Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2: One Minute Review
The Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2 is the updated version of a turntable that caused a bit of a stir at launch – here was finally a premium turntable that wanted to offer more convenience than usual. Specific, wireless streaming – and high resolution streaming wirelessly. Acclaim was immediate and more or less universal.
So Cambridge is back with a new, more expensive and slightly updated Alva TT: the V2. The integrated phono stage is now switchable. It has a new tonearm and cartridge in it. The price has gone up a bit. But V2 retains the original bank vault build quality, aptX HD hi-res wireless streaming smarts, and overall air of deep sturdiness that made it one of the best turntables out there.
It also retains many of the sonic touches of the original. The Alva TT V2 is an agile, smooth and insightful listening experience, a little short on dynamic headroom, but very long indeed on retrieving detail, tonal balance and generously engaging sound.
Yes, with this kind of money you can buy a more rigorous sonic stance and more dynamic headroom at the same time. What it won’t buy is better build quality, greater mid-range fidelity, anything like that much convenience, or the ability to listen directly on the best wireless headphones. So even more than usual on these pages, you have to make a value judgment.
Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2: Price and Release Date
- $1,999 / £1,699 / AU$3,699
- May 2022 release
The Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2 turntable was released in Spring 2022 and will officially cost $1,999 / £1,699 / AU$3,699. Don’t expect to find it at much discount either.
That’s serious money for a record player – and it’s the kind of money that brings quite a few high-profile alternatives into view. Everyone from Clearaudio and Rega in Europe, Technics in Japan and VPI in the United States will be happy to sell you a turntable for this kind of money with high-quality audio references – though admittedly they won’t be as extensively specified. Now let’s look at the features.
Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2: Design and Features
- 24bit/48kHz aptX HD wireless streaming
- Integrated, switchable phono stage
- Direct drive
As far as true ‘design’ goes, nothing about the Cambridge Audio Alva TT v2 will surprise or deter you. Designed to look like a turntable, albeit beautifully constructed and finished, this turntable will never become an interior decorator’s favorite item.
That’s not to say it doesn’t look good, or look much like the outgoing Alva TT. A hefty, smooth-finished chassis is topped by a tactile aluminum plinth with the ‘Cambridge’ logo punched into one corner and three buttons (‘power on/off’, ‘33.3’ and ’45’) nicely recessed into another. The whole is covered by a hinged, smoke plastic dust cover.
On top of the plinth is an extremely hefty polyoxymethylene platter and an all-new tonearm design on the side. For this V2 model, the tonearm now features anti-skate and counterweight adjustment and has a detachable headshell for easy cartridge replacement. It comes pre-loaded with a cartridge, of course – a high-output Cambridge Audio moving coil option with a replacement cost (according to the brand’s website) of £499.
On the inside, the Alva TT v2 uses a direct-drive mechanism to spin that fat platter – but this isn’t a DJ-centric turntable to plug into a mixer. Cambridge Audio claims that the best way to ensure rotational stability is to specify a medium torque direct drive motor in combination with a high density platter. That’s what this turntable has, and while it takes a few times longer than you’d expect to get up to speed, it’s unwavering once it gets there.
A number of interesting items can be found on the rear of the chassis. There’s a current input and a pair of stereo RCA analog outputs for connection to an amplifier, both of which are virtually on par.
There is also a switch for the integrated phono stage – this circuit is closely based on the well-received Alva Duo stand-alone phono stage that Cambridge Audio introduced a while ago and, unlike the original Alva TT, is optional. Turn it on and the V2 outputs at a line level that any amp can handle; turn it off and the signal must be amplified by onboard preamp circuitry or by an external phono stage.
So if the owner’s system already includes enough amplification, it’s possible to compare the V2’s built-in amplification with that of the system it’s playing in and make a decision based on the perceived sound quality. This is an improvement over the original Alva TT, whose ‘always on’ phono stage seemed a bit useless.
There’s also a switch to enable or disable Bluetooth connectivity, plus a button to initiate Bluetooth pairing. Unlike most Bluetooth-equipped turntables, which are generally entry-level devices that prioritize convenience over everything else, the Alva TT V2 is dead serious about wireless streaming. Thus, it is specified to support the aptX HD Bluetooth codec and can stream at an authentic high resolution of 24 bit/48 kHz.
Which means if you want a turntable that can sit where you want, instead of where it’s supposed to be, and deliver the audio products wirelessly, well… Cambridge Audio remains the only game in town.
Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2: Audio Performance
- Articulate and impressive wireless performance
- Highly capable integrated phono stage
- Missing a little dynamism and positivity
Unlike most turntables, there are three ways to listen to the Alva TT V2: Wired to an amplifier with phono amplification turned on; the same, but with the phono stage turned off; and wirelessly via Bluetooth.
And while there are quite distinct differences in the way the Cambridge presents your vinyl, its fundamental attitude doesn’t change no matter which way you decide to listen to it. In all circumstances it’s a balanced, mindful and engaging listening experience – and as long as you (and your music) aren’t permanently in ‘party on!’ mode, it’s a satisfying listen.
That it sounds better wired than streaming wireless shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. What is quite surprising, however, is how good the Alva TT V2 sounds when streaming via Bluetooth.
With a solid reissue of Miles Davis’ Kind of blue spinning and streaming the turntable to a Naim Uniti Star streamer/amplifier while physically only connected to power, the Cambridge sounds full, detailed and quite eloquent. More than enough detail has been preserved to bring out the nuances of the musicians’ techniques, and enough control over the entire frequency range to make the recording sound authentically like a performance. The bass is deep and agile, the top end is acceptably clear and the mids communicate unambiguously.
The soundstage is quite well organized and quite expansive, and there is never any possibility of one element of the recording invading the space of another. Low-level dynamics insight is also good – a recording like this lives with small harmonic variations, and the Alva TT V2 is quite alert to that.
However, it isn’t quite as successful when it comes to the broader dynamic peaks and valleys of a recording – it’s not like the Cambridge sounds flat or works on a single level, but the dynamic ebb and flow of a recording isn’t expressed as fully as it is. it could be.
Our Naim has no phono amplification, so the Cambridge is first wired with the internal amplification turned on, then via a Chord Huei standalone phono stage with the Alva TT V2’s amplification turned off. It must be said that the performance differences are quite predictable.
Using its own built-in amplification, the Cambridge gains a degree of positivity over its wireless sound. It’s still a smooth and detailed listening experience, but low frequencies get a bit of excitement when it comes to attack and decay, while the top end is a bit more assertive too. It’s just a more businesslike way of listening, even if the overall TT V2 sonic signature is pretty much the same. When it’s wired, it’s just a little smoother.
The internal amplification is indeed comparable to the Alva Duo phono stage on which it is closely based, which is undeniably a good thing. Unsurprisingly, though, it’s no match for the more expensive Chord Huei phono stage – and while the Chord is disproportionately expensive in the context of the rest of this system, it allows the Cambridge to fully demonstrate what it’s capable of and what its limitations are .
The shaping of low frequencies lifts again when you listen this way. Rhythmic expression becomes more certain, the transient retrieval of details improves and the unity, the togetherness of the individual elements of a recording seems more natural and instinctive than before. However, even an over-specified phono stage can’t help the Alva TT V2’s slight lack of dynamics, nor extract greater immediacy from its overall performance.