Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player Review

Cambridge Audio sprinkle some DacMagic on their flagship BD player

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Highly Recommended
Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player Review
SRP: £799.00

Introduction

In a strategy reminiscent of Oppo, Cambridge Audio currently offer two Blu-ray players - the excellent 651BD and the higher spec'd 751BD which is aimed more at the audiophile market. We reviewed the 651BD and awarded a Highly Recommended badge for a well built universal player that offered an excellent all round performance. The 751BD uses the same basic chassis as the 651BD and has identical video processing, however the audio components have been upgraded to include the same DACs and upsampling technology found in Cambridge Audio's impressive DacMagic Plus. When we reviewed the DacMagic Plus, we were knocked out by the quality of the digital to analogue conversion, as well as the remarkable upscaling capabilities. Since the 751BD includes five of the Wolfsen WM8740 24-bit/192kHz DACs found in the DacMagic Plus plus the same upscaling capabilities, it promises to offer a level of audio quality far in excess of its price point. So let's put the 751BD through its paces and see how it performs.

Styling/Build/Connectivity

The 751BD shares the same basic chassis as Cambridge Audio's 651BD, thus offering the same industrial and machined look. The build quality appears excellent, with a solid construction and low resonance acoustical dampening. As a result the player eliminates vibrations and is very quiet when spinning discs. The disc tray slides out smoothly and quietly, reinforcing the feeling of a high quality, well built product. However the similarities between the 651BD and the 751BD end once you go under the hood because the 751BD is clearly aimed at the audiophile market. The video processing in the 751BD is identical but the audio side of things have had a major upgrade. The 751BD includes five Wolfsen WM8740 24/192kHz DACs, as well as Analog Devices ADSP-21261 32-bit SHARC DSP running Anagram Technologies Q5 for up-sampling to 24-bit/192kHz on all 10 channels. That's some fairly serious audio processing hidden away in the chassis and promises a whole different level of audio performance from the 751BD.

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD

Initially the front facia also appears almost identical to the 651BD, with the disc tray in the centre and the display directly below it. The display itself uses a bright blue colour scheme, that is easy to read and informative, providing the user with all the pertinent information. Whilst the display is quite bright, it can be dimmed or turned off using an option in the menus. To the right of the display there are buttons for Open/Close, Play/Pause, Stop and Skip. On the far left of the front facia there is the Standby/On button and to the right of that there is the infrared receiver and a USB socket behind a rubber plug. Between the USB socket and the display is the filter select button which allows the user to choose between three different filters when using the 751BD's internal DACs. The addition of this filter select button, identical to the one found on Cambridge Audio's DacMagic Plus, is one of the major differences between the 751BD and the 651BD.

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD

The 751BD's rear connections are laid out in a very similar fashion to the 651BD and are equally as impressive, offering two HDMI v1.4a outputs, a composite video and a component video output both of which use RCA connectors. There is a second USB socket, a LAN port (in case you don’t have a wireless router), a connector for the external IR sensor, a digital audio out using both optical and coaxial and an RS-232C connector for custom installers. One other addition is an e-SATA (external Serial ATA) port which allows for a faster connection when playing content from external sources. The 751BD also includes 7.1 analogue audio outputs via RCA connectors for those that will obviously want to take advantage of its superior DACs. Unlike the 651BD, the 751BD also includes dedicated analogue stereo outputs but strangely for an audiophile product they use RCA connectors rather than the XLR balanced connectors. At the rear of the chassis, you will also find the socket for the detachable 3-pin power cable.

The 751BD comes with the same remote control included with the 651BD and it remains something of a disappointment. Although reasonably heavy in the hand and comfortable to hold, the silver and black plastic casing gives it a slightly cheap look and feel. The big problem though is the layout and size of the rubber buttons, which are incredibly frustrating. All the buttons are tiny and the exact same size, laid out symmetrically either side of the navigation and enter buttons, which makes finding the button you want very difficult. The labelling is written on each button in tiny lettering, making it very hard to read and with no backlight the remote is almost impossible to use in the dark. Cambridge Audio really need to redesign their remote control to make it more intuitive and easier to use in darkened home cinemas.

Setup/Menus

The 751BD shares the same system architecture as the 651BD, with an identical menu, display and setup wizard. Setting up is very straightforward for anyone using HDMI as a connection and the addition of a second HDMI output is a nice touch and allows the 751BD to pass video to two displays simultaneously or to pass video to one display and audio to a receiver if perhaps that receiver is unable to handle 3D. Alternatively, you might want to connect one HDMI output to a display and one to an external video processor if again that processor is unable to pass 3D. Whichever combination you choose, however, it is important to remember that the output labelled HDMI1 is the one that uses the dedicated Marvell DE2750 chipset; the second output HDMI2 uses an alternative Mediatek MTK8530 decoder chipset built into the player. The 751BD also includes a Source Direct function which allows a user with an external video processor to output the native video content without any processing, so for example Blu-rays will be output at 1080p24 and PAL DVDs will be output at 576i.

For audio the set-up procedure is also fairly straightforward and largely depends on what kind of system the user has. If the users' receiver can decode high definition audio formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) then the 751BD can pass the audio as bit-stream via HDMI or if your receiver can't then the 751BD can decode them internally and pass the audio as PCM via HDMI. However anyone buying the 751BD will probably want to take advantage of its superior DACs and thus decode and convert internally and pass the audio via the 7.1 analogue outputs. If you have DVD-Audio or SACD discs the player can also pass their audio as PCM via HDMI or the analogue outputs and, in the case of SACD, the audio can be passed as bitstream using the DSD (Direct Stream Digital) codec - if your receiver can decode it. The same is true of HDCDs, which the 751BD can either decode internally or allow the receiver to decode. Obviously if you intend to just use HDMI then you would be better off buying the 651BD, the whole reason for getting the 751BD is to take advantage of the superior decoding, conversion and upscaling the player offers.

The menu system is well designed - it is intuitive, attractive and very responsive. When you first turn on the 751BD there is an Easy Setup Wizard that guides you through the basic setup of the player for settings such as the primary video output, the resolution, the aspect ratio and the audio settings. All the more detailed setup menus can be found by pressing Setup on the remote, even if a disc is playing, which means you don't have to leave playback mode to alter the settings. This flexibility is wonderful for comparing the impact of different options and makes any changes in settings much easier to detect. It is certainly an improvement on many other machines which force the user to stop a disc before entering the setup menu and then starting the disc again after the changes have been made; this can be especially time consuming with certain Blu-rays.

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD
Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD

The Setup menu is broken down into six sub-menus - Playback Setup, Video Setup, Audio Format Setup, Audio Processing, Device Setup and Network Setup. Within Playback Setup are the controls for SACD and DVD-Audio playback as well as functions such as languages and parental control. The Audio Format Setup sub-menu allows the user to set the secondary audio used for commentaries etc. and whether the HDMI output will pass PCM or bitstream. In addition, you can set the optical or coaxial to pass either PCM or bitstream as well as choose if the DSD decoding for SACDs and any HDCD decoding for CDs is done in the player or passed directly to your receiver for decoding. Whichever combinations you choose, the 751BD is capable of passing audio up to 192kHz at 24-bit over 7.1 channels. The Audio Processing sub-menu is used for setting up the speaker configuration, distance and levels as well as the crossover frequency, for those that want to take full advantage of the 751BD and send the audio via the 7.1 analogue outputs. There is also a dynamic range control for smoothing the audio during low level listening.

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD
Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD

The Video Setup sub-menu offers all of the controls related to the image including selecting which HDMI output is the Primary Output. There is a 3D Mode setting which is best left to Auto and you can also set the diagonal screen size of your 3D display. There is a control for the aspect ratio as well the TV system and since most modern displays can handle PAL, NTSC and 1080p24 content we would advise putting the setting on Multi-system. The default is PAL but this converts everything to 50Hz including 1080p24 content unless you have selected On in the 1080p24 Output menu. In this setting the default is Off but we would recommend the Auto setting and then the 751BD can automatically detect 1080p24 and pass it to your display. There are also a number of Display Options, the most useful of which is the Subtitle Shift which allows the user to move the subtitles up. This is a very handy function if you have a constant height setup with a 2.35:1 screen and the subtitles appear in the black bars on a particular disc, so if you watch a lot of subtitled movies you might consider buying the 751BD for this feature alone.

Within Video Setup there is also an HDMI Options sub-menu which allows the user to select the Colour Space for both HDMI1 and HDMI2. This setting defaults to Auto which allows the 751BD to select the colour space supported by the user’s display. There is also an option to select Deep Colour for both the HDMI1 and HDMI2 outputs which can transmit the video image at up to 12 bits per a channel as compared to the standard 8 bits per a channel. Since the discs are encoded at 8 bits per a channel we would recommend leaving this setting in its Off default position.

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD

Finally within the Video Setup sub-menu there is a Picture Adjustment menu which includes Brightness, Contrast, Hue (Tint), Saturation (Colour), Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Colour Enhancement and Contrast Enhancement controls. These controls can be applied to either HDMI1, HDMI2 or the Analogue Video outputs and up to 3 different Picture Modes can be saved. Of course, if your display is correctly setup then you should leave the Brightness, Contrast, Hue and Saturation controls at their default setting of zero. We would also leave the Colour and Contrast Enhancement controls at their default setting of zero for similar reasons. Increasing the Sharpness control to 'sharpen' the image will only add ringing and other artefacts but reducing the sharpness control will slightly blur the image which could prove useful to hide compression artefacts on standard definition DVDs. The Noise Reduction control could also be used to reduce compression artefacts such as mosquito noise on standard definition DVDs. However, when it comes to a properly mastered Blu-ray, always make sure these settings are all set to zero because a pristine 1080p image just doesn’t need any additional processing.

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD
Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD

The Device Setup sub-menu includes information about the latest firmware as well as the option to be notified of any new firmware upgrades. These upgrades can be done a number of ways, either via disc, USB or through your network (LAN or WiFi). There is also a control for the Remote Code in case the default setting interferes with other devices, as well as a control for HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). Finally there is the control for dimming or turning off the display as well as a menu for the persistent storage. 751BD has 1GB of internal storage but more can be added via USB. The 751BD supports a wide range of media and file formats which can be accessed via discs, USB or eSATA drives. The final menu page is Network Setup which is where you select your method of connecting to the internet (Wireless or LAN), setup the connection and select My Network and BD-Live Network Access. The 751BD comes with a WiFi dongle included, making it easy to connect the player to your wireless network.

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD
Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD

There is a Home page on the 751BD which is fairly rudimentary but allows you to access Music, Photos and Movies via disc or USB, as well as access My Network. You can access the internet using the 751BD but your choices are fairly limited with just the option to access either Picasa or YouTube. You can also use the Home page to access the Setup menu but there is a dedicated button on the remote which is quicker. In terms of video formats, the 751BD supports MPEG2, MPEG2 HD, MPEG4, AVC, VC-1, XviD, VCD, AVCHD, MPEG ISO and JPEG and it will also support AVI and MKV files. In terms of audio files, the 751BD will support WMA, MP3 and AAC, as well as uncompressed WAV (16/44.1 and 24/96) and FLAC files (16/44.1, 24/44.1, 24/88.2, 24/96 and 24/192).

3D Playback

The playback of 3D Blu-rays on the 751BD was superb, with full resolution left and right eye images being delivered to our reference 3D display. Of course, we wouldn't expect anything less from a digital format over HDMI and any Blu-ray player should be capable of delivering flawless images, as long as it isn't doing anything it shouldn't. However, it is important that you correctly set the screen size of your 3D display in the menu of the 751BD. This feature is designed to prevent parallax errors and setting the wrong screen size can result in unnecessary problems with the 3D imaging.

1080p Playback

As with the 3D performance, the digital nature of a Blu-ray means that any player capable of outputting 1080p24 should be identical to any other when using the HDMI output. The 751BD performed just as well as all the other Blu-ray players that we have tested and was excellent, correctly outputting the video without any issues as demonstrated by the multiburst and zone plate patterns on our Spears & Munsil test disc. We tried playing a Region A Blu-ray just to confirm that the 751BD is indeed Region B locked and not multi-region for Blu-ray playback.

1080i Playback

When it comes to 1080i content, there is an opportunity for the player itself to add greater value than with 1080p content. The ability of the player to detect film content inside the interlaced signal and correctly deinterlace it without introducing artefacts is dependent on the quality of the processing in the player itself. The 751BD uses Marvell's Kyoto-G2 video processor combined with second generation QDEO technology and it is exceptionally good, passing every single cadence test on both our Spear & Munsil and HQV Blu-rays. We also used these discs to check the quality of the video deinterlacing, which was excellent. The 751BD was able to handle discs with film content that is encoded at 1080i/50Hz without any problems.

480i/576i Playback

Overall the 751BD’s performance with both NTSC and PAL content on our test discs was of a reference quality and using the HQV DVDs it was able to fully reproduce the SMPTE colour bar tests for both PAL and NTSC, correctly scaling the full 576i/50Hz and 480i/60Hz images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent, the 751BD reproduced the rotating line without producing any jaggies, even at the most extreme angles. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance remained superb with all three moving lines being reproduced correctly, even on the bottom line. The 751BD also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs.

The 751BD’s performance was equally impressive with the film detail test, correctly locking on to the image resulting in no aliasing in the speedway seats behind the race car. In the cadence tests the 751BD also performed flawlessly, correctly detecting the most common types 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) format as well as many of the more obscure variations. The 751BD also had no problems with the test displaying film material with scrolling video text, which was always clearly readable without any shredding. This was a superb performance by the 751BD and represents and represents a reference level of video processing in a player. We also tried Region 1 and Region 2 DVDs and the 751BD could play both, so clearly it is a multi-region DVD player out-of-the-box. There is also a setup disc included that needs to be used after any firmware updates.

Subjective Audio Tests

As we mentioned earlier there are a number of ways for the 751BD to deliver audio but the chances are that if you've bought one, it is in order to take advantage of the five Wolfson WM8740 24-bit DACs and the Analogue Device ADSP21261 DSPs. If you're planning on just sending the audio via HDMI then you might as well buy the 651BD and save yourself £300. However in the interests of being thorough we tried the digital outputs of the 751BD with a number of formats including multichannel PCM, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA soundtracks from Blu-rays and Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks from DVDs. We also listened to the multichannel audio from SACD and DVD-Audio discs as well as two channel audio from SACDs and CDs, including HDCDs. We tried different methods of connecting the 751BD to our reference receiver, including HDMI, optical and coaxial and also switched between bitstream and PCM. We even tried splitting the HDMI using the two outputs and sending video to our projector with one and just audio to our receiver with the other. The result of all these experiments was that the 751BD was also able to detect all the different discs and audio formats without any problems and played each one back flawlessly.

Of course, it is the analogue performance that will be of interest to anyone considering buying the 751BD and in this area it comes across more like a 7.1 version of Cambridge Audio's superb DacMagic Plus than a normal Blu-ray player. First of all, the 751BD offers three different filter functions: Linear Phase, Minimum Phase and Steep. All three are highly sophisticated audiophile topologies, optimised specifically for audio playback. Cambridge Audio encourage the user to experiment with these filters to determine which best suits their ears and equipment. The effects of these different filters can be subtle so it ultimately rests with the user to decide which they prefer. We found that in general the Line Phase seemed cleaner and more precise but possibly a little clinical. Conversely the Minimum Phase was slightly less precise and a bit looser, resulting in a warmer sound and Steep was more detailed but a little less precise with complex musical arrangements and soundtracks. If you so wished you could use different filters with different source discs and genres but as a rule we mostly used the Linear Phase filter, which offered precise timing and a responsive bass.

Thanks to the excellent components in the 751BD, the results were superb with the player delivering a phenomenal analogue audio performance. When it came to the actual listening tests the 751BD handled them with great assurance, delivering a neutral tone and detailed reproduction, regardless of which filter you chose. The dynamic range was excellent, with a clean delivery at both extremes and a well-composed midrange. The analogue stereo from CDs, HDCDs and SACDs was remarkable with a clearly defined soundstage and a wonderful amount of detail and clarity. The sounds were nicely focused within three dimensional space and there was a real sense of envelopment. With 5.1 and 7.1 soundtracks the 751BD was equally assured and the additional speakers just added to the soundstage creating even more envelopment and greater focus. Sounds were perfectly positioned within the soundstage and there was a wonderful sense of detail and clarity. The frequency response and dynamic range were also impressive and the bass was smooth and controlled with a crossover at 80Hz. Overall this was an incredible performance and represented some of the best audio we have heard from a Blu-ray player at any price point.

Disc Load Times

The 751BD was incredibly fast at both powering up and loading discs, taking less than 5 seconds to power up and extend the disc tray. The loading times of discs will vary from studio to studio and depend on how much BD-Live and Java content there is on the disc but on average discs were loading up in about 25 to 35 seconds which is excellent.

Energy Consumption

For the eco conscious amongst you, the 751BD performed extremely well in our energy consumption tests, using about 20W when not playing a disc and 24W when in full flow. In standby, the 751BD used so little power that our meter didn't register which means it was less than 0.1W.

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Universal playback (2D & 3D Blu-ray, DVD, SACD, DVD-A, CD)
  • Reference video processing
  • Reference audio performance
  • Excellent build quality and quiet operation
  • Very fast load and response times
  • Easy to use with well designed menu system
  • Two HDMI outputs
  • 7.1 analogue audio output
  • Dedicated stereo analogue output
  • WiFi dongle included

Cons

  • Remote control is poorly designed
  • No XLR balanced stereo outputs
  • Limited internet functionality

Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD 3D Blu-ray Disc Player Review

The 751BD shares the same solid and machined chassis as the 651BD, with the same dark charcoal colour scheme and brushed metal facia. The front buttons are also essentially the same as the 651BD but the addition of a button for selecting different filters hints at the audiophile potential within. The connections at the rear are also essentially the same as the 651BD with twin HDMI outputs, USB port, LAN socket, e-SATA port, RS232 interface, component video, digital audio and 7.1 analogue audio outputs. However, the 751BD also includes dedicated stereo analogue outputs although strangely, considering the 751BD's audiophile aspirations, these stereo outputs use RCA connectors rather than the superior XLR balanced outputs. Unfortunately the 751BD uses the same remote control as the 651BD and it remains as annoying as ever, with buttons that are too small and not intuitively positioned and no back light. Unlike the cheaper model, the 751BD does come with a WiFi dongle, which makes connecting the player to your wireless network easy.

When it comes to spinning discs the 751BD has exactly the video capabilities as its cheaper stablemate and proves to be equally as adept. First of all the player is genuinely universal, happily playing Blu-rays (2D and 3D), DVDs, SACDs, DVD-As and CDs. It is also multi-region for DVD playback but in case you're wondering the 751BD is Region B locked for Blu-ray playback. In terms of video quality the 751BD is a stellar performer, with Blu-rays looking fantastic and the 751BD producing a clean and unadulterated image. The Marvell QDEO video processing is equally impressive and results in some superb deinterlacing and scaling, with the player passing every test we threw at it. The video processing is so good in fact, that it might well give your old DVD collection a whole new lease of life. When it comes to video formats the 751BD is fairly comprehensive, supporting MPEG2, MPEG2 HD, MPEG4, AVC, VC-1, XviD, VCD, AVCHD, MPEG ISO and JPEG and it will also support AVI and MKV files.

Moving on to the audio side of things, this is where the 751BD really differentiates itself from the 651BD, incorporating the same DACs and upsampling technology found in Cambridge Audio's excellent DacMagic Plus. The result is a superb analogue audio performance, with a neutral tone and detailed reproduction. The dynamic range was excellent, with a clean delivery at both extremes and a well-composed midrange. The 751BD was capable of delivering an impressive stereo soundstage, with clarity and precise localisation. However, where the 751BD really excelled was with complex soundtracks, creating an immersive soundfield that remained cohesive. The result was an incredibly pleasing audio experience that delivered a very convincing performance that was hard to fault, regardless of whether you were listening to a Blu-ray, DVD, SACD, DVD-A or CD. Aside from the various physical media, the 751BD was equally as comprehensive when it came to audio files, supporting WMA, MP3 and AAC, as well as uncompressed WAV (16/44.1 and 24/96) and FLAC files (16/44.1, 24/44.1, 24/88.2, 24/96 and 24/192).

The Cambridge Audio 751BD is a fantastic player that is genuinely universal and offers a near reference level of performance in terms of video and audio reproduction. For those that are just looking for a digital transport, the 651BD offers better value but for those that are seeking an analogue audiophile performance from a player at a fraction of the cost of most of the competition, then the 751BD should definitely be on your short list. Highly Recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
9

Value For Money

.
9

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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