Cambridge Audio CXA81 Stereo Amplifier

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80 Watt Per Channel Stereo Amplifier With Massive Toroidal Transformer

Quality Built-In ESS Sabre ES9016 DAC; Bluetooth aptX; Roon Tested

Plenty Of Analogue and Digital Inputs

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About The Cambridge Audio CXA81 Stereo Amplifier

The Cambridge Audio CXA81 Integrated Amplifier & DAC: It’s everything you loved about the CXA80, but more so. With an upgraded & optimised amplifier section as well as the latest ESS Sabre DAC on board the CXA81 is a definite step up in sound quality. It also now incorporates Bluetooth aptX HD for Hi-Res Bluetooth streaming. In short it has stepped up in all areas whilst retaining its streamlined design and ease of operation.

How do you take an admired and successful integrated amplifier, one that’s won respect and plaudits around the world, and make it even better? Well, if you’re a Cambridge Audio engineer, you examine every aspect of the performance - and then you do everything you can to make it ‘more’. More refined, more precise, more engaging … more musical.

The CXA81: it’s everything you loved about the CXA80, but more so. All the research, all the development, all the time and effort that’s been expended on the CXA81 has been for one reason alone: to make this the most accomplished and absorbing integrated amplifier ever offered at the price. Every component selected, and every engineering decision taken, is based entirely on the desire to progress. The CXA81 has been designed and specified without compromise, in order to deliver the complete musical picture.

Cambridge Audio CX Series Components

The CXA81 is designed to bring your music to life, no matter how it’s stored. So it features an entirely new digital board, including the cutting-edge ESS Sabre ES9016 digital-to-analogue convertor. Which means digital audio files up to a heady 32bit/384kHz, or DSD256, are brought dramatically to life, with every detail and nuance delivered intact and in full. The CXA81 combines unparalleled accuracy with vivid musicality, without sacrificing convenience.

Thanks to numerous improvements and upgrades - and thanks to an over specified toroidal transformer - the CXA81 delivers a prodigious 80 watts of power per channel. This means the CXA81 has complete authority over even the most demanding speakers, it means big dynamic shifts in music are handled with total control, and it means the whole musical picture is available no matter if you’re playing at discreet background levels or at party-time volumes.

The CXA81 covers all connectivity bases, giving you complete freedom of choice. As well as digital optical and digital coaxial inputs, it features unbalanced stereo RCA inputs alongside balanced XLR sockets - and wireless connectivity via Bluetooth’s cutting-edge aptX HD standard is on board too. So there’s no need to compromise on performance in the name of convenience.

At the heart of the CXA81 beats a completely reimagined and redesigned power amplifier stage with optimised capacitor values. The resulting sound is pristine but not clinical, with unrivalled musical coherence no matter the source.

Thanks to relentless dedication to progressive engineering, The CXA81 is a complete solution. Its combination of versatility, power and audio excellence means it can form the centre of your musical experience for years to come.        

A Closer Look

The CXA81 is from the same family as the CXA61 but has increased power output of 80 Watts per channel which may be useful if you have a large room, inefficient speakers or just simply want some extra power for those times when your wife is out shopping for new furniture! There are also a couple of other minor features that may be useful to a few. Its class A/B amplifier design reveal spectacular detail in your music whether that be analogue or digital. We can say that because the CXA61 and CXA81 both have a high quality DAC built-in. The low-flux toroidal transformer also enhances performance and together these design details deliver incredible control over your speakers. The CXA81 has been designed with digital in mind and features two optical inputs and a co-axial digital input so you connect up all of your digital sources.

Asynchronous USB Audio: A further highlight of the CXA81's spec is the asynchronous USB socket at the rear. This makes the ideal connection for hooking up your computer as it will effectively 'control' the computer’s output for the best sound quality possible. This greatly reduces jitter and gives the highest quality sound possible from your computer audio.

Bluetooth aptX HD: The CXA81 comes standard with high quality Bluetooth aptX HD built-in. This allows Hi-Res aptX HD streaming direct from your smartphone or tablet, allowing access to music from Spotify, YouTube and a host of others. Not only will the music from your Bluetooth device sound superb through the unit's sophisticated DAC technology but it is also compatible with the higher grade Bluetooth aptX HD codec - used on many of the latest devices. This enhanced form of Bluetooth transmission is designed to give the highest audio quality and gets the closest yet to a conventional wired connection.

Built-In ESS Sabre DAC: The Cambridge CXA81 has been designed from scratch to work just as well with your digital sources as it is your analogue ones. To journey deeper into the music you love, the CXA81 has a high quality DAC (Digital to Analogue Convertor) inside the amp. Usually found in stand-alone DACs, the high-specification 32-bit 384kHz ESS Sabre ES9016 DAC chipset offers high quality sound that could actually improve the sound of your existing digital sources. With two optical digital inputs and one coaxial one, you can connect up to three digital sources, such as games console, TV and a CD transport such as the matching Cambridge CXC.

Analogue Connectivity: Just because the CXA81 comes supplied with class-leading digital connectivity, doesn't mean that Cambridge has forgotten about traditional analogue components. The CXA81 features four RCA line-level inputs & one balanced XLR line-level input on the back panel and a 3.5mm Auxiliary jack input on the front panel. This is perfect for connecting up your MP3 player or smartphone for quick and convenient playback. Other handy connections include an RCA subwoofer output, headphone socket and connections for two pairs of speakers via heavy duty terminals that accept both bare wire and banana plugs.

Very Sleek Styling: The CXA81 is part of the redesigned CX Series 2. The distinctive tear-drop profile and Lunar Grey front panel finish gives the CXA81 a contemporary look and makes it the ideal partner for the matching CD transport and network player. Yet it's far more than just a good-looking case; it helps the sound quality, too. With rigid, metal construction and low-resonance design, the casing helps shield the amp from both mechanical and electrical interference, helping to improve clarity and reduce background noise. The floating effect of the chassis, the brushed finish, the easy-to-read display, they’re all designed to create a hi-fi amplifier that’s as beautiful on the outside as it is well engineered on the inside.

In The News

"From the opening bars of whatever piece of music we select, we’re greeted with the same powerful yet punchy, dynamic and astonishingly detailed presentation.

Confidence is key to the CXA81’s performance, hammering out staccato rhythmic patterns with assured conviction, snapping in time and allowing its expert handling of alternately loud and soft beats to lock in a groove. Above it, a full-bodied and expressive midrange deals out melodies that are given space to soar, yet still sound definitively part of a musical whole.

There’s a richness overall to the balance, too. This Cambridge is powerful and weighty in the low end, but lean and agile enough to dance around with the most excitable bass lines, while the treble is left plenty of headroom without sharpness or rough edges." - What Hi-Fi? 

“Thoroughly enjoyable and convincing sound ... currently the best integrated amplifier you can buy for around £1000.” Trusted Reviews

About Cambridge Audio

For Cambridge Audio, life began in the swing sixties, 1968 to be exact. This was a decade when British bands began to enjoy unprecedented global success, British studios led the way in recording techniques and British manufacturers started to make the best hi-fi equipment in the world, to replay music as naturally as possible. This sound has become recognised as the ‘British’ sound and Cambridge Audio was there at the beginning.

The P40 stereo amplifier was Cambridge Audio’s first product and was a runaway award-winning success. A promising start but Cambridge had lots more coming including new amps, preamps, power amps, AM/FM tuners, CD players, cassette decks and even the R50 transmission line speakers, which were all the rage in 1971.

The original DacMagic digital to analogue convertor was released to wide acclaim in 1995 and since then Cambridge Audio has been at the forefront of analogue & digital technology with cutting edge products like the Azur and 850 series, Minx sub sat systems and many more. Today we are spoilt for choice with something from the AX, CX, Edge or Evo range bound to suit your taste and wallet.

Our Take On The Cambridge Audio CXA81 Stereo Amplifier

As with the Cambridge Audio CXA61, the sound stage is very pronounced as is the stereo imagery. Obviously the extra 20 Watts per channel (80W v 60W) does deliver more punch down low when pushed hard. Both vinyl pressings and digital sources are very engaging. We've run a number of favourites and have been very pleased with the overall musicality. Definitely a serious consideration if you play your music hard or enjoy music with extremes in bass and dynamics and that includes classical and rock/pop music. If you are into 'elevator' music, then the CXA61 will suffice.

The so-called 80 Watt output may sound conservative, but if you don't already know, it is not 'wattage' that makes the difference in sound quality but rather current output and the CXA81 with its massive toroidal power transformer has plenty. So don't just compare it with other brands that may offer more 'wattage' before you listen. And of course the built-in DAC doesn't come for free! It too is not your budget variety but the cutting edge ESS Sabre ES9016. Whatever your source - digital or analogue - the CXA81 reveals depths and layers of sound, letting you re-discover and enjoy your favourite music and is a talented all-rounder.

Main Features & Specifications

  • Design: Class A/B Stereo integrated amplifier with built-in DAC
  • Output 8 Ohms: 2 x 80 Watts per channel (20Hz-20kHz)
  • Output 4 Ohms: 2 x 120 Watts per channel
  • Low-Impedance Drive: 4 Ohm capability allows use with a wider range of speakers
  • THD: 0.02% @ 20-20kHz at 80% of rated power
  • DAC: Built-in high-performance ESS Sabre ES9016K2M
  • Roon Tested: Yes
  • If connecting to a TV, please make sure you can select "PCM" output in your TV's audio menu. The built-in DAC cannot decode multi-channel Dolby® Digital signals
  • Power Transformer: Toroidal type for low noise and high-current output
  • Heat Sinks: Separate left and right channel heat sinks
  • Circuit Path: Symmetrical separated circuit paths for maximum stereo separation and minimal cross-channel interference
  • Volume Pot: High-quality ALPs film-type volume control provides superb low-level channel balance and stereo imaging
  • Switching: Relay-based input source switching with silver-plated contacts for maximum signal transfer
  • Cabinet: Full-metal casework with thick, brushed aluminium Lunar Grey front panel and acoustically damped chassis for enhanced resonance control


  • Digital Audio Inputs:
    • 2 x Optical: Compatible with up to 16/24bit 32-96kHz PCM only
    • 1 x Coaxial: Compatible with up to 16/24bit 32-192kHz PCM only
    • 1 x USB Audio: Audio profile 1.0/2.0 (default 2.0), up to 32bit 384kHz PCM, up to DSD256 or DoP256
    • Bluetooth Built-In: 4.2 A2DP/AVRCP supporting up to aptX HD (24bit 48kHz)
  • Line Level Inputs: 4 x Stereo RCA type audio inputs; 1 x Front-panel minijack (3.5mm) audio input
  • Balanced Line Input: 1 x Stereo XLR
  • Turntable Input: No. Add optional phono pre-amplifier to one pair of the L + R audio line-level inputs
  • Pre-Amp Output: 1 x Stereo RCA type preamp output
  • Subwoofer Output: 1 x Mono subwoofer output - ideal for 2.1 speaker systems
  • Headphone Jack: 1 x Minijack on front panel
  • Speaker Outputs: Switchable A+B speaker option
  • Speaker Terminals: Heavy duty binding-post connectors will accept bare wire or banana plugs

Other Features

  • Remote Control: System type operates other compatible Cambridge Audio components
  • Power Input: 220-230V 50Hz
  • Power Consumption: 750 Watts
  • Stand-by Consumption: <0.5 Watt
  • Detachable Power Cable: Allows for upgrade to a better quality power cable (Isotek Premier) for improved performance
  • Finish: Lunar Grey front panel, black chassis
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 430 x 115 x 341mm
  • Nett Weight: 8.7kg
  • Manufacturer's Warranty: 2 Years

Note: Features & Specifications Subject To Change Without Notice. E&OE

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