|The market for DVD
players has shifted toward the bottom end of the price spectrum -- there are now many
brand-name players priced below $100. Some specialty manufacturers still offer players of
extremely high quality starting at around $1000 and often costing much more. However, only
a few build midpriced players that bridge the gap between the very inexpensive and the
incredibly expensive models.
Cambridge Audio Azur 540D
Price: $379 USD
Dimensions: 17"W x 4"H x 12"D
Weight: 13 pounds
Warranty: Two years parts and labor
- Crystal six-channel 24-bit/192kHz audio DAC
- DVD-Audio capability
- MP3 and Kodak Picture playback
- Built-in Dolby Digital decoding
- 12-bit/54MHz video DACs
- PAL and NTSC compatible
- Component (progressive), RGB (SCART), S-video, and composite
- Low-resonance chassis and aluminum front panel
- Removable IEC power cord
- Remote control
Cambridge Audio is a British company known for selling
entry-level audiophile gear at very reasonable prices. Their most expensive
DVD-Audio/Video player and the subject of this review, the Azur 540D, retails for only
$379. Most specialty audio manufacturers would struggle to produce an entry-level CD
player for $379, let alone a DVD-A/V machine.
The color of Azur
The Cambridge Azur 540D is built more like an audiophile CD
player than a budget DVD player. It comes in a full-size (17"W x 4"H x
12"D) metal chassis with an aluminum faceplate and weighs a surprisingly heavy 13
pounds. The 540D is available in black or silver finishes, and shares its simple but
smart-looking cosmetics and robust build quality with the other components in
Cambridges Azur line of electronics.
The Azur 540D includes progressive-scan component-video
output in addition to S-video and composite video. It also includes an RGB SCART video
output and supports both PAL and NTSC formats. It lacks a digital video output such as
HDMI or DVI-D -- not surprising at this price. The video processing uses six 12-bit/54MHz
The audio processing includes support for DVD-Audio and
built-in decoding for Dolby Digital, but not DTS. DTS signals can still be passed
via the digital output for external decoding by a receiver or processor, but the Azur 540D
will not provide any signal from its analog outputs from DTS discs. Its six-channel
Crystal CS4360 DAC can provide up to 24/192 resolution for two-channel DVD-A and 24/96
resolution for multichannel DVD-A. In addition to its six-channel analog outputs, the 540D
has a set of stereo-only analog outputs and both coaxial and optical digital outputs. It
can play back most optical discs, including DVD+/-R, DVD+/-RW, CD-R/RW, MP3, and Kodak
Picture CDs -- but not SACDs or VCDs. As a bonus, my review sample was able to play a
Region 2 disc I had on hand, which supports the rumor that the player is region-free. It
also output 24/96 stereo digital bitstreams from each of the roughly 20 DVD-A discs I
The remote is a heavy-duty, handsomely built unit with a
brushed-aluminum finish. However, the small identical buttons and even smaller print are
difficult to differentiate and use, especially in low light. Nor are there any number keys
to allow direct access to individual tracks or chapters. These must be selected from a
DVDs menus or, in the case of a CD, jumped to using the skip buttons.
Other features include variable zoom, video adjustments,
variable analog output and muting, and a removable IEC power cord. Channel levels are
adjustable from 10 to +10dB in 0.5dB increments, and audio delays in increments of
10cm from 0 to 170 for the center channel, and 0 to 510 for the subwoofer and surrounds.
Although it had a few operational quirks, I was extremely
impressed with the Azur 540Ds features and build quality, especially considering its
reasonable price. To keep my expectations from getting too high during the review process,
I had to constantly remind myself that this surprisingly well-built DVD-A/V player costs
only $379. The three pairs of interconnects and the power cord I used with it cost roughly
Small price, big sound
I genuinely enjoyed listening to DVDs and CDs through the
Azur 540D. The sound was exceptionally open and clear, neither thin or lean. In fact, the
540Ds solid, well-defined bass gave a great sense of weight and authority to film
soundtracks and music CDs alike. Its ability to extract a lot of information from
soundtracks while producing plenty of deep, rumbling bass made Blade 2 sound
fantastic -- the club scene in chapter 10 engulfed my room with tons of low-frequency
information from the throbbing dance beat. There was also a great sense of space when the
action moved into the cavernous hallways and rooms of the House of Pain. The final
dogfight from the remastered DTS soundtrack of Top Gun was full of the roar of jet
engines, but the 540D was also able to deftly reproduce the somewhat cheesy-sounding
background music as well. At certain points in this scene, the synthesizer riffs in the
rear channels were amazingly clear.
Seals Best: 1991-2004 [DVD-A, Warner Bros.
48776-9] sounded excellent. The delineation and fidelity of instruments and vocals from
every channel was exceptional. The vocals were especially noteworthy, Seals voice
providing an excellent test of my systems midrange capabilities. "Kiss from a
Rose" was stunning, "Dont Cry" sublime. The bass on
"Killer" and many of the other tracks was tight, yet deep and very powerful.
Discs such as Brian Wilsons Live at the Roxy [DVD-A, Brimel R9 73928] and the
Blue Man Groups The Complex [DVD-A, DTS 69286-01120-9-4] clearly demonstrated
the superiority of the DVD-A format over CD, Dolby Digital, or even DTS.
The Azur 540D was also a surprisingly capable CD player.
Most budget DVD players sound somewhat lean, and those whose sounds do have some weight
and body often obscure bass and end up sounding thick or muddy. But the 540D carried the
clear sound and tight bass it had produced from movie soundtracks over to its CD sound.
Jennifer Warnes The Hunter [CD, Attic ACD 1344], which can sound boomy on
some systems, sounded fast and responsive with the 540D. Although the Cambridge
didnt totally plumb the depths, the bass on "Rock You Gently" and
"Way Down Deep" was rich and full without sounding bloated. The more sedate
"Lights of Lousianne" was sweet and ethereal, but the strings still had a great
deal of presence and weight.
The Azur 540Ds video quality immediately struck me
with its crispness and detail. On closer examination, I found that the picture had
slightly exaggerated contrast that ultimately masked some detail, but gave a very sharp
appearance that was pleasing. For example, simple animation from the television series Futurama
on DVD looked amazingly clear. The colors of the complex visuals of Monsters, Inc.
were still exceptionally bright, but minute detail was lost in the subtle shading and
color gradation of its more three-dimensional animation.
Live-action films such as Closer were eye-popping in
their realism. The grayness of the courtyard in chapter 2 was perfectly captured, while
image outlines remained remarkably sharp. Bathed in natural light from large windows, the
close-ups of actors faces in a photo studio looked wonderful.
The current street price of my Pioneer Elite DV-45A universal audio/video
player ($700) is similar to that of the Cambridge Azur 540D. The Pioneers picture
was a little softer, but its blacks were deeper, its colors more saturated. This made the
courtyard scene from Closer seem even more realistic and damp and gloomy. However,
the brightly lit final scene, in which Natalie Portman walks through Times Square, seemed
slightly dull and muted through the DV-45A when compared with the 540D. Neither delivered
a completely accurate or pristine picture, but both provided satisfying video quality for
such relatively inexpensive players.
Where the Cambridge Audio pulled ahead of the Pioneer was
with its audio quality. DVD-A discs had more depth, and high frequencies were extended but
sweet. Brian Wilsons Live at the Roxy simply had more drive, sounding more
like a live concert and less like a recording. Diana Kralls vocals on her Love
Scenes [DVD-A, Impulse! 440 053 247-9] were sultry and stunning, but lost some of
their sparkle through the Pioneer. The finger snaps at the beginning of "My Love
Is" came from farther back in the soundstage with the Cambridge, and Christian
McBrides bass had more body and definition.
CDs also sounded better through the Azur 540D. The
wonderfully recorded a cappella vocals on Paul Simons Songs from The Capeman
[CD, Warner Bros. 46814-2] had more "air" and extended farther into space; the
Pioneer sounded closed-in by comparison. Each voice in the harmony vocals was more
distinct, with a greater sense of space, through the Azur. Although the Pioneer sounded
good for an inexpensive DVD player, the Cambridge Audio sounded more
like an accomplished budget CD player. In short, the 540D sounded better.
Its Azur thing
Cambridge Audios Azur 540D is one heck of a bargain.
There may be less expensive DVD players out there that have better video performance, but
I doubt there are many similarly priced players that sound as good. For the price of a
high-quality, entry-level CD player, the Azur 540D is a good DVD-Audio player with
respectable video quality and an enjoyable CD sound not normally associated with
inexpensive DVD players. Its also one of the most solidly built and smart-looking
players at anywhere near its price.
|Speakers - Paradigm
Reference Signature S8 (mains), Paradigm Reference Signature C3 (center), Mirage Omni 260
(surrounds), Hsu Research VTF-3 Mk. II (subwoofer)
- Anthem Statement D1
|Amplifier - Bel Canto eVo6
- Pioneer Elite DV-45A universal audio/video player
|Cables - Analysis Plus,
Audio Magic, ESP
- JVC 34" direct-view CRT