Review: Cambridge Audio MXN10 & AXN10 Network Streamers
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Cambridge Audio is no stranger to the streaming world, and no stranger to us here at World Wide Stereo either. One of their most popular pieces of gear is the CXN V2, which is a fantastic music streamer. And at its core for functionality is the Stream Magic App. A companion piece of software that works with not just their music streamers, but also with their smart integrated amps, the Evo 150 and Evo 75. Cambridge has also impressed me with their support of hi-res digital codecs in their turntables. They are clearly no stranger to the digital audio world. Knowing this, I had high hopes for the two XN10s.
Right away I knew I was looking at a couple of Cambridge Audio pieces. Lunar gray front plate, with a dark grey anodized exterior. If you’ve seen their AX or CX series of amplifiers, you’d know these fit right in with that same aesthetic. In fact, I believe that’s the reason we have 2 of these guys instead of just the one. More on that later.
What’s In The Box
In the box with each unit you get the same minimal amount of accessories. A power cable, 2 wireless antenna per streamer, packed in eco-friendly material I might add, and some documentation. The bare minimums, if not below that. No cables other than the power cable come with either. So be sure to pick up a pair of RCA’s or Digital coaxial cables to connect these to your system.
On the front panel we have a Power button, that doubles as a Wi-Fi sync button, and a wireless signal LED that indicates if and what you are connected to with different colored blinks. One the right hand side you’ll see 4 preset buttons. You can set these to queue up your favorite track, album, radio station, playlist, etc. etc... you get the point.
Moving around to the back panel we have all the connections you'd expect to see. Stereo Line Out, Digital Coax, Digital Optical, a Service port, USB input for a flash drive or external hard drive, an Ethernet port, AC power in, and two Wireless antenna receptacles. Notice how there is no practical difference between the MXN10 and AXN10 so far other than size.
If you have a keen eye, you may have spotted the text under and above each input labeling them (AXN10 only). What's interesting is the top text is flipped upside down. That’s so when you are leaning over your equipment trying to wire manage everything, you can read what input is what! Cambridge does this on pretty much all their gear. Pretty nifty.
Both the MXN10 and AXN10 are equipped with an identical ESS Saber ES9033Q DAC. Capable of 32bit 768khz PCM playback and decoding every format known to man it feels like.
- DSD (x512)
- HE AAC
- OGG Vorbis
Arguably more important for most users of this device though is its compatibility with different streaming services. Supporting the big players, Spotify Connect, Apple Airplay2, and Chromecast—pretty much everyone is covered for compatibility. But for people who are looking for hi-res playback, we have Tidal Connect, Quboz, Deezer, and Roon support, my fellow audio snobs will be satisfied. Lastly, you cannot forget Bluetooth 5.0 support for people still relying on that, or if you are without internet access. Support for 2.4 and 5ghz wireless bands is supported, but if you have terrible Wi-Fi and want to connect still, you can use the ethernet port.
Stream Magic App
Stream Magic, like I mentioned before, is Cambridge Audio's companion app. You will use this when first setting up any Cambridge Audio device that supports it, especially their streamers. On the bottom of the app are four tabs: Home, Library, Radio, and More.
Home is where you can select which device you wish to control, manage what source you want to use, view what is currently playing, and set up to 99 presets even though the devices themselves only have 4 buttons. You can also see whatever recent radio stations you’ve listened to. One thing I don’t like in the app is that about a third of the home tab is taken up by a “What’s New” section.I appreciate Cambridge wanting to keep their users informed about their ecosystem, but I feel like it could be done in a less intrusive way.
The Library Tab is where you can select what music is playing and from what service, server, or USB drive. Interestingly, my Marantz SR5014 home theater receiver was picked up as a server automatically and allowed me to select any audio input and send it to the MXN10 or AXN10. I could see this being useful in the case of transmitting an analog audio source like a turntable to another room with a Cambridge streamer.
The radio tab is a hidden gem in my opinion. Full of local stations, top 40s, and a multitude of other genres and sections. A nice way to get radio stations without spotty reception of FM or AM radio signals. I personally set my preset 4 on the MXN10 AN10 to WHYY, a local NPR station, for my morning routine.
Testing these two players, I found they were pretty reliable and straightforward enough to use. I hooked them both up to the same stereo system in my office and flipped between them in an A-B comparison. And I’m happy to confirm both sounded great, and identical to each other. No surprise there considering how they have identical components on the inside. I listened to my usual lineup; Daft Punk, Oscar Peterson, and Coldplay. For fun, however, I decided to listen to the entirety of Bela Flecks discography available on Tidal. The Flecktones sounded fantastic. Tidal is my preferred streaming platform at the moment, for sound quality and user interface. I really like living in the tidal app as opposed to any others. So I’m glad that Cambridge has support for Tidal Connect built-in. It lets me navigate a familiar app and layout, instead of being forced into an app or software of their creation. I wish more streaming companies embraced this; here’s looking at you Sonos, Bluesound, and Heos.
My only gripe is the lack of multi-room casting and grouping. Ironically all things Sonos, Bluesound, and Heos accel at. You can get around this by using Airplay or Chromecast grouping, but it’s not natively supported in the Stream Magic App from what I could tell.
If you are looking for an easy-to-use, simple-to-understand hi-res music streamer, these might be for you. Wide support of formats and services, easy-to-understand connections, and simplistic design. The only question is.... which one? Well for $499 and $599 respectively my recommendation would be for the MXN10. At least for most people. The fact of the matter is these two pieces are functionally identical, at least when it comes to feature-set and sound quality. They have the same DAC, the same I/O, the same number of presets, and the same interface. That begs the question, why would you want the bigger more expensive one? Well, if you were stacking standard-width AV gear on top of each other, slotting this into a rack, or even want it to match your other Cambridge Audio gear, the AXN10 would look like it “fits” better. When you’re playing Tetris with your AV gear, the AXN10 fills up the whole line, instead of just the corner like the MXN10.
At the end of the day, both units are a great value. Look at the other most popular hi-res digital audio streamer on the market: the Blue sound node. Retailing for $599, the AXN10 matches it in price, and the MXN10 straight up beats it by a hundred bucks. With support for every streaming service one way or another, ample ways to play localally stored music, and the easiest navigation of internet radio stations that I've seen, the MXN10 or AXN10 may be the next addition for your stereo gear. The only question you need to ask yourself is this: Does size REALLY matter? Good night, everybody!