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Cambridge Audio's 'DacMagic Plus' digital-to-analog converter is a modern version of the 'DacMagic' with an improved USB interface, Bluetooth support, and a more powerful built-in headphone amplifier, making it a versatile product for audiophiles and music lovers.
The DacMagic is one of the company’s most successful products in recent years. It owes its success to its versatility, the fact that it has a USB input, and a budget-friendly price. The technology it presents is hard to find even in costly CD players, having installed an advanced, sophisticated upsampling DSP from Anagram Technologies.
Despite all that, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus is the latest version of the DacMagic and features an improved USB interface, Bluetooth support, and a more powerful built-in headphone amplifier, which should suffice the needs of the demanding customers even better.
Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus Multi-purpose Headphone Amplifier Review
DAC: Wolfson WM8740 24-bit twin digital-to-analog converters in dual differential configuration | Frequencies Response (line output): 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.1 dB) | Playable frequencies (headphones): 10 Hz – 100 kHz | Input signal: PCM 16 bits/32 kHz – 24 bits/192 kHz | Max. output voltage: 2.1/4.2 V (RCA/XLR, RMS) | Switching: USB, 2 x SPDIF (Toslink/RCA) | Input: SPDIF (Toslink/RCA) | Output: 2 x XLR / 2 x RCA (analog) | Reduction in signal-to-noise ratio (line output): <0.001% / <0.002% (1 kHz/20 kHz) | Signal/noise (line out): 112dB | Signal/noise (headphone output): 111 dB | Channel Interference: -130/-112 dB (1 kHz/20 kHz) | Recommended headphone impedance: 32-600 ohms | Total output impedance: <50 ohms | Power Consumption: 12W | Dimensions: 215x52x191 mm | Weight: 1.2 kg
Wolfson WM8740 24-bit twin digital-to-analog converters in dual differential configuration.
Anagram’s new ATF2™ technologies, 24-bit/384kHz audio upsampling / sync error reduction.
Optional digital preamp mode to connect the converter directly to a power amplifier or active speakers.
Driverless USB audio 1.0 interface; 24-bit/96kHz
USB audio 24-bit/192kHz USB Audio 2.0 interface with ASIO or Kernel Streaming mode.
Asynchronous USB transfer to ensure very low synchronization errors.
Specially selected digital filters – linear phase, minimum phase, steep.
Symmetrical audio output on XLR jacks and audio output on CINCH jacks.
Two 24-bit digital inputs (each optical and coaxial)
Input socket for the optional BT100 Bluetooth receiver – allowing playback or upsampling from any Bluetooth device paired with the DacMagic.
Supports the high-performance Bluetooth codec aptX as well as standard SBC.
The exterior design of many of Cambridge’s components is modest yet instantly recognizable. The front panel of the DacMagic Plus has a large number of indicator lights, but their minimal size does not detract from the elegant, minimalist character.
On the right are two buttons for turning the unit off and changing the signal source. Next to them are a gain control and a mute switch. On the right side is a row of LEDs that indicate the input signal’s sample rate, but nowhere do we see the upsampler LED, so we’ll just assume the function is always enabled.
A lightweight plastic volume wheel on the front panel indicates that this DAC can now be used as a headphone amplifier or digital preamplifier. Unfortunately, there is no remote control to adjust the amplifier’s volume, but a computer or physical control will take care of this function in most cases.
It is interesting to note that the volume control level is switchable. Simply press the volume button at startup, and the line level signal will be sent to the output. The volume control is fully digital and requires three turns to go from minimum to maximum volume.
A separate knob selects the type of analog DAC filter; three values are available:
- Minimum phase
You can also hold down this button to activate the phase inversion of the overall signal.
Looking at the amplifier from the back, its many small markings and XLR and other connectors make it look more like a professional module than a home hi-fi device. In addition to XLR and USB-B connectors, there are two S/PDIF inputs (optical and coaxial) and a similar connector for output to an external digital device.
There is also a second USB port, mainly for connecting an external Bluetooth adapter/module. In Cambridge Audio’s catalog, this Bluetooth adapter is called the BT100 and is priced under $100. It’s not cheap, of course, but it has the advantage of addressing up to eight connected devices and play music via the aptX protocol and supports a proprietary sample amplification system.
The DacMagic Plus amplifies the signal from the connected source to 24-bit/384kHz resolution and features advanced jitter suppression circuitry. Unlike many other DACs, it can receive 24-bit/192kHz streams via USB.
Like its predecessor, the unit uses Wolfson WM8740 24-bit converters, which are very capable despite their generation. It has a signal-to-noise ratio of 120 dB, 104 dB overall distortion (in mono mode), support for PCM signals up to a sample rate of 192 kHz, and for various reasons, no support for the DSD format. In other respects, the DacMagic Plus goes far beyond the capabilities of the regular DacMagic: the USB interface has been upgraded to the 2.0 specification and supports asynchronous audio streaming at resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz.
The ADSP21261 processor handles digital filtering (using algorithms from Anagram Technologies), with three switchable input sampling modes up to 24-bit/384 kHz. By adjusting the levels of the analog outputs (unbalanced and balanced), this little box turns into a fully functional digital preamp for up to four signal sources.
You can then connect your computer, CD/DVD player, streaming media player, TV, game console, iPod, smartphone, or other Bluetooth devices. Whatever the signal source, it is upsampled using the ATF2 algorithm developed by Swiss specialist Anagram Technologies. This improves the accuracy of the signal processing and the linearity, which is beneficial for 24-bit recordings.
The most interesting feature of the device is the built-in amplifier, which supports both low and high impedance headphones, making the DacMagic Plus a versatile solution for listening to music from laptops, tablets, and smartphones that high-end stereo systems cannot handle, at an exceptional price and quality.
Most headphone amplifiers with built-in DAC sound too neutral and tasteless to write anything interesting about them in this price range. Only more expensive devices such as Marantz HD-DAC1, Marantz PM7000N, and Music Fidelity MX-DAC can present attractive sound quality. The DacMagic Plus is one of the few DACs priced under $500 and one of the few that can awaken some emotions in you. Its sound is transparent, open, and atmospheric but also relatively detailed. It’s hard to point out any flaws.
We first tested it with 192Hz/24-bitrate audio files via the coaxial input of the reference network player NA-11S1. The sound reproduction was pleasantly fast and detailed. The lightness and subtlety contributed to the accurate reproduction of voices and instruments in the various tracks, which is always a positive aspect of headphone amplifiers.
Listening to music in WAV16/44.1 format with the Sennheiser HD 660S is a much better listening experience than listening to music directly through a computer audio interface. You will notice an increase in dynamics, speed, and clarity of sound. The neutrality of the sound has also been improved, without noticeable distortion.
Switching to FLAC 96/192 HD files reveals more desirable physical characteristics. The soundstage is brighter and fuller, and all high-frequency instruments are reproduced with greater distinction and accuracy.
As for the musical resolution, it is of a very high level for this price range. Logically, this means a good elaboration of the music scene with good depth and correct placement of sources. However, the amount and presence of low-frequency instruments in the image can seem weak. For this reason, bass or moderately dark headphones would be fine.
Vocals are clear and natural but can be too bright at high volumes. This is noticeable even in headphone amplifier mode. The sound is clean and detailed, but the highs are too harsh even when warmed up. As you’d expect, wireless streaming degrades the quality, but the aptX codec offers more decent sound than regular Bluetooth.
It doesn’t take long to notice that the DacMagic Plus headphone amplifier sounds better and can do more than its original. It also holds the title of one of the most versatile headphone amplifiers, unlike other high-end headphone amplifiers.
The DacMagic Plus offers more than just the ability to play music well. It’s not just a device that creates a relaxing atmosphere in the background of your daily activities. It’s something that makes you stop whatever you’re doing, play music and just enjoy for a few good hours.
In addition, the DacMagic Plus is more than just a DAC; it’s a complete package with a preamplifier and headphone amplifier with switchable digital inputs. Not only does the Cambridge amplifier have a balanced and versatile sound profile, but it has plenty of connectors, so you can plug in almost any device and enjoy quality recordings all the time. Overall, we think the DacMagic Plus incredibly well-designed, modern, efficient, and versatile headphone amplifier that successfully outperforms its predecessor.