Home / Blog / Review: A Cambridge Edge Stack: Edge NQ Preamp/Network Player & Edge M Monoblock Power Amplifiers

Review: A Cambridge Edge Stack: Edge NQ Preamp/Network Player & Edge M Monoblock Power Amplifiers

Mar 30, 2024Mar 30, 2024

“This magic moment, So different and so new.”

My music memory goes way back to my childhood days that have become a beautiful blur of flickering moments with bits and pieces bubbling to the surface every now and again like floating ghosts come to pay an unexpected visit.

As I was sitting listening to the Cambridge Edge stack driving the Vivid Kaya K45 speakers late one evening, I started thinking about the right words to use to describe the experience. And The Drifters 1960 hit, “This Magic Moment”, penned by Doc Pomus and pianist Mort Shuman, started playing back from memory.

“This magic moment, So different and so new.”

I was listening to Julianna Barwick’s ethereal wonder Healing Is a Miracle from 2020, practically swimming in its sounds that seemed to be coming from everywhere but the Vivids. Layers of vocal-rich looped beauty hanging in the air tickled my senses pulling me deep into the moment until the magic spell was broken by thoughts of review writing. Who says there’s no sacrifice involved in writing hifi reviews (wink).

During the Cambridge stack’s 2-month Barn visit, I had many a magic moment listening to all manner of music with the Edge Pre and Edge Monoblocks driving the DeVore Fidelity O/96 (review), Dynaudio Contour 60i (review), and Vivid K45s (more info, review forthcoming). While each pairing showed off the Cambridge gear’s many strengths, the Vivids took things to that other level where reproduction turns into pure mind/body delight. While I’ve pointed out this kind of experience before with other gear, the Cambridge/Vivid combination ranks among the most magical.

The Edge M Monoblocks are fully balanced from input to output and each amp houses twin opposing symmetry toroidal transformers configured as such to eliminate any stray electromagnetic interference they might otherwise emit. And we all know noise is bad for music, even noisy music. The Edge M operate in what Cambridge calls Class XA that adds bias voltage to a Class AB design moving its typical crossover point out of the audible range thereby reducing audible distortion according to the company. The Edge M are spec’d at 200 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms and 350 Watts into 4 Ohms with a claimed unweighted THD of <0.002% 1kHz at rated power (8 Ohms) and frequency response of <3Hz – >80kHz +/-1dB.

Each Edge M wears a pair of input RCAs and XLRs, while a single set of speaker binding posts, Link/Trigger in/out, and IEC Power Inlet complete the back panel.

The Edge NQ Preamplifier includes Cambridge’s StreamMagic digital board that offers a number of streaming and playback control options. The associated StreamMagic app (for iOS and Android devices) natively supports Spotify Connect, TIDAL, Qobuz, Airplay, Bluetooth aptX HD, and Internet radio, while Chromecast Built-in support adds a host of other services including Sirius XM and Soundcloud. The NQ is also Roon Ready (yay!), a feature I used for most of my Edge review time because I love Roon for its unparalleled, in my experience, ease of use and music discovery brilliance. The StreamMagic app also offers access to functional options including Display Brightness, Automatic Power-Down (from 5 minutes to 2 hours or OFF), Pre-Amp on/off, Volume Limit, and Firmware updates.

The Edge NQ Preamp offers both single-ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs and you can set the output to a Fixed Level via the Edge App for use with an external integrated amplifier. The digital input board also includes a host of inputs (USB, 2x Toslink, Coax, TV ARC) with USB supporting resolutions up to 24-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256. There’s an additional USB-A input for attaching USB storage that sits next to the Bluetooth antenna. Inside the Edge NQ you’ll find no capacitors in the signal path, Cambridge opting instead for a DC coupled topology that reportedly lowers distortion.

I love me a big chunky knurled volume knob and the Edge NQ’s dual concentric volume and source select control knob is a joy to behold and use. The centered 5” high-resolution TFT display is a nice size, not too small, and the headphone jack and flush power button complete the simple, understated front panel. In terms of looks, fit, and finish, the Cambridge Edge gear ranks among my favorite hifi designs joining other fav’s like the Pass Aleph 3, 47 Labs 4706 Gaincard, and Fi X. Each Edge piece is perfectly proportioned consisting of a visual symphony of elegant curves balanced against straight symmetrical rows of heat sinks on either side of the Edge M and their extruded aluminum front and floating top plates catche light like velvet. Elegant simplicity, understated beauty.

I ran with the Edge NQ’s streaming option using Roon to control playback for the duration of this review. Of course you can improve on the NQ’s digital streaming sound quality by adding an external streamer and DAC, I briefly tried the Auralic ARIES G1.1 Streamer (review)/Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC (review) combo to prove this point, but, and this is a big but, the NQ’s sound quality as streamer/preamplifier never left me wanting.

What we’re talking about here is the difference between comparative listening—ARIES/Tambaqui vs. NQ—as opposed to listening to music. I don’t know about you but I use comparative listening as a tool for reviewing and I listen to music for pleasure. In my experience you can’t do both at the same time.

I enjoyed this quote from the Cambridge website that includes more details on the tech in the Edge Series:

“We developed the whole Edge system by carefully listening to each component and only choosing the ones that blew us away. Nothing was picked on price or specs.”

Before I get into the music play-by-play part, let’s talk about those qualities of reproduction that stuck with the Cambridge stack regardless of the associated speakers. One standout quality that I enjoyed to no end was the Cambridge gear’s ability to sound at once refined yet lacking in artificial edginess. Some highly resolving gear can make music sound overly sharp, nearly painfully precise as if the gear performed an autopsy on the music before letting it out into the room. Some audiophiles call this “accurate,” I call it annoying.

In my six+ decades on this planet I’ve heard my fair share of live music of all kinds and unless the music is not to my liking or in one case just too damn loud (thank you, Boris), I’ve never been put off by its sound the way poor quality hifi reproduction can be off-putting. The kind of overly etched shrill thin squealing I’ve heard come out of some hifi, think early CD playback for one easy example, bore little resemblance to the real thing. The thing is, instruments do not have a one-dimensional sound but some hifi does.

All to say the Cambridge stack sounded natural and dimensional in the best possible ways, combining resolution, tone, and texture into a believable and easy to love facsimile thereof. I’d even say that that overall presentation leaned toward the softer and warmer side of neutral which happens to be right up my alley. That said, there’s no sense that self noise or distortion was the cause of said perceived warmth, as can be the case with some poorly designed noisy amplifiers, but instead music’s elements sounded finely balanced making this softer and warmer bit about voicing. Or to put it another way, getting things to sound how you want them to sound by listening to how they sound.

Regardless of speaker and associated load, and that includes the Dynaudio Contour 60i which love power, the Edge M monoblocks remained in complete control from top to bottom offering round supple deep bass with plenty of snap. The sound image leapt from the speakers, a bit less so with the Dynaudio which strikes me as the result of their hunger for power, and filled the Barn with crazy levels of music energy completely apart from the speakers. With the Vivid Kaya K45s, this aspect of reproduction—the sound image—grew to Holy Crap! proportions with sounds coming from beyond the confines of the Barn. Which is pretty big. Huge, even.

I know some people poo poo on ‘soundstage’, I’m not a fan of the word, but having music envelop me and overwhelm my senses makes the experience that much more engrossing. That much more captivating but I’m a visually-oriented person. On that note, it’s worth noting that I make art in the Barn most days so this experience necessarily informs, well, everything else and the same holds for whatever people choose to do with their time. If you work on a submarine’s sonar gear, my best guess is you become super-attuned to locating sounds in space and the effects of removing crap from the signal you’re trying to find. All to say our experiences inform our listening which is one good reason why different people enjoy different hifi gear.

The Edge NQ Preamp was a breeze to set up and use. This is the case, in part, because I use Roon every day so any piece of Roon Ready kit that comes into the Barn is plug in and play. Once connected to my network, via a length of AudioQuest Diamond Ethernet cable, Roon recognized the Edge NQ within minutes so I was ready play in no time flat. I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy having album art show up on my streamer so the NQ’s 5” color screen offered that bit of visual delight. I also used Roon to control volume, a lovely feature if ever there was one, so the included remote pretty much sat unused.

I will also mention that I do not review separates for a number of reasons so I will not be parsing out the NQ’s performance on its own with other amps. But if you must, you can view this review as a review of the Edge NQ paired with the Edge M monoblocks as separates (wink).

Balanced, bold, and inviting describe the gist of the Cambridge stack’s inherent sound qualities that showed up on all three speakers used for this review. But the specialness, the magic moments, came out through the Vivid K45 speakers the most so this combination stayed in place the longest and is the system used to inspire the following music-based listening notes. The Edge stack was tied together with a length of AudioQuest Thunderbird balanced interconnets while the AQ Robin Hood Speaker Cables ran from the Edge M to the speakers in play.

Julianna Barwick’s Healing Is A Miracle from 2020 is a study in lovely. Barwick uses her voice as starting point which is looped and mixed and more creating layers of cathedral-filling sound.

From the liner notes:

“It had been so long since I had done that,” Barwick recalls, “making something for myself, just for the love of it… it was emotional, because I was recording music that was just from the heart, that wasn’t for an ‘assignment’ or project… it brought me to tears a little”

This is powerful moving music and with the Cambridge/Vivid combo in play the Barn was transformed into some kind of sacred place, larger than it was before this music began yet more intimate and more human at the same time. Sounds appeared and disappeared from and into a vastness that felt fall into it real, washing over me in waves of pure delight. Mary Lattimore’s harp on “Oh, Memory” glistened with a golden light sending rays of sound directly into my heart. Lovely.

“My Blood Runs Through This Land” from Black Belt Eagle Scout’s The Land ,The Water, The Sky from February of this year sits on my list of favorite tracks of 2023 (so far). The album tells the story, using an anthemic indie rock style, of Katherine Paul’s return to her ancestral home in the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.

From the liner notes:

There is a throughline of story in every song, a remembrance of knowledge and teachings, a gratitude of wisdom passed down and carried. There is a reimagining of Sedna who was offered to the sea, and a beautiful rumination on sacrifice and humanity, and what it means to hold the stories that work to teach us something.

Peace, beauty, pain and joy intertwine with Paul’s captivating vocals out in front. Paul also plays drums and electric guitar together with Grace Bugbee on bass with some songs adding cello and backing vocals but for such a relatively simple ensemble they create a forceful yet delicate sound world. Here, the Cambridge Edge M monoblocks’ power, control, and punch came through loud and clear propelling this at times driving music into the Barn like a locomotive.

What Will You Grow Now? is the latest record from Modern Cosmology, Laetitia Sadier and Mombojó and within seconds of opener “Making Something” Sadier’s voice leaps out to greet Stereolab fans with its distinct sound. Bubbly, delightful, and laid back loungey, What Will You Grow Now is easier to fall into than a bad habit. The various sonic elements of this luscious sounding record are laid out with superb separation allowing for micro to macro inspection. While the Cambridge stack sounds clean and runs super quiet, music sounds rich and full with no hint of over-processing, jagged edges, or foreshortening, all aspects of reproduction that can reduce enjoyment and engagement by equal measure if present.

“…the Edge A delivered edge of your seat performances with grace, power, and purity.” That’s from my review of the Cambridge Edge A Integrated Amplifier from back in 2021 and I waited until I was nearly done with this review before I re-read that review. And I was very pleased to find that I agreed with myself as I’d say the same thing about the Cambridge Edge stack. Grace, power, and purity, or as I wrote above, balanced, bold, and inviting go a long way in describing the big picture sonic traits of the Edge NQ Preamp/Streamer and Edge M Monoblock Amps. I sent more records through them than I can recall over their 2-month Barn stay and during that time pleasure and an easy entry into deep listening were the orders of the day.

If you take price into account, this level of design, build quality, and performance makes the Cambridge Edge stack a screaming bargain. The kind of thing that to my mind should be spoken about with hushed voices in hifi show corridors because I could easily imagine, all too easily imagine doubling or tripling the price of the Edge NQ and Edge M’s and no one would so much as blink. Hell, these days adding a zero to their price would hardly raise an eyebrow.

The Cambridge Edge NQ Preamp/Network Player and Edge M Monoblock Power Amplifiers impressed me in every way a hifi component can impress. They not only look the part of fine pieces of hifi kit, they walk the walk as well. So well, I can heartily recommend the Cambridge stack without reservation. Bravo!

Edge NQ Preamplifier and Network PlayerPrice: $5499Edge M Monoblock Power AmplifiersPrice: $4749/each

Manufacturer’s Website: Cambridge Audio

Cambridge Audio Edge NQ Specifications

Edge M Specifications

Edge NQ Preamplifier and Network PlayerPriceEdge M Monoblock Power AmplifiersPriceManufacturer’s WebsiteCambridge Audio Edge NQ SpecificationsEdge M Specifications