The Cambridge Audio Minx Xi is the company’s first one-box streaming system, and one of those audio products seemingly designed to become part of your life
Some products get reviewed: they’re rotated fairly rapidly – over the course of a week or so – through the main reviewing system, get boxed up after everything is done, and then join the pile of packages waiting for the couriers to decide when to retrieve them.
Others get lived with: a lot of prevarication goes on about exactly when the review will get written, simply because the product is being used so much, and has found a place in our lives. The Cambridge Audio Minx Xi is one such product: it’s in for review in Gramophone magazine just before Christmas, but I’ve been using it so much that I simply haven’t yet got round to finishing the whole thing.
So this is something of a review in progress, with the Cambridge currently playing the internet stream of Radio 4 Extra in our dining room/office as I am typing this. Mind you, it’s being controlled from an iPod mini sitting beside the computer, so any minute now it could just as easily be playing Mahler as the new Paul McCartney album or a spot of classic Beach Boys, in an effort to dispel the gloom of the rain trundling seemingly unstoppably up from France or Spain or wherever it’s coming from at the moment.
The Minx Xi, selling for £600 through Richer Sounds, is the latest arrival in the Cambridge Audio Minx range, which has of late expanded from the original miniature satellites-and-subwoofer speaker systems to encompass wireless speakers for use with AirPlay and Bluetooth, following the current trend for simple wireless speaker systems to connect to iOS smartphones and tablets and their Android counterparts.
The new system combines some of that thinking with the development work behind previous Cambridge Audio products such as the NP30 network music player and the Stream Magic 6, which combines an upsampling network player with a preamplifier, designed to be used with external power amplifiers or even active speakers.
If you like, you could see those two as steps up to the Minx Xi, which retains the jitter-reducing external clocking of the NP30 but now has built-in amplification, delivering 40W per channel into 8ohms, and can thus be connected directly to conventional speakers.
Available in white or black – the review sample is black, and in a high-quality high-gloss finish, though the white looks very striking in the publicity pictures –, the Minx Xi certainly packs a lot into its compact casework: not only does it have internet radio and network streaming, it also offers access to a number of streaming services including BBC iPlayer radio, can access an iTunes library on a network-connected computer directly, and even has dedicated podcast access.
Ethernet and Wi-FI
There’s also a range of inputs: as well as Ethernet network connectivity, there’s a plug-in Wi-Fi antenna in the box, connecting to a dedicated USB socket, and a Bluetooth dongle is also supplied for direct streaming from computers, tablets, smartphones and the like. A further front-panel USB will connect and charge the same devices, as well as allowing the connection of USB memory devices, and there are also line-in and headphone sockets on the front, using 3.5mm stereo sockets.
Completing the connection line-up are a couple of digital inputs – one optical, one electrical (or coaxial, as I am always being told I have to say), two sets of stereo line-in phonos, USBs for the BT100 Bluetooth dongle and a further memory device, and a subwoofer output along with the conventional screw-terminal speaker outputs.
There’s also a remote control (left) in the box, but while it’s clearly laid-out, with sensible pictograms for major functions, and nicely finished in a combination of black brushed metal effect and a rubberised main housing, I’d still stick to using the free Stream Magic Remote app to drive the system once initial set-up has been done.
On the iPad mini – surely a product designed for just such a purpose, though those supermarket Android tabs look a bit interesting in this respect, and for a fraction of the price of the Apple device – the control interface is fast and easy to understand, making the whole experience that much more pleasurable.
And the same applies to the sound of the Minx Xi, which really has been getting a lot of use for the past couple of weeks. It’s currently set up on the desk in front of me with a pair of Sony’s superb SS-LA500ED speakers from a few years (OK then, a decade) back.
I have been experimenting with the likes of the Neat Iota, which also work very well with the Cambridge Audio, but they’ve now gone back to their normal use in the kitchen, and the PMC GB1 floorstanders, but for now the Sony speakers it is. They’re a pair my wife acquired after she had a listening session in Japan way back when, have solid cast magnesium enclosures and integral stands/wall-brackets and are bright orange.
By the way, the LA in the model number stands for ‘Luxury Audio’ and the ED ‘Extended Definition’, the carbon-dome tweeter going all the way up to 70kHz, and while the speakers do occasionally come up at more than their original selling price, this pair very definitely isn’t for sale!
Wired up with (very) short runs of Chord Company installation cable, the Sony speakers sound very fine indeed on the end of the Minx Xi: I’ve angled the speakers up a shade on their ball-joint stand mounts as the treble sits just below ear-level with them on the desk. but that’s about the limit of the tuning.
Initally I was working with the bass dialled down a bit, and the treble up a notch, using the tone controls accessible from the remote control or the app; however, after some days’ use of the system everything got slowly crept back to ‘flat’ settings, and that’s what I’m using now.
This is the kind of hi-fi you soon start to ignore (in the best possible way), so much are you enjoying what’s being played. The Wi-Fi is sensitive enough to work flawlessly from the Apple Airport Extreme a couple of rooms away – I was tinkering with the idea of using an Airport Express as a range-extender, as we have a few dead-spots in the house, but now I don’t think I’ll bother – and does so even when streaming 24-bit/96kHz music from one of the NAS drives.
From the early morning classic comedy fix on Radio 4 Extra – it was Hancock’s Half Hour followed by I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again this morning – through a wide range of musical styles, the clean balance of the Cambridge Audio is consistently much more enjoyable and involving than any system this compact has any right to be.
Today that variety’s taken in everything from some creaky old prog to acoustic jazz, a couple of discs in for review for Gramophone and, for some reason involving a Facebook post by a former colleague of mine, Sondheim’s Assassins (in the highly atmospheric RCA Victor original off-Broadway cast recording),
It’s not hard to to see why the Minx Xi performs so well: in the usual Audio Partnership ‘Sound First’ manner, a lot of work has gone into the audio quality. The 24/96 digital-to-analogue converter is a Wolfson WM8728, and the system uses a generously-sized toroidal transformer to ensure it doesn’t run out of puff, and ‘conventional’ Class AB amplifier topology rather than the digital chip-amps increasingly found in systems of this kind.
Oh, and now it’s playing Britten’s first string quartet from the dramatic. hypnotic new Hyperion recording by the Takács Quartet, and there’s all the drama and finesse one could want from a compact system, plus real attack when the music requires it.
String tones are lifelike and have real bite, plus lovely character and a sense of space around them. Even listening this close-up – and the Sony speakers aren’t specifically near-field designs – there’s a good impression of soundstage and depth, as good as you’re going to get this side of a big system and room enough to give it space to flex its sonic muscles.
This is definitely a system benefiting from a period of use to fully appreciate what it can do, and how well it does it: spend a few hours or so playing with it, and you might make the mistake of thinking this is just another ‘me too’ streaming music solution, albeit one pitched at a highly attractive price here in the UK. Prices in other countries tend to be higher – for example the Minx Xi is just under €850, or about £725, as they use a conventional distributor/retailer model, whereas here Richer Sounds direct-sells the product, acting as both distributor and retailer.
However, take the time to explore all its capabilities, and get to grips with just how good it can sound across a wide range of sources and file formats, and I’d suggest it’s highly likely this smart little system will grow on you to the extent that it’ll become part of your daily routine, or at the very least get used a lot more than you might anticipate.
You can start to understand the reason for the stack of ‘lifestyle’ pictures provided in Cambridge Audio’s press-kit for the Minx Xi, even if their lifestyle isn’t quite the same as my own (for a start, they don’t have a hall full of cardboard boxes, awaiting collection or opening and reviewing!). After all, this is a system designed to be lived with and enjoyed with minimal fuss, delivering the fruits of its manufacturer’s usual ’Sound First’ design philosophy with the minimum of that old hi-fi tweaking and obsessing nonsense on the part of the user.
It’s a system for people into music – oh, and Hancock’s Half Hour – rather than hi-fi hobbyists: all the hard work has been done for the buyer, making this an ideal ‘unbox and enjoy’ proposition.
That it does all this so effectively, and at so sensible a price, makes the Minx Xi one of the conspicuous audio bargains of the moment.
Cambridge Audio Minx Xi
Network music system | £600
Inputs Three line (two on RCA phono, one on 3.5mm stereo socket), optical and coaxial electrical digital, three USB
Outputs One pair of speakers, subwoofer, headphones
Other connections Ethernet
Output power 40Wpc into 8ohms, 55Wpc into 4ohms
File formats played (Network and USB) MP3, AAC, WMA, Apple Lossless, AIFF, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, WAV, max resolution 24-bit/96kHz
Accessories supplied Remote handset, USB Bluetooth dongle
Dimensions (WxHxD) 27x9x28.5cm
Written by Andrew Everard