Dolby Atmos and the imminent DTS:X are shaking up the AV receiver market with their object-based antics, yet Cambridge Audio is having none of it. With its latest pair of audiophile receivers, the CXR120 and CXR200 – its first new models since 2013’s Azur 751R – the company has given these features the cold shoulder, opting instead to make pure sound quality the priority.

Trading on performance alone is a bold move in such a fiercely-contested marketplace, particularly with models from the larger brands offering a superior spec for a similar price. Can Cambridge Audio make it work?

High-grade innards

The 7.2-channel CXR120 may be the cheaper and least muscular (120W per channel rather than 200W) of the two receivers, but with a £1,500 tag we’re in high-end territory. Most of that money goes towards a formidable array of high-grade components, including a fully-discrete class A/B amplifier design, an oversize low-flux toroidal transformer and Cirrus Logic 3-core 32-bit DSP chip.

This is all encased within elegant black bodywork that appears to float above the surface thanks to recessed feet – a design trick used across the CX range of separates.  Construction is immaculate – the CXR120 sports a brushed faceplate bolted to an acoustically-damped metal chassis and immovable aluminium top cover.

Cambridge Audio has stripped back the cluttered fascia of the 751R for a cleaner, simpler look, leaving only a handful of buttons, four ports (USB, HDMI, headphone and 3.5mm) and a smooth, firm volume dial. Succinct level and input messages on the tinted status window are easy to see.

Connectivity is fine without going overboard. There are six HDMI 2.0 inputs on the back with support for HDCP 2.2, 4K and 3D, while the front port is MHL-compatible. Dual HDMI outputs drive two displays at once, but separate Zone 2 output is held back for the CXR200. They’re joined by dual subwoofer outputs and two USB ports for an optional Bluetooth module and supplied Wi-Fi antenna, although the latter has to be tilted to avoid the HDMI cable above.

Despite the lack of Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and AirPlay, the feature list still includes 4K upscaling, DSD playback via HDMI, Spotify Connect and network audio streaming. The latter is handled by the same StreamMagic module found in Cambridge’s CXN network player. Format support from uPnP devices includes hi-res FLAC, ALAC, AIFF and WAV up to 192kHz/24-bit. I wouldn't expect anything less from a brand with a hi-fi heritage.

Disappointingly, streaming is only available through the Cambridge Connect Android/iOS app – you can't do it onscreen using the physical remote. The latter is easy to navigate and the app is also pleasant to use, allowing you to control Spotify playback, switch sources and adjust volume. However, limited access to the CXR’s audio functionality means you can’t ditch the physical handset completely.

Speaker configuration can be carried out manually, but auto setup mode proves quick and accurate. It sets the levels and distances, but leaves tonal characteristics alone. And height channels aren't totally ignored – the AVR features Dolby Pro-Logic IIz processing.

I hooked up the CXR120 to a Monitor Audio Bronze 5.1 package and they formed a distinguished all-British combo. The sound is refined yet entertaining, and the CXR120 maintains a stiff upper lip no matter how much you provoke it. In fact, it actually thrives on being pushed. At middling volumes it can sound a little polite and clinical, uninvolving even, but gets more assured as the dial creeps clockwise.

Crank it up and the CXR120 tears into the turbo-charged opening of Star Trek Into Darkness (Blu-ray, TrueHD) with agility and enthusiasm. As Kirk and Bones dart through the undergrowth on Nibiru, the receiver's considerable drive and punch keeps excitement levels high. Vigorous orchestral stabs propel the action forward, while weighty bass adds depth and scale. Kirk stuns an alien beast and you can feel the tight, solid thud as it topples to the ground. But most impressive is how real this all seems thanks to the CXR’s natural, insightful presentation.

When we move inside the volcano, the CXR120 starts to flex its muscles. Thick waves of LF thunder into the room as the lava rises and the mid-range roars. Dialogue also shines. Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice sounds utterly delicious as he reveals his machinations to Kirk – it’s deep and dripping in detail, with the CXR laying bare his rich and plummy inflections.

Swapping spaceships for simians, the CXR120 shows its softer side with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. As Caesar stalks a herd of deer in the movie's opening scene, the CXR120 performs a breathtaking display of detail clarity, with hissing rain, creaking branches and breathing apes bristling from every speaker. When the chase gets underway, footsteps on the mossy floor sound solid and textured.

And the CXR120 is a very musical performer. An 88kHz/24-bit version of Daft Punk’s Give Life Back To Music sparkles with detail in the hi-hats and guitar licks, while the metronomic drum kicks and bass exhibit supreme timing.

An issue of trust

Cambridge Audio is asking you to trust in the CXR120’s performance when you hand over your credit card. It rewards that trust with muscular, agile and beautifully detailed sound, not to mention stunning build quality. Brand loyalists with no interest in next-gen speaker layouts will lap this up. Others may remain unconvinced. They should grab a listen.