KEF R3s with Cambridge Audio CXA81 or Arcam SA20

Paul_Bowden

Active member
Aug 6, 2021
3
8
25
Hi everyone and thanks for reading this.
The subject line says it all, really.
There seems little choice of really good hifi retailers here where I live in France.
I understand that the answer to any question about amps and speakers will depend on listening, which I intend to do.
The nearest good dealer (in Bordeaux) seemed aghast when I said I was planning to buy KEF R3s and pair them with Cambridge CXA81.
So far, we've only communicated by email, so I'll obviously listen to him and the equipment when I go in. But his view was that the CXA81 was not sufficiently dynamic (his word) for the KEFs and that the Arcam gave a much more satisfying audiophile sound (again his words and obviously a lot to unpick.)
I'd just be so grateful for anyone's thoughts, especially if you have or have considered this combination.
 
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Arsenio Erico

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Jun 28, 2020
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Hi Paul,
I have been listening to music for the last couple of months with a CXA61 and a pair of KEF R3s.
Not the same gear you mentioned but pretty close since the CXA61 is the 81's little brother.
"aghast" would definitely never be a word I'd use when describing this match. Actually, I am in love with these two. Previously I had a pair of smaller speakers (QA 3020i) . They were great for some kind of music but I found them struggling with music with many layers going on at the same time. That was MY perception. So, I decided to upgrade to the R3s.
My decision was made upon the size of my room (large-ish) and options at the local store. I was not able to audition any of them since the store wouldn't let me do that.
Whether they sound sufficiently dynamic or not is a matter of subjective perception. In my opinion I'm over the moon with the R3s dynamic response. Can the Arcam make them sound more dynamic? Only you could tell if you auditioned them.
I bought the R3s blindfolded and fortunately I am extremely happy with my choice. I will not be out in the market looking for another pair of speakers in a long time.
One thing I do want to mention is the enormous difference I had with the speakers out of the box and after the running in period. Right out of the box I could tell they were better at dynamics, details and soundstage than my 3020i (it was obvious right away) BUT the high frequencies were completely rolled off (they actually are not as bright as the BW706 S2 or even the 3020i, they are on the warm side) and I was worried I wouldn't get used to them. Bass was ok, and mids were not exciting. I really questioned myself whether I had made the right decision or not. However there was something in the sound that encouraged me to calm down and enjoy the break in process. I let it playing music for two days straight non-stop without paying attention to it. Then, things started to change. After, say, 50hs they were completely different than the beginning. Now I guess they are somewhere around 100hs and the treble in my description is "pristine", it's natural, realistic, it is a joy to my ears. Bass is superb, too!
I wanted clarity, soundstage, beautiful treble and bass response for rock music, jazz and blues. Sometimes I play electronic music and turn on the sub to reach lower frequencies. I get all of that now with my R3s.
I wish I had bought the CXA81 last year, but I didn't have the money then, that's why I got the smaller version. I think the R3s would definitely sound better with an amp with more grunt. However I enjoy the music like never before. I play mostly records with a basic turntable and an ortofon bronze and the details and dynamics make me smile every time I sit and and listen.
One last thing to remember is to compare the out/inputs on both amps to see which one suits your needs better. In my case the 81 or 61 were the only amps available here that suited what I needed.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.
I hope you can go and audition, give us your feedback. I'm curious about the arcam + r3 or even other amps you can try out.
Good luck and don't forget to enjoy the process of getting you gear! don't let anxiety get in the way!
Cheers!
 
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Tinman1952

Well-known member
May 19, 2021
691
366
770
Hi everyone and thanks for reading this.
The subject line says it all, really.
There seems little choice of really good hifi retailers here where I live in France.
I understand that the answer to any question about amps and speakers will depend on listening, which I intend to do.
The nearest good dealer (in Bordeaux) seemed aghast when I said I was planning to buy KEF R3s and pair them with Cambridge CXA81.
So far, we've only communicated by email, so I'll obviously listen to him and the equipment when I go in. But his view was that the CXA81 was not sufficiently dynamic (his word) for the KEFs and that the Arcam gave a much more satisfying audiophile sound (again his words and obviously a lot to unpick.)
I'd just be so grateful for anyone's thoughts, especially if you have or have considered this combination.
I am sure the CX81 paired with KEF R3 speakers will sound fine. Probably more dynamic to most ears than the Arcam ‘house’ sound. I nearly bought a used Arcam SA20 then I read on forums of problems with noisy transformers…..from over tight windings. It put me off I have to say…..
 
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Gray

Well-known member
I can only add that a perceived lack of dynamism was THE reason I chose not to go with an Arcam A85 which I'd otherwise quite liked the look (and best-buy reviews) of.
Regardless of brand 'house sound' theories though, I wouldn't judge any model until I'd heard it - something you must do.
 

Paul_Bowden

Active member
Aug 6, 2021
3
8
25
There is a real dearth of hifi shops here in France, as compared to the UK (I know) and North America (I think.) In the end, I travelled a couple of hours from here and listened to a series of amps at Hifidylle in 19100 Brive La Gaillarde. I'm one of those people who, at the optician's, says 'the green is clearer than the red' and then repeats that when I can see that the optician has switched the lenses....... Placed on the spot, I'm never sure of what I think!
I feared listening might be a bit like this, but it wasn't, I'm glad to say.
I took a series of discs which, I felt represented something of the range of sounds I listen to: Dowland's lute pieces, Buxtehude organ works, Mahler's 'Veni, Creator Spiritus' from the 8th Symphony, some Charles Ives, Messiaen's 'Turangalila' Symphony and Anna Clyne's 'Blue Moth'
The Cambridge CX81 came first and I was desperately underwhelmed: the sound seemed to me to lack breadth - space and the sense of instruments in the right place - and, most of all, detail.
[I find describing audio really hard, so these comments may not mean much to you!]
The Arcam was next and I am surprised at how much I disliked it: everything felt repackaged and tamed and all the interesting edges and outlying sounds were rounded out.
Next came a Roksan, which the dealer said I had to hear. (I am afraid I hadn't even considered it - from ignorance only) I was (difficulty explaining again!) really blown away by it. I felt that the music had a dynamism and presence and a vitality, without any of the slight lag that I noticed only when remembering and comparing with the Roksan. I was about to go for it, when.....
I was then introduced to Simaudio's Moon 250 After just a few bars of Mahler's 8th, which can sound congested (the popular title 'Symphony of a Thousand' may be inaccurate, but there are times when it sounds like it), I was completely sold on it - or, rather, it was completely sold to me. My words are going to be inadequate - again - but I felt all but surrounded by the music, although the positioning of the Kefs hadn't changed. There was an ease about the sound: the best I can say is that it felt that the Moon could have coped with another orchestra and choir coming in and joining forces (Ives-like!) on stage. Both relaxed and thrilling and, although I cannot justify the feeling, a very clear feeling that the Moon and the Kefs went together perfectly.
I'm not sure how well-known Simaudio's Moon is in the UK, but it's clearly got a good rtecord and press in North America (it's a Canadian brand)
Two aspects of the after-sales reinforced my confidence. If, within the first 12 months of ownership, you wish to 'trade up' for a more extensive model from Moon, then Simaudio will take back your first purchase (as long as you've got the essential original packaging) and credit you the full pruchase price towards the new product. Their products are guaranteed for 5 years, but this is extended to 10 years, simply by registering your purchase within the first month of ownership, which I have done.
I am delighted with my purchase and hope my comments might be helpful to others.
It goes without saying that I would be interested to hear of other people's experiences wth the Kefs and/or the Moon - together or separately.
 
Last edited:
There is a real dearth of hifi shops here in France, as compared to the UK (I know) and North America (I think.) In the end, I travelled a couple of hours from here and listened to a series of amps at Hifidylle in 19100 Brive La Gaillarde. I'm one of those people who, at the optician's, says 'the green is clearer than the red' and then repeats that when I can see that the optician has switched the lenses....... Placed on the spot, I'm never sure of what I think!
I feared listening might be a bit like this, but it wasn't, I'm glad to say.
I took a series of discs which, I felt represented something of the range of sounds I listen to: Dowland's lute pieces, Buxtehude organ works, Mahler's 'Veni, Creator Spiritus' from the 8th Symphony, some Charles Ives, Messiaen's 'Turangalila' Symphony and Anna Clyne's 'Blue Moth'
The Cambridge CX81 came first and I was desperately underwhelmed: the sound seemed to me to lack breadth - space and the sense of instruments in the right place - and, most of all, detail.
[I find describing audio really hard, so these comments may not mean much to you!]
The Arcam was next and I am surprised at how much I disliked it: everything felt repackaged and tamed and all the interesting edges and outlying sounds were rounded out.
Next came a Roksan, which the dealer said I had to hear. (I am afraid I hadn't even considered it - from ignorance only) I was (difficulty explaining again!) really blown away by it. I felt that the music had a dynamism and presence and a vitality, without any of the slight lag that I noticed only when remembering and comparing with the Roksan. I was about to go for it, when.....
I was then introduced to Simaudio's Moon 250 After just a few bars of Mahler's 8th, which can sound congested (the popular title 'Symphony of a Thousand' may be inaccurate, but there are times when it sounds like it), I was completely sold on it - or, rather, it was completely sold to me. My words are going to be inadequate - again - but I felt all but surrounded by the music, although the positioning of the Kefs hadn't changed. There was an ease about the sound: the best I can say is that it felt that the Moon could have coped with another orchestra and choir coming in and joining forces (Ives-like!) on stage. Both relaxed and thrilling and, although I cannot justify the feeling, a very clear feeling that the Moon and the Kefs went together perfectly.
I'm not sure how well-known Simaudio's Moon is in the UK, but it's clearly got a good rtecord and press in North America (it's a Canadian brand)
Two aspects of the after-sales reinforced my confidence. If, within the first 12 months of ownership, you wish to 'trade up' for a more extensive model from Moon, then Simaudio will take back your first purchase (as long as you've got the essential original packaging) and credit you the full pruchase price towards the new product. Their products are guaranteed for 5 years, but this is extended to 10 years, simply by registering your purchase within the first month of ownership, which I have done.
I am delighted with my purchase and hope my comments might be helpful to others.
It goes without saying that I would be interested to hear of other people's experiences wth the Kefs and/or the Moon - together or separately.
isn't the 230 a headphone amplifier? Do you mean 240?
 

nopiano

Well-known member
Feb 15, 2009
1,211
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20,070
I’ve often thought Moon didn’t get the exposure here that they deserve, though some models were reviewed in WHF and other magazines. Their prices are bit steep but I don’t think there’s much doubting the quality. I’m so pleased you heard that at your audition and could choose accordingly.

You’re now an advocate of ‘please go and listen’!
 
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I’ve often thought didn’t get the exposure here that they deserve, though some models were reviewed in WHF and other magazines. Their prices are bit steep but I don’t think there’s much doubting the quality. I’m so pleased you heard that at your audition and could choose accordingly.

You’re now an advocate of ‘please go and listen’!
it is unfortunate that US and Canadian imports, in the UK at least, always seem overpriced irrespective of their quality. Having said that both my amp and speakers are American, needless to say I didn't pay full price for them... :)
 
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nopiano

Well-known member
Feb 15, 2009
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'' I nearly bought a used Arcam SA20 then I read on forums of problems with noisy transformers…..from over tight windings. It put me off I have to say….. ''

Tinman1952, post number 5.
Thank you! I usually reckon I see these things, but I didn’t make the connection.

In my experience, transformer noise is often related to dirty mains, so is invariably dependent on location, and time of day (for example, worse during factory hours).
 

RoA

Well-known member
Feb 11, 2021
335
181
570
I can only add that a perceived lack of dynamism was THE reason I chose not to go with an Arcam A85 which I'd otherwise quite liked the look (and best-buy reviews) of.
Regardless of brand 'house sound' theories though, I wouldn't judge any model until I'd heard it - something you must do.
Arcam's SA class G amplifiers are little power houses and (imho) have little common ground with the dynamically boring sound of Arcams of yore. I have avoided the brand in the last 25 years after a short stint with an 8 but was pleasantly surprised recently.
 
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rainsoothe

Well-known member
Apr 30, 2012
750
335
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There is a real dearth of hifi shops here in France, as compared to the UK (I know) and North America (I think.) In the end, I travelled a couple of hours from here and listened to a series of amps at Hifidylle in 19100 Brive La Gaillarde. I'm one of those people who, at the optician's, says 'the green is clearer than the red' and then repeats that when I can see that the optician has switched the lenses....... Placed on the spot, I'm never sure of what I think!
I feared listening might be a bit like this, but it wasn't, I'm glad to say.
I took a series of discs which, I felt represented something of the range of sounds I listen to: Dowland's lute pieces, Buxtehude organ works, Mahler's 'Veni, Creator Spiritus' from the 8th Symphony, some Charles Ives, Messiaen's 'Turangalila' Symphony and Anna Clyne's 'Blue Moth'
The Cambridge CX81 came first and I was desperately underwhelmed: the sound seemed to me to lack breadth - space and the sense of instruments in the right place - and, most of all, detail.
[I find describing audio really hard, so these comments may not mean much to you!]
The Arcam was next and I am surprised at how much I disliked it: everything felt repackaged and tamed and all the interesting edges and outlying sounds were rounded out.
Next came a Roksan, which the dealer said I had to hear. (I am afraid I hadn't even considered it - from ignorance only) I was (difficulty explaining again!) really blown away by it. I felt that the music had a dynamism and presence and a vitality, without any of the slight lag that I noticed only when remembering and comparing with the Roksan. I was about to go for it, when.....
I was then introduced to Simaudio's Moon 250 After just a few bars of Mahler's 8th, which can sound congested (the popular title 'Symphony of a Thousand' may be inaccurate, but there are times when it sounds like it), I was completely sold on it - or, rather, it was completely sold to me. My words are going to be inadequate - again - but I felt all but surrounded by the music, although the positioning of the Kefs hadn't changed. There was an ease about the sound: the best I can say is that it felt that the Moon could have coped with another orchestra and choir coming in and joining forces (Ives-like!) on stage. Both relaxed and thrilling and, although I cannot justify the feeling, a very clear feeling that the Moon and the Kefs went together perfectly.
I'm not sure how well-known Simaudio's Moon is in the UK, but it's clearly got a good rtecord and press in North America (it's a Canadian brand)
Two aspects of the after-sales reinforced my confidence. If, within the first 12 months of ownership, you wish to 'trade up' for a more extensive model from Moon, then Simaudio will take back your first purchase (as long as you've got the essential original packaging) and credit you the full pruchase price towards the new product. Their products are guaranteed for 5 years, but this is extended to 10 years, simply by registering your purchase within the first month of ownership, which I have done.
I am delighted with my purchase and hope my comments might be helpful to others.
It goes without saying that I would be interested to hear of other people's experiences wth the Kefs and/or the Moon - together or separately.
This is exactly how I ended up with Naim, I went in to listen to Sugden and something else, but then I got to hear Naim (which are a great match with the type of music I mainly listen to, just like Moon is with yours). Oddly enough, when I first heard the Naims, it was with Simaudio CDP.

I too rate Simaudio very highly, just skip recommending them because they're usually above budget :)

Congrats, it's an amazing amplifier.
 
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