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 with the vertical base.

 

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 DAC2 DX) the DacMagic does look a little outdated, with only 16/48 support from USB.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.

Left to right: On/off switch, source indicator, source selector, digital filter indicator, digital filter and phase selector.

 

The three different filter settings, and the incoming sample rate indictors. Notice the phase inverter indicator next to the sample rate indicators.

 

Left to right: RCA analog out, XLR analog out, S/PDIF digital inputs, S/PDIF digital outputs, USB input, and power supply input.

 

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.

The front panel is very clean and clutter free.


  • Jose

    I find this is the best review so far of the DacMagic, just for the fact that you focused on each of the phase settings. With my setup (EF5 with HE5, and MacbookPro) I find the Minimum phase setting is the most enjoyable in most cases, but the Linear phase is better for well recorded music-still comes out harsh with the HE5 sometimes-the Steep is just unbearable to me. What I cannot get my ears around of is the Invert phase setting, I just don't get how they affect the sound, not even with the K701. Maybe you can shed some light there, since my listening skills cast shadow upon it.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Jose,
      Gosh I guess I didn't say anything about the Invert phase setting. Why would anyone want to invert the phase on the music? According to the manual, if you suspect that a recording has an inverted phase, then you can use that switch to correct it. Well, I really have never come across a recording with a wrong phase, so I can't say much about that. When I did try the phase invert on a perfectly fine recording, and on the HD800, the sound becomes messed up. Imaging is diffused and very wrong. The music also becomes diffused and muddy. So, no I don't think you want to use that setting.

      Cheers.

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    We're talking about modding the DacMagic over at the Lounge:

    http://www.headfonia.com/bbpress/topic.php?id=9

  • .Sup

    Very good review. I've been having the Dm+ND-S1 combo for a while now and I must say both devices are performing like several hundred more expensive devices. Further I believe DM can compete with DACs that cost up to 1k. Here's an old photo of my setup: http://assets.head-fi.org/7/70/708d072f_3.jpg

    regards, Peter

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Very nice looking set up, Peter!

      Yes the DacMagic is really good for the price. I was quite tempted to send the DacMagic in to effectiveaudiomod.com for extracting an
      even better performance out of it.

  • Mikehell

    Hi mike,
    Great review..I’m a fan of your writing..
    Between pico dac and dac magic which one is better when you mostly listen to female vocals and other mainstream music..?? My setup is Lisa III + HD650 and I use laptop as source..

    Thank,

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      With your set up, I’ll go with the DacMagic. I think the Pico will be too dark with the Lisa III and HD650.

  • Karina

    Hello everyone!, I´m Karina from Argentina.
    I wanted to ask you Mike and everyone else which DAC sound best to you, I followed the reviews and the ones that I can buy here in my country are: ESI Dr. DAC nano (US$ 140), ESI Dr. DAC Prime (US$ 650), Cambridge Audio DacMagic (US$ 650). Others I can get are the EMU 0404 USB (US$ 430), Apogee One (US$ 330) and Duet (US$ 670), and M-Audio stuff. It´s going to be connected to a iMac preferably via USB, or should I use the optical out? the DAC output will be conected to a Krell KAV300iL amplifier that is paired with Sounus Faber Concertino Domus Speakers. The amp has balanced and unbalanced line in connections.
    Thanks in advance.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Karina! I'm not sure about the Krell and Sonus Speakers combination. If you can tell me the kind of sound you're looking for, then I can help you to narrow down the search better.

      The Dr. DAC Nano shouldn't be considered for your set up, it's too entry level.
      The Dr. DAC Prime has more of a monitoring character. Very detailed and excellent technicalities, but not very optimized for music listening.
      The DacMagic is very good for music listening, and it's quite neutral all around with smooth sound.
      I haven't tried the EMU and the Apogee stuffs, but for now the HRT Music Streamer II+ is a very strong recommendation. They also make the MS Pro version with balanced analog out.

      Here is the link to the reviews: http://www.headfonia.com/hrt-music-streamer-ii-24http://www.headfonia.com/cambridge-dacmagic-reviehttp://www.headfonia.com/esi-audiotrak-dr-dac-pri

  • Karina

    Hello Mike, thanks for your answer, I like detailed sound but not at a expense that it turns to be un-listenable over long periods of listening.

    Here is a link of a review of the Krell: http://www.avrev.com/home-theater-power-amplifier… And here a little info about the Sonus Faber: http://www.ultimateavmag.com/content/sonus-faber-
    I think the best will be feeding the Krell with a balanced connection because it has a balanced design.

    To bad that HRT products aren't available here, because they look great.

    The DacMagic isn't detailed as the Dr. Dac Prime right? is there too much difference?

    Thanks for your help.

    Greetings,

    Karina

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Karina, without getting long and winded, I believe you'll be best off with the DacMagic, as it also offers balanced audio signal. If you want to deal with the hassle of importing, you can look into the HRT Music Streamer Pro, which should be better than the DacMagic, and comes with balanced analog outputs.

  • Karina

    Hello Mike, I’ll try to contact him, is he a distributor for HRT? if so then the best will be to ask him about the price and where to buy it, and then separately find an importer.

    Thanks for your help. :)
    Karina

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Karina, I believe you can purchase the MS2+ directly from Scot @ EliteAV. :)

  • Karina

    Mike, thanks for your comments, I really appreciate it. I think I'll first look if the HRT can be imported at an rasonable price, if so I think it's the best bet. I read in your review of the Music Streamer II+ that it even sounds better than the DacMagic, so if I can't afford the Pro version I should go with it instead of the DacMagic.

    Thanks again,

    Karina

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Karina, the MS2+ should be good enough. But if you want to have balanced connection, I believe the MS Pro is just ~$100 difference from the MS2+. You can ask Scot at Elite AV for the pricing: http://www.eliteavdist.com/contact.cfm

  • Karina

    Hello Mike, I would like to thank you for your help and advice. ;)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Anytime ;)

  • http://www.uwsp.edu/athletics/mbb/roster.htm Team Roster

    You you could edit the webpage name title Cambridge DacMagic Review | Headfonia to more catching for your webpage you create. I enjoyed the the writing yet.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Wow, thanks for the constructive comments. Not everyday we get one of those. Thanks, I’ll try to change it when I get to the office.

  • eric

    Compared to the compass dac, is the dacmagic much better and worth the money? I’m considering getting a dacmagic as an upgrade to my audio gd compass. I got a burson ha 160 at home already with 701s and 580s..

    • Anonymous

      If you’re talking about the Audio-gd, then yes, the Dacmagic is better.

      • eric

        Would you say it is worth the 400 or so dollars worth of upgrade over the audio gd compass though?

        • Anonymous

          Isnt the difference between them more like $100? I do think it’s worth the difference.

          • eric

            Sorry about that, it was a bit of a misunderstanding. I have the compass now and am using the dac from that to output to my amp. Hence, the question was more so framed as ” was it necessary to drop 400 more on the dacmagic..” I hope that makes sense. Anyways thanks for the reply and your feedback.

            • Anonymous

              I think it depends. If you feel that the compass is good, then no need to upgrade. What do you feel is missing from the compass sound? The two has different characteristics. Compass is dark, slow and thick. Dacmagic is more neutral and with a smooth treble. Depending on your preference, one can be better than the other.

              • eric

                I’m not really sure..I think most of all is that i’m missing a bit of a high sound from my setup. From the ha-160 it brought on a bucket of warmth through mid and lows but I just can’t really feel of hear much from the highs. I currently have two headphones.. the 701 and the 580s with the 600 grill mod. I think or was hoping the dac can bring on some of that.

                Thanks.

                • Anonymous

                  If you’re looking for highs, then going from the Compass (The Compass is quite dark) to the Dacmagic should give you the highs.

            • Anonymous

              Come to think of it, I think $400 is a bit steep. I would just continue using the Compass.

              • a_tumiwa

                btw, i dont understand why Audio-GD remove the compass from their website, i mean they even remove it from the Discontinued Products list

                • eric

                  I suppose it was replace by the audio-gd fun.. that could be the reason for what they did.

                • Anonymous

                  Interesting info. Thanks!

  • Heath Davis

    Good Review. I own a DM and yours is the first review I’ve seen that accurately describes the effects the different filters have on the sound. I use steep, as I like an upfront sound andI’m not too worried about soundstaging (I own Naim gear!) I even saw one review claiming the soundstage was improved by using the steep filter! I might try minimum, but linear is too boring for me!

    The DM replaced an 18 year old Micromega DUO BS2, with a time shared Philips SAA7321 DAC, and whilst the DM is more revealing, the Mircomega sounds a little more exciting. It’s amazing the performance Micromega got all those years ago with a DAC not considered Philips’ best. Something to do with a good power supply with about 21 regulators I guess! Would have loved to have heard their later DAC7 units.

    Cheers

    Heath

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing about the Micromega, Heath!

  • Davis

    How would the DacMagic compare with something like the Beresford Caiman and Yulong D100 ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/rodrigopitamd Rodrigo Pita

    Hi Mike,

    “I’m really super satisfied with the DacMagic, so much that I’m considering of modding it with better PSU unit”

    Here in Brazil where I live, we use 110v, but my DacMagic is 220v so I’m using a Power transformer. Do you think this is bad, or it can worsen the sound quality of the DAC?

    Thank You,
         Rodrigo

    • Anonymous

      Hi Rodrigo,
      Glad you’re satisfied with the Dacmagic. I truly think it’s one of the
      better DACs around, just not getting the same hype as some of the other
      brands.
      The use of step/up down transformer is debatable. Some people say it
      makes a difference, some don’t.

      I’ll try hook up some of the DACs I’m reviewing through one and tell you
      if I hear anything.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rodrigopitamd Rodrigo Pita

        Thank You very much Mike!
        And today I’m receiving a JH5 PRO Demo, Denon D5000 and a Koss Porta PRO. =)

        • Anonymous

          I am very interested in hearing about your impression of the jh5 demo.

    • Anonymous

      I’m testing the Bryston BDA-1 DAC with and without a transformer stabilizer box (which also gives me 220V and 110V output options).

      With this DAC, the degradation in the sound is quite noticeable. It doesn’t change the tonality of the DAC so the DAC mostly still sounds the same, but the sound is more compressed, separation and air between instruments suffer a great deal. Imaging suffers, soundstage is more constricted, decay is abruptly cut off. In short: Yuck!

      Now I don’t know if the effect is going to be as pronounced in the DacMagic as the BDA-1 is obviously a far higher end DAC.

      Sorry for the slow response though. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/rodrigopitamd Rodrigo Pita

        Thank You Mike. I think you are one of the few people in the world that really do your best to help people on this hobby =)
        After reading what you said, and knowing I don`t like to use a transformer stabilizer box, I asked my friend if he wanted to buy my DacMagic, and he said yes. So I will be looking  for something new really soon. First, I`ll save some money, but I don`t wanna spend a lot of cash now.
        Here in Brazil, we had a little metting and I was able to test the Benchmark DAC1, and I loved. Its a liiiiiiitle cold, BUT I really liked this AMP+DAC, worked great with my Denon D5000 and my JH13. You can see some pictures on my Flickr :  http://www.flickr.com/photos/50502451@N06/So, my plain is to buy the DAC1 next year, yeah I know its a long way, but I have some priorities . For now, I wanna get something like the Audinst HUD-MX1, Yulong U100 or some Amp+DAC  box similar to them, OR a
        HRT Music Streamer II + Matrix M-Stage.

        Rodrigo Pita

        • Anonymous

          Hey thank you, Rodrigo.

          The Benchmark DAC1 should be nice. But personally I tend to feel that
          monitoring DACs are nice on short listens (ie meet conditions) since
          they are clear sounding and very precise, but after spending more time
          with them I tend to feel them to be not as friendly to the ears.

          At the moment if you are just looking for a simple solution get the
          Audinst HUD-MX1. It’s cheap and it’s good. Even after I moved on to
          bigger and better DACs, the Audinst continue to be a very musical and
          simple solution and I still enjoy listening to it.

          Otherwise for a more “serious” solution the Schiit Asgard and HRT Music
          Streamer II (that’s roughly $400) should be good.

  • P. J.

    Rodrigo hi,
    when did you buy your DM? If its an older piece with the old PSU model you can request a new one on Cambridge Audio’s website as the old PSU were prone to disintegrate.regards, Peter

    • Anonymous

      Nice info PJ, I didnt know that.

      • P. J.

        Yes, here’s the link: http://www.cambridgeaudio.com/content.php?COID=197
        I requested one even though I don’t need it just in case I would sell the DM in the future and I can’t supply the unit with a broken PSU. The trick is the form where you request your PSU doesn’t ask you what voltage you need or what plug, you only input serial that is on the back of DM and you get a PSU based on where the unit was bought. So for example if Rodrigo’s DM was bought in Europe he would again get a 230V PSU. He will have to contact the Cambridge audio directly and not through the form published on their website.

        • Anonymous

          Also keep in mind the PSU is an AC-AC adapter, so you can’t just fit any regular adapter which more often is an AC-DC adapter. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/rodrigopitamd Rodrigo Pita

          I just sent an e-mail to them! Thenk You very much P.J. I’ll update here with their answer!

  • http://nerstu.se A83

    I have a pair of studio monitors with balanced xlr inputs. I feel like taking advantage of those and are looking for a DAC with balanced xlr outs.

    What are my options? What do you recommend?

    I listen mostly to house music and are producing on a hobby level.

    Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Well I’m not sure if you gonna feel any advantage moving to the XLR connectors, but the DAC section of the Dacmagic should give you better resolution.

  • Pablo

    Hi Mike, I’m Pablo from Argentina, I wanted to ask you if the Dac Magic could improve the sound from my Oppo DV 981 or the Marantz BD5004. The other question would be, is worth it to buy the Dac Magic for an upgrade or would be better sell the two players and buy some player in a higher level.

    Thanks for your time, your opinion will be helpfull, your reviews are excellent

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Pablo,
      I’ve never heard the Oppo, but from my experience the DacMagic DAC should be better than the DAC on universal DVD players. Getting a separate DAC is the way to go, in my opinion.

  • John

    Is it still worth getting?

    Also, i heard the analog output is very hot and may push some amps into distorting. Is that true?

  • Jeff

    you should test the Dacmagic 100 I tried it with the Graham Slee SRG 2 and the HD-650 and it sounded so good
    sounded ok with the Fostex900 and the HD-800 too.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Jeff, it was good I had a listen..