A CD player and upsampling DAC in one, the 740C is a particularly handy model with good ergonomics and build - but somehow its sound failed to impress our listening panel, despite a good showing on its own
Sound not to all tastes
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Cambridge Audio surely has the most technologically equipped player in its class. It's the only one to offer 384kHz upsampling - indeed, few players at any price offer such a feature.
Cambridge introduced this a year or so ago in the Azur 840C player, and cajoled it into the cheaper 740C thanks to a few small economies in the DAC department and the omission of balanced output.
We've stated before that upsampling is no kind of magic formula - but if you're going to do it, then the higher the better.
The possible pitfalls are the same whatever the chosen output frequency, and since part of the exercise is to facilitate near-perfect analogue filtering by assigning more of the total filtering task to digital circuits, one might as well follow that road as far as it goes.
The other significant part of the exercise is jitter reduction, but there are plenty of different approaches to tackling that.
Cambridge employs upsampling know-how from Anagram Technologies, a Swiss firm more often associated with upmarket pro audio.
The twin DACs are from Wolfson and are followed by analogue circuits made of good-quality parts, both active and passive. Ingeniously, the 740C adds digital inputs so its upsampling can add quality to other digital sources such as DAB/Freeview and MiniDisc.
After the upsampling, you have the choice of the internal DACs or the digital outputs - which can't handle 384kHz, as the S/PDIF interface doesn't support this. The player offers very quick loading of discs, and about the only feature we can't warm to is the display, a rather bland grey-on-grey affair.
For some reason, this player didn't entirely chime with the tastes and expectations of our listening panel. As always, its output level was matched to that of the other players in the group, but two listeners felt it was louder than the rest.
One even felt as if a 'loudness button' had been pressed somewhere, accentuating the top and bottom at the expense of the midrange. Later, during the classical selections, he withdrew or at least qualified that statement, but he still didn't entirely care for the player's presentation, finding it flat and uninspiring.
It's worth noting that one listener made no mention of any perceived difference in listening level, and in fact found plenty to like, including tight but extended bass, light and airy treble and a good soundstage. Meanwhile, halfway through the presentation, the other listener, who initially also commented on loudness, felt things were back on track. He did, however, feel there was some coloration in the sound.
One thing the whole panel agreed on was that bass is good, well extended and firm, even if it's perhaps a little spotlit on occasion. What seems to be the root of the problem, judging by the comments, is the midrange, which is somewhat coloured, the extent apparently varying with dynamic level.
But this is odd, as our previous encounter with a 740C revealed no such problem - and listening to this review sample sighted, after the panel had left, failed to convince us there's much, if anything, wrong with its midrange.
Thus we find ourselves offering a cautiously qualified recommendation for this player, which does a lot right, but upset at least two listeners in one test.
The Cambridge contender achieves another near-faultless performance in the lab, and by a narrow margin the best in the group. Distortion once again hovers around the measurement limit, while the jitter figure of 120ps is an estimated worst case - real performance is almost certainly even better, but it's hard to be sure.
The effect of the Anagram filter is seen in the near-22kHz attenuation, which is a better figure than most (though still not quite as rapid as we would like), and also in the general cleanliness of the noise spectrum, both with and without the presence of an audio signal. It's typical to see a few minute spikes sticking up even in the spectrum of a good player, but here there are none visible even down to -120dB, and the ultrasonic band is exceptionally clean too. There's certainly nothing obvious here to justify the criticisms made of the player by our panellists.
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