CAMBRIDGE AUDIO
AXR85 & AXR100 Overview and Comparison

Today we will be taking a look at two new stereo receivers from Cambridge Audio, the AXR85, and AXR100. While they have a lot in common there are some differences and hopefully, our review will help you better understand which one is the best fit for your system.

Company & Product Overview

Ever since our first listening session with a piece of Cambridge Audio gear back in 2017, we have been just totally blown away by how much sound they are able to pack into very reasonably priced gear. Not only do their products sound great, but there is also something about the way they reproduce music that just makes you happy when you are listening.

As the name suggests, Cambridge Audio was started by some tech-oriented audio lovers at Cambridge University. The year was 1968, a time when England was putting out some of the best music in the world and the first Cambridge Audio integrated amp totally embodied what was becoming in audio circles as classic “British Sound”.

While many audio companies were in a spec race back then, most British companies focused more on the ultimate sound than designing to have the best on paper specifications. The result was audio gear that gained a reputation of being very true to the music with a pure sound that was neither edgy nor over bass emphasized or “British Sound” as it was called back then.

That first Cambridge Audio integrated amplifier was the world’s first to use a toroidal power transformer and just about every product they have made since uses this technology. Now let’s take a look at these two models to help you determine the best choice for your system.

Design & Build Quality

Every single piece of Cambridge Audio equipment is designed and engineered at their facility in the UK. Cambridge has a very long-lasting relationship with an Asian manufacturer where all of their gear has been assembled for the past 20+ years, ensuring very consistent results.

The AXR 85 and AXR100 are part of a new series from Cambridge Audio called the AX series. AX replaces their longstanding and highly regarded Topaz series of gear. With recent introductions in the model ranges above Topaz from Edge and CX, Cambridge Audio decided it was time to update their entry-level models with some of the great tech they developed when designing the new CX and Edge line ups.

When you look at the AXR85 and AXR100, they both look pretty much the same with the exception of the digital input selection buttons on the AXR100. Both have a super clean look with their brushed metal front panel with rounded corners and a very easy to interpret front panel. We like the look Cambridge Audio passed on from the new CX series.

You’ll find a curved piece near the front which helps isolate the unit from external vibrations but at the same time makes it look like it's floating on the shelf. Everything also has a very solid feel, from the buttons to the nice volume knob.

Flipping around to the back of the AXR85 or AXR100, you’ll see something we don’t normally find in receivers in this price range, very nice speaker binding posts! Normally you get those cheap push pin connections for this price level, but Cambridge Audio gives you a connector that will make for a tight fit for your speaker cable and there are even two for A or B speakers.

Peachtree M25 speakers with Sonos Connect

Cambridge AXR85 Rear Inputs

Peachtree M25 speakers with Sonos Connect

Cambridge AXR100 Rear Inputs

At first glance, you will also see one of their trademarks, which until you think about it, may appear like gibberish. Cambridge Audio prints the connections both right side up and upside down so if you are leaning over from the front you can read them, pretty cool!

Overall, both of these units are exactly what we have come to expect from Cambridge Audio. They are made far better than you would think for their price range and designed to make operation and set up a snap.

Features & Technology

The AXR85 or AXR100 fit the bill for someone looking to put together a great sounding two-channel stereo system for a reasonable price. Cambridge Audio has some smaller integrated amps above these two and some bigger models, but these fall in a very nice sweet spot for both power and features.

Both models give you three analog inputs and a moving magnet phono stage input. One of our favorite phono preamps for the money is the Cambridge Audio Solo and you can tell a lot of its great sound made it inside the AXR85 and AXR100. If you are going really old school with a reel to reel or cassette tape recorder, you’ll even find a set of tape outputs to feed the signal over to your tape recorder!

Cambridge Audio used to sell a separate Bluetooth adapter for their amps, but we find it very nice they have included Bluetooth 5.0 with both of these receivers. This opens up the world of wireless music from your smartphone if you wish. The front panel gives you one more analog input in the form of a mini plug and you’ll find a full-sized headphone jack on the front.

Finally, since they are stereo receivers, both units include a quite decent AM/FM tuner. If you are assembling an analog-only system the AXR85 will give you everything you need, but if your choices for sources might include some digital feeds like a TV optical out or music streamer’s digital out, the AXR100 will give you two Toslink and one coax optical inputs. These are not afterthought DAC’s either but high-end Wolfson models capable of handling HiRes Audio up to 192kHz!.

When you first look at the front panel, you might be thinking these units lack tone controls, but a quick push of the menu button will bring up adjustments for bass, treble, and balance. You can also access this from the remote control which will allow you to fine-tune things from your listening chair.

Peachtree M25 speakers with turntable

A nice feature both of these units share is the fact they come with two sets of heavy-duty speaker connections on the rear. You can switch between speakers A, B, or both A and B at the same time. The fact you can make both active at once makes it very simple to connect up two pairs of speaker wires should your speakers have the ability to do bi-wiring.

The AXR85 and AXR100 both have a subwoofer output. While it's really great to see this on a stereo receiver, we do have a little bit of a gripe about how they implemented it. The crossover point is set to 200 Hz. It does not appear to cut the bass going to your main speakers, and if it did cut at 200 Hz, that is way too high in our opinion. We would have preferred more adjustments like you would find on a home theater receiver.

If you have read many of our reviews, you know we like to “pop the hood” on most products to get a look at how things are assembled internally. These units look pretty similar on the inside with the same great toroidal power transformer and discrete boards for the preamp and amp sections.

The power supply section is on the far side, with its massive and quite heavy toroidal transformer, with the power amp section in the center and the preamp boards all isolated on the other side. We observed nice discrete output devices in the Class AB output section rather than chips and it's pretty impressive to see how well the units are laid out internally. The AXR100 of course also adds a separate digital board.

New products from Cambridge Audio have had a history of surprising us when we listened, so we were really anxious to test out these models! The last piece we did a review on was the new AXA35 integrated amp, which sells for less than the AXR85.

Performance

First, we thought we would try out the AXR85 on a pair of pretty decent speakers so we grabbed a pair of Golden Ear Triton Seven’s to see how it could drive this roughly $1600/pr of floor standing speakers. We should have known from past experience that Cambridge Audio was not going to let us down. From the very first notes, we could tell this receiver has much more juice than you would expect for a $399 receiver.

The first track we played was Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi from her 2007 Shine album. If you know this cut, it has some lightly strummed guitars playing against some funky keyboard interludes with Joni Mitchell singing right in the center. On a great system, it has a rhythmic quality that will really get your toes tapping when everything comes together. You also get a really good sense of dynamic contrasts from the guitars and keyboards if the amp can properly drive the speakers. Needless to say, we were grinning ear to ear and tapping our toes to the music within seconds. Also, the separation and effortless feel to her voice was just fantastic.

Peachtree M25 speakers with turntable

Performance

First, we thought we would try out the AXR85 on a pair of pretty decent speakers so we grabbed a pair of Golden Ear Triton Seven’s to see how it could drive this roughly $1600/pr of floor standing speakers. We should have known from past experience that Cambridge Audio was not going to let us down. From the very first notes, we could tell this receiver has much more juice than you would expect for a $399 receiver.

The first track we played was Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi from her 2007 Shine album. If you know this cut, it has some lightly strummed guitars playing against some funky keyboard interludes with Joni Mitchell singing right in the center. On a great system, it has a rhythmic quality that will really get your toes tapping when everything comes together. You also get a really good sense of dynamic contrasts from the guitars and keyboards if the amp can properly drive the speakers. Needless to say, we were grinning ear to ear and tapping our toes to the music within seconds. Also, the separation and effortless feel to her voice was just fantastic.

Overall Recommendation

Many people just getting into the joys of hearing their music sound good on a better system will be looking at components in the price range of the AXR85 and AXR100. If good sound is at the top of your list, you really do not need to look any further. Couple one of these with something like the Paradigm Atom or Klipsch RP-600M and you will have a system that will make you smile for years to come!

HIGH NOTES UNPACKED

Budget Audio Never Sounded So Good

These two new receivers sound like they should cost 3 times their price. The way they portray music makes you forget about the gear and just enjoy the music.

Inputs for All Your Music

With 4 analog audio, a phono preamp, Bluetooth 5.0 the AXR85 will satisfy almost everyone, but if you need digital the AXR100 adds 3 digital inputs

Beautifully Designed and Built

We love the clean design of Cambridge Audio gear, but the geek side of us really appreciates the circuit board layouts and attention to detail that help make these units sound so good.

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