So, I’d bought myself the magnificent Moon 280D DAC. (How magnificent? Read about it here.) This was going to be the device handling all my digital audio – from its own inbuilt streamer, from my DAB+ radio receiver, and from my CD player/transport, whatever that may be. I’d originally planned to use my aging Denon DCD-755AR to do that job via its optical output but decided to add a bit of class. I settled on the Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 Single Speed CD Transport.
Was this a good choice?
- CD-only transport
- Digital-only output. S/PDIF via TOSLINK and coaxial digital audio (RCA)
- 430mm wide, 315mm deep, 85mm tall
- Nicely weighty metal construction, 4.55kg
- Optical remote included, although functionality limited
- Optimised for operation with other Cambridge Audio CX series devices, but works fine outside that environment
- Smooth, quiet and fast operation
- Turns itself off after a set time (can be disabled)
- No CD-ROM support (eg. for MP3 or WMA files)
- But fine with CD-Rs
- Adequate resistance to disc skipping due to physical shocks
- Coped adequately with CDs with minor scuffing
- Space grey finish looked fine with both black and aluminium/silver finish of my other components
- Display a bit dim, especially from directly in front
- Insofar as a CD transport contributes to (or detracts from) sound quality, audio quality was top notch
- Price: $1099
- Available at fine high-fidelity retailers, including here.
Why the Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 … and what’s that about “Single Speed”?
Truth is, I would have preferred to go for the Moon 260D CDT transport, but the bucks were piling up. Affordability became an important consideration and the CXC was less than a third of the cost of the Moon.
One extremely attractive element of the CXC is that, like the Moon 260D, it is a “single speed” transport. Why would this be of any kind of importance?
The disc drive in the Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 CD transport was developed specifically for audio CD playback. Cambridge Audio says that it is:
our renowned “S3” servo design, and it has class-leading levels of jitter rejection and error correction – no multi-purpose drive is able to compete with the the CXC’s levels of precision and stability.
What’s that about a “multi-purpose drive”? Well, DVD players will play CDs. Blu-ray players will play DVDs and CDs. SACD players will play CDs. I’ve got a couple of Oppo players that will play CDs, DVDs, SACDs and Blu-rays. Those different formats share a physically similar disc, but actual data density varies considerably – the sizes of the pits and lands and spacing of the data tracks. It’s probably less common now, but I would notice a decade or more back that supposedly highly reputable high-fidelity brands would build CD players around what were essentially computer disc drives.
I imagine that they work well enough. But do they work as well as a player which is optimised for discs with pits and lands to be of a size specified for CD? Maybe. But if you’re only planning to play CDs, why bother with disc spinners that read other stuff?
(By the way, “single speed” means that it doesn’t rev-up to handle other formats. CD itself is not single speed. It is a CLV – constant linear velocity – format, so the initial rotational speed of the disc as it starts at the centre is around 500rpm, and it gradually slows to about 200 rpm as it reaches the perimeter.)
The construction of the CXC was impressive, with a decent thickness to its aluminium front plate and a weight, according to my scales, of 4.55 kilograms (Cambridge Audio says 4.7).
The old Denon was liberally festooned with controls. No so the CXC. The front panel is adorned with just six buttons, plus the tray and display. The buttons do what you’d expect: on/standby, eject/load, play/pause, stop, skip reverse and skip forwards. A bit surprising to me is that none of the buttons work – specifically the eject button would have been useful – to wake up the player if it’s in standby. You have to press that button first.
The remote control is interesting in a not-so-good way. It’s a combo remote for the Cambridge Audio CX range. So it controls the CX-range amplifier and the CX-range network receiver in addition to the CXC disc spinner. This last gets all of twelve keys. Adding to the front panel controls are fast forwards and fast reverse, repeat, random, and a display dim button. And most of the keys are right down the bottom of a long remote control, and thus a little harder to use.
The player is actually capable of being programmed – something I’ve never done, even though I’ve had programmable players all the way since the original Sony CDP-101 in the early 1980s. And it is also capable of jumping directly to numbered tracks, if you have a remote fitted with number keys. Looking through the comments on Cambridge Audio’s US site regarding this transport, someone complained about the remote and Cambridge Audio responded that the CXC Series 2 is compatible with the remote for the Cambridge Audio Azur 851C CD player/DAC/Preamplifier.
I recently purchased a Logitech Harmony remote (model 650 - $88 at Officeworks, quite a bit more elsewhere) for other reasons, so I was able to quickly add the Azur 851C remote functionality to it. It worked well, and considerably expanded the convenience of using the player.
If you’re the kind of listener who’d prefer to just pop on a CD and enjoy it from start to end, the way the music producers intended, then you’ll be fine with the included remote.
Even though there is a control on the remote to dim the display or turn it off, I’d suggest few people will turn it down. It is quite a strange display. When I was taking photos for this page, I was trying to get a front-on closeup of the display … and it was invisible. For some reason the display is barely visible from directly on its level, and quite weak in brightness within a few degrees vertically of dead on. I am finding it very difficult to read from two metres away in a room only indirectly lit by outside light. Compare the brightness in the top photo – taken roughly on level with the display – to the second photo taken from an angle. In any case, the brightest display setting is simply not very bright.
By default, the unit switches itself off after half an hour of non-use. You can change this to a different period of time (one hour or two hours) or disable it. Again by default, the unit does not autoplay whenever you insert a disc, but you can change this as well.
Finally, one interesting quirk: the track skip buttons are continuous. Skip forwards from the last track and it starts playing the first one, skip backwards from the first track and the last track starts playing.
Using the Cambridge Audio CXC CD transport
I doubt very much that the Cambridge Audio CXC CD transport contributes anything special to sound quality. I’m very much of a bits-are-bits view regarding digital audio … so long as a minimum level of competence is met. Meeting that minimum level provides a bit perfect stream for the DAC to do its work upon. These days it’s relatively easy for equipment makers to meet that minimum level.
But the trickiest part of that when it comes to CDs is ensuring a clean read of the data from the CD. The mechanical parts of high-fidelity sound delivery are usually the hardest to get right.
The CXC certainly seemed to perform a perfect job on that with all of the first batch of CDs I used. The problem is that, for review purposes, even though some of my CDs are ancient as these things go, coming from an LP background I ‘ve always treated them as well as I treat the vinyl. As I’m writing these words, the CXC is happily spinning the debut Dire Straits album which I purchased at the same time as I bought the aforementioned Sony CDP-101. I think it was 1983, but may have been 1984. So even though it’s nearly forty years old, it’s sounding pretty good in parts, although the remastered version is rather smoother. The weaknesses have nothing to do with data retrieval but with the mastering quality of early CDs.
What else do we have here? Ah, another from the first batch of purchases. There was very little available on CD at the start, so I bought some recordings back then which I probably wouldn’t have had there been more choice. It has been years since I’ve played Guilty by Barbra Streisand, but here it is now, playing flawlessly in the CXC. Tracking perfect. Sound, terrible. Crunchy, trebly, recessed lower midrange that makes the whole experience thin and harsh. I’ve never bothered to look for a remastered version.
Okay, not everyone has been as careful with their CDs as me, so I’ve just taken a little trip down to the local charity shop to find some scratched and scuffed CDs. It turned out that the CDs they carried were in distressingly good nick. However I did find a few in less than stellar condition. So as I’m writing this, Miley Cyrus’s second album (in her own name) Breakout is playing and sounding good, despite a fair level of surface scuffing and random pockmarks on the disk.
This continued through the collection I’d gathered. So I took up a fairly messy one – this the CD-single version of Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” – and enhanced the damage with a tangential scratch. That was the player’s undoing, with the CD becoming unplayable at that point. But it kept on trying for some minutes and eventually made its way past the damage.
Importantly, if I grew impatient a tap on the skip key readily jumped it to the next track. Which, in this case, was not markedly damaged.
All of which goes to show that the CXC is tolerant of some surface damage, but not a full lineal centimetre of obscured data. (Meanwhile, I’m regretting using this one to scratch … the songs – I’d not been familiar with them – are really very good.)
One thing about the CXC I particularly liked was the quiet and smooth disc tray. It was far less buzzy than the norm.
The player wasn’t particularly susceptible to skipping. I could make it jump by rapping sharply on the surface on which it was mounted, but jump as hard as I could on the wooden floor, playback remained steady.
The Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 is a solid, effective and stylish CD transport. It looks like I made a wise purchasing decision.