A Second HiFi System can be fun – with Cambridge Audio MXN10 and more

Review
Second system cambridge audio mxn 10

This is a review written by Chris Baillie March 2024.

A second system background

Although I have always dreamed of owning a high-end turntable, personal circumstances meant I have always been limited to digital sources. For years, this meant CD, but the idea that high-res files may get me closer to the resolution of the vinyl source I always craved. The first step was to build a Windows PC with multiple HDDs and rip my CD collection via DB Poweramp to replay via J.River. Whilst a CD player remained in my living room system, the PC feeding a Chord Mojo allowed me to enjoy my music collection via headphones in my home office.

The next step was to replace the CD player in my main system with a Melco server and a high-quality DAC. Adding Chord’s Poly streamer to the Mojo enabled me to stream music from the Melco around the house over my WiFi network. Since I started reviewing HiFi equipment, setting up a smaller system became necessary, which allowed me to test budget DACs, for which my main system was not ideally suited.  Hence returning to the PC as a source in a second system. Lately, this has been based around a Denafrips Ares 12th DAC and Heed Canalot III headphone amp, which feeds a pair of Sendy Peacock headphones.

I recently upgraded the server in my main system to the wonderful Melco N1. As a temporary solution, I set up the Melco NA1/2 that the N1 replaced in the office, feeding this little setup. Whilst this took up valuable office space, it proved to be a far better source than the PC, producing cleaner, more airy and dynamic music.
Eventually, the Melco NA1/2 sold, and it was now clear that the PC was not cutting it as a digital source. Hence, when Terry asked me if I would like to test the diminutive Cambridge Audio MXN10, I bit his hand off.

As a secondary school pupil, I was probably the only person in my school obsessed with HiFi, and I spent much of the time that I should have spent studying reading HiFi magazines. I remember reading reviews of the Cambridge CD2, which became the object of my desire. Stan Curtis, who was part owner of Cambridge Audio, was, to me, what Chord’s Rob Watts is to many today. Stan Curtis was a maverick who did the impossible and made CD players in the late 80s that produced a noise resembling music and were just about affordable. Unfortunately, Stan was far better at designing Hi-Fi than running a business, and consequently, things went wrong for him. Cambridge Audio was eventually taken over by Audio Partnership, once part-owned by Julian Richer of Richer Sounds, whose name was once synonymous with Cambridge Audio. Julian Richer is no longer involved with Audio Partnership, but former partner James Johnson-Flint took over the business and runs it to this day.

Over the last three decades, the brand has gained a reputation for producing great- sounding budget to mid-priced gear. The brand’s more recent Edge range represents the brand’s high-end aspirations. For this piece, though, I was sent the company’s entry-level network player, the MXN10, which retails for ÂŁ449.00

How Does The MXN10 Fit Into My Second System?

This network player from Cambridge ticks most boxes for me. The company’s website lists all the features, so I will stick to what I use it for here. Firstly, it is UPnP compliant, which means I can control it with Apps I am familiar with, such as J.River from the PC, Bubble UPnP from my Android phone and MConnect or JPlay if I am using my iPad. Cambridge has their own App called Stream Magic, and it works well. You will need to get familiar with it as it is responsible for setting up and updating the MXN10, but if, like me, you prefer to use the App you use to control your other equipment, then doing so works flawlessly.

Roon lovers will be pleased to learn the MXN10 is Roon Ready. I like that it has a direct AC input rather than a wall-wart, as it means I can use a decent mains cable, although the input is a figure 8 two pin connection rather than a more common IEC, so I had to use an adaptor with my chosen mains cable. It appears as if the MXN10 features a switch-mode power supply, but that is par for the course at this price. Having an AC input rather than a wall wart PSU means that the average user cannot upgrade the power supply, but adding a large extra box for a Linear PSU would take up more space than I would like in this compact system anyway.

The MXN10 is a network player, which suggests that it includes an internal DAC, it does in the form of an ESS9033 chip. Connecting the MXN10 directly to the Heed Canalot III works well and sounds good enough for casual listening, giving a clean and lively balance, if lacking in tonal colour and precision compared to the Denafrips Ares 12th DAC. Before the MXN10 arrived, I assumed I could connect it to the Denafrips DAC via USB, but it only has SPDIF and Optical outputs. The lack of a USB input means that I cannot stream higher-rate DSD files from my server via this setup, but to be honest, that is not a deal breaker for me in this type of setup I could stream DSD64 files over WiFi from my Melco, presumably meaning the MXN10 sends the DSD stream over DoP via my Chord Co C-Lite optical cable.

What surprised me about this system is how entertaining and engaging it sounds for the money. Whilst lacking the speed, resolution, focus and detail of my Chord Hugo/2Go, which retails at around double the price of this setup, it has a lovely, warm, rich and fuller balance, which is very satisfying. Replacing the MXN10 with my PC as a source sounded a little two-dimensional and introduced a slight splashiness to the top end. This was particularly evident with Bob Marley’s Kaya in 24/192. Using the PC, I also felt that the music lost some of its drive and sounded slightly bleached, so hats off to the MXN10 for avoiding such pitfalls. This album was so engaging via the MXN10/Denafrips/Heed combo that I wanted more, so I followed up with Bob Marley’s final proper album, Uprising. It did not matter that Qobuz only offered this in CD quality, this system did the business, producing a full, rich and well-balanced rendition of this classic album from 1980.

Why does this kind of music work so well via this system? I feel the combination of the Heed Canalot III’s big, bold sound and full bass matches the attributes of the Sendy Peacock headphones well. The Denafrips DAC is fuller sounding than most and delivers an expansive soundstage, so we’ve already got the makings of a well-matched system here. The Cambridge MXN10 provides a low noise signal to the system, allowing the music’s timing qualities to shine.

Today, I heard a track on the radio that I had completely forgotten about—Barracuda from Heart. I found it on Qobuz that evening and played it through this system. The MXN10 had no issues streaming this in 24/192 despite being some distance away from the router. The system delivered the track in a full-bodied manner with a sense of pleasing energy and verve. Only when listening to more subtle recordings, such as Dean Can Dance’s Into The Labyrinth in DSD, did I feel I was missing anything. The system paints its sonic landscapes with a broader brush than, say, the Chord Hugo/2Go, which also delivers a more convincing sense of acoustic, which this album showed up. To be fair, there are many things one could do to potentially improve this system, such as running it wired via a quality network switch or adding an external Linear Power Supply to the Heed Canalot III and improving the supports and connecting cables.

Final Thoughts

I feel a system like this can work brilliantly for so many people. It could be ideal for a vinyl or CD user who wants to give streaming a go and they can enjoy high-quality music in the office or bedroom or a different room to their main system. Or someone like me who already has a good streaming system but cannot use it with my preferred open-back headphones while others are in the same room due to the sound leakage.

These components are all at or near the top of the class in their respective segments but gel together fantastically and a thoroughly enjoyable system, which satisfies from both a Hi-Fi and musical perspective. The Cambridge MXN10 is a doddle to use and sounded more than passable via its own DAC, but great through the Denafrips Ares 12th . If, like I had, you have an itch to scratch in the form of a high-value, great-sounding headphone system, this one receives my highest recommendation. This system proved thoroughly entertaining, in no small part due to the MXN10’s contribution.

A Serious Bang for Buck Award is granted in recognition of a products stand out high performance being significantly greater than its perceived price point

For the full specification of the Cambridge Audio MXN10 network player please see their website linked here

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