Stereo recordings via Dolby Pro Logic IIx surround mode were equally high-grade. The 640R also includes a few proprietary surround modes that were reasonably inoffensive but heavy on the surround channels and not adjustable.
To stress the 640R as much as possible, I tried a movie session with all speakers set to "large" and sub to "none" and cued up I, Robot. The DTS soundtrack delivered full definition and spatial integrity (and there's a lot of spatial drama in this production) via the Cambridge's decoding hardware. More to the point, the receiver's amps easily delivered real cinematic dynamics and impact at real-cinema levels, even without the support of a powered sub and by way of loudspeakers a good dB or so less sensitive than most.
HANDS-ON Though it worked reliably and smoothly, the Cambridge receiver harbored the odd quirk. For example: The remote has three individual buttons for direct selection of Stereo, Dolby PLII/DTS Neo:6 surround, and standard Dolby/DTS-decode families. But each group requires sequential keypresses to cycle through what can be many selections. Thankfully, like most receivers the 640R remembers the last-used mode or automatically selects the best mode for a fresh signal-type. But if you use your DVD player to play multiple disc types, the system can be fooled when you switch, and you can find yourself doing a lot of finger-stabbing to get to a desired setting.
The remote control is lovely, but I found its button graphics too tiny, and its response was sometimes iffy, requiring careful aim at the sensor. Also, since the Cambridge offers no onscreen feedback of surround mode or volume changes, you have to wait for the annoyingly slow-scrolling LCD to confirm your selection.
BOTTOM LINE But for the user outlined at the top, I suspect little of this matters, and anyway, you came to learn whether the Cambridge Audio Azur 640R A/V receiver really sounds better than the typical $1,000 competitor from a big-box store.
I think the answer is yes. Think, because sonic differences between receivers or amplifiers tend to be subtle. But the 640R impressed me as a full sonic equal to top-flight, rather more expensive and much larger receivers eliciting the same sort of response: "Gee, this sounds great. How loud will the sound hold together? Whoa - pretty damned loud. Not bad for a one-box. Not bad at all . . . ."
If you want to check out the Cambridge, you'll have to look farther afield than your local Best-Circuit BuyMart. Nonetheless, that press-Play-and-enjoy user with a serious jones for high-end sound will find it worth the journey.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.