Is the Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD an audiophile-grade CD player that's capable of spinning Blu-rays or vice versa? Frankly, it's difficult to tell. The 751BD may be an all-singing, all-dancing 3D Blu-ray player on the outside, but it has musical DNA, with a signal-processing lineage that can be traced back to the company's acclaimed Azur 840C CD player. It's a heritage that serves the £800 751BD well.
The 751BD is a well-connected piece of kit, and substantial too, weighing around 5kg. It sports two HDMI outputs, which is good news for those without 3D-compatible home-cinema gear. One HDMI output can be hooked-up to a legacy amplifier, for DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD decoding, while the primary feed can be routed straight to a 3D-compatible TV.
Of course, if you already have a 3D-ready AV receiver, then a single primary HDMI is all you need. Alternatively, this player allows you to run both HDMIs to separate displays -- perhaps in different rooms -- simultaneously.
Other connections includes a pair of USBs (one on the front and one on the back), an eSATA port, an Ethernet jack, optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, component video and 7.1-channel analogue audio outs. The latter connection is provided to deliver high-resolution music to an accommodating amp. There's also a RS232 control interface for custom installation specialists.
The player doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi, but a wireless dongle is provided in the box.
For all its functionality, the 751BD is a cinch to use. The home screen offers music, photo, movie, network and Internet buttons. It's all very intuitive.
Conversely, the set-up menus offer a significant amount of deep control. Cinephiles will certainly be tempted to spend quite some time here tinkering. Our advice is to change the default HDMI output from PAL to multi-system. If you don't, you'll almost certainly suffer horizontal juddering on some Blu-rays.
The best video performance comes from the primary HDMI output, which is partnered to a high-spec Marvell Qdeo scaler. The secondary HDMI port is fed by a different processor. The Qdeo output has the clear edge, particularly when it comes to DVD de-interlacing and upscaling.
While the deck does a good job with standard-definition DVDs, it really gets to shine with Blu-rays. Sci-fi action film Battle: Los Angeles offers up a level of fine detail in its big close-ups that looks almost three dimensional. If you want real 3D, the 751BD makes a decent fist of playing 3D Blu-rays too.
Blu-ray disc loading speeds are average to good compared to the rest of this season's gear. Java-heavy titles take around a minute to load and play. Simpler discs take significantly less.
The 751BD is a universal disc spinner, happy with CD, Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio platters. Its standard CD performance is terrific, offering outstanding clarity and separation.
We recommend using the bank of analogue audio outs when listening to multi-channel Super Audio CDs if possible. Fed by dedicated Wolfson WM8740 digital-to-analogue converters, imaging and separation are extraordinarily good.
That said, delivery over HDMI is also rather accomplished. The player can output Super Audio CD audio as Direct-Stream Digital or PCM over HDMI, depending on what your AV receiver is capable of. The former is our preferred choice. You can also engage a 'pure audio' mode that blanks the video output of the player, ostensibly for greater sonic clarity. This is useful to prevent image retention on a plasma display when listening to music.
It's always great to encounter a Blu-ray player that's compatible with DVD-Audio discs. Now the province of a small number of specialist labels, DVD-Audio discs can be marvellously rewarding. For sheer excitement, you're unlikely to better Alice Cooper's Billion Dollar Babies on the format, and this deck sizzled with fabulous placement and dynamics.
Network playback support is equally accommodating. The 751BD supports a wide range of sound and vision file types, including MP3, AAC, FLAC, AVI, MOV and MKVs, from local USB drives, PCs and network-attached storage devices.
In comparison to cheaper, mainstream decks, this player lacks distractions like BBC iPlayer and YouTube. Indeed, the best it can currently offer in terms of online access is, perhaps oddly, Picasa. Perhaps more relevant content will come with future firmware updates.
The Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD is a highly desirable, multi-talented player. Whether you favour Blu-rays, DVDs, CDs or streaming media, it won't disappoint.
Edited by Charles Kloet