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Vinyl Asylum: REVIEW: Cambridge Audio 640p Phono Preamp by Time_Stands_Still

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REVIEW: Cambridge Audio 640p Phono Preamp

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Model: 640p
Category: Phono Preamp
Suggested Retail Price: $240.00 Cdn.
Description: Cambridge Audio, Azur series phono pre-amp
Manufacturer URL: Cambridge Audio
Manufacturer URL: Cambridge Audio

Review by Time_Stands_Still ( A ) on March 20, 2006 at 16:07:50
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for the 640p

Cambridge Audio recently released two new stand alone phono pre-amps. The 540p and the 640p. Both are affordble units and designed to offer upgraded performance of phono playback over standard built in phono stages of many amps and receivers.

I recently purchased the 640p for $240 Cdn. This unit is small and nice looking with a prominent blue LED showing power on. It is designed to be plugged into your A.C. mains and left on as no on/off switch is provided. It's only a 12V D.C. unit anyways with 5watts of power draw. Cambridge Audio recommends that you unplug the unit if it is not going to be used for a period of time. But once you get this lil guy into your system, trust me you will be using and LOVING it.

So what is so special of this unit? Well typical of many Cambridge Audio products, it's an over-acheiver. Cambridge Audio has a knak of squeezing great performance out of many modestly priced products. The 640p does not disappoint.

My current system features a 'DIY' turntable with a Rega RB250 arm and a Denon DL-110 HO/MC cartridge. My amplifier is a Denon AVR-3802 which offere good performance indictative of slightly higher than avg. A/V receivers. The built in phono stage as such is adequate and not bad sounding. However once I added the 640p and began playing LP's, well DAY & NIGHT!!! It is simply amazing how such simple products if well designed and buit can improve sound quality.

So how does it sound? Well lets say the noise floor dropped greatly in comparison to the built in phono stage of the Denon receiver. I hear more of the mastertape hiss and the likes and less of the record noise and rumble. Clicks and pops are muted and not near as bothersome even on playing a caudry of used LP's which as any vinylphile knows is a big hit and miss at times. The highs on all records I've played todate sound more silky and like what they should sound like. Hi-Hats and cymbals had that more familiar sound of what they should as live performances have. Of course this is also variable depending on record producton qualities, master tape qualities and just the quality of an LP. But compared to the Denon phono stage it was a revelation. The soundstage grew in width and depth. Instruments were better shaped and vocals even more smooth and rounded in comparison to both the Denon built in phono stage and especially what digital playback often gives. Ther was a growth in sheer dynamics and a level of reality to the music.

Playing better quality LP's such as half speed mastered ones well the performance is even better noticed. I have an A&M Records 1/2 speed audiophile series LP of Supertramp, Crime of the Century. Not only did this sound so much better tha I have even heard either the LP or cd version in the past and trust me I have played this album in LP and CD many times as it's one of my most favourite albums ever. The album on vinyl was actually quieter between tracks and during quiet sections of songs than the cd version. The faintest of clicks very occassionaly popped up. Though it was quiet when playing through my Denon receiver's phono stage, it was a whole other level of blackness and transparency when playing through the 640p.

I'm not saying the 640p is the be all of phono pre-amps nor am I saying my system is too. Lord knows one can go much higher up and spend a lot more money too. It is easy for reviews to wax poetically the joys of anything. A layperson review of a $49 DVD player may speak as if it's the best thing since sliced bread. I have nothing to compare the 640p to other than my built in phono stage of my Denon receiver, cd playback for other comparisons and past memories of what my music may have sounded like on other gear I've owned. My thoughts are also based on how I perceive things to sound and what I think they should sound like in comparison to live events I've heard. I guess I'm saying that the 640p has resulted in my LP playback sounding the best I have ever heard working in tandem, with my 'DIY' table and Denon DL-110 setup. I've never heard any audio gear setup of my past to sound as good or better than this. I have also worked in years past in retail sale of gear including better quality stuff, not uber-high end but better consumer stuff. What I hear via my setup and the 640p for LP playback is the hieght of my audio journey to date. My Cambridge Audio D-300se CD player is a wonderful unit for my CD's and they can sound great. But the LP playback setup now is another level in general and it's a joy to throw on LP's and re-listen to them via my current setup and the 640p. I would recommend anyone looking at a stand alone phono pre-amp in the sub $500 range to consider this unit. It definately punches above its weight. At under $200 US and $240 Cdn. it is maybe the single best thing a budget audiophile who loves vinyl can do to his/her system. If you have a modest priced receiver or amplifier with built in phono. I suggest you gather up your pennies and invest in a good phono pre-amp. You do not have to spend more than you can afford either. You can take a chance on the 640p and begin to re-enthuse yourself and your vinyl playback with it.

Product Weakness: None when you consider its price point. Budget aside sure higher end phono pre-amps will be better than this unit. But in the sub $500 range this unit holds its own.
Product Strengths: Super quality measurments but better yet, very transparent sound for its price point. Affordable, small and stylish for a phono pre-amp

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Denon AVR-3802 receiver
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): built in to receiver
Sources (CDP/Turntable): 'DIY' turntable with RB250 arm and Denon DL-110 cartridge. Also a Cambridge Audio D-300se CD player
Speakers: Paradigm, Export BP for left and right. Other Paradigms for centre and surrounds.
Cables/Interconnects: Variety from Monster, Ultralink, Phoenix Gold and 'DIY' home made jobbies.
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Classic rock, curent pop/rock to Classical
Room Size (LxWxH): 20 x 10 x 10
Room Comments/Treatments: normal furniture, not to live not to dead IMO
Time Period/Length of Audition: Over a weekend of listening
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): none
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Cambridge Audio 640p Phono Preamp - Time_Stands_Still 16:07:50 03/20/06 ( 2)