UK-based Cambridge Audio has long made very well-regarded high-end audio equipment, but recently that’s a market that has changed considerably, thanks to the advent of digital audio and online streaming services. The company has changed, too, and one example of that change is the new Minx Xi all-in one streaming device, which adds to Cambridge Audio’s growing family of digital-focused Minx products.
- Wi-Fi & Ethernet
- 2x USB 2.0
- Toslink Optical audio in
- Digital S/PIDF input
- BT100 Bluetooth receiver included
- 2x RCA inputs
- 3.5mm audio input
- Headphone out
- 2x speaker out
- Subwoofer out
- Built-in Dual Wolfson WM8728 DAC
- MSRP: £600, $899 in the U.S.
- Product info page
- Excellent sound
- DAC works wonders for Bluetooth or when connected via optical to a Mac
- Wi-Fi but no AirPlay support
Cambridge’s Minx Xi is not dramatically different from what you might expect of any home theatre or hi-fi stereo component device; it’s essentially a black box (or white, if you choose that option) with ample venting on top, a face with knobs and buttons, and a rear with the majority of inputs and outputs. But small design flourishes make this a very attractive, and decidedly modern piece of stereo kit.[gallery include="909430,909432,909433,909434,909435"]
The rounded rectangle border that surrounds the face is a nice touch, and frames the tall and wide display nicely. The display itself provides just enough information for easy navigation, without overwhelming or drawing the eye unduly. The low-res, basic LCD readout is a little behind the times in a market flooded with OLED panels, but it’s actually pretty refreshing in its retro appeal, and still gets the job done just as effectively as more advanced screens.
The Minx Xi case houses a lot of complicated internals, but it’s still relatively compact, and would look at home either in a stereo cabinet or on its own atop a dresser, bookshelf or cupboard. Paired with Cambridge Audio’s new Aero 2 bookshelf speakers, it makes a good-looking and minimalist setup that’s still capable of putting out impressive enough sound even for watching the occasional Hollywood blockbuster.
Movies are now where the Minx Xi shines, however. Instead, it’s at its most impressive when it’s working with streaming audio, an area that’s always a challenge when it comes to sound quality. The Minx Xi connects direct to your network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and can stream thousands of Internet radio stations directly, access BBC’s iPlayer feeds, subscribe to podcasts and more – without the need for a computer or mobile device for playback.
The Minx Xi does a great job of making even, for example, the 128kbps BBC Radio 4 stream sound excellent, with terrific channel division and a natural rendering of voice and music. If you’ve been listening on computer speakers or even a very capable standalone radio, you’ll probably actually be amazed that what comes through the Minx Xi is the same thing as what you’re used to listening to, the difference is that marked.
Subscribing to podcasts on the Minx Xi is as simple as registering your unit via the web and inputting RSS feeds via that dashboard. This provides you direct access to the latest episodes, and again, its ability to really highlight high-quality voice recording comes through.
The Bluetooth adapter included is external, but it doesn’t cost any extra, and it works tremendously well. There’s generally a big step down in quality when you’re listening to anything streaming via Bluetooth, even though it’s gotten a lot better over time. With Cambridge’s BT100 and the Minx Xi’s special Bluetooth DAC capabilities, performance of A2DP streams get a big boost.
Just to expand on what I already mentioned above, the Bluetooth streaming powers of the Minx Xi make it so that streaming from your mobile device and listening through headphones is in some cases arguably better than listening to the stream on the device itself. It really is that good. That said, it leaves me wishing even more that Cambridge had included AirPlay functionality on the Minx Xi, since Apple’s Wi-Fi audio streaming protocol offers better performance than Bluetooth to begin with.
Performance for streamed connections is excellent, as mentioned, with 802.11n support and no drop-outs for streams during my usage. Connected to my Mac as a DAC, and used in tandem with both the Aero 2 speakers and my Sennheiser HD 598 headphones, the Minx Xi really starts to show off its magic abilities in terms of boosting audio that you might not even have realized could be improved to begin with.
With both locally resident files, and streaming services like Rdio, the Minx Xi delivers noticeable improvements in quality to attached audio output devices, versus having that same hardware simply plugged directly into the Mac. There’s significant improvement in sound separation and clarity on all files and streams, in my testing experience.
The Cambridge Minx Xi isn’t an impulse purchase for most at £600 ($899 MSRP in the U.S.), but it’s a big step up in terms of the audio quality not only for Internet radio and service streams, and also for connected computers and devices. The service library is a little limited for my liking (Pandora and Rhapsody, but no Rdio/Spotify!), and I’d love AirPlay, but Cambridge Audio does say that firmware updates will be pushed out regularly, and support for those kinds of things could follow.
That fact that it improves any source dramatically with a built-in DAC that would be expensive on its own, and also operates as a very capable and fairly comprehensive audio streaming box in and of itself, makes this a very desirable piece of kit for anyone looking to take their digital listening habits to the next level.