Cambridge Audio A2: good, cheap, but not without drawbacks


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Cambridge Audio is one of the brands we missed when we did the British(-ish) amps shootout a while ago, simply because we didn’t have a CA amp at the time. Later both an A series and an Azur ended up in my lap, but there were many other projects to write about and I skipped Cambridge Audio again. Then both amps went to my friends’ systems and I didn’t want to review them from memory. Fast forward some 2 years, two things happened: I went for a short trip to the UK and one of the two CA amps returned to me in a gear swap. A clear sign it’s about time we reviewed a Cambridge Audio unit here at AudioRoom.

Cambridge Audio A2 is a simple, low powered integrated from the line that included models from A1 to A5 in at least two versions. A2 is the second from the bottom, A1 being the BOTL model. It has basic functions: there are tone and balance controls, but no filters, no headphone jack, only one set of speakers can be connected. CA recommends 6-16 Ohm speakers as indicated on the rear panel, and the amp does get warm when powering 4 Ohm speakers at higher volume levels. We tested it with our Quadral Tribun MK IV and after some 20 minutes of loud listening the amp did not blow outputs, but it got warm enough that we felt safer to bring the volume back down to moderate level. At low and mid volume levels the amp did not heat up excessively, but I would recommend to stick with 6 Ohms or higher.

There are 5 inputs including 1 tape loop. Basic version has only line level inputs and no phono input, but one can be added by cutting two jumpers and installing an additional phono stage board. In such case, one line level input becomes a phono input. Buyers who wanted a phono input had to pay extra, of course, and CA continues this policy, as do several other brands (like NAD for example). Why give functionality to users, when you can charge them extra for it? Anyway, my A2 came with the phono board installed, which is rare. When buying a Cambridge Audio amp, expect additional costs if you want to use a turntable. At least the CA phono board fits many models, all from the A line and the Azur line at least.

It is well made in some respects, not so well in others. I like clear design inside and out, a torroidal transformer and speaker posts that are much more convenient than basic springs and accept thick wires. Sadly no banana plugs, but it’s better than banana plugs only, like in Exposure Super XX or Cyrus One. The volume pot used in this and many other CA amps is terrible. It appears to be a linear pot, which means the amp gets loud really fast and you have very little control at low volume levels. That’s not a problem if you use a variable output level source (like a computer, phone, CDP or DAC with adjustable output level). But if you use a tuner or CDP with fixed output, the amp is simply useless if you want to use it for background/nighttime low volume listening. Azur amp I used had the same problem. According to reports, the pot is also prone failure, which at least gives an opportunity to replace it with a better logarithmic one. A logarithmic pot should remedy the low volume issue. Then there are heat issues. Insufficient heat sink is one thing, another problem is that this amp, like many lower CA models, has IC outputs (TDA1514). They do sound good and they’re cheap, which is how CA managed to sell these amps for fairly low prices in the first place, but they are prone to failure when pushed too much. This goes for A1, A2, Azurs, Topazes, Sonatas and probably many other CA amps. Like I noted above, pairing these amps with 4 Ohm speakers is risky.

While Cambridge Audio A2 is a mixed bag in terms of built quality and functionality, it does have a lot going for it when it comes to sound quality. The amp does need a few minutes warm-up to sound its best, but after it does it sounds really well, especially considering it is a budget product. Bass is pleasant, full in most recordings and gets quite low (but not as low as in the best of them, like Marantz 1120); at its lowest it lacks clarity, upper bass regains resolution but it is a bit recessed. Vocals – not as forward as in midrange-strong amps like Marantz 1060 or NAD 7020, but clear and certainly not thin. Male vocals are presented with more emphasis, than female ones which suggests a slight dip in the curve. Guitars, especially electric guitars, attack with great authority, a full, crushing sound. This is the ace CA A2 has up it’s sleeve. High frequencies are slightly softened (especially cymbals), but only to a point of not sounding harsh; they have good resolution. Triangle sounds beautifully clear and takes a long time to fade out. Soundstage is decent, but highly dependent on source material. With good recordings its fine (but not amazing), with worse recordings barely noticeable or disappears completely. No magic here, but no disaster either. Pacing is great, this is a fun amp that does not miss a step with fast rock or electronic music. Overall, the amp sounds decent to very good, depending on the recording, and very pleasant, even with bright recordings.

Cambridge Audio A2 (and other A-series amps) is a very good budget amp and definitely recommended, especially if rock is your thing (awesome guitars!), but it does not disappoint with jazz or electronic music either. It sounds both fun and pleasant, has good resolution except for the low bass, and it’s not expensive either. That said, there are few reservations: it has it’s issues (volume pot), it is not pretty, average looking at best, not a powerhorse and it does not take difficult (4 Ohm) loads well. But if your speakers are 6 Ohms or higher it is certainly worth a listen.

Technical information

Power (RMS) – 2 х 25 W/8 ohm, 2 х 30 W/6 ohm (some sources state 2 х 35W/6 ohm)
Distortion: less than 0.02% @ 1 watt
Input sensitivity: MD / Tuner / CD / AV / Aux / Tape: 250 mV, Phono (optional board): 1.75 mV
Tone control: Bass +/- 6dB @ 100Hz, Treble +/- 6 dB @ 10Hz
Frequency response: 10Hz to 60kHz (-3 dB)
Channel separation: at 1 kHz better than 72dB
Signal to noise ratio (A-weighted): 92dB @ full output power (line)
Speaker load impedance: 6-16 ohm
Dimensions: 430 x 90 x 300mm
Weight: 5.6kg

Cambridge Audio A2: gallery


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