|Premium Audio Brand|
|Industry||Audio equipment manufacturing|
|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
As the name correctly suggests, Cambridge Audio had its origins in Cambridge, England where in the early 1960s a group of young technology graduates established a high technology R&D and prototyping business: Cambridge Consultants.
Cambridge Audio began life as a division of Cambridge Consultants in 1968. The Company’s first product was the 2x 20W P40 integrated amplifier, which was created by a team that included Gordon Edge and Peter Lee. In addition to an advanced technical specification the P40 created quite a stir in part thanks to its iconic and innovative super slim-line case design by Roy Gray, from Woodhuysen Design.
The P40 would also make history as the first amplifier to use a toroidal transformer that would go on to be a standard component inside virtually every hi-end amplifier produced since.
Cambridge Audio became a standalone business from the group when a new company, Cambridge Audio Laboratories Ltd, was formed operating from extensive premises alongside the old Enderby’s Mill in St. Ives, Cambridge. The P40 was an immediate success, but would prove difficult to manufacture in any volume, a problem that would be resolved in 1970 with the introduction of the new 2x 25W P50 model, which was a very similar product with regards to both circuit design and appearance, but had been engineered for mass production. Despite strong sales and rapid growth the company required increased investment and so was sold in 1971 to Colin Hammond of CE Hammond & Co Ltd - then a very successful distributor of Revox tape recorders and other audio products in the UK, Canada and the USA.
A new company, Cambridge Audio Ltd, was formed with leading UK electrical engineer Stan Curtis joining as the organisation’s technical director. The St. Ives factory was extensive and at its peak employed more than 300 people. Most of the required components were made under one roof including the circuit boards and the aluminium cases. All transistors were made to CA’s specification and even carried the company’s own part numbers. Every product was extensively tested after manufacture and a printed certificate was produced for every individual unit detailing the actual measured performance results.
1971 also saw the introduction of Cambridge Audio’s first loudspeaker with the launch of the R50 transmission line speaker, designed by Bert Webb and also produced at the St. Ives plant.
In 1972 new models included the P100 and P50mkII integrated amplifiers, the R40 transmission line loudspeaker and the T50 FM Stereo Tuner.
Export sales had also begun and were proving very buoyant in part due to the introduction of Export only products including the TL100 and 200 transmission line speakers, the P75X integrated amplifier and the T75X stereo tuner.
Stan Curtis put together a new team and re-designed the existing products as well as introducing a raft of new models. 1973 saw the introduction of the P110 integrated amplifier and the company’s first turntable, while the P140X integrated amplifier was introduced for export markets.
Other innovations included the design of what was believed to be the world’s first digital tuner, the T120, which worked well but proved impractical for volume production.
A major change occurred in 1974 with the introduction of the P60 integrated amplifier which was designed to be both better performing than the then existing models but also significantly easier to manufacture and therefore at a lower cost. The P60 sold in large numbers and became the best-selling Cambridge model todate with a weekly production run of over 400 pieces.
Also new was the PA100 dedicated power amplifier, the R40mkII and R50mkII loudspeakers, the P80X integrated amplifier and the TL200mkII loudspeakers for export markets.
Probably the most significant new product arrived in 1975 with the launch of the Classic One 2 x25W integrated amplifier, one of the first to feature a new circuit design from Cambridge Audio and with much of the circuitry contained in custom made integrated circuits - another world’s first – and using multi-layer boards for the first time.
The first production batch was to be followed by the Classic Two amplifier of similar performance, but offering 100 watts per channel output. Such plans were however soon abandoned with the closure of the St. Ives factory as CE Hammond & Co decided to merge their production assets for all their many businesses into one extensive factory in Byfleet, Surrey.
Many of the experienced Cambridge Audio production team also left the business at this time and after some production issues at the new facility the decision was made to abandon the relatively complex Classic Series in favour of an updated version of the P60 called the P80.
Cambridge Audio ceased to be a priority in the CE Hammond empire and sales declined until in 1980 the business was sold to Vince Adams, a successful UK hi-fi entrepreneur at the time.
The business was relaunched as Cambridge Audio Research Ltd. With former technical director Stan Curtis charged with designing a new line of products.
The new range had styling echoes of the original Cambridge products, but broke with tradition by being physically larger, starting with the P35 integrated amplifier launched in 1983, closely followed by the C75 pre and A75 power amplifiers. Financial difficulties for the parent company in 1984 led to Cambridge Audio Research being taken over by Stan and Angie Curtis and being renamed Cambridge Audio International. The company moved back to St. Ives in Cambridge.
The next four years saw a rapid expansion of the business with over 16 new products being launched and with export markets re-established in over 28 countries across the world. The amplifier range – C75mkII preamplifier, P40, P55 integrated and A250 power amplifier - received excellent reviews.
In 1985 a major innovative step was made with the launch of the CD1; the world’s first two box CD player (At the time this CD player was widely recognised as the best player available and its design featured many new ideas and a ground-breaking specification). Apart from putting the DAC stages into a separate case the transport was mounted on a lead beam suspension to reduce disc reading errors; a unique audio stage offered the choice of six alternative playback filters; and the digital to analogue conversion was performed by six matched DACs to give linearity down to -120 dB at a time when most players were only linear down to about -94 dB.
The CD1 soon became a three box player with the arrival of a Quality Assurance Module which monitored all the errors on the disc and quantified those that could not be corrected. This proved popular with many audiophile enthusiasts and also with specialist record companies around the world. The player used Philips' digitally filtered 14-bit 4x DACs, but with a difference: three DACs were used per channel, two in parallel and one for ranging rounding the result up to 16-bit overall. While the CD1 remained an audiophile player there was also demand from both customers and distributors for a more affordable model, which arrived in 1986 with the launch of the CD2. At the time many of the best CD players still used a 14bit, 4 times over sampling conversion technique so the Cambridge Audio team set out to achieve a step change in performance by offering for the first time a model with 16 bit 16 times oversampling; a massive improvement in the resolution of the fine detail on the disc. Magazine reviews were outstanding and the company found itself in the enviable position of being back-ordered by six months even before the first unit was delivered.
A new C50 pre-amplifier and A50 power amplifier were introduced and by 1987 – on the back of the success of the new products - turnover had grown to £1M per annum.
The next CD model to be introduced was a mark II version of the CD1. This was launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 1988.
Like its predecessor it was a two-box player, but it incorporated a radical 16 bit 32 times oversampling conversion technology derived from that used in the CD2. Production was very limited in volume as the company decided to focus on the mainstream Cambridge Audio product line.
The continued expansion of the company put a strain on both its physical and financial resources and at the end of 1988 Cambridge Audio became part of the Hi-Fi Markets Group. The product range underwent another significant change in appearance with the low profile black cases giving way to full height cases finished in a neutral grey colour Internally though the existing Stan Curtis circuit designs were retained with key new product launches for the DAC2 and DAC3 digital to analogue converters and the T40 FM tuner.
Within two years Cambridge Audio was purchased by Wharfedale loudspeakers which set up a production line at its large facility in Leeds, Yorkshire.
Wharfedale was undergoing major re-organisation by a team that included Stan Curtis. Despite his sentimental attachment to CA he realised the company needed a new home that could focus on the electronics and so the decision was made to divest Cambridge Audio and in 1994 the company would be sold for the last time before beginning more than 20 years of growth, innovation and profitability.
The purchaser of the business in 1994 was a newly established company: Audio Partnership, which was formed by two entrepreneurial business men, Julian Richer and James Johnson Flint, who were already enjoying significant success with audio retailer Richer Sounds.
Audio Partnership was specifically formed to look for opportunities in acquiring under-developed brands with the intention of providing the investment to allow stability and growth, both in the UK and overseas. Target companies would be ideally British brands that had already developed exceptional technical and design credibility and popularity, but had been lacking in resources or funding to be consistent market leaders in the UK or other markets.
Cambridge Audio was considered a perfect fit and became the company’s first acquisition and remains Audio Partnership’s prime focus some 22 years later.
A key element in the purchase of Cambridge Audio by Audio Partnership was the determination that the brand would continue as a true creator, developer and manufacturer of its own dedicated products. From the start of this new era the company was committed to the idea that Cambridge Audio should continue to create ground-breaking, original & proprietary technologies.
From the first day of ownership, work commenced to build an in-house engineering team starting with mechanical engineering and industrial design while exclusive contracts were signed with the most prominent and successful freelance audio electronics engineers of the day, including: Mike Creek of Creek Audio, John Westlake John A. Westlake and the engineering team at Pink Triangle (audio manufacturer)
The result was the launch of the A1 amplifier in 1995, which was initially only available the UK. Consequently, the A1 integrated amplifier was a huge success both in the UK and on this high the company began to rebuild Cambridge Audio’s international network adding new distributors in France, Canada, the USA, Hong Kong, Germany and Denmark.
The A1 would stay in production – latterly as the MKII and MKIII versions - for more than a decade becoming one of Cambridge Audio’s most popular products ever with more than 200,000 units sold.
By 1996 Cambridge Audio had built a full digital and analogue engineering team capable of designing and developing complete products in-house.
One of the first products to benefit was the DacMagic 1 digital to analogue converter launched in 1996 to almost universal acclaim – and the distinction of being Cambridge Audio’s first outright What HiFi? Awards winner as the best DAC of the year.
In 1999 the company launched the first Cambridge Audio web site while also moving into the home cinema market with the V500 Dolby Digital Decoder.
In 1999 was the S700 Isomagic, combining a DAC with an isolation platform to mount a CD player and other electronics. The S700 was also the world’s first DAC to be compatible with the then new HDCD format. <http://www.uhfmag.com/Issue61/Isomagic.html>
The creation of a complete in-house team also allowed Cambridge Audio to begin work on its first coherent range of products culminating in the launch of the Azur series in 2003.
The Azur range featured seven models designed together as an identifiable family that included the 340A, 540A and 640A integrated amplifiers. There were also 340C, 540C and 640C CD players plus the 640T DAB/FM tuner.
The Azur Range launched to both outstanding critical acclaim and sales success, leading to dramatic growth in business with turnover increasing by more than 50% to reach £15M by the end of 2004.
2005 saw the introduction of another product with the launch of the M1 touch screen 8-in-1 remote control. Also by 2005, Cambridge could claim to be on-sale in more than 50 countries worldwide.
2006 was another key year in the development of the Cambridge Audio brand with the introduction of the Azur 840A integrated amplifier, 840E & W pre and power amplifiers and the 840C CD player, the first products that the company described as ‘affordable’ hi-end audio.
The 840A integrated amplifier also introduced Cambridge Audio’s unique and patented Crossover Displacement (Class-XD Amplifier) design which combined the performance of a Class A design with the efficiency of a class AB. The technology would go-on to help the 840A be selected as the 2007/2008 two-channel amplifier of the year at the prestigious EISA Awards. The 840C was the first product to feature another new technology that Cambridge Audio had developed with Swiss-based Anagram Technologies, Adaptive Time Filtering (ATF) up-sampling.
ATF up samples any digital signal – such as CD’s 16bit 44.1 kHz - to a 24bit, 384 kHz signal which presents a much more accurate audio soundwave. Both Class XD and ATF remain proprietary technologies only found on Cambridge Audio hi-end products.
2006 also saw Cambridge Audio launch the first truly affordable music server, the Azur 640H, a networked CD player that also featured a 160Gb hard disc.
2010 saw another product with the arrival of the first Minx Speakers, designed as a sub/sat system, but with the emphasis on serious sound quality.
BMR technology uses a single flat panel to produce an ultra-wide range of frequencies, eliminating the need for a separate tweeter and mid-range driver.
2011 was another landmark year for Cambridge Audio with the introduction of the NP30, the brand’s first Network Music Player using Cambridge Audio’s proprietary StreamMagic streaming platform.
The core IP for the StreamMagic platform was a joint development between Cambridge Audio and Cambridge based technology company Reciva and brought Internet radio to Cambridge products for the first time.
One consequence of the close cooperation with Reciva on such a strategically important technology was Cambridge Audio agreeing to acquire the company’s IP in 2011 as well as taking on the company’s software team and establishing a technology hub in Cambridge responsible for the ongoing development of the Stream Magic platform.
The StreamMagic platform has continued to be developed in the subsequent period and has gone on to power some of the company’s most successful and products including StreamMagic 6 introduced in 2012 and the Minx Xi introduced in 2013.
The iconic 840 Series was given a thorough update in 2012, with the new 851 series taking a significant step upmarket for both build and sound quality. The range launched with the 851A integrated amplifier and 851C CD player/DAC but would go on to include the 851E and 851W pre and power amplifiers, the 851D dedicated hi-end DAC and the 851N network player.
The 851A and 851C would also win Cambridge Audio their second EISA Award as the Best Two Channel System in 2012- 2013.
Harking back to some of Cambridge Audio’s earliest products, the new range of Aero book shelf and floor standing speakers were launched in 2013 and again made use of BMR technology, but in a new 3rd generation proprietary version.
With the BMR driver covering both mid-range and hi-frequencies a much simpler and less intrusive crossover could be used lower in frequency in a region where the ear is less sensitive. The result was lower distortion and a more cohesive, immersive and better-distributed sound - which integrated particularly well when used as a 5.1 system with the dedicated AV products from the range.
The Aero range enjoyed won What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine’s: Best Speaker Package of the Year award in both 2013 and 2014 as well as pride of place in a key What Hi-Fi? AV reference listening room system. The Aeromax range followed in 2014, using new in-house developed fourth generation BMR drivers, improved cabinet construction and upgraded crossover components.
2013 also saw a major new development for the brand with the introduction of the first wireless speakers,
initially with the mains powered Minx Air 100 and Air 200 products closely followed by the battery powered Minx Go speaker.
The wireless speakers would introduce Cambridge Audio to a new more mainstream audience and in particular the Minx which would become the brand’s fastest selling product.
Reaching a new customer base would also require Cambridge Audio to adjust its distribution model, with direct sales from the company’s web site beginning in 2014. In the same year UK retailer John Lewis also partnered with the brand. 2015 would see the a completely new range introduced with the launch of the CX series, the result of Cambridge Audio’s largest investment in a product range and representing a significant step forward in terms of product design, build and sound quality. The new CX Series included: the CXA60 and 80 integrated amplifiers, the CXC CD transport, the CXN network music player, the CXU universal Blu-ray player and the CXR120 and CXR200 AV Receivers.
The CX Series was launched to huge critical acclaim, in particular the CXA60 and CXN were voted Product of the Year at the 2015 What Hi-Fi? Awards with the CXC also winning Best CD Transport under £500 and CXU winning the Award for Best Blu-ray Player £300+. The Success continued for a second year at the 2016 What Hi-Fi? Awards when the CXA60 retained its crown as the outright amplifier of the year while the CXN won the award for the Best Music Streamer between £500 - £1000. The CX series products were joined by the 851N which won the outright award for Best Music Streamer 2016
Continuing their range of wireless products, Cambridge audio partnered with Marton Mills to release Yoyo; a new range of three Bluetooth speakers revealed in September 2016.
Manufacturing and the company today
Audio Partnership set-up production facilities in China with Cambridge Audio products manufactured in the country from 1994.
In addition to being one of the first audio businesses to invest in China, Audio Partnership’s approach was also very different in both having the company’s own production engineers inside or local to the factories, but in also picking long term partner manufacturers – nearly all of whom still work with the company over twenty years later.
The company established an office in Hong Kong in 2001 and an office in mainland China in 2011 allowing Cambridge Audio to have its own production and QC engineers on site. Sales offices and teams were established in Germany and Hong Kong in 2015.
Investment in new products continues and the company now employs 91 people including an in-house engineering team of 24, based at the Cambridge Audio HQ in London, SE1 and at the company’s Cambridge base.
The current annual turnover is in excess of £20 million.
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