Cambridge Audio | DAC/AMP | $ 199.00
When it comes to audio performance, most laptops aren’t entirely up to snuff. They tend to have poor DAC/AMPs that output more than just the music and sounds that your devices output. Most of us are used to the static hum on the background of many laptops when you plug in a pair of sensitive headphones. A solution to that would be using an external DAC. The Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS is a good solution to this issue due to its small size and ease of use. Makes me wonder why they didn’t also add compatibility with iDevices and smartphones.
Output Voltage: 2 V (RMS)
THD (unweighted): < 0.004%
Output Impedance: 0.5 ohms
In the Box
Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS
The coloring and materials used by Cambridge Audio on the DacMagic XS reminds me a lot of the Bowers & Wilkins P7 design. The use of black, brushed aluminum for the housing of the DAC creates a luxurious feel while the hard-cut, silver edging adds dimension and shape to the design as well. The design of the DAC is very minimalistic with two simply buttons on it, a volume up and a volume down. The design won’t flash and jump out at you, but it also doesn’t stay hidden.
One of the things that Cambridge Audio touts on the product page is that the DacMagic XS supports sampling rates up to 192 kHz with a 24-bit depth. Technically speaking, a higher sampling rate, or bigger depth is going to offer more. But the question becomes is it necessary in contrast to something like a CD @ a 44.1 kHz sampling rate with 16-bit depth?
The answer to this isn’t short, but it’s a yes/no sort of answer. In order to take advantage of this, you must have recordings at the same sample rate. And even if you do, the recording itself has to take advantage of the larger bit depth. The 44.1 was chosen because 40 kHz is the max for human hearing (theoretically). This is a story for another day thoug.
So now we go on to the actual sound. The DacMagic will definitely help improve the audio of most laptops, if not all of them, that you throw at it. The output adds a bit of warmth and body to the music as well as some detailing in the midrange compared to my MacBook. It does lose out on treble by a hair. Essentially, you are left with better bass response, but at the light cost of treble. For those looking for a studio-quality, neutral DAC/AMP, this probably isn’t it. But to say it’s not quality would be a lie. It’ll easily do what it sets out to do, improve the audio quality of a laptop or computer.
The DacMagic XS is a small device and comes with a nice small pouch for on-the-go storage. The pouch is a small cloth one that has a drawstring. It fits the DacMagic just perfectly and barely has enough room for the supplied USB cable. Technically, the DacMagic can survive without the pouch, but it’s a nice, included accessory.
The DacMagic’s housing is entirely out of brushed aluminum. The housing itself is actually pretty thick overall and will do a good job protecting the electronics inside. The tiny DAC feels solid in the hand and looks very well built.
For the most part, the DacMagic XS does exactly what its designed to do. It functions very well as a DAC that is small and portable. However, the limiting thing about the DacMagic XS is that it can only be connected to a compatible computer running OS X or Windows. It can work with Linux with the proper drivers. So this DAC becomes as portable as the device that its connected to… And that device is a full-fledged PC.
Personally, I’d love to see Cambridge Audio release a DacMagic device that is compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile devices. If they keep the same pricing, it’ll be killer because a MFi-licensed DAC/AMP for an iOS device at this price point is unheard of right now.
As stated, if this were an iOS capable DAC/AMP (which currently start at around 450 dollars), this would be a steal at 199 dollars. Even without the mobile-device support, this DAC does a great job still at being a DAC. It does offer stellar quality that is sure to improve the output of just about any laptop out there. Additionally, its small size allows it to fit in just about any laptop bag or case.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS does exactly what it sets out to do, be a DAC/AMP that will improve the sound quality of just about every laptop out there. With that said, that would be the main reason to purchase this DAC, as it does offer good sound quality. Now, if Cambridge Audio could release a smartphone-compatible model, it would be stellar, especially if MFi licensed.
I’d like to thank Matt for the product sample.