June 18, 2021
Consumer Tech Innovation Technology

Cambridge Audio’s New Evo 150 Is A Compact And Classy Performer

A month ago, Cambridge Audio, the classic British audio brand, announced its most first all-in-one network streamer to date. This type of device is increasingly popular as all it needs is a pair of speakers and you have everything you need to play almost any source of music. The result was the Cambridge Audio Evo 150, an all-in-one device that looks like a classic piece of audio gear but with the very latest technology onboard. Evo 150 is the culmination of five years of intensive research making Cambridge Audio’s StreamMagic platform one of the best operating systems on the market today.

Evo 150 looks even more impressive in the “flesh” than it does in the glossy publicity photos. It’s surprisingly light thanks to the use of an advanced Hypex NCore digital amplifier that brings tremendous power output thanks to a new Class D design that does away with the massive toroidal power supplies found in traditional analog amplifiers. This type of Class D device does away with much of the weight and energy demands of a conventional amplifier.

With surprisingly compact dimensions of just 317 x 89 x 352mm, Evo 150 is dainty enough to sit on any shelf or bookcase. Most of the unit’s façade is taken up with a 6.9-inch LED screen, a slender vertical strip of control buttons and a dual-concentric rotary dial. The main dial works as a volume knob and is finished in black anodized aluminum. The inner control ring behind it is a knurled silver aluminum ring and works as a selector knob to move through the StreamMagic menu options displayed on Evo 150’s screen.

The side panels of Evo 150’s case are replaceable. Cambridge Audio ships Evo 150 with two pairs of side panels. One set is finished in a beautiful walnut veneer and is timelessly classic with a look that harks back to Bang & Olufsen’s audio separates from the 1970s. The other set of panels are sculpted and black with a repeating pattern that gives Evo 150 a more futuristic look. The black panels are made from Richalite, an innovative new material made primarily from recycled paper. The side panels can easily be switched according to the customer’s tastes, mood or décor. It may sound like a trivial and rather superficial feature, but I love the changeable panels. It’s a left-field stroke of genius and I can imagine more designs being made available or even be produced by third parties.

Evo 150’s display measures a generous 6.9 inches and is both bright and beautifully detailed. It displays album art and StreamMagic settings. Cambridge Audio’s StreamMagic operating system has a fresh and minimalist appearance. The settings and menu options are accessed and selected using a vertical strip of six slim buttons. These buttons are basic controls such as power, play/pause, forward and repeat tracks, etc. The design of the unit’s façade oozes class with a modern and timeless look. I think it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of industrial design I’ve seen in a long while. It’s an understated and classic piece of audio equipment that can fit in with any room. I’m a total Evo convert.

The only other interruption to the minimalist front panel is a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Here I am in two minds. While I like how discreet the headphone socket looks on the panel, I usually prefer a full-sized headphone jack, but given the small dimensions of Evo 150’s frontage, the smaller jack probably looks better. Incidentally, Evo 150 can transmit audio to a pair of Bluetooth headphones using AAC or aptX HD audio codecs.

Around the back of Evo 150 are the inputs and outputs for getting music into and out of the unit. There’s an array of digital and analog inputs for sources like a vinyl turntable, CD player or any other digital and analog device. Evo 150 can also be used as a sound system for a smart TV thanks to an HDMI eARC connector. Cambridge Audio has also provided a couple of optical TOSLink inputs, a single digital coax input, RCA analog inputs, plus USB ports for playing music from storage devices or via a USB-B port fed by a computer. For professional use, there is also a couple of balanced XLR inputs for attaching a mixing desk or any other audio device that uses XLR connectors.

Around the back of Evo 150 are all the inputs and outputs needed to get music into and out of the unit. There’s an array of digital and analog connections for sources such as a vinyl turntable, CD player or other digital and analog devices. Evo 150 can also be used as an amplifier for a smart TV thanks to the HDMI eARC connector on the rear of Evo 150. Cambridge Audio has provided a couple of optical TOSLink inputs, a single digital coax input, RCA analog inputs, plus USB ports for playing music from storage devices or via a USB-B port being fed by a laptop or desktop computer. For pro use, there is also a couple of balanced XLR inputs for attaching a mixing desk or any other audio device the uses on XLR connectors.

When it comes to outputs, Evo 150 has two sets of speaker binding posts for driving two sets of speakers. The binding posts are wonderfully sturdy and can take bare speaker wires or banana plugs. Cambridge Audio has also included pair of RCA Phono preamp outputs for connecting Evo 150 to an even larger and more powerful amplifier.

At the heart of Evo 150 is a Hypex NCore Class D amplifier. This advanced design can reproduce incredibly fine details in a recording while also being compact and energy efficient. There are two variants of Evo available, the model I was reviewing was Evo 150 and rated at 150W of output per channel. The other version is Evo 75 with an output of 75W per channel and is better suited to smaller rooms and has fewer connectivity options. 

The Hypex NCore power module was chosen by Cambridge Audio’s team of engineers because it produces a sound quality that has incredible levels of clarity, resolution and, most importantly, musicality. In times gone by, Class D amplifiers had a reputation for being dry and clinical, but with the advent of The Hypex NCore power module, that view has changed.

The Hypex NCore produces a different character of sound compared to a traditional Class AB amp design. Once you hear it and get used to it, there’s no going back. A big part of what makes Evo 150 such an enjoyable listen is down to the advanced amplifier design. The level of detail and the cleanliness of the output, totally lacking any muddiness in the sound, is superb. Hypex NCore is the same technology that’s used in NAD’s excellent M10 all-in-one player and Evo 150’s closest competitor.

However, even the best amplifier isn’t much use without a good audio source. These days, many of us rely on digital sources for our music, whether that be a CD player or a music streaming services like TIDAL or Qobuz, both offering high-resolution files. To make the most of these digital sources, an excellent DAC (digital-to-analog converter) is essential. Cambridge Audio chose to fit advanced ESS Sabre DACs. The digital streams are converted by the DACs into an analog signal that preserves as much of the detail, precision and dynamics from the original recording. 

Evo can be used to curate a user’s digital content with Roon, a service that can organize a digital library of music from a wide range of sources. Evo can also fully unfold MQA files streamed from TIDAL’s Masters. Evo 150 can also receive music that is streamed wirelessly using Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, Google Chromecast. There’s also built-in support for direct streaming from Qobuz, Spotify, TIDAL plus Internet radio stations from around the world. 

There’s hardly a source that Evo 150 can’t handle. There isn’t a conventional radio tuner built-in for receiving terrestrial broadcasts, but it’s easy to connect a separate radio tuner for playing FM, AM and digital terrestrial radio signals. For those people who love their vinyl albums, Cambridge Audio has included a high-quality phono input stage that can work with turntables fitted with moving magnet cartridges.

Perhaps the star feature of Evo 150 is the StreamMagic platform that’s built into the unit. There’s a StreamMagicsmartphone app available for Android and iOS platforms. It’s one of the best pieces of audio software on the market and receives frequent updates and new features. StreamMagic has a polished interface and is easy and intuitive to use. It’s possible to store favorite radio stations and some playlists in a series of presets that make it easy to switch from a favorite radio station to a much-loved album on a streaming service. With support for Spotify and TIDAL Connect, music can even be streamed at the touch of a button. Any other audio sources can be streamed music via Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast or Bluetooth aptX HD.

Not everyone enjoys using a smartphone app for playing music, so Cambridge Audio has also supplied a rather handsome remote control that fits nicely in the hand and has a decent weight. I’ve seen so many high-end pieces of audio equipment that come with a tatty old remote that looks as if it was designed by a high-school student. A remote control is the one piece of an audio device that you might use daily, even if it’s just for turning the power on. Why some manufacturers supply a second-rate remote is baffling to me. Evo 150’s remote feels good and it’s great to have even if it’s just for adjusting the volume or accessing the presets. Remotes are also convenient for muting music when the phone rings or if there’s a knock at the door. Without a remote, you can find yourself searching for your smartphone and then firing up the app just to hush the music for a moment or two.

The sound of Evo 150 is utterly sublime. The Hypex NCore amplifier has a unique way of unraveling music and presenting it in a wide and tall soundstage like no other amplifier design can. The best way I can describe it is to ask you to imagine that the sound from most amplifiers takes all the different frequencies in the music and then twists the sounds into strands that make up a rope. The sound is strong but feels as if it’s been compressed to fit into a tube. With the Hypex NCore, it’s as if all those separate strands have been untwisted and kept separate without being twisted into a rope. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a better analogy, but hearing music played by Evo 150 makes every instrument stand out in the mix and turns the soundstage into a 3D space.

Verdict: Now we come to the important bit where I have to tell you whether Evo 150 is worth parting with your hard-earned cash. My main proviso here is about speakers. Unless you have a pair of speakers with the ability to handle Evo 150’s sophisticated presentation of the music, you may find the sound hard to get used to as the speakers won’t be up to the job. The speakers best suited with Evo 150 are likely to cost upwards of $1,500 because the bass won’t be articulated as well on a pair of cheapo bookshelf speakers. There’s so much detail coming out of Evo 150, it does need speakers that can do it full justice. If you already own a good pair of speakers, then don’t hesitate to audition Evo 150. This is a great-looking all-in-one audio system that’s wonderfully compact and delivers a sound that is way beyond sublime. Coupled with the matching Evo CD transport that’s due to ship later this year, I believe Evo 150 is hard to beat when setting up an all-in-one music system without compromise. Highly recommended.

Pricing and Availability: Evo is available now at the following prices:

Evo 150: £2,249 / €2,499 / $3,000 

Evo 75: £1,799 / €1,999 / $2,250 

The Evo CD transport will be available later in the year:

Evo CD: £799 / €899 / $950

Evo S Speakers: – £649 / €749 / $750

More info: www.cambridgeaudio.com

Tech Specs: 

  • Power output: 150W into 8 Ohms
  • Amplification: Class-D Hypex Ncore®
  • DAC: ESS Sabre ES9018K2M
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz +0/-3dB
  • Analogue audio inputs: 1 x RCA, 1 x balanced XLR, 1 x Moving Magnet Phonostage
  • Digital audio inputs: 2 x TOSLINK optical, 1 x S/PDIF coaxial, 1 x TV ARC
  • USB audio input: USB Type B conforming to USB Audio Class 1 or USB Audio Class 2 (user selectable)
  • Bluetooth: 4.2 A2DP/AVRCP supporting SBC, aptX and aptX HD codecs
  • Compatibility: TOSLINK optical: 16/24bit 32-96kHz PCM only S/PDIF coaxial: 16/24bit 32-192kHz PCM only USB Audio Class 1: Up to 24-bit 96kHz (asynchronous) USB Audio Class 2: Up to 32-bit 384kHz (asynchronous) and up to DSD 256 Bluetooth: 4.2 A2DP/AVRCP supporting up to aptX HD (24bit 48kHz) UPnP, Local USB media, Airplay 2, Chromecast built-in, Internet Radio, Spotify Connect, TIDAL, MQA, Qobuz, Roon Ready.
  • Audio formats: ALAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, DSD (x256), WMA, MP3, AAC, HE AAC AAC+, OGG Vorbis
  • Outputs: Speakers A+B, 3.5mm headphone, Preamp Output, Subwoofer Output, Bluetooth: 4.2 A2DP/AVRCP supporting up to aptX HD
  • Ethernet:  IEEE 802.3, 10 Base-T or 100 Base-T
  • Wi-Fi: Dual Band 2.4/5GHz
  • Max power consumption: 700w
  • Standby power consumption: <0.5w
  • Dimensions (W X H X D): 317 x 89 x 352mm
  • Weight 5.3 kg
  • Accessories: Quick Start Guide, Safety Guide, Mains Lead, Remote Control, 2 x AAA Batteries, Customisable Side Panels x 2