Cambridge Audio SX-80 Loudspeaker Page 2

My audition did get off to rather an inauspicious start. Perhaps I was, after all, guilty of equating the speaker's 165mm driver pairing with something more impactful in terms of bass weight. 'China Grove' [The Very Best Of The Doobie Brothers; Rhino Records 8122-73384-2] sounded energetic and spacious in the mids, but Tiran Porter's bassline, while easy to follow, lacked some bite and body.

Compensation came from moving the SX-80 closer to the rear wall, down from about 1m into the room to something closer to 30cm and leaving the rear port free of the supplied foam bung. Now The Doobie Brothers' bassline sounded appreciably more robust, and toeing in the pair so cabinet sides disappeared from view yielded a tighter image too.

Rush Hour
I would still be hard-pressed to call this floorstander a low-frequency leviathan – it's too well-mannered in that regard. However, much of the time this was a beneficial trait, as the SX-80's bass handling meant it always sounded musical and complementary to the rest of the frequency range. Output was largely smooth down to its limits, meaning no enjoyment-killing bloat or ruinous resonances. More low-end volume would have better served club anthems and drum and bass tracks, but the SX-80 proved admirably capable with tom-tom fills and kick drums, as evidenced by the powerful, large-sounding beats of the Rush track 'Tom Sawyer' [Moving Pictures; 96kHz/24-bit FLAC download].

This track illustrated the SX-80's overall charms: a solid grasp of timing, smooth but detailed treble and a midrange of efficient expression considering the speaker's price. The swirls of the synthesiser and, in particular, Geddy Lee's unique vocals enjoyed a rich, clear, resonant tone. Similarly, Siouxsie Sioux's double-tracked voice in 'Spellbound' [Siouxsie And The Banshees, Juju; Tidal 16-bit/44.1kHz] sounded full and well separated from the post-punk musical accompaniment.


Even with their toed-in positioning, these speakers still created a wide image with effective placement of instruments and vocals. Lining up innovative mixes, such as David Essex's 'Rock On' and the ringing clocks of Pink Floyd's 'Time' [both Tidal], picking out positional details was a doddle. Less successful was the speaker's generation of depth. I found forward projection to be limited, the SX-80s preferring to set their musical stage some distance away. Certain details and instruments still occupied a space further back on the stage, but it did mean the experience could feel a little too passive at times.

With a challengingly dense composition, such as James Horner's orchestral 'A Kaleidoscope Of Mathematics' [A Beautiful Mind soundtrack; Tidal 44.1kHz/16-bit], the SX-80 generally acquitted itself well. The choral vocals and surging strings sounded a little dominant, so at times I felt I was straining to hear the piece's more subtle chime and woodwind elements, but the way this stereo pair built its wide soundstage, and retained its sense of detail while more instruments joined the fray, was very impressive.

Punch Line
What is missing from the SX-80's arsenal is the richness of detail and tonal range of pricier, more accomplished designs. Nothing was so off-kilter to have me stop in my tracks, but on occasion – moments in the Horner piece mentioned above, and Lynyrd Skynyrd's acoustic version of 'Down South Jukin' [Endangered Species; Sony Music 82876 55128 2] – what was arriving from these floorstanders sounded like a sketch of the real thing.

This would be critical if the SX-80 cost megabucks, but as it doesn't I'm more than happy to cut it some slack. This is a loudspeaker with a love of basic rhythm – songs that pack a staccato punch while leaving breathing space between the notes are its bread and butter. It locked into the melodic stop/start riffs and simple drum track of AC/DC's 'Hold Me Back' [Stiff Upper Lip; Columbia 8869708290 2] and stomped along to a Tidal stream of Daft Punk's infectious and funky 'Get Lucky'.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Cambridge Audio's bargain-priced floorstander arrives with a new lick of paint but the same driver, cabinet and crossover design as before. Yet the Brit brand can be forgiven for following the 'ain't broke, don't fix' adage, as this two-way tower offers a performance that's surprisingly mature and well-balanced. It's excellent value for money and an interesting option for those bored by budget bookshelf models.

Cambridge Audio Ltd
Supplied by: Audio Partnership PLC, London
0203 514 1521