Americans who know Cambridge Audio might think of the brand as out of reach, a bit obscure.
Now in its 50th year in existence, Cambridge recently opened its first retail location in America (and first in the world, for that matter), making it their flagship. Located between the hip, growing Wicker Park and Bucktown areas, Cambridge Audio wants to settle in, make connections and grow the brand … in a brilliantly organic way.
We recently dropped by the new space — you’ll find it at 1913 N. Milwaukee Ave. — to chat with Gregg Chopper and Sam Willett, the respective Director of the Americas and U.S. Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the British Audio brand. The choice to locate the flagship store in Chicago was nothing short of intentional according to Chopper, owing to the city’s strong musical heritage and culture. And given the 50th anniversary, they found it only appropriate to cut the ribbons before the end of the year.
If you’re expecting an Apple store-like experience, you’d be very wrong. The store is properly British: understated, a bit rustic and eminently cool thanks to its organic look and feel.
Step inside via a short corridor and you’ll enter the main showroom, where nothing is overdone. There’s a big Union Jack rug on the floor surrounded by speakers and a tasteful wall of backlit audio hardware. A short walk down a hallway leads to an intimate listening room that houses their latest product launches, a big comfy sofa and the privacy to listen to whatever you want. In the back is the intimate North American corporate office.
In company with the store opening, the British brand also announced a long-term partnership with Chicago’s Merit School of Music to generate awareness for both. The effort is part of a larger strategic plan under which Cambridge partners with nonprofit groups to benefit charitable causes as well as grow a grassroots consumer fan base for its products.
Though Cambridge Audio might sell their wares online, their approach to building a physical showroom and listening space is nothing short of old school. The audio equipment is both beautiful to behold and truly sonorous, with little window dressing to distract from the space’s purpose: to invite true audiophiles to test out premium, high-fidelity equipment in a controlled environment.
Here are a few of Cambridge Audio’s products that nabbed our attention during our visit ...
Azur 851N Streaming Audio Player
The award-winning 851N network player can stream Tidal, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay, and Direct Stream Digital over Wi-Fi, as well as receive input via USB and digital audio inputs.
YOYO (L) Bluetooth All-In-One Home Audio System
The gamut of portable Bluetooth speakers is downright overwhelming. The YOYO (L) is the largest in its line and stays put but delivers powerful bass and clarity. It utilizes Bluetooth streaming, and can handle Chromecast, Spotify Connect along with included ARC and Optical Input for TV connections.
DAC Magic XS
You didn’t know digital could sound this good for so little. The DacMagic XS USB Digital to analog converter (DAC)/ headphone amp uses a USB port and connect your headphones giving you rich sound that doesn’t require you to be rich.
Edge A Integrated Amplifier
While the Edge A may looks simple, it’s anything but. The selector and volume knob are made from 32 individual parts, though it only looks like two. The system delivers superb sound that’s on par with components that cost three times as much, and the signal path is ultra-clean, as is the sound delivery.
Images from Cambridge Audio; main image by the author.