My initial enquiries to Cambridge Audio (CA) were to look at the new EVOs, their ‘just add speakers’ foray into the competitive space around £2,500. However, with the review cycle taking the time it does I was offered a chance to look at this Cambridge Audio Edge NQ preamplifier, at which point it was obvious to explore the Edge NQ with the matching 24kg Edge W power amplifier, making this too a ‘just add speakers’ combination, albeit eight thousand pounds worth of system.
The Cambridge Audio Edge NQ is a streaming DAC with preamplifier capability, one of the several releases in the Edge range. The range features an integrated amplifier (Edge A), a stereo power amplifier (Edge W) and a monoblock amplifier (Edge M). You do have to say the range looks particularly fresh, even though it is three years old.
The Edge NQ features the usual array of streaming sources, Chromecast built-in, Bluetooth aptX HD, UPNP Connectivity, HDMI ARC, Roon Ready etc. It supports USB 2.0. and Tidal and Spotify Connect, Internet Radio and AirPlay. More importantly in my view, the App is excellent, it’s called StreamMagic.
Annoyingly, the Cambridge Audio Edge NQ does not support Tidal MQA and do the full unwrap. You can access MQA through your computer and the USB B slot to the rear of the Cambridge Audio Edge NQ, Tidal Connect reveals 24-bit recordings though.
On the input side, the Cambridge Audio Edge NQ has digital S/PDIF coaxial, optical, HDMI and USB B & C connections, as well as two analogue RCA inputs. On the output side, there is XLR balanced or RCA output and being a preamplifier, you can go fixed output if you have the Edge A, although it is not clear to me why you would choose the Edge A over the Edge W. Speaking of the stereo Edge W power amplifier, this has 100W/channel into 8 Ohms and it has both XLR and RCA inputs. It is a fine box.
The Edge W features Class XA amplification. Where Class A is particularly inefficient, though sounds great, CA use Class XA instead which is a modification of the two transistor Class AB amplification type. XA adjusts the crossover point in the signal path with a voltage bias to reduce the audible distortion. This XA technology is also available in the Edge A integrated amplifier.
The Cambridge Audio Edge NQ is beautifully styled with a brushed metal finish. The smooth operating digital volume button is ribbed on the outside for grip. On its inside is an input selector that I have not needed and barely used.
The Edge W is heavy and seems to be shown in most CA pictures as a physical weight on top of the NQ to reduce mechanical vibration. It feels beautiful and the fins to the side earn their money as the Edge W seems to run warm to me. The speaker binding posts to the rear are very solid and there is plenty of space. There is a connecting wire between the Edge NQ and the W that syncs them to turn on and off to save you the bother. I have noted there is a sleep function if you forget to turn off the NQ after use.
The Cambridge Audio Edge NQ has a pair of coordinates on the side of it that point to a rather nondescript building near Borough Market, an old haunt of mine in London days. This building is the HQ of Cambridge Audio, so this is a neat styling point if a little underwhelming. There is a nice, solid, matching remote control with the Edge NQ complete with a set of new batteries, which makes a change.
The Edge NQ is a non-standard 120 x 460 x 405mm (H x W x D) and weighs in at an impressive 10.2kg, it is retailing at £4,499.
The Edge W is 150 x 460 x 405mm and is 23.6kg, it is retailing at £3,499, making this system just shy of a cool £8,000.
I have the Edge NQ wired into my network with an Atlas Ethernet cable. I’m using the sparkling Tellurium Q Ultra Black II XLRs between it and the Edge W and Tellurium Q Ultra Black II speaker cable to the magnificent Kudos Cardea C10 standmounted speakers. And that’s it, I’m using the StreamMagic App on my Pixel 4.
As stated, I have the Edge W on top of NQ to weigh down the NQs electronics, this makes it an imposing stack. Initially, straight out of the box and brand new the system was clearly stiff and needed some time to run in, so I set it up to run in over a few days with a combination of Internet Radio station Scala and Naim Radio. The Edge W fins have been generally warm, not hot, in my space. After the run-in (90+ hours), the system sounded a lot more like it, I used an old CD player to play a cable burn-in disc on repeat to finish off the job.
The standby function is very satisfying and delivers a sound like the clinks of valves turning on and off, I’m not clear if this is a physical thing or if they’re messing me, anyway it is a nice touch. With the standby (which is programmable through the App) linked to both machines, there is an environmental benefit here in the week of COP 26.
I have to say I have barely used the input selector or the volume combined feature, the remote control here is excellent and the Stream Magic App is very stable and a delight.
Undoubtedly, the StreamMagic App is the ace in the pack here. It has been totally stable and faultless over the few weeks I have had it here. On it, you can select sources, adjust volume with ease and Navigate Tidal and Qobuz and networked music files. Internet Radio is absolutely perfect and works really nicely, saving Recent Stations and having a Favourites button. Qobuz works seamlessly and non-MQA Tidal is fine and really makes you wonder what the fuss is about.
On general listening, I would suggest this Edge system is neutral in tone, it is certainly not as analytic or clinical as the T+A electronics I usually use or as ‘warm’ as the Naim NAP electronics. There is a sense of scale and a cavernous soundstage about this system, and I like it, a bit of Pink Floyd’s The Wall (Qobuz 96kHz, 24-bit) proved that. The Kudos Cardea speakers are once again sounding really nice at this early stage, and it is clear to me the Edge W is in full control of the speakers.
With Tidal Connect I select Jeff Buckley’s album Grace which the Edge NQ tells me is 48kHz, 24-bit. The screen is bright and the artwork clear, this is dimmable on the App. The track really has the resolution I’m looking for, particularly in Lover You Should’ve Come Over where the guitar width is notable. They’re almost out of the window to the side but the presentation and detail are exceptional. Separately, Hallelujah, as always, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Wonderful.
Being inside the Tidal App with such great performance is a real plus point for me as it frees you up to build playlists and access familiar review tracks with ease.
Switching to the App and Lana Del Rey’s new album, the track Arcadia (Qobuz 44.1kHz, 24-bit) is beautifully atmospheric, the lyrics whisking you off to the Southern Californian dream, before The Interlude, the next track, that digs a hole in the wall with a huge bassline and drags you off to New Mexico kicking and screaming. With the lyrics from Black Bathing Suit reminding us all of the current global pandemic (opening line: Grenadine quarantine, I like you a lot, It’s L.A.) these three tracks offer the clearest insight into one of our top songwriters of the modern era. The stunning Edge NQ/W system is more than capable of relaying the subtleties of this album and just about anything else I choose.
Turning to something a little more dynamic I’m bound to head for Miles Kane’s 2013 track Don’t Forget Who You Are (Qobuz 44.1kHz, 16-bit). Here the title track on the album has the lively bounce and addictive toe-tapping presentation I am hoping for. The Edge W is punchy and capable and has plenty of scope for more.
Bluetooth and Chromecast, USB
Using my Pixel 4 phone with the Edge NQ has been faultless, both with Bluetooth and Chromecast. The USB A slot at the back is excellent and easy to retrieve, again, through the App. Physically, it is hard to access the USB A slot and I’d quite like it at the front for ease of use generally. I have not played with a computer in the USB B input at the back, but I have no reason to doubt its capabilities based upon my experience to date.
Using a pair of T+A Solitaire P-SE I turn to Radiohead’s Subterranean Homesick Alien (Qobuz 96kHz, 24-bit) side-to-side channel swap introduction to check out the headphone amplification. Although there is little available on the technical side, pointing to a bit of an afterthought on the headphone side, this is a decent headphone output, notwithstanding the fact the Solitaire is a dream to drive. The pre-out is automatically halted which is useful.
This is a very energetic, dynamic, and musical system that is rather moreish in my view. It has been an absolute delight to listen to and its stability, compared to some of my own electronics, makes this a rather attractive proposition. At this price, this system will need a good pair of speakers taking an overall budget north of ten thousand pounds but if you’re at this price level you won’t need much time to be convinced of the merit and quality of this fine piece of Cambridge Audio flagship British Design.
Look & Style
Dynamic, Punchy, Capable
USB slot at the front
Full tech details are on the company’s site