Cambridge DacMagic Review
The Cambridge DacMagic has been out for a while now, and last year I did have a chance to listen to them, but I was unimpressed. Well, at that time I was in the midst of auditioning high end CD Players for my main source, and in that environment, yes the DacMagic at $400 is simply outclassed. I know, sometimes a great gear sound dull when put to even better gears. But in retrospect, even now, there are things that the DacMagic does better, even when compared to the $1,600 CEC CD Player. As a matter of fact, the performance of the DacMagic is so good that it moves me to write this review, despite the abundance of other reviews out there.
The DacMagic is one of the many DACs equipped with highly popular Wolfson WM8740 D/A chips. As I’ve found out during the comparisons, the D/A chip alone doesn’t tell much about the sonic performance, but the DacMagic is certainly one of the
better excellent ones. Cambridge Audio makes a lot of CD Players, from the 340C to the 840C model, each having a slightly different D/A design. But the technology that we find on the DacMagic actually trickles down from two of the flagship models, the 740C and the 840C. The 740C CD Player comes with the same dual WM8740 chip configuration, and though I don’t imply that the circuitry would be 100% identical, coming from the same manufacturer, surely that is highly probable. Additionally, the asynchronous upsampling process that is used in the DacMagic is also used in the 740C and the 840C, though at higher rates: 384kHz for the 840C and the 740C, and only 192 kHz on the DacMagic. Using a 32Bit DSP chip, combined with an Adaptive Time Filtering (ATF™) process, the DacMagic upsamples any incoming files to a fixed 24/192 resolution. Still, 24/192 is no slouch, considering ultra high end DACs a few years ago only comes at 24/96 resolutions.
When compared to a newer DAC offerings with 24/96 support straight from USB (like the Dr. DAC2 DX) the DacMagic does look a little outdated, with only 16/48 support from USB. Luckily, the sonic quality makes up for slightly inferior specifictions. Anyway, if the DacMagic automatically upsamples everything to 24/192, and it does a fairly great job at that, does it matter if it’s limited to 16/48 from the USB interface? Yes, 24/96 files upsampled to 24/192 is still better, but as we’ll see later, the final sound quality of the DacMagic really makes you forget about all the numbers.
Build quality is one of the best I’ve seen on this price range. Sure it doesn’t have fancy display like the Matrix Mini-i, but the smooth dark grey finishing simply belongs in another class. The DacMagic is also a pure DAC box, void of any headphone jacks. Hence the front panel is pure minimalism with just the necessary buttons and LED indicators. The buttons have a superb tactile feel, and the whole experience feels more expensive than the other $400 units we’ve come across.
Cambridge Audio supplied 4 pieces of circular rubber foot to attach to the DacMagic, as well as a base for standing the DacMagic in a vertical position. Nothing too fancy, but they get the job done when you want to save real estate on your work desk. The supplied power supply is a wallwart, and I’m already thinking of building a “real” power supply just to see how much better the DacMagic can get.
Operational is very simple and intuitive. There are three sets of digital inputs at the back (two S/PDIFs with coax and toslink, one USB), a balanced XLR analog out and an RCA analog out. There is also a digital output through S/PDIF interfaces that passes through the signal with no modifications to it. The digital out supports DTS and 5.1 signals passthrough. The source button toggles between the three source inputs, and the filter/phase button toggles between the three available filter modes, and holding the same button will invert the phase of the music signal. Lastly on the right side you’re given led indicators to display the sample rate of the files coming in.
Get your cables ready and start plugging the right cable to the right connector. Plug in the wallwart supply, and turn the power on. No lights at the power on? That’s normal, the DacMagic will unmute itself and comes into operational after 4-5 seconds.