Certainly Uncertain: When Measurement Results Don’t Match Part Three

I’ll keep this one short and sour — once again, we have two sets of measurements for the same piece of hifi gear that tell very different stories.

This time around, it’s the Cambridge Audio CXA81 Integrated Stereo Amplifier ($1299). The CXA81 offers 80-watts of Class A/B power per channel, at least according to the manufacturer, and includes an internal DAC and 4 digital inputs along with RCA and XLR analog inputs. The CXA81 was reviewed by Stereophile and Audio Science Review (ASR), with both sites including measurements. Its worth noting that ASR’s ‘reviews’ are measurements with no listening impressions beyond cursory notes at best.

I’m going to focus on the measurement conclusions to once again highlight how the interpretation of measured performance, not to mention the testing methodology itself, can be highly subjective.

First up, Amir Majidimehr of Audio Science Review writes in his conclusion:

I have had a very positive impression of Cambridge Audio products up to now. They are unassuming boxes but they have performed well. Sadly that stream of good news stopped with CXA81. From the start we can see poor attention to good design hygiene resulting in misses across the board. Clearly no design targets were set outside of power for the unit. Subsystem after subsystem performs poorly and way below competition especially in this price range. Sad really.

John Atkinson of Stereophile concludes:

Cambridge’s CXA81 performed well on the test bench. It offers relatively high power with very low harmonic and intermodulation distortion.

If we dig into the details of both sets of measurements, there is some correlation and agreement on the performance of the CXA81’s DAC, but the conclusions are polar opposites. If you’re wondering why these differences exist, join the club. I have lots of ideas, but they are all based on assumptions so not worth sharing.

On the review side of things, btw calling something a “subjective review” is redundant because all reviews are subjective — even those containing measurements. There is a general consensus among a number of reviews from various sites on the Cambridge CXA81, which you can get at from the Cambridge website, and they are all positive including the Stereophile review proper.

What I will add is listening to music on the hifi is not an act or activity that is governed by a third party. No one is in a position to tell other people what to do with their time and money, especially when it comes to something as benign (and lovely) as listening to music. Where many people go wrong is believing that a) listening to music on the hifi has a single purpose that is understood and universally agreed upon, and b) this purpose can be objectively valued. The downright silliness of this position demands no further argument beyond a guffaw or two, and anyone not onboard the silliness of this train of thought is either taking themself way too seriously or are creating and/or consuming content meant for the perpetually insecure who take pleasure in, or get some amount of comfort from, other people’s assumed misfortune.

Further Reading

Certainly Uncertain: When Measurement Results Don’t Match Part Two
Certainly Uncertain: When Measurement Results Don’t Match