Cambridge Audio is a British company well known in audio circles for providing high-quality products at reasonable prices. While I was at CES 2009, I had a chance to peruse their products and their diminutive DacMagic caught my eye. This upsampling DAC is value priced at $450 and packs a lot of functionality in its roughly eight-and-one-half-inch wide by two-inch high by seven-and-one-half-inch deep chassis. (It also comes with a base, so that it can be positioned vertically.) The DacMagic has two sets of Toslink and SPDIF inputs and one set of Toslink and SPDIF pass through outputs, a USB input and both single-ended and balanced analog audio outputs. The front panel has three buttons - power, phase and filter selection - along with status LEDs that depict phase, filter and sampling rates. Needless to say, the front and rear panel real estate on the DacMagic is used well.
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The DacMagic is no slouch on the performance side of things. Functionality is great to have, but it becomes worthless when performance is poor. The DacMagic features Adaptive Time Filtering (ATF) asynchronous upsampling which converts 16-24-bit audio with sampling rates between 32kHz and 96kHZ to a 24-bit word length at 96kHz. The ATF process is accomplished with a 32-bit Texas Instruments DSP. The DACs are dual Wolfson WM8740s running in dual differential mode. These are the same DACs that Cambridge Audio has used with great success in their CD players. The DacMagic can also invert phase, as well as implement any one of three phase filters: linear phase, minimum phase and steep phase. I did my listening in the linear phase mode and found the sound quality to be coherent from top to bottom. Soundstages were reasonably sized, with the individual instruments and vocals easily discernible from each other in place and texture. The DacMagic couldn't match the performance of my reference Classé CDP-202 but, at one-thirteenth the price, I don't expect it to do so. The differences were never the addition of objectionable artifacts by the DacMagic, but came about because the Classé was able to resolve that extra little bit of texture or place the image with a bit more precision. The omissions were the kinds of things you would not miss if you had not already experienced them. One could live quite happily with the DacMagic and never know they were missing that last bit of performance.
Read about the high points and the low points of the DacMagic on Page 2.
Competition and Comparison
Be sure to compare the Cambridge Audio DacMagic against other DACs by reading our reviews for Cary Audio's Xciter and Wadia's 151 PowerDAC. There are more DAC reviews in our Source Component section. For more information about the company, check out our Cambridge Audio brand page.