Cambridge's Azur range of components has been hitting a fine mix of performance, style and value and the Azur 640T DAB/FM tuner is no exception. For a penny less than £200 you get a very solidly build hi-fi component that looks twice its price and comes with a superb looking metal topped remote control - best in the biz by miles. Pure, take note.
But it's on the inside that the Cambridge is most beautiful, matching the latest Texas Instruments DAB chipset with audiophile 24bit/192kHz Wolfson DACs. Nor have the best ingredients been simply thrown into the mix.
The circuit topography and attention to detail under the lid is superb and all outputs and inputs terminate in gold plated connections. OK, the back panel is not as advanced as the DRX702ES for example but you do get the option of both coaxial and digital audio output and an auxiliary tuner input should you still want to use your old high-end FM tuner as well.
One unique feature is a switchable EQ for warm, natural and lively sound masquerading under the marketing moniker of Natural Contour Technology. The idea is that you can counter the pancake flat presentation of low bit rate channels or add some pizzazz to compressed stations at the flick of a switch. Unfortunately the switch is on the rear panel so flicking is a matter of great arm dexterity and fumbling digits when the 640T is in a rack.
Hooked up to only the internal wire aerial, the Azur wastes no time in auto tuning virtually every DAB station available in the area. An outdoor antenna picks up the signal strength on the marginal stations a treat and 640T passes muster as one of the top performers for drawing a DAB signal. Better still, the Azur organises the channels in alphabetical order, rather than by multiplex, which makes so much more sense.
The sound is warm and expressive and classical music on Radio 3 is sumptuous and inviting with huge powerful crescendos and inky black silences. Even Classic, which is on a borderline multiplex at our test site, comes across loud and clear with very little warbling despite just a 60dB signal. Mozart's Requiem at Cambridge Cathedral (fitting) is superbly moody and emotional with the combined choir giving a solid lungful throughout.
Crack on with some Radio 1 pop and the Azur's robust sound infuses the mix. Bass is deep and plentiful while treble is sprightly and detailed. There is a notable lift at the top and bottom of the frequency spectrum - a tweak on the bass and treble controls - but this does add sheer gusto to compressed or lower bit rate channels like Planet Rock.
Give the Azur howling guitars and thundering drum beats and the smooth looking fascia is like a business man in a mosh. The Azur injects bags of energy into the music giving Nirvana a suitably brash edge and System of a Down some real funk-metal attitude. If you have been listening to Planet Rock on Sky Digital, the Cambridge's transformation of this station's dull and compressed sound to high octane rock and roll is nothing short of amazing.
As a great value DAB and FM tuner the Azur 640T is hard to beat. It looks great, offers a superb remote, is livelier than the Sony SD900 and damn close to the Pure 702DRX for half the money. Even without a USB port or RDI output it jumps into a comfortable second place snapping at the antenna inputs of our number one DAB radio.