Cambridge Audio Azur 650R AV Receiver Review 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Wednesday, 23 March 2011

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.

Remote

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.

rear panel left

Setup

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.


In Action

I put the 650R and Mezzo setup through the paces with 2-channel music, SACDs, DVD-Audio discs, VHS tapes, DVDs and Blu-Ray Discs. With a single HDMI cable connected from the receiver to the TV, it's a breeze to switch between the various video formats, and the 650R brings out the best in all video sources. My entertainment tastes favor audio over video, but I found myself watching several movies or concert features every week thanks to the stellar audio/video capabilities of the Cambridge/Mordaunt-Short combo. Video playback via the 650R was superb. From Blu-ray to DVD to VHS tapes, the Cambridge machine performed like a champ. I've said before that it's becoming ever easier to replicate the theater-going experience at home, and I actually believe the home experience is better. My wife and I saw True Grit at our local movie house, and as much as we liked the film the sound wasn't as good as what I was hearing in my living room. And my wife noted how grainy the footage looked compared to our home system. That's the power of these components.

Revisiting the 1979 gang thriller, The Warriors (The Ultimate Director's Cut) on Blu-ray, brought back a flood of memories and an opportunity to see the film arranged in a different style. I wasn't partial to the comic book “interruptions,” but watching The Warriors bop their way back home to Coney Island for the finale was a lot of fun. The classic scene, where the leader of The Rogues calls The Warriors out in a “song,” accompanied by the clanking of empty bottles, had a chilling realism. This cult favorite also sports a phenomenal soundtrack, including Joe Walsh's original version of “In The City” and composer  Barry Devorzon's futuristic score. It was a complete experience watching this updated video and hearing the music from the Mezzos. Razor-sharp footage and terrific audio.

rear panel right

I recently purchased several DTS surround CDs, including Aerosmith's Rocks, Steve Miller Band's Fly Like An Eagle and Poco's Crazy Eyes. Hearing these classic albums in 5.1 is literally hearing them for the first time. Like all DTS-encoded discs, these can be played back on DTS-compatible systems only. When I popped one of the 5.1 discs into the player, the 650R's front window confirms the selection by displaying DTS and the 5.1 speaker array as required. After that, it's time to sit back and enjoy. My friends and I always joke about our local rock radio station playing the same six songs every hour, including “deep tracks” by the Steve Miller Band. I mean, there's only so many times one can listen to “Fly Like An Eagle,” right? That's what I thought until I heard the disc mixed for surround.

The well-known opening synthesizer bit, “Space Intro,” which precedes “Fly Like An Eagle,” took on new life, with every detail squeezed out through the 5 channels. I played this for a group of folks who sat mesmerized, listening to the individual tones and sounds emerging from the surround system. Even better was Rocks opener, “Back In The Saddle.” The cut features the clippety-clop of horse hooves, stomping in time around Joey Kramer's drum beat and the angular guitar line that builds to a fevered pitch. In 2-channel, the effect is minimal, but with the Cambridge/Mezzo setup, each step blossomed from the surround speakers, presenting the percussive equines to left and right ear in amazing realism.  

Listening Directly

A trend that pleases me is most home theater receivers offer the option to bypass all tone-adjusting circuitry and allow users to listen in direct mode. This is usually well-intentioned but lacking in execution. Many times the direct mode of some A/V receivers – at least to my ears – doesn't sound as good. It seems to muffle the sound rather than free it, but that's not the case with the 650R. This receiver produces superb sound in direct mode, and I found myself using it for everything from 2-channel stereo to SACD, DTS and DVD-Audio surround. The improvement in fidelity is subtle but very real and I found the 650R behaved more like a high-end separate component than an all-in-one home cinema solution. The sound is very smooth and natural with just a hint of warmth. Though I never needed the receiver's full power to enjoy recordings, I did put it through the paces, eventually pushing the volume to the top. Even at full tilt, the 650R sang in clear tones, not veering off into buzzy distortion or rattle. At normal listening levels, the Azur's transient response is very good, while the mids and bass frequencies are taut and well-defined. This is a receiver that excels with all types of audio.

Final Thoughts

The Cambridge Audio Azur 650R is an AV receiver that is easy to use and like. Its numerous features, excellent build quality and first-rate sound rival many more expensive home theater machines. From 2-channel stereo applications to room-filling surround discs, the 650R has the power and precision to deliver the goods. It offers the perfect marriage of audio and video and left me wanting nothing. The 650R represents outstanding value for its price and gets my staunchest recommendation.

System Setup

  • Cambridge Audio Azur 650R AV Receiver
  • Mordaunt-Short Mezzo 2, 5, 6 and 9 speakers
  • Samsung LN32C530 LCD TV
  • Oppo BDP-80 Blu-ray Disc Player
  • Logitech Squeezebox Duet
  • Veloce 75 ohm digital cable
  • Better Cables Silver Serpent Reference HMDI cable
  • Better Cables Premium Anniversary Edition Speaker Cables (3 meter/bananas) 
  • Monster Cable 400sw Subwoofer Cable (4 meters)
  • Monster Cable XP MKII Speaker Cable






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