking of the CX streamer concept, rather than a simple facelift.

Which means the all-important DAC chipset is now an ESS Sabre ES9028Q2M rather than the Wolfson of the outgoing model - which in turn means the CXN100 is capable of dealing with digital audio files of up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512 resolution (through its USB input and via UPnP). 

It also means the new Gen4 StreamMagic module (first seen to such good effect in the EVo 75 and Evo 150 all-in-one devices) is incorporated - which in turn means Deezer, Qobuz, Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect streaming options are built in, that there’s MPEG-DASH support for internet radio, and that the unit is also Roon Ready.

There are other wireless options, of course. As well as dual-band Wi-Fi, the Cambridge Audio is fitted with Bluetooth 5.1 (although it only supports SBC and AAC codecs, sadly), while Apple AirPlay 2 and Chromecast are available too. In addition, the CXN100 is compatible with Apple, Google and Roon multiroom protocols. 

There are quite a few physical connections on the streamer’s rear panel. As well as an Ethernet input, there are USB-A and USB-B sockets, plus digital optical and digital coaxial inputs. Outputs consist of digital optical and digital coaxial, unbalanced stereo RCAs and a pair of balanced XLRs. Control bus in and out are useful when connecting to other Cambridge Audio equipment, and the two screw-in aerials for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are far smaller (and thus neater) than before.         

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review: Performance

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review

(Image credit: Future)

I might as well get straight to it, rather than try to build some sort of tension: the Cambridge Audio CXN100 is a splendid music-streamer, more than worthy of carrying the ‘CXN’ badge, and entirely worth the asking price. 

What’s more, it takes next-to-no time to make these facts plain. Hooked into an appropriately talented amp’n’speakers system and given some nice chunky hi-res digital audio files to deal with, it’s a thrillingly complete and - crucially - entertaining listen. ‘Finding fault’ is a big part of my job, but we could all be here a while if I’m going to identify a significant chink in the Cambridge Audio armour.

No matter if it’s streaming 24bit/96kHz or 192kHz Flac files from one streaming service or another, or dealing with some DSD128 content via its USB input, the CXN100 is a poised and engaging listen. It’s all over the technical aspects of music reproduction, of course - but even more significantly, it’s appealingly musical at the same time. ‘Musical’ might at first seem a redundant description for a music streamer, but I’ve heard plenty of music streamers for whom the word is not applicable.

Tonally, the CXN100 is nicely balanced - it’s natural and neutral, with no obvious warmth and none of the slight chill that some streamers can introduce. Detail levels are high across the board - the Cambridge Audio is alert to nuances and transients, and is able to give them the weighting they require and contextualise them as part of the larger picture. The attack and decay of individual sounds is carefully observed too - and thanks to the nice straight leading edges of low-frequency sounds, rhythmic expression is convincingly naturalistic.    

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review

(Image credit: Future)

The mid-range communicates with real positivity and directness - so voices are packed with character and attitude. The soundstage the CXN100 is capable of creating is big and well-defined, too, so a vocalist gets the space necessary to express themselves to the fullest. Despite this little pocket or area, though, the Cambridge Audio expertly presents recordings as unified occurrences, rather than a series of individual events with no relation to each other.

At the top of the frequency range there’s bite and shine to treble sounds but, unless you’ve gone out of your way to pair the CXN100 with profoundly unsympathetic speakers or amplification, it never spills over into hardness or glassiness. The attack and positivity that’s apparent through the rest of the frequency range is here too, sure enough, but it’s properly controlled at all times. The entire frequency range is smoothly integrated from top to bottom - despite the low-end punch, the midrange confidence and the assertive nature of the top end, no area is understated or overplayed.

Dynamic headroom is considerable when the music demands it, too. Big shifts in attack or intensity, or simple increases in volume from ‘quiet’ to ‘loud’ are expressed unequivocally. And there’s a similar facility with the lower-level harmonic dynamics of, say, a solo instrument - the tiny variations from one note to the next are described with assurance.

As I said, part of my job usually involves finding fault with equipment like this - or, at least, identifying areas where it might compare unfavourably with its most obvious price-comparable rivals. But the Cambridge Audio CXN100 doesn’t make it easy - it’s not even all that fazed if you decide to listen to some real poverty-spec 160kbps content from Apple Music. It’s an accomplished device, and then some.

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review: Design & Usability

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review

(Image credit: Future)

Anyone even remotely acquainted with the familial design of the Cambridge Audio CX range will find nothing to startle or alarm them here. The look is clean and tidy, the 85 x 430 x 305mm (HxWxD) dimensions are kitrack-friendly, and the Lunar Grey finish is just far enough from ‘silver’ to be interesting. Build quality is impressive, and the finish is well up to the standard the asking price demands.

If you’re from the old school where control options are concerned, Cambridge Audio will sell you a CX Series remote control handset - but in all honesty, the current incarnation of the company’s StreamMagic control app (free for iOS and Android) is so well-realised that the idea of a remote control seems fairly risible. 

The StreamMagic app is stable, logical, simple to navigate and covers every eventuality. It’s one of the better examples of its type, and something quite a few rival brands could learn a thing or two from. If it didn’t sometimes feel the need to announce ‘done’ in a slightly self-congratulatory manner when loading a page it would be approaching ideal.

There are also a few physical controls arranged on either side of the big (121mm) hi-res full-colour screen - they allow you to scroll through the on-screen menus in order to select input and what-have-you, and also cover the basics of ‘play/pause’ and ‘skip forwards/backwards’. And at one end of the fascia there’s a big volume control, which is useful should you be using the CXN100 in ‘pre-amp’ mode.  

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review: Verdict

Cambridge Audio CXN100 review

(Image credit: Future)

The CNX100 is following some very tough Cambridge Audio music-streaming acts - but it’s a fine-sounding and confident device that makes an enormous amount of sense at the money. Even despite the not-inconsiderable competition. 

Cambridge Audio didn’t have much to prove where high-performing music streamers are concerned - but with the CXN100 it’s improved on its own already sky-high standards and delivered a device that seriously demands your consideration.

Also consider

If you can live without quite a few niceties and some casework, Cambridge Audio’s own MXN10 is one of the best pound-for-pound streamers around where sound quality is concerned. Arcam’s ST5 is a price-comparable alternative too… although it’s closer to the MXN10 than the CXN100 where its desirability as an object is concerned.

Simon Lucas

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine and website – since then, he's written for titles such as Wired, Metro, the Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Should he find himself with a spare moment, Simon likes nothing more than publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner's cat.