Cambridge Audio have carved themselves a rather attractive niche in recent years as one of the best budget audiophile brands. Despite costing a good 30% less than almost all their counterparts, they’ve delivered strings of fine products, as proved by glowing reviews and a string of What HiFi 5 star ratings.

Being the most expensive piece of kit here (weighing in at little under £400 RRP) we can rightfully expect a lot from the NP30. Boasting a rather impressive range of abilities, from internet radio streaming to receiving directly from UPP (universal plug and play) systems (computers, mp3 players etc) it seems to be quite an impressive combination of features.

Firstly, the internet radio aspect. A lot of people listen to internet radio in some way shape or form, so to have a budget audiophile piece of equipment to assist in that seems perfectly logical. Personally I used it to tune into Rinse FM London’s former pirate dance station. Ordinarily most people would be listening to these tracks, a lot of which are subtly produced and heavy on bass and EQ, through laptops or phones, so to listen to the station once it’s been integrated into the Hi Fi itself is rather amazing. It’s extremely competent and maintains an unbroken stream no matter how long it’s played for and, even for readers who haven’t given internet radio a listen before, increases the amount of radio stations to listen to tremendously.

It’s such a shame then that, again, the system is so hard to navigate and control. Searching through stations by scrolling across all 26 letters plus all numbers and punctuation every time does not make it easy, and with a lack of alphabetical keyboard on the remote it makes finding each station a chore. It’s worth persevering with, but it’s very frustrating.

The other, less important, problem is the time it takes to boot and connect. It’s a very complicated piece of equipment, but it takes about a minute to turn on and connect every time, so it’s not so great if someone tells you to tune in when they hear a track or for just a quick listen.

Having said that, the other, more important in my opinion, major feature is the linkup it can have with UPP systems. The idea of being able to play from your laptop to a high end piece of equipment must surely be exciting to everyone that has music on their computer – as great as our laptops and everything are, not many of us have a set up with them that allows us to really appreciate music from it in a more discerning way.

The link itself with the computer is more difficult than expected. While most computers and laptops etc have UPP capability, not many of them actually have an easy way of utilising it. After a brief search online it seems that to get UPP integration with iTunes, which would be the ideal program for most of us, we have to pay a premium for an extension to work which is somewhat frustrating. Just a quick note: this is not a criticism of the NP30 (it’s a criticism of iTunes if anything), but more a consideration to think about before purchasing.

However, there is a (relatively) easy way to get a UPP connection for free. By using an open source product such as Foobar2000 we can add on network connectivity relatively simply. Foobar2000 is an alternative to iTunes, and if you do a brief search on their site you can find a patch that will allow the program to broadcast through UPP. Once it’s connected just let it know where all the music is on your computer and every time more is added, simply turn the connectivity on and off and the receiver should find it.

If I could request one extra feature from the system it would be that it could simply play whatever was playing on my computer as it was being played rather than having to put everything on Foobar2000 first. I would love to be able to play straight from Soundcloud to the system directly, though I’m sure that would require a lot more engineering.

The final criticism of the piece is exactly the same as I had with the DR30 – the difficulty in searching and navigation. It’s a small point, but it gets frustrating when it happens every time.

Overall it feels like something of a prototype – some fantastic and very promising features hindered by some basic usability problems. Don’t get me wrong – this piece of kit is a fantastic achievement in sonic capability and engineering, but it just lacks usability.