ARTICLE: ORIGINS OF CAMBRIDGE AUDIO
24 November 2021
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Cambridge Audio began life as a division of Cambridge Consultants in 1968. The company's first product was the 2 × 20W P40 integrated amplifier, which was created by a team that included Gordon Edge and Peter Lee. In addition to an advanced technical specification the P40 had a slim case design by Roy Gray, from Woodhuysen Design.
The P40 would also make history as the first amplifier to use a toroidal transformer, which would go on to be a standard component inside virtually every high-end amplifier produced since.
Cambridge Audio became a standalone business from the group when a new company, Cambridge Audio Laboratories Ltd, was formed, operating from extensive premises alongside the old Enderby's Mill in St. Ives, Cambridge. The P40 was an immediate success, but would prove difficult to manufacture in any volume, a problem that would be resolved in 1970 with the introduction of the new 2 × 25W P50 model, which was a very similar product with regards to both circuit design and appearance, but had been engineered for mass production. Despite strong sales and rapid growth, the company required increased investment and so was sold in 1971 to Colin Hammond of CE Hammond & Co Ltd – then a very successful distributor of Revox tape recorders and other audio products in the UK, Canada and the USA.
DURING THE '70s
In 1972 new models included the P100 and P50mkII integrated amplifiers, the R40 transmission line loudspeaker and the T50 FM stereo tuner. Export sales had also begun and were proving very buoyant, in part due to the introduction of export-only products, including the TL100 and 200 transmission line speakers, the P75X integrated amplifier and the T75X stereo tuner. Stan Curtis put together a new team and re-designed the existing products as well as introducing a raft of new models. 1973 saw the introduction of the P110 integrated amplifier and the company's first turntable, while the P140X integrated amplifier was introduced for export markets.
INTO THE '80s
The business was relaunched as Cambridge Audio Research Ltd. with former technical director Stan Curtis charged with designing a new line of products. The new range had styling echoes of the original Cambridge products, but broke with tradition by being physically larger, starting with the P35 integrated amplifier launched in 1983, closely followed by the C75 preamplifier and A75 power amplifier. Financial difficulties for the parent company in 1984 led to Cambridge Audio Research being taken over by Stan and Angie Curtis and renamed Cambridge Audio International. The company moved back to St. Ives in Cambridge. The next four years saw a rapid expansion of the business with over 16 new products being launched and with export markets re-established in over 28 countries across the world. The amplifier range – C75mkII preamplifier, P40, P55 integrated and A250 power amplifier – received excellent reviews.
The continued expansion of the company put a strain on both its physical and financial resources and at the end of 1988 Cambridge Audio became part of the Hi-Fi Markets Group. The product range underwent another significant change in appearance with the low profile black cases giving way to full height cases finished in a neutral grey colour. Internally though, the existing Stan Curtis circuit designs were retained with key new product launches for the DAC2 and DAC3 digital-to-analogue converters and the T40 FM tuner. Within two years Cambridge Audio was purchased by the Wharfedale company, best known for its loudspeakers, which set up a production line at its large facility in Leeds, Yorkshire. Wharfedale was undergoing major re-organisation by a team that included Stan Curtis. Despite his sentimental attachment to Cambridge Audio, he realised the company needed a new home that could focus on the electronics and so the decision was made to divest Cambridge Audio and in 1994 the company would be sold for the last time before beginning more than 20 years of growth, innovation and profitability.
THE RISE OF DIGITAL-ANALOGUE CONVERTERS (THE '90s)
One of the first products to benefit was the DacMagic 1 digital-to-analogue converter, which was launched in 1994 – and later, as Dacmagic 2, was Cambridge Audio's first outright What HiFi? Awards winner as the best DAC of the year. Another product was the launch of the A1 amplifier in 1995, which was initially only available the UK. Consequently, the A1 integrated amplifier was a success both in the UK and on this high the company began to rebuild Cambridge Audio's international network, adding new distributors in France, Canada, the US, Hong Kong, Germany and Denmark.