- Excellent sound
- Robust build quality
- Wide digital music format support
- Reliable and easy to use
- Hesitation when loading lists
- Dark grey finish a little dull
- No Spotify or Napster
- Review Price: £399.95
- Wi-Fi or wired network connection
- MP3, AAC, HE AAC, AAC+, Ogg Vorbis, AIFF, WMA, FLAC and WAV (24-bit/96kHz) support
- Access to internet radio and music streaming services
- UuVol remote app
- Wolfson DAC
We all know CDs are going the same way as dodos, dinosaurs and 100% mortgages, but switching over to digital music presents its own set of problems. With all those files holed up on hard-drives, what’s the best way to play them out loud? Burn CDs? Defeats the object. Copy to USB stick? Time consuming. Listen through your computer’s speakers? Dubious sound quality.
The solution is to get yourself a network music player like the Cambridge Audio NP30. These increasingly popular machines allow you to play digital music files from devices on your home network through their Ethernet or Wi-Fi connections.
It’s the sort of functionality you’ll find in the latest generation of AV receivers and Blu-ray players, but the advantage of Cambridge Audio’s NP30 is that it’s a dedicated music player and therefore geared up to deliver the best-possible sound quality.
But the NP30 does much more than stream your music library. It can also stream internet radio, putting tens of thousands of stations at your disposal, and access music streaming services. There are even two USB ports that let you play songs from USB pen drives and FAT32-formatted external hard drives.
The unit itself looks a bit plain and functional in its dark-grey incarnation, but the silver finish is much more glitzy. Either way it’s beautifully built, from the robust casing and thick, brushed metal fascia down to the solid buttons and bright blue display panel on the front. This provides a wealth of text, including radio stations, server names, track titles and albums, and it scrolls when required to show all the information in full. The buttons include playback and menu controls, plus there’s a large dial for scrolling through lists.
You’ll need to partner the NP30 with a separate amplifier, and for that purpose there’s a healthy selection of sockets on the rear panel. Want to transfer music in the digital domain? No problem. There are two digital audio outputs – one coaxial, one optical – backed up by an analogue stereo output. It’s worth noting, though, that if you are thinking of using only the digital outputs, other much more budget units will give you the same basic functions – it’s the high quality analogue circuitry, as well as the fit and finish, that you’re paying for here.
You can make a wired connection to your network using the Ethernet port (you’ll need to if you want to stream 24-bit files) or use the built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connection, for which you’ll need to screw on the supplied antenna. Completing the line-up is a trigger input and a USB port.
Naturally for a device dedicated to playing digital music, format support is wide-ranging. It plays studio-quality (24-bit/96kHz) FLAC and WAV files – with Cambridge Audio keen to stress their ‘better than CD’ sound quality – as well as lower bitrate versions of these files. Also on the list is MP3 (CBR and VBR), AAC, HE AAC and AAC , Ogg Vorbis, AIFF and WMA.
Under the bonnet is an array of premium components designed to keep those audio signals sounding as clean as possible, including a Wolfson digital-to-analogue converter (DAC). The player’s internal workings are all geared up to keep jitter at bay, an excess of which can harm sound quality.
Download the free UuVol remote app and you can control the NP30 with an iPhone, as well as simplifying setup and managing streaming services and internet radio.
The current line-up of streaming services comprises Aupeo, Live365, MP3tunes and BBC iPlayer Radio, but not Napster or Spotify – their inclusion would have made it an even more formidable selection.
With UPnP devices, setup is blissfully simple. The NP30 connects to your network quickly and easily. It automatically determines whether you’re using a wired or wireless connection and searches for Wi-Fi access points when you first fire it up, displaying them clearly in a list. The unit supports WEP, WPA and WPA2 Wi-Fi encryption, and entering the password using front panel’s alphanumeric grid is simple enough.
Accessing the music you want couldn’t be simpler. Hit the Home button on the remote and you get a list of four options – UuVol Radio, Streaming Services, Media and Podcasts. Select media streaming and it finds any uPnP servers such as laptops, PCs or NAS drives without hesitation and again displays their names in a list ready for selection.
Once you’ve found the relevant server, your music can be displayed using all the usual metadata (genre, album, artist etc) but there’s also an alphanumeric keyword search that saves you the hassle of scrolling through pages and pages to find a particular song. When scrolling down lists, the NP30 hesitates briefly when it loads each page (and only four items are shown at once).
Armchair navigation is made possible by the supplied remote, which boasts classy build quality. It’s weighty, styled in an attractive silver finish and sports tidily arranged rubber buttons. It’s a treat to use, although some of the labelling is a little small.
The NP30 is a sublime performer across the board. From 192kbps MP3s up to 24-bit FLAC and WAV files, this unit displays a level of control and refinement that sets it apart from the majority of Blu-ray decks with similar streaming functionality.
It’s obviously at its best with FLAC and WAV. With our test tracks the NP30 ekes out minute little details and textures like the subtle rasp of a vocal or the pluck of guitar strings – stuff that goes largely unnoticed with inferior formats on inferior players.
But even with 320kbps MP3 and WMA files the NP30 excels, imbuing songs with an open feel, exceptional clarity in the higher frequencies, rock-solid bass and midrange, and a generally smooth character. Feed it a laid back jazz or soul song and the sound is fluid and soothing, but flip to an uptempo dance track and it bursts to life with impressive energy and an impeccable sense of rhythm.
We also can’t fault the streaming performance. Not once during our test did the Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection drop out – we were simply treated to long, uninterrupted periods of musical bliss. That’s great to know if you’re leaving internet radio or streaming services playing in the background at a party.
The quality of web radio varies greatly according to the bitrate of the station, with almost none delivering what you’d call audiophile levels of quality, but none of the stations we sampled gave us anything less than enjoyable sound.
The Cambridge Audio NP30 is a first-rate network music player – easy to use, beautifully built and a highly competent performer. What’s more, its £400 price tag seems like an absolute bargain compared with the wallet-busting prices of high-end streamers from the likes of Naim, Yamaha and Musical Fidelity.
These expensive rivals might provide even greater musical refinement, but the NP30 is a top-notch performer in its own right. So if you’re after an affordable network player that streams your digital music library and web radio with no fuss or bother, then the NP30 is a fantastic choice.
Score in detail
Build Quality 9
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