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Cambridge Audio Edge A Integrated Amplifier Review

Let’s get close to the Edge

by Ed Selley
SRP: £4,500.00

What is the Cambridge Audio Edge A?

The Cambridge Audio Edge A is an integrated amplifier. This is good news because integrated amplifiers have been something that the company historically does rather well. It is, however, quite unlike any Cambridge Audio amp we’ve seen before for two reasons. The first should be clearly visible from this section of the body of text. The Edge A costs £4,500 which makes it the most expensive amp the company has ever produced. For a company that quite a few people still take to be a ‘budget’ brand, that is a considerable chunk of change.

The second is that the selection of inputs on the Edge A is different to any Cambridge Audio amp that has gone before. We’ve obviously seen plenty of models with digital inputs on them and Cambridge Audio has been an enthusiastic part of this process. The Edge A is different because, until now at least, the amps with digital inputs have been at the more affordable end of the range and because it has a connection that we still aren’t seeing terribly often on stereo products and not at this fairly elevated price point. After many years of building AV Receivers, Cambridge Audio has stopped and it seems that the Edge A, if not a true replacement, might be seen as a descendant. This is all well and good but it pitches into a price point where we’ve already seen some seriously capable rivals - is this ambitious one-boxer able to compete?

Cambridge Audio Edge A

Before we delve into that, a small point of order. On AVForums, (most) posts are forever. This means that if you delve into the deep past of some sub forums, you will find that I was an employee of Cambridge from 2003 to 2008. This means it has been over 12 years since I had anything to do with any form of product development and the Edge program has taken place with no input from me. With this in mind, the decision has been taken that I’m able to review the Edge A without bias so if you’re happy with that, we can do some actual reviewing.

Specification and Design

At its heart, the Edge A could be best described as conventional but impressive nevertheless. It is a class A/B amplifier which is in itself quite unusual because the company went to the effort of developing its own amp topology some years ago called Class XD which was intended to bring most of the benefits of pure class A operation without the power consumption and head build-up - something it was at least partially successful at. The Edge A reverts to a more conventional circuit but it retains a bias voltage system that might be seen to be a partial extension of the XD circuit. More important than the circuit itself, are the numbers. The Edge A develops 100 watts into eight ohms but doubles this exactly to 200 watts into four. This is generally the mark of an amplifier ‘done properly’ and points to the power supply being up to the job of allowing this to happen. 
Cambridge Audio Edge A
This power supply isn’t simply a very hefty lump of copper either. It is, in fact, two toroids that are mounted on the same axis. They are then wound in opposite directions that means that (in theory anyway), they eliminate each other’s flux. There are some other interesting quirks too. The output stage has no capacitors in it, choosing instead to make use of a Direct Coupled design that negates them being required. This is not something that is commonly encountered and means that the Edge A has more than detail differences from rivals at a similar price. In a manner similar to cars, the argument seems to be that in order to ‘prove’ that they are up to the job of making an amp at this price point, Cambridge Audio has worked rather harder than simply making a big version of their normal amps and going “yep, that’ll do.”

 ... the Edge looks absolutely fantastic and has a presence that even some rather more expensive rivals cannot touch

Then, as noted, there are the inputs. The Edge A has three analogue options; a pair of RCA inputs and a single balanced one. This might seem limiting but, being realistic for a moment, the number of customers with more than three analogue sources in 2020 is not terribly significant. It also has to be viewed alongside the other connectivity that the Edge A has. This extends to five connections. Four of these are pretty normal - two optical, one coaxial digital and one USB-A connection that supports 384kHz PCM and DSD256. This means that if you add a streaming transport, the Edge A is a self-contained system. There is also aptX HD enabled Bluetooth as well for a rather posh quick and dirty connection system. The last input is more unusual though. It is an HDMI ARC socket that means that the Edge A can be connected to (and wake up/power off with) a suitably equipped TV.

Cambridge Audio Edge A

Now, I know what at least a few of you are thinking. Here we’ve got an amp with a useful set of connections to hand but it then doesn’t have the bass management options of the Parasound HINT 6 (which does without the HDMI connection). Neither of these then have the EQ functionality of the NAD M10 (which is still probably the most ‘complete’ of arrivals to this nascent ‘Post AV’ category) so you will have to do with setting a crossover on the sub(s) if you are using a 2.1 system. With the exception of the now departed, Arcam SR250, no product has really tied all these things together but I suspect that was just a little ahead of its time. Once again though, here is another example of a product that is starting to consider the people stepping away from AV and what sort of product that they might be interested in.

As well as this specification, the Edge A differs from anything that Cambridge Audio has done before by dint of the aesthetics. As a piece of industrial design, it is very literally the cleanest of clean sheets with only the ‘ball’ logo retained from anything that has gone before. The fascia is dominated by the large single control. This is both the volume and input selection. Rotate the forward of the two bezels and the volume is adjusted, move the rearward one and you change input. At a stroke, it makes the Edge A incredibly minimalist. Even the Musical Fidelity M6 500i - which in complexity terms is about as straightforward as an integrated amp gets - has more controls than this.

  This is generally the mark of an amplifier ‘done properly’ and points to the power supply being up to the job of allowing this to happen

It looks fantastic but there are some minor limitations. From my listening position, I can’t see the legend on the front panel so I’ve had to learn what lights pertain to what input. There is also limited direct access for inputs so you have to cycle through them to get to where you want to be. It’s far from arduous but it is the sort of thing that results from trying to stick to a ‘vision’ of how a product should look. I do understand though because, viewed as a whole, the Edge looks absolutely fantastic and has a presence that even some rather more expensive rivals cannot touch. It’s beautifully made too, with a complete absence of visible fittings and fastenings helping to achieve a very premium look.

Cambridge Audio Edge A

How was the Cambridge Audio Edge A Tested?

The Edge A has been connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner and used with a pair of Focal Kanta No1 standmounts as well as stints with the MartinLogan Motion 20i and Neat Ministra. Most testing has taken place with an SOtM SMS-200 Neo running as a Roon endpoint connected to the USB connection and an LG 55B7 OLED TV via HDMI. Some additional testing has taken place with a Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 and Mscaler connected to the XLR input and a Michell GyroDec, SME M2-9 arm and Goldring Ethos cartridge connected to a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage.  Material used has included FLAC, AIFF and DSD, Qobuz and Tidal, broadcast and on demand TV and vinyl.

Sound Quality

You can chalk this up to previous occupational bias if you wish but I’ve always rather liked the way that Cambridge Audio amps have sounded. The ‘house sound’ of the affordable models remains an unflappable matter of fact style delivery with just enough sweetness in there to ensure you don’t wind up avoiding bits of your collection. Combined with the company’s digital sources, some of which were genuine bargains, and you had devices that balanced accuracy, musicality and fun. Some time spent with the Edge A has rekindled some of that enthusiasm, while also bringing a few new tricks to the party as well.

Cambridge Audio Edge A

First up, that power figure. 100 watts is not a huge number in the context of some of the figures being banded about but it’s indisputably at the sort of point where, like Rolls Royce powerplants of old, it’s ‘sufficent.’ Beyond the numbers, there is a complete lack of strain to the way that the Edge A behaves that is very satisfying to spend time with. As noted in the review of the Focal Kanta, it is not an insensitive speaker but it does respond well to there being enough power to exert a feeling of control over it. Here the Edge A achieves this without breaking sweat.

  This is not an especially sweet sounding amp once you use it via the digital connections

Before the digital inputs see any action, using the Edge A purely as an amplifier with my turntable and phono stage as the source, the Cambridge Audio keeps the faith with the models of old. It’s admirably transparent, allowing the character of the turntable, arm and cartridge to take the lead in the presentation. Much of this stems from how admirably even the presentation is from top to bottom. If you’re looking for more excitement to be generated by the amp itself, this might not be the device for you but if the character is being induced elsewhere (and, as a handy hint, if you own a turntable, it is), the result is something that really does simply give voice to that character. Listening to Mazzy Star’s wonderful So Tonight that I Might See, the Edge is a glorious partner. It lets the record open out and envelope you in a way that means that if you happen to be trying to concentrate on anything else, you’ll have to admit defeat and keep listening.

Cambridge Audio Edge A

Switching over to digital doesn’t radically change the behaviour of the Edge… but there are some intriguing differences. Such are the perils of reviewing things you think you understand that I had neglected to check what the Edge A was using for digital decoding as I had assumed it would be either a Wolfson or Analog Devices chipset because they were the go to devices for the company for many years. In fact, Cambridge Audio has now joined almost everyone else in using the ESS Sabre DAC for the digital board of the Edge A. It’s a good implementation too in that it doesn’t readily change the presentation of the amp as a whole. It’s still a refined and accurate performer but there’s enough energy there to keep things exciting. Revisiting the downtempo excellence of Deadly Avenger’s Deep Red, the Cambridge Audio sounds tight, controlled and punchy.

 ... it is a seriously capable one that will take a wide selection of speakers and do extremely well with them

The use of the ESS does have some consequences though. This is not an especially sweet sounding amp once you use it via the digital connections. In combination with the Focal, which also isn’t the last word in tonal richness, you have an amp that grabs and holds your attention, revealing fabulous intricacies of the material you are listening to, but never really cossetting you. Solving this is the simple matter of changing your speakers to something a little richer and fuller but it does mean that I would suggest a little care is taken partnering the Edge in the first place.

Cambridge Audio Edge A

There is a positive trade off to this though. Using the Edge for film and TV work is outstandingly effective. Across a wide selection of film and TV work, the Edge A has used that same unsentimental presentation to absolutely excel. It checks every box I could realistically ask for in terms of dialogue, soundstage and the sense of immersion critical for two speakers to create a realistic listening experience. Coming hot on the heels of the Parasound, the Edge A has its work cut out but it more than meets the challenge. No less importantly, all the boring bits of the process work too. Latency is perfect and the autostart with HDMI also works well. The Cambridge Audio is indisputably a relatively high end stereo amp but it doesn’t fail at the sort of things that a £150 soundbar can get right. It asks very little of itself in return for being a superb partner for your TV.

 ... you have an amp that grabs and holds your attention, revealing fabulous intricacies of the material you are listening to, but never really cossetting you

It is also important to get a sense of the value calculation that this amp offers. The Edge A is £1,000 more than the Naim Supernait 3 but add the SOtM I use for testing and your TV and it is effectively a complete system ready for you to choose your speakers in a way that the Naim isn’t. The presence of a perfectly respectable headphone amp and that rather decent Bluetooth installation add to the appeal.

Verdict

Pros

  • Tremendously capable across a wide range of connections
  • Beautifully made
  • Attractive, clever design

Cons

  • Not the most cosseting sound device going
  • Minimalist control interface does have moments of irritation
  • No bass management

Cambridge Audio Edge A Integrated Amplifier Review

I am glad that Christmas 2019 divided and extended my time with the Edge A because there was a point where I was about ready to type up a review that concluded that it was an interesting move upmarket but good rather than great. Even after this little extension, I am not sure that this is a truly great amp in the manner that the Supernait 3 or M6 500i is but then, the Edge A isn’t the same product. This is instead a truly great solution.

What do I mean by that? Simply put, if you have a TV that has enough connections to handle your video sources direct, the Edge is able to take the ARC signal from it and ‘just work’ in a manner that any competent AV Receiver should do. By dint of there being two speakers rather than many, the performance will be different but I’d be surprised with a commensurately capable pair of speakers if you weren’t on board with it after half a film. Then, when you turn the TV off, the Edge A keeps its traditional rivals more than honest. This isn’t a lush or cuddly amp but it is a seriously capable one that will take a wide selection of speakers and do extremely well with them. In fact, without looking like a Cambridge Audio product of old or even sharing much in common technically, it manages to embody the virtues of the company in that it is a hell of a lot of amplifier for the money. For these many reasons, the Cambridge Audio comes enthusiastically Recommended.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
9

Ease of use

.
.
8

Features

.
9

Audio quality

.
.
8

Value for money

.
.
8

Overall

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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