Cambridge Audio MXN10 streamer–D/A processor

June 21, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

For music listening circa 2024, streaming is both the present and the future. Physical formats are still around, and they are still the best choice in some cases, as with deluxe reissues of beloved albums, which may add value with extra live performances, full-resolution surround sound, and other perks. The niche vinyl market continues to thrive, and that business model obviously works for releases of a few thousand copies. (It also works, apparently, for releases of hundreds of thousands of T-Swift platters to be displayed on shelves and hung on walls.)

But facts is facts: Streaming is now the only mass medium for listening to recorded music—the primary carrier for music—and has been for a few years now. According to RIAA statistics, the crossover year was 2016. That’s when, in revenue terms, streaming outpaced physical formats. By 2022, the latest full year tabulated, streaming accounted for 84% of US recorded-music revenue (footnote 1).

So what’s a long-time audiophile, born into the analog world, with strong roots in physical media, supposed to do? We can cling stubbornly to our shelves of LPs and CDs—as I do. We can rage against lossy streaming such as that provided by market leader Spotify. (I do that, too.) We can pay $30+ for a vinyl copy of the newest hit album, most likely recorded digitally and then cut to a format rife with audible sound-quality compromises. (I don’t do that.)

Or we can embrace the present and future, integrate high-quality streaming and digital files into our audio life, and benefit from the easy, low-cost musical exploration streaming offers. Streaming and physical media coexist beautifully and often enhance each other, aided by current hi-fi hardware.

For the benefit of those who haven’t done it already, here’s the argument for jumping into streaming, in a nutshell: For the cost of a couple of cups of coffee a month—less than the cost of a single LP or CD—you can easily find and quickly play a goodly portion of all the recorded music that has been digitized, at home or on the go (footnote 2). You can get at least CD quality and often HD from Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon, or Apple Music. Search for any song that pops into your head, or that you read about, or that a friend recommends, and more likely than not, after a few finger-punches on your phone, it’s playing for you.

Remember the bad old days when FM-radio tastemakers (the music “influencers” of the day) decided what new music you could hear? Remember going to a store to buy an expensive LP or CD selected largely on faith? (What FM station regularly played whole albums? Mostly we heard a handful of hits.) Good riddance, bad old days.

In the modern world, streaming is both the cheapest way to hear most recorded music and, if you are mulling buying a physical copy, it’s cheap try-before-you-buy insurance.

The downside, and it’s real, is that we’re only renting the vast history of recorded music, month-to-month. There’s a chance our favorite streaming service could go out of business—and then what have we got? Just the files we’ve bought (if we’re lucky) and physical media we’ve collected.

A young adult reading this magazine (such a rare creature, alas, so welcome, friend) might chuckle and say, “Hey old man, WTF? Physical formats have been zombies for decades. Don’t you remember Napster, the iPod, ripping your CDs into iTunes? You still keep those shiny 5″ relics around? Yeah, I dig the vinyls, but most music I hear streams out of my phone. Get with the program, gramps!” Fellow analog-born audiophile, allow me to introduce a low-cost/low-risk way to get with said program, even if you’re a die-hard CD hater and presently have a system that includes no digital components (footnote 3).

A bridge to the future present

The Cambridge Audio MXN10 is a compact, self-contained gateway into the world of ephemeral music media, not only streaming from the online services but also music files stored locally on your network, hard drives, and thumb drives plus the fascinating world of internet radio. The MXN10 has a streaming (Ethernet and Wi-Fi) input and a high-quality D/A converter with unbalanced RCA analog outputs. Give it a music-data source and plug it in to any old-school, previously all-analog system, no equipment required but a pair of interconnects (footnote 4).

If you already have a favorite DAC, whether it’s a standalone component or part of a DAC/preamp or digital integrated amplifier, the MXN10 has S/PDIF digital outputs, both RCA and optical (TosLink). As previously mentioned, it connects to your home network via Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. The MXN10 is Roon Ready, which means it implements Roon’s excellent RAAT (Roon Advanced Audio Transport); it worked well as an endpoint in my Roon-based system. If you don’t pay for Roon, you can stream using Cambridge’s StreamMagic app, which works on Apple and Google smartphones and tablets and natively incorporates Spotify Connect, Qobuz, Tidal, and Deezer. You can stream directly from your smartphone or tablet at CD resolution with Apple AirPlay 2 or Google Chromecast, or you can connect your device using lossy (but universal) Bluetooth. You can connect an SSD or thumb drive full of digital music files to a USB socket on the back and play those. All that in an unobtrusive metal case with a self-contained power supply (not a wall wart) for just $500.

What the MXN10 doesn’t have is a front-panel display or controls beyond an on/off switch and four Preset buttons, for one-push access to favorite internet radio stations or streaming albums or playlists, configured in the StreamMagic app. App control is the way to go.

The MXN10 has a sibling—a fraternal twin—the AXN10—with the same features and innards but a different form factor. (A Black Edition of the MXN10, with an all-black face and case, was released in October 2023; see Industry Update in the January 2024 issue.) In its product announcement, Cambridge noted, “The MXN10 offers the same features and functionality in a more compact form factor, making it a discreet and easy way to add streaming to any music system—including bringing vintage kit bang up to date.” Tuck it behind your Marantz 7B, plug into an AUX input, and no one will know your system has entered the 21st century.

Under the hood is Cambridge’s fourth-generation StreamMagic module, built around a Quad core ARM Cortex-A53 1.8GHz CPU. This little computer routes the streams of bits and bytes from the interwebs, attached drive, or the local network to an ESS Sabre ES9033Q DAC chip, where the bits and bytes (PCM or DSD) get converted to an electrical representation of two-channel music, or toward those coaxial and optical S/PDIF transmitters. The computer interacts with the phone app via the home network. Use your phone to select and play music, and inside that little metal box, the MXN10’s computer takes care of things, and music emerges.

Up and running

I reviewed a Black Edition MXN10. I used the StreamMagic app or Roon (the server running on my office desktop computer, the control app on my phone), pulling data from my music library master hard drive, connected to the computer via USB. The library is mirrored on my NAS, which served as the source for local-network audio I streamed. Using the StreamMagic app, I signed into my Qobuz account, allowing direct control of Qobuz through StreamMagic. The same can be done with Tidal and Deezer. In the case of Spotify, you select the MXN10 as the destination “speaker.” Spotify Connect then uses the Spotify app as the control interface, but the MXN10 communicates directly with Spotify’s servers and the datastream is flowing directly through the MXN10 without first passing through your phone. During the course of this review, I used an older iPad and my iPhone 15 as remotes for StreamMagic and Roon. I even ran StreamMagic on a decommissioned iPhone 7s.

Cambridge provides a quick start guide in the box; a detailed manual is online (footnote 5). The first step was setting the MXN10 connected to my Wi-Fi network. In the Apple ecosystem, this is achieved by setting it as a new AirPlay device, then downloading the StreamMagic app and following its setup procedure. After this initial setup, firmware updates took place automatically when I wasn’t using the device. As part of the setup procedure, the MXN10 asks permission to join your Wi-Fi network via your phone. Once it’s signed in, it’s good to go.

Warning to the impatient: The setup procedure may require a firmware update, which takes a long time. As my wife says, pull on your patient pants and sit tight. Being the impatient sort, my first move when I unpacked the MXN10 was to connect via Bluetooth and stream some music from the Qobuz app on my phone. This no-fuss approach yielded instant satisfaction and confirmed that the thing worked, but if that’s as far as you’re going, just get a nice Bluetooth speaker and be done with it. The point of devices like this is all the other stuff they do.

Footnote 1: See Note that even though streaming revenue has been a shot in the arm for the record biz, revenues adjusted for inflation are nowhere near the peak reached in the Compact Disc heyday.

Footnote 2: Estimates vary as to how much of the music ever recorded ever made it to CDs or streaming services. Google it to join the fray, but prepare for a trip down a rabbit hole. As a person with relatively wide tastes and interests, I’d estimate that perhaps 80% of what catches my fancy is easily findable on Qobuz or Spotify.

Footnote 3: Hopefully, even die-hard CD haters understand by now that digital audio can sound good; after all, the technology has had 40+ years to mature, roughly the same timeframe as from the dawn of commercial electrical recording in 1925 to the birth of the CD. If you’re determined to go to your grave hating all things digital, you probably stopped reading before you got to this footnote.

Footnote 4: For the best-quality music streaming, an Ethernet connection is always preferred—for that, you’d also need an Ethernet cable—but Wi-Fi works, too, and that’s how most people will probably use it.

Footnote 5: See

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