Shopping for a home theater system can be an almost overwhelming proposition. There are AV receivers and surround speaker packages for almost every specific type of home theater application and setting. Consumers can choose from receivers capable of delivering up to 9.2 channels with enough power to shake pictures off the walls. And the sound quality of some A/V receivers is so good that there's little compromise choosing between a receiver and a pre-amp/power amp combo or integrated amplifier. The true art, then, of assembling a high performance home theater system comes with matching receiver to speakers and then to the room.
I came to audition Cambridge Audio's Azur 650R AV Receiver and Mordaunt-Short Mezzo Loudspeakers after a request to review Cambridge's 650BD Blu-ray player fell through. The demand for the universal player was distributor, Audio Plus Services' supply, so it was suggested I take the 650R for a spin along with a 5.1 speaker setup from Mordaunt-Short's Mezzo line. I've auditioned several Cambridge products over the last six years and have always been impressed by the design, layout and sound. Mordaunt-Short was new to me, at least by personal experience. The English loudspeaker company was born in 1967, and is making inroads back into North America via APS. A separate review of the speakers can be found here on AVRev.com.
Design and Features
The 650R (MSRP $1,799) may not be the most exotic AV Receiver, but for price and performance it may be the best in its class and then some. This 7-channel receiver is plenty powerful, able to output 100 watts in 7.1 mode and 120 watts in 2-channel stereo. I'm not sure if there's an audio format the 650R doesn't support, but some notable newbies include Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS-HD Master Audio and High Resolution.
The receiver weighs 33 pounds and is contained in a low-resonance metal case that rests firmly on four padded feet. The 650R's face is brushed black, machined aluminum with rounded corners. The front panel controls are logically arranged and make it easy to select source, audio/video type, tune radio stations and connect a video camera recorder, game console or additional video source if desired. An easy-to-read blue LED visibly confirms all user's selections. If you're a remote-only person, Cambridge has built a smart control bar that puts everything at your fingertips. This is one of the best remotes I've used for simplicity and intuitive control. There are no numbers or confusing jargon, just well-labeled buttons.
Likewise, the rear panel is neatly “divided,” with the 650R's X-TRACT vent grille centered between the numerous inputs and speaker terminals, which accept bare wire and banana plugs. The 650R has three HDMI inputs and one HDMI output along with multiple video inputs supporting Component, S-Video and Composite connections. There are also options for multi-channel analog sources, such as SACD players, multi-room outputs, RS232C control, and antenna inputs for AM/FM radio reception.
Inside the chassis is a beefy low flux toroidal transformer and power supply. A pair of 32-bit digital signal processors provide the audio translating power. On the video side, the 650R can up-convert analog video inputs to HDMI, so you can send all video signals to a TV via one HDMI cord. To ensure continuity between audio and video, while watching video sources, a Lip sync function allows adjustments to compensate for any processing delays.
The 650R's CAMCAS (Cambridge Audio Mic Controlled Auto Set-Up) includes a microphone for easy room calibration and to get up and running. Users of a more technical bent can perform speaker and room calibration manually. Otherwise, it's a straightforward process to assign speaker configuration (5.1/6.1/7.1) using the system's On-Screen Display and then let the Auto Set-Up do its thing. After this step, it's just a matter of assigning HDMI and other sources using the same Display.