Despite successfully mixing it with the big Japanese manufacturers, there is still something quintessentially British about Cambridge Audio.
Its 640R was first announced some 26 months ago but Cambridge was determined not to launch this mid-market receiver until it was deemed perfect. Of course, the AV industry waits for no manufacturer, so the 640R's two year gestation has seen not only a range of developments, including the damped chassis and A-BUS multiroom, but has had to encompass HDMI switching as well.
Talking about specs alone does not do the 640R justice though, because the build quality, fit and finish comprehensively trashes every mid-price receiver on the market.
It is as solid and heavy as most £1,500 amps, has a superbly dead feel to the chassis and comes with a sexy metal topped remote control. Better still, there is a range of multiroom features that would not disgrace AV exotica. Okay, you don't get RoomEQ, auto setup or video upscaling to HDMI, but its sonic merits and flexibility make up for the lack of video trickery. And then some...
The 640R claims a solid 100W per channel (...but read on for more about that!), ticks all the surround sound decoding boxes and offers a handy 20 per cent power boost when used in two-channel mode for music.
The back panel is a neatly executed swathe of inputs and outputs, including three-in and one-out HDMI specified to 1080p and component video connections with upscaling from composite and S-video. The downside is that the HDMI is only apass-through switching implementation, so you can't produce the OSD menus on HDMI, which rather complicates the set up.
So the 640R is a no-frills receiver then? Not exactly. From the outset Cambridge wanted the 640R to be the heart of a multiroom system and fitted it with a complete A-BUS hub suite.
Not only does this include twin video outputs, IR repeaters and 'RJ45 Keypad ports for A-BUS compatible keypad/amplifiers, but Cambridge offers an entire range of A-BUS peripherals under its Incognito sub- brand, potentially making this the easiest DIY multiroom system of them all.
Around the front the cosmetics are somewhat suspect, but the array of fascia buttonry is well thought-out.
One-touch access to 7.1 analogue input, as well as 'stereo direct', proves to be a godsend for those with DVD-A and Super Audio CD music, or players offering the new DTS HD and Dolby HD surround formats.
On the debit side, the onscreen menus are bland, setup is functional rather than tweaky and the 640R is tardy in responding to the remote control - but this is a British design, so I think that is called 'charm'.
Significantly, there is something very wrong with Cambridge Audio's claimed power figures. As a John Woo bullet-fest ripped into my viewing room, dislodging bits of plaster from the ceiling, I suspected the 640R might be a bit more 'pokey' than the paperwork might suggest.
In two-channel direct mode the effect is even more dramatic, the 640R offering the sort of control, grip and sheer undistorted über-volume that one experiences just before the ASBO.
In our Tech Lab we discovered that the 640R delivers over 130W with all channels driven into 8ohms and a massive 170W in two-channel mode. Cripes!
As if to prove the point the lab coats also noted that at full output the 640R drew nearly 2kW of mains electricity as well. Not too good for your carbon footprint... but wayhey!
The 640R crafts the searing action scenes of Casino Royale with superb attack and punch and, although the ability to fine- tune speaker positioning and subwoofer cross-over would be handy, the effect is still spectacular.
The dynamic attack easily sets a standard at the price and the true grunt on tap is not simply gung-ho bass boost - it's real thoroughbred horses with finesse and passion aplenty. The low frequencies are drum-tight and dialogue is rich, detailed and supremely articulate.
The top end has sparkle and presence - although forward-sounding speakers might prove a little bright overall if you like to go large with that prodigious volume.
In quieter moments the 640R continues to impress. At family listening levels the balance remains pancake flat and there is a good sense of space and atmosphere. Nudge up the volume a notch or two and the Azur gets into its stride and impresses with just about every DVD you throw at it.
The neutral balance and great power reserves prove their worth with music too, and the 640R turns out to be a great two-channel amp at a touch of the stereo-direct button. It is genuine, well-balanced hi-fidelity soundmixing - the sort of passion and clarity in a multichannel amp that I haven't heard since Arcam's AVR-350 hit my home cinema last year - and that's £1,500!
For £600 you will certainly find receivers with HDMI upconversion and upscaling, Room EQ and auto set-up mics, so there's advanced tech out there, but you have to look at your priorities.
If you can live without the gadgetry and simply want a first-class receiver for movie and music entertainment, then the Azur 640R stands head and shoulders above anything else at its price point and quite a bit above it too! Highly recommended.