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Can I add an outboard DAC to the Cambridge Audio CXA81?

leepish

Member
Oct 25, 2020
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I recently bought the Cambridge Audio CXA81. Steve Guttenberg said in his review of the CXA81 that he ran it through a Schiit Bifrost DAC. I am interested in trying out my system with a different DAC than the internal DAC in the CXA81. I wrote to Cambridge Audio to ask if I can bypass the internal DAC, and they wrote back to say it is not possible. So I’m sure you can see my confusion. I was wondering if anyone on this forums has bypassed the internal CXA81 DAC, or knows how, and can tell me how. I would love to try the Shiit Bifrost and the Denafrips Ares 2.
 

rainsoothe

Well-known member
Apr 30, 2012
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I recently bought the Cambridge Audio CXA81. Steve Guttenberg said in his review of the CXA81 that he ran it through a Schiit Bifrost DAC. I am interested in trying out my system with a different DAC than the internal DAC in the CXA81. I wrote to Cambridge Audio to ask if I can bypass the internal DAC, and they wrote back to say it is not possible. So I’m sure you can see my confusion. I was wondering if anyone on this forums has bypassed the internal CXA81 DAC, or knows how, and can tell me how. I would love to try the Shiit Bifrost and the Denafrips Ares 2.
Hi - when you said you wanted to bypass it's dac, they probably thought you wanted to have the CA be the source as well (so either use it's bluetooth, then go to an external DAC, then back to the CXA81, for instance), which is indeed not possible. Otherwise, of course you can use an external DAC, you just need to use another source, and connect the DAC to one of the CXA81's line inputs.
 

leepish

Member
Oct 25, 2020
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Hi - when you said you wanted to bypass it's dac, they probably thought you wanted to have the CA be the source as well (so either use it's bluetooth, then go to an external DAC, then back to the CXA81, for instance), which is indeed not possible. Otherwise, of course you can use an external DAC, you just need to use another source, and connect the DAC to one of the CXA81's line inputs.
Thanks for the reply. If you don’t mind, let me ask you a for some clarification as I am not expert in these things.

1. If I connect a separate DAC to the Cambridge does that external DAC become the DAC my music plays through?
2. I have a CD transport connected to the CXA81. Would I instead, connect the transport to the external DAC and then connect that DAC to the CXA81?
3. Is there no way to use the onboard Bluetooth in the CXA81 through the external DAC? I would need an external Bluetooth source and run it through the DAC as I do with the CD Transport?

Thanks!!
 

rainsoothe

Well-known member
Apr 30, 2012
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1&2 yes, 3 no, you would need an external bluetooth - BUT, I would not invest in an external bluetooth device, since bluetooth is already a compromise in sound quality, and you can only get so much out of it, no matter what dac you run it through - so I'd use the external DAC for CD/streaming/whatever and just use the CXA81 for bluetooth.
 

leepish

Member
Oct 25, 2020
8
1
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1&2 yes, 3 no, you would need an external bluetooth - BUT, I would not invest in an external bluetooth device, since bluetooth is already a compromise in sound quality, and you can only get so much out of it, no matter what dac you run it through - so I'd use the external DAC for CD/streaming/whatever and just use the CXA81 for bluetooth.
Hey Rainsoothe! Much appreciated! Happy Holidays!
 

manicm

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May 1, 2008
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Can't understand why nobody gives you a direct answer.

It's very very simple. If you want to use an external DAC you'd connect it through the analogue inputs on the 81. Then you connect your desired devices to the new DAC. Finito.
 
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rainsoothe

Well-known member
Apr 30, 2012
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Can't understand why nobody gives you a direct answer.

It's very very simple. If you want to use an external DAC you'd connect it through the analogue inputs on the 81. Then you connect your desired devices to the new DAC. Finito.
Well, if you don't elaborate and just give direct answers, one might spend more than they really need to. Otherwise, I think both my replies answer any question that was asked.
 

leepish

Member
Oct 25, 2020
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I'm. sure that the built-in DAC is top notch in the CXA-81. I can't see the point for using an external DAC.
Just buy some nice music instead.

To me It seems a bit pointless to buy an amp with DAC and then don't use the DAC.
 

leepish

Member
Oct 25, 2020
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Thanks for the reply. I‘m not sure that I need a better DAC. However, I have a lot of CDs and I do know that a higher quality DAC is more revealing, and from what I have read, the best bang for the buck in terms of an upgrade to a sound system. I run my CA CXA81 through KEF R3s and an SVS SB-2000 Pro. It all sounds great. But I am intrigued with the possibility of adding a Denafrips DAC. I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on adding a better DAC in general, and the Denafrips specifically.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!
 

manicm

Well-known member
May 1, 2008
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Leepish, just remember people like Guttenberg are fiddlers too. The 81’s dac should be good. What don’t you like about the sound of your cd transport connected to it?

Which CD transport do you have?
 

leepish

Member
Oct 25, 2020
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Leepish, just remember people like Guttenberg are fiddlers too. The 81’s dac should be good. What don’t you like about the sound of your cd transport connected to it?

Which CD transport do you have?
I am using the Cambridge Audio CXC Transport. It’s great. I have the KEF R3s and an SVS SB 200 Pro Sub. It’s all really good. I really enjoyable, engaging system. No big complaints. I do have a very sensitive ear (only one. Deaf in the other. Which raises a whole other set of questions regarding listening, soundstage, Imaging, etc. ) as I am a vocalist/guitarist. I would like to hear more clarity and separation when there is lot going on. Orchestral, big band jazz, etc. I do know that wider, deeper soundstages are possible with an upgrade from the gear I have now. A significantly better amp and better speakers will do that. We all know that. But what we seem to know less about, it seems, is the role of the DAC. So there is a debate in Audiophile World that begins with the proposition that a DAC can significantly influence the sonic qualities of the system, can sound more like vinyl, and can be a significant upgrade just as better speakers and amps can achieve. There are strong opinions on both sides. I don’t know enough to answer this question. I would be happy to hear from folks who know better than I.
 

nopiano

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Feb 15, 2009
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So there is a debate in Audiophile World that begins with the proposition that a DAC can significantly influence the sonic qualities of the system, can sound more like vinyl, and can be a significant upgrade just as better speakers and amps can achieve.
My view is that any DAC that ‘significantly’ changes anything is likely to be deliberately voiced to be different, perhaps by not oversampling (NOS designs) or might include a valve for added euphonic distortion. Nothing wrong with those choices, but it’s much less likely to be a significant upgrade than some over-eager internet keyboard warriors would have you believe.
You seem to have a well sorted system, and I’d expect far more benefit from fine tuning speakers locations, for example, which will improve every source you play.
 

Al ears

Moderator
My view is that any DAC that ‘significantly’ changes anything is likely to be deliberately voiced to be different, perhaps by not oversampling (NOS designs) or might include a valve for added euphonic distortion. Nothing wrong with those choices, but it’s much less likely to be a significant upgrade than some over-eager internet keyboard warriors would have you believe.
You seem to have a well sorted system, and I’d expect far more benefit from fine tuning speakers locations, for example, which will improve every source you play.
I would tend to agree. Whilst DACs can certainly offer differing presentation the idea that they will always offer significant improvement to a system is somewhat flawed.
As with vinyl the quality of the source material is vital and it will be this that offers significant improvement.
 
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Brucey63

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Apr 10, 2021
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Not meaning to hijack the thread but I’m having a similar issue.
I’m running Roon via a CXN V2 and want to add a CX A 81 to replace my old Marantz sr 6007. Keen to check out MQA via tidal and hence want to add a Dacmagic 200 M as well.

Doing so using the analogue inputs will bypass the 81’s DAC?

Analogue inputs on my Marantz still get the digital treatment even via Pure Direct so just want to confirm that the 81 will pass the Dacmagic feed straight to the speakers
 

manicm

Well-known member
May 1, 2008
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Not meaning to hijack the thread but I’m having a similar issue.
I’m running Roon via a CXN V2 and want to add a CX A 81 to replace my old Marantz sr 6007. Keen to check out MQA via tidal and hence want to add a Dacmagic 200 M as well.

Doing so using the analogue inputs will bypass the 81’s DAC?

Analogue inputs on my Marantz still get the digital treatment even via Pure Direct so just want to confirm that the 81 will pass the Dacmagic feed straight to the speakers
Yes, before anyone needlessly gives you a horrendously complicated answer. To get MQA, you’d have to connect the CXN digital outs (assuming it has) to the DACMagic 200, and get on from there - effectively making your CXN a pure streamer.

That‘s going to go big on the box count though, and you are introducing a level of complexity now.

May I suggest you wait towards year-end, by which time there should be an updated CXN with MQA compatibility. Then instead of getting a DACMagic 200, sell off your CXN and get the new one.
 
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Brucey63

Member
Apr 10, 2021
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Yes, before anyone needlessly gives you a horrendously complicated answer. To get MQA, you’d have to connect the CXN digital outs (assuming it has) to the DACMagic 200, and get on from there - effectively making your CXN a pure streamer.

That‘s going to go big on the box count though, and you are introducing a level of complexity now.

May I suggest you wait towards year-end, by which time there should be an updated CXN with MQA compatibility. Then instead of getting a DACMagic 200, sell off your CXN and get the new one.
Thanks, definitely the way to go and yes, the CXN has digital outs. Given Cambridge are now down the MQA rabbit hole with the Dacmagic 200 you’d hope a V3 CXN wouldn’t be far away.

I’ll keep my powder dry and hold off on the Dacmagic purchase for a while longer and see if the new CXN or at least word of its imminent arrival filters out.
 

CheshirePete

Active member
Oct 12, 2020
18
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25
I recently bought the Cambridge Audio CXA81. Steve Guttenberg said in his review of the CXA81 that he ran it through a Schiit Bifrost DAC. I am interested in trying out my system with a different DAC than the internal DAC in the CXA81. I wrote to Cambridge Audio to ask if I can bypass the internal DAC, and they wrote back to say it is not possible. So I’m sure you can see my confusion. I was wondering if anyone on this forums has bypassed the internal CXA81 DAC, or knows how, and can tell me how. I would love to try the Shiit Bifrost and the Denafrips Ares 2.
Imho ... moving your speakers around will give a greater effect than buying a new DAC, or adding a rug or room treatment.
 
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