My 10 year-old Airport Express kicked the bucket last week. I’ve been hoping this day would come for about a year, so I’ve now replaced one of the digital arms of my stereo system.
For those that don’t know, my stereo is my pride and joy. It consumes near-endless amounts of time and money, and when we recently moved to Sydney the biggest decision in setting up our new home was how to configure the living area for optimal accoustics (a matter of literally weeks of consideration).
The new digital source would fit into my system alongside a Musical Fidelity Tri Vista 21 tube DAC, Denon PMA 2010 integrated amplifier and homemade transmission line speakers.
Criteria for the new component was something that supported AirPlay - how I play most of my music. 99% of the time music is to simply enjoy, not to sit down and critically listen to, so optimising audio quality isn’t key here (my turntable is there for when I want the best). That said, AirPlay is a bit-perfect algorithm and 16-bit/44.1KHz. Also supporting DLNA/UPnP would be a bonus (bit-perfect at 24-bit/192KHz), but a bit more annoying to drive from a Mac.
After lots of reading and chatting with people in store I ended up with a Cambridge Audio CXN Network Player.
It also has Spotify support and thousands of Internet Radio stations built in and I’ve suddenly become hooked on them (so many ’90s stations to choose from!)
Surprisingly, the differential Wolfson DACs that it uses for D-A conversion are excellent - I’ve always put my digital sources through the bespoke DAC for much, much better performance, including far outshining a pretty good Marantz CD player, but there is no longer a clear-cut winner.
Jazz, blues, and anything with an empty background is still cleaner and crisper through the tube DAC, but metal in particular is noticeably clearer and shows better separation using the CXN’s internal DACs - Maybe that colouration from the tubes??
Bottom line, an amazing purchase and, as with any new purchase, it has me appreciating not just my music collection anew but this time the world’s music collection anew thanks to Spotify and Internet Radio.