Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD
The Blu-ray player for audiophiles?
Review Blu-ray players are becoming increasingly cheap, but many of them still lack features found in modestly priced DVD players. If, like me, you invested in ‘high definition’ audio formats, such as HDCD, Super Audio CD (SACD) or DVD Audio, then it’s frustrating to find that, unless you spend several thousand pounds, you’ll still need to keep your old player for those formats. However, Cambridge Audio’s Azur 650BD player may well be the answer.
Multi-media player: Cambridge Audio's Azur 650BD
While by no means the cheapest Blu-ray player I’ve seen, the Azur 650BD is one of the most solidly built, and well-connected, with an impressive array of format support. The unit is a standard hi-fi component width, with a thick metal front panel and feels very sturdy. The front sports a VFD display – which can be dimmed, thankfully – five transport buttons, power and a rubber bung that’ll soon be lost, covering a USB port.
On the rear there’s another USB port, and enough socketry to cover almost every eventuality. Besides the expected HDMI and Ethernet, there’s an additional USB port, component, composite and S-Video outputs, optical and coaxial digital audio and 7.1 analogue audio. All that’s really missing is a dedicated stereo audio output.
The remote feels substantial, and sits in the hand well, though it’s not backlit. Despite the presence of some buttons for AV source and volume, those only work with other Cambridge Audio equipment, rather than being universally programmable.
Setting up is straightforward. I tested the 650BD first with an HDMI connection to a Panasonic TV, and optical digital audio to the surround system. When you power up for the first time, there’s a wizard that helps set the main options such as screen type – including allowing 4:3 material to be shown with black side bars – so you don’t have to dive too much into the menus to get going.
Just about all the connections you’re likely to need, for audio and video
Blu-ray playback is good, nicely detailed, and DVDs upscale well too. For tweakers, there’s a picture settings menu that allows you to adjust hue, saturation, brightness and contrast.
Richer Sounds Own Brand
Well technically it's an exclusive distribution deal for Cambridge Audio, a brand owned by Audio Partnership, which is majority owned by Julian Richer, so as near as dammit an own-brand machine. Just for info...
Same OEM internals - it takes the same 'multi region chip' - see http://www.bluraychip.dk/
Nothing wrong with that - the case looks nicer than the OPPO but then you're paying c£70 for it.
Cambridge Audio used to be a top brand among Audiophiles as it's quality was second to none. Then Richer Sounds bought it and it's never been the same. Ever since, it's been Cambridge Audio in name only, the sound quality is noticably poorer as is the build quality.
One thing is for sure, there is no original Cambridge Audio gear in this device, and i don't think Richer Sounds actually manufacter the internals.
It's not major ...
... but some of us don't have a receiver with HDMI; I have a rather older Yamaha DSP E-800, which can handle the six channel audio input for SACD, and then pass that on to my amp, or decode the optical data. And since I use a Harmony remote, it's not much of an inconvenience to have the BD player connected directly to the TV via HDMI.
The reason I think I - and some others - might like the stereo output is for when you are listening to stereo material (like CD), and want to cut one extra bit out of the chain, sending stereo direct to the pre-amp, rather than passing in through the six channel inputs of the AV processor. Admittedly that's a small thing, but since they've gone to the trouble of having the 'audio mode' that shuts down a lot of the video circuitry, it seems a shame not to go the whole hog and have a separate stereo output.
The DVD player I normally use for CD and SACD, a Samsung DVD-HD950, does manage both the six channel and stereo outputs. Perhaps if I'd never had them, I wouldn't miss them.
I'm fairly sure that, while the type of setup I have may not be that common, there will be a fair few other people who have a system that's primarily designed for stereo high, with something like the Yamaha on the front; sadly I don't think there's a modern equivalent, but it provides amplification for the rear and centre speakers, together with decoding.
Sure, a modern AV receiver with HDMI all the way would be good, but I suspect I'd have to spend an awful lot of money for something as good as my Naim stereo amp, and stereo is what I'm listening to most of the time.
For those struggling to get it...
....it is basically a rebranded Oppo so you may be able to source one of those more easily.