Cambridge Audio Minx Xi Streamer Review
Cambridge Audio’s new Minx puts the chi-chi into streaming
IntroductionIt used to be so simple. If you wanted to listen to music you bought a record player to play LPs and whilst you could spend exorbitant amounts on flash turntables, the vinyl source remained essentially the same. Along came cassettes and compact discs but the situation was unchanged, the source was identical and all you needed to do was choose a device to play them on. Our transition to a digital world has brought with it an interesting dilemma - which of the multitude of file formats do we choose and what’s the best way to play them.
This modern day conundrum has seen an unexpected resurgence in the popularity of the digital-to-analogue converter (DAC), as people increasingly use their computers as a primary source of music. It’s also resulted in an entirely new product - the streamer - a device that’s designed to make it easier for you to access your digital music collection whilst still retaining a degree of quality. The best kind of streamers provide you with both access and control, allowing you to stream music from multiple devices, over different connections and providing compatibility with a myriad of different file formats. If the streamer in question also has audiophile components, great amplification and top notch DACs, then that’s even better.
Enter Cambridge Audio’s Minx Xi - that’s meant to be pronounced 'Ex Eye' but we prefer 'She' as in the Chinese character that infers a connection, it somehow seems more appropriate. Cambridge Audio have a long history of offering attractively priced products that are genuinely audiophile in nature, of which the Minx Xi is just the latest example. Aside from a gorgeous looking chassis and a competitive price of £599.95 what else does it have to offer? Well there’s Bluetooth and WiFi capability, an app for both iOS and Android, USB ports and Internet radio. You also get a Class A/B amplifier, 24-bit/96kHz DAC and support for any file format you care to throw at it. So let’s find out if the Minx Xi lives up to its name?
The glossy facia, curved chassis and solid construction really gives you a sense of a premium product.
Design and ConnectionsThe Minx Xi comes in either black or white and we’ll come right out and say we prefer a bit of noir when it comes audio and video equipment. We appreciate that other people like more ‘lifestyle’ friendly colours such as white but in general we’re with Henry Ford on this one. And we have to say the black version of the Minx Xi that arrived for review was absolutely gorgeous. The glossy facia, curved chassis and solid construction really gives you a sense of a premium product and we hadn’t even turned it on yet. There's ample venting along the top and the buttons and select dial all have a well engineered feel to them and are sensibly placed either side of the display. This large dot matrix display has a decidedly retro feel but it's informative and gets the job done. The buttons are identified by icons, most of which are fairly self explanatory but if you get stuck the quick setup guide is very useful.
In terms of physical connections there’s a USB port at the front and another at the rear. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone output jack at the front, along with a 3.5mm analogue input jack. At the rear you’ll find two digital inputs - one Toslink and one S/PDIF, along with an Ethernet port for a wired connection and stereo RCA analogue inputs. Since the Minx Xi has a 2 x 40W Class A/B amplifier built in there are solid speaker terminals and even a subwoofer output. For the wireless side of things there’s a BT100 Bluetooth receiver which supports both SBC and aptX and uses a dedicated USB connector. Finally there’s a WiFi aerial for wireless 802.11 b/g connectivity, allowing you to stream from a UPnP enabled NAS drive, PC or Mac. The Minx Xi also ships with a handy remote control that is sensibly laid out and simple to use. The dark grey finish looks attractive and the soft rubber back makes it comfortable to hold, all adding to the nicely upmarket experience.
FeaturesStarting on the inside we find a high-quality 24-bit/96kHz Wolfson WM8728 DAC that means all sources should be delivered with plenty of detail. There’s also an oversized toroidal power supply for improved audio quality performance across a wide volume range. The Class A/B amplifier delivers 2 x 40W into 8 Ohms and is designed to provide sound quality, low distortion and superb power efficiency. Finally, the external clocking is taken from Cambridge Audio's award winning NP30 network player and is designed to minimise jitter in digital audio streams. All of which suggests that the Minx Xi should sound as good as it looks. The streamer comes with a great set of features and in terms of connectivity there’s only one that’s conspicuous by its absence - Apple’s AirPlay.
If you’re totally locked in to the Cupertino eco system you might feel the urge to complain but frankly even the biggest Apple-phile can still stream content to the Minx Xi using either Bluetooth or WiFi so it really isn’t a big deal. Besides Cambridge Audio might add it with a future update. In fact overall the streamer has a very comprehensive set of connections - both physical and ethereal - which should keep just about everyone happy.
When it comes to file support, the Minx Xi certainly has it covered with an almost universal level of compatibility. There’s support for up to 24-bit/96kHz streaming of studio quality 24-bit WAV and FLAC downloads as well as all the popular codecs including Apple Lossless, AAC, HE AAC, AAC +, AIFF, WMA, MP3 and OGG Vorbis as well as 88.2kHz files. There’s also Internet radio and built-in support for many streaming services including BBC iPlayer Radio, Pandora and Rhapsody. Sadly there's no Spotify but again this might be added with some future update and the Minx Xi still gives you access to thousands of stations and other content without the need for a computer or other mobile device. You can even subscribe to podcasts on the Minx Xi, which is a simple case of registering your unit via the web and inputting RSS feeds using the front display. Finally Cambridge Audio provide a very handy app called Stream Magic that is available for both iOS and Android, as well as the ability to update the firmware on the streamer itself to ensure it continues to work with the latest internet services, apps and protocols.
When it comes to file support, the Minx Xi certainly has it covered with an almost universal level of compatibility.
SetupWhen setting up the Minx Xi the first thing that is worth pointing out is that despite Cambridge Audio referring to it as a 'system' it doesn’t come with any speakers, so you’ll need to provide your own. We used a pair KEFs and a pair of JBLs at various times, although Cambridge Audio have plenty of their own for you to choose from. The speaker terminals initially look like the screw-up variety but are actually a spring loaded clamp type, although far more solid than many that we have seen. Once you’ve connected the speakers, there is the option for adding a subwoofer - handy if you plan on using the streamer for watching movies and TV programmes or playing games. There are digital and analogue inputs for just such a purpose, making the Minx Xi a very flexible little unit and allowing a number of your sources to benefit from the quality DACs and amplification.
Of course, whilst the physical connections make for a useful set of extra inputs, the Minx Xi is designed primarily for streaming - either via the Ethernet port or the WiFi aerial dongle. If you plan on listening to 24/48 or 24/96 content from a UPnP server then the wired connection is really needed for the higher data rates. Setting up the WiFi connection is simplicity itself, you just scan for your network and when the Minx Xi has found it you enter your WEP or WPA key. Once connected, either via Ethernet or wirelessly, you then have access to any UPnP servers, as well as Internet radio, streaming services and podcasts. To add Bluetooth you just plug the BT100 adapter into the dedicated USB port and then select it using the front dial or the remote control. You can then pair the Minx Xi to your Bluetooth device and away you go. Finally if you want to listen to music from USB hard-drives or thumb drives, you just connect them to either the front or back USB ports on the streamer.
Audio QualityFor testing we used a variety of listening material including both FLAC with ALAC files, along with a range of more lossy and compressed recordings. When it came to Internet radio we choose a number of stations, although BBC Radio 2 formed the majority of our listening. We paired the Minx Xi with a number of different speakers, including models from KEF and JBL. The range of physical connections meant that we were able to connect the Minx Xi to a number of sources including a TV, Blu-ray player and games console. It handled all of them with ease, providing a lovely open and detailed soundstage with fantastic stereo separation. It also handled bass well and the option to add a subwoofer means that the diminutive Minx Xi could even double as an effective stereo sound system for movies and TV.
However as good as it was with movies and TV audio, that’s not it’s primary purpose and the Minx Xi really came into its own when streaming music. Naturally if you sent a high quality recording to the diminutive streamer it could draw out all the inherent detail, with a natural and transparent performance that revealed every nuance of the music. Mazzy Star’s Fade into You just sounded beautiful with its fragile vocals and plaintive slide guitar. The amount of bass that the Minx Xi was able to deliver helped underscore all the lossless files we listened to and really impressed at this price point. The streamer also did a great job of keeping the underlying timing and presentation of the music intact, resulting in a very enjoyable listening experience.
Of course we would expect lossless and high resolution recordings to sound good but where the Minx Xi really impressed was when it had to deal with more compressed content. Regardless of how the digital files were sent to the streamer - whether via digital inputs, Bluetooth or UPnP, the results were essentially the same. The Minx Xi proved to be a highly effective DAC and managed to breathe new life into even the most compressed content. It was also a tremendously effective internet radio with audio streaming at 128kbps sounding perfectly listenable, whilst 320kbps streams were surprisingly good. BBC Radio 2 sounded excellent, with terrific separation and a natural rendering of voices and music. The same was true of podcasts, where the Minx’s ability to emphasise well recorded voices really came through. The overall performance of the wireless connections proved to be very robust with no drop-outs or other problems encountered during the testing period.
As mentioned earlier, there’s no AirPlay which is a shame as Apple’s wireless streaming protocol is superior to Bluetooth but the latter is convenient, easy to use and universally supported. It has also got better over time and the BT100 adapter that is included with the Minx Xi does a very good job, no doubt aided by the excellent DACs in the streamer itself. As result streaming music from a mobile device to the Minx Xi was surprisingly effective and the streamer could enhance the sound, making even the most compressed audio suddenly seem eminently listenable. The benefits of the Minx Xi could be easily heard in AB testing with our iMac, the streamer was able to deliver high quality recordings with clarity and detail whilst also being forgiving of more compressed files. This level of performance, coupled with both flexibility and extensive support, makes the Minx Xi a very effective and hugely enjoyable digital streamer and music system.
The Minx Xi delivered a natural and transparent performance that revealed every nuance of the music.
- Universal file support
- Impressive amplification
- Superb DAC and upsampling
- Bluetooth and WiFi
- Great looks and build quality
- Excellent smartphone app
- Internet radio
- No AirPlay
- No Spotify
- No speakers
Cambridge Audio Minx Xi Streamer ReviewThe Cambridge Audio Minx Xi is another winning product from the British manufacturer. It combines looks, style, flexibility and performance in equal measures, whilst the price seems very reasonable when you consider all it can do. The gorgeous design and excellent build quality really give the feeling of a premium product and the setup couldn't be easier. There's connections galore and whether its wired or wireless, the Minx Xi has it covered. Some might bemoan the absence of AirPlay or Spotify but there are plenty of alternatives and Cambridge Audio might add them in future firmware updates.
The streamer is just as well built on the inside as it is on the outside, with a Class A/B amplifier and a 24-bit/96kHz DAC that combine to deliver a superb performance. The Minx Xi can get the best out of just about any recording, bringing new life to compressed files and wonderfully reproducing higher resolution content. The extensive file support, Internet radio and streaming services are the icing on a very tempting cake. Ultimately, the Cambridge Audio Minx Xi lives up to its name, with the kind of classy performance that genuinely helps you connect with - and get the best from - the disparate streams of your burgeoning digital music collection.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £599.00
Ease of Use8
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