If you’ve read our other Great British Hi-Fi systems features (Naim-based CD/Vinyl, Great Hi-Fi and CD and Streaming) then you’ll have seen that those other three systems in this high performing quartet are that versatile – in that meaning that they each offer at least two sources.
However, it makes sense to have a system in this group that is more streamlined in terms of outlook. This setup keeps things as simple as possible by tackling music streaming in its many forms – and leaves it at that.
You, as the end user, should know that this trio of Award-winning products can easily enough form the basis of a vastly expanded set-up: just add a CD player, turntable (with a phono stage), even a tape deck if needed is your thing, at a later date and it will be a system that will serve you great. But not everyone needs extra frills when listening to music. If you have young children or unruly pets, pretty much the last thing you want to show off in your home is a valuable turntable and fragile, fragile 12-inch vinyl records. No, a few well-built kits combined with a solid pair of speakers will serve you very well.
That’s what we have here. The Cambridge Audio pairing has long been a favorite with us here Which Hi-Fi?, and they work brilliantly together, unsurprisingly. And the original B&W 606 certainly wasn’t broke when the S2 Anniversary Edition was introduced – it won Which Hi-Fi? Best Buy Awards themselves – but the new model is an undeniable step forward and will suit a wide range of setups.
Network Streamer: Cambridge Audio CXN V2 (about £799 / $990 / AU$1495)
Integrated amplifier: Cambridge Audio CXA61 (about £699 / $865 / AU$1308)
Standard Speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 (£599 / $899 / AU$1299)
Total: £2097 / $2754 approx / AU$4102 approx
Music Streamer: Cambridge Audio CXN V2
We’ll start at the source, because it’s a true superstar of its kind. Most importantly, it sounds very lively and enthusiastic no matter what kind of music you throw at it. As we describe in our review of the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2): “We play Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, and Stevie Nicks’ soulful, sweet vocals are full of power and beautifully delivered. The way she switches between notes is smooth, and the occasional truncated words to keep her rhythm are punchy and insightful. Even the strange vocalization – the buzzes and aahs – are detailed and full of melancholy musings.
As our review points out, “Most half-decent streamers could reproduce the basics of this song, but it takes a little more talent to dig into the emotional core of this song and deliver it – and that’s what this Cambridge does.” .”
The Cambridge streamer is also wonderfully smooth across the range, delivering rock-hard bass with a light-stepping, twinkling treble – all of which help deliver a tune with tight timing and create a sound that’s dynamically entertaining.
And of course, it pretty much covers all the bases in terms of digital music options. It plays hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD64 from a NAS drive, and it’s equipped with streaming options to enjoy, including Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, Roon, Deezer and more. More than enough for most end users.
Integrated amplifier: Cambridge Audio CXA61
As with its streaming sibling, the Cambridge Audio CXA61 is an updated version of a product we didn’t really know needed updating; and as with the CXN, we’re extremely pleased that the techies at Cambridge made the effort. It was well worth it both times.
The main obvious difference in the next generation amp is the addition of a USB input in addition to the digital and coaxial inputs on the rear panel. There is also a new DAC module that can play 24-bit/384kHz PCM files and up to DSD256 data streams. And to cover pretty much all bases, aptX Bluetooth is now included in the package too.
At first glance, however, those are the only obvious changes. Power output remains a solid 60W per channel and there’s no change in terms of connectivity. This integrated still has four line-level stereo RCA inputs on the back and a 3.5mm jack for portable music players on the front.
While the basic analog circuit hasn’t been updated, the engineers tried to improve the sound quality by changing most of the op-amps in the signal path and upgrading the capacitors in both the front and power sections of the amplifier.
And that work has certainly paid off. While still recognizably related to the older amp, this new version sounds more transparent and playful. It’s just more fun to listen to, regardless of the input chosen.
Bookshelf Speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2
Using these Bowers & Wilkins speakers with the Cambridge coupler, our system sounds firmly in control of procedure at all times with punch, scale and authority, as well as a gleeful refusal to get stressed or uncomfortable when the musical demands become demanding . Overall, it has a well-judged tonal balance that treads a delicate path between attack and refinement; there’s room here too, and the kind of outright clarity that sets the bar high for the price.
And that third Which Hi-Fi? Prize winner for 2022 rounds it off nicely. As we say in our 606 S2 Anniversary Edition review, “It’s dominated the mid-priced standmounter market for the last three years and nothing we’ve reviewed comes close to beating the top spot.”
And while we loved the predecessors, this pair of updated speakers proves to be significantly more capable.
The biggest differences with the S2s can be heard in the bass, where the new version is so much more precise and controlled; these speakers are cleaner, more insightful and notably more punchy than their predecessors.
Move up the frequency range and the steps up in articulation and clarity are striking. Voices come through with more subtlety and it’s easier to hear changes in intonation and phrasing. The B&W 606 S2 offers a clearer view of the recording and generally sounds more balanced.
They deliver a sound brimming with authority and don’t struggle with large-scale crescendos. As the music builds in one piece, these speakers have the composure and organization to keep things under control. They rarely sound jittery or stressed, no matter how demanding things get.
Remember that these speakers, like both electronic units in this system, are the next generation of already impressive award-winning products, and these obvious improvements are all the more surprising – and of course all the more welcome.
This stunning system manages to kick things up a notch on what could easily have been three or four years ago – as ‘version one’ – a top-of-the-line setup that we certainly would have highlighted in a similar feature. However, with the upgrades for each unit, things have improved more than a level. This is a triple combination that shows just how impressive a mid-range streaming hi-fi system can be.
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