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Cambridge Audio’s CXA81 Mk II amplifier gets a tune-up and a sweet new DAC

[EMBARGO IMAGE 04/12] Cambridge Audio CXA81 integrated amplifier.
Cambridge Audio

Cambridge Audio’s award-winning CXA81 integrated amplifier has been one of the best amps you can buy in its price range for years. Now, the British audio maker, which has never been known to rest on its laurels, has announced the launch of the amp’s latest iteration, the CXA81 Mk II Stereo Amplifier. It’s received an upgraded digital-to-analog converter (DAC), some new components, and a bit of retuning at the hands of  Cambridge’s “engineering maestros.”

The flagship of Cambridge Audio’s CX series, the CXA81 is well-regarded for its punchy, dynamic, and crystal clear sound signature, driven by itd Class AB amplifier at a powerful 80 watts per channel (at 8 ohms). With the CXA81 Mk II, Cambridge Audio hasn’t redesigned the wheel, but has made some key upgrades where it counts.

Much of the CXA81’s sound could be attributed to its excellent ESS Sabre ES9016 DAC, and the company says that it was the possibilities offered up by upgrading that DAC that played into the making of the CXA81 Mk II. Enter the ESS ES9018K2M SABRE32 DAC: “This new DAC imbues the amplifier with reference-level capabilities and outstanding sonic resolution, whichever digital source you choose,” Cambridge Audio’s press release states.

[EMBARGO IMAGE 04/12] Cambridge Audio CXA81 integrated amplifier.
Cambridge Audio

Additional changes to the CXA81 Mk II come in the form of 10 new premium components to the circuitry, Cambridge Audio says. The company hasn’t gotten any more specific than that, other than to say that Cambridge’s engineering maestros have retuned and refined the sound, resulting in “even greater clarity and musicality.”

Otherwise, the CXA81 Mk II remains almost identical to its predecessor, outside and in, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

For analog inputs, the CXA81 Mk II is unchanged from the CXA81 and features four RCA inputs for things like turntables, CD players, and anything else you care to connect, as well as a balanced XLR input for connecting to other components like Cambridge Audio’s own CXN100 Network Player (or maybe it’s cool Evo 150 DeLorean all-in-one player). There’s still no phono input, but that’s OK, as there are plenty of high-quality external phono preamps to pair with it — Cambridge Audio’s Alva models would be a tight pairing, of course.

[EMBARGO IMAGE 04/12] Cambridge Audio CXA81 integrated amplifier.
Cambridge Audio

Digital inputs are more or less the same, too, and include two TOSLINK optical inputs (16/24 bit 32kHz to 96kHz), a S/PDIF coaxial (16/24 bit 32kHz to 192kHz), and Bluetooth aptX HD that supports up to 24bit/48kHz. The single USB audio input gets a bit of an improvement, though, going from 24 bit to 32 bit/384kHz PCM, with the same support for up to DSD256 or DoP256, which means you’ll get to take advantage of the CXA81 Mk II’s excellent sound with hi-res music files or capable music streaming sources.

Audio outputs also remain the same and include A and B speaker outputs for running two sets of speakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack, subwoofer out, and a preamp out.

[EMBARGO IMAGE 04/12] Cambridge Audio CXA81 integrated amplifier.
Cambridge Audio

The Cambridge Audio CXA81 Mk II is priced slightly higher than the previous version at $1,199, and will be available in May 2024 at Cambridge Audio’s website and authorized retailers.

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Derek Malcolm
Derek Malcolm is a Toronto-based technology journalist, editor, and content specialist whose work has appeared in…
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