If you’ve purchased a new piece of hi-fi gear in the past few years, you’ve no doubt seen a note like this in the box, with some variation of “Read me!” or “Please read” or “Start here!” or “Read me first.” Frankly, I almost never do. The last time I truly needed to read the literature for a product before digging into the review was for AudioControl’s super-complicated The Director Model M4800 Eight-Channel Network DSP Matrix Amplifier.
Or so I thought. Reading the insert for Cambridge Audio’s Evo 150 all-in-one would have saved me some confusion.
Specifically, that link in the middle there—the URL for the online instruction manual for the streamer-DAC-integrated amp—would have cleared up some confusion that had me scratching my head until nearly the end.
Whence the confusion? First off, what’s with these gorgeous little sculpted elements that look like side panels but aren’t actually affixed to the side of the amp? Is this thing rack-mountable? It didn’t strike me as a custom-installation product. And why wouldn’t it come with side panels installed by default?
Also, what’s with this nice but strapless fabric bag, sitting there under the swanky remote and beefy power cord? It can’t be used as a shopping bag, and the amp isn’t wrapped in it. What gives?
A quick peek under the thick polyethylene foam padding protecting the amp doesn’t really offer any answers to either question. But still, it’s nice to see the use of such durable but pliable packaging materials. If I had my druthers, all sensitive electronics would be packed in polyethylene foam, but this stuff’s crazy expensive, so you can understand why it’s a little rarer. There’s got to be at least $20 worth of PE in the photo below alone.
At any rate, once I got the Evo 150 out of its protective foam and started to peel off its wrapping (thick cellophane, I think), the included fabric bag started to make more sense. The wrapping is tightly folded and securely taped so snuggly that once you get the amp unwrapped, you’re probably not going to get it wrapped back up again in the same materials. That bell just doesn’t seem un-ringable to me. Hence the included bag, in case you need to return the amp or send it in for repairs, or just package it back up for a move.
The one thing that surprised me a bit when I was unwrapping the Evo 150 and flipping it this way and that to remove the tape is just how light the unit is. A quick check of the specs revealed that it tips the scales at just 5.3kg, or just over 11.5 pounds. I’m showing my age here (as well as a few of my biases), but that struck me as a bit concerning at first. Until, that is, I also spotted in the specs that the amp section relies on the same Hypex Ncore class-D amp topology employed in the NAD C 399 I reviewed a few months back. With such efficient architecture, you don’t need massive heatsinks to crank out the 150Wpc of power the Evo 150 is rated to deliver into 8 ohms. So the light weight definitely makes more sense.
You can see here that once you flip the unit over, the little air intakes along the beveled bottom disappear from view, hinting that the amp can’t be anywhere near as exothermic as much of its competition. This view also gives you your first good look at the Evo 150’s sizable 6.8″ screen, although it may not be obvious that it’s a screen with the power off. That big black specular rectangle to the left of the volume knob and source-selector screen (the silver ring around the volume knob)? That’s all screen real estate. And the little nubs on its right side are transport controls, an info button, the standby button, etc.
You can see from a quick look at the unit’s I/O section that the focus here is on digital connectivity. Aside from an MM phono input and an Aux input (with your choice of balanced XLR or single-ended RCA connections), all of the inputs are digital. These include an HDMI ARC connection, a USB-DAC port, a USB media port, an Ethernet port, a coaxial digital in, two optical digital ins, and a Bluetooth wireless input.
It was while I was digging around in the online manual to make sure I had all those digital ducks in a row, by the way, that I figured out exactly what was going on with the wavy endcaps referenced above. The wood side panels that the Evo 150 ships with can be popped off with a good bit of effort. And I do mean a good bit. If you’re not careful, you’ll injure a finger letting the strong magnets that hold on the endcaps snap back into place.
Swap the wood sides out for the sculpted inserts, and it instantly changes the entire vibe of the amp, replacing the quasi-retro styling evocative of old ’70s and ’80s gear (and let’s be honest: the first gaming consoles) with something decidedly more modern (and arguably more in keeping with the functionality of the Evo 150). I dig the sculpted side panels, but not nearly as much as the wood (sue me—I’m ancient), so I’ll be swapping them back in for the duration of my review, but I’m glad the option is there. This kind of aesthetic customization sets the Evo 150 apart, for sure, but does the performance match the presentation? As always, we’ll have to wait for the review to find out.
. . . Dennis Burger