Pros: 3in1 headphone amp/dac/pre amp, plenty of connection options, sound quality
Cons: No DSX/DSD support, no remote control, occasionally strident treble
This is a review of the Cambridge DacMagic Plus DAC/headphone amp/pre amp.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus was sent to me by Cambridge Audio in the UK as a loaner for the purpose of doing this review and including it in my recently started $250+ amp/DAC comparison thread. Since Norway is fantastic I did have to pay about $100 in taxes to get it into the country. A big THANK YOU to Cambridge Audio and Rebecca for letting me check it out.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus is available from numerous online and domestic resellers with prices ranging from $400 to $500 at the time of this review. This is a link to the current Amazon listing for the DacMagic Plus:
For more information about the DacMagic Plus you can also visit the Cambridge Audio website:
I’m not in any way affiliated with Cambridge Audio.
I've got to admit that I've be fascintated by the DacMagic ever since the release of the first version so naturally I was thrilled to finally get the chance to test out one of its siblings.
Short introduction to Cambridge Audio:
Cambridge Audio is a UK based company that was established in 1968.
This is what they say about themselves on their website:
“Since we released our iconic P40 amplifier in 1968 we have pursued one simple objective: to produce audio equipment that faithfully creates a pure and natural sound. Whilst our contemporaries in America like heavier bass in their playback and often in Asia brands emphasise a mid-range mix to carry vocals, we at Cambridge Audio are sold on the unfiltered, unadulterated ‘British Sound’.”
About me:Click to show! (Click to show)
I’m a 44 year old music and sound lover that changed my focus from speakers to headphones and IEM’s about five years ago. At that time I realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to have all the different setups that I wanted and still house a family of four children and a wife so my interest turned first to full sized headphones and later also IEM’s.
My preferences are towards full sized open headphones and I believe that also says something about what kind of sound signature I prefer (large soundstage in all directions, balanced and organic sound).
My music preferences are pretty much all over the place (only excluding classical music, jazz and really heavy metal). My all-time favorite band is Depeche Mode although I also listen to a lot of grunge/indie, singer/songwriter/acoustical stuff as well as the typical top 40 music.
I tend to value function over form within reasonable limits.
I do not use EQ, ever.
I’m a sucker for value for money on most things in life Head-Fi related stuff is no exception.
Built, accessories and functionality:
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus is a solid state headphone amplifier, DAC and pre-amplifier combo.
The DacMagic Plus is available in two different colors: black and silver. I’ve got the silver version.
Unfortunately Cambridge Audio doesn’t state the rated output power for the DacMagic Plus along with the rest of the specifications. My search on the internet also came out with one pretty reliable option that stated about 125mW at 37.5Ohm but please take this with a grain of sand. Output impedance is rated at very high 50Ohms.
The DacMagic Plus has a metal/aluminum chassis that feels really solid. The physical controls available on it do feel reliable although I’d have preferred a aluminum volume knob instead of the plastic one. The rest of the physical controls sums up to a switch to choose between the input 1 or 2 group of connections or the USB connection, On/Off switch and a switch to choose between three different digital filters. Although it doesn’t feel very heavy the overall build still feels solid enough for a desktop unit. A nice feature is the included stand that let you use it standing on one of the short sides in case you lack space on your desktop or if you just prefer it that way. The volume knob, albeit being plastic, feels sturdy enough in usage and the volume increases quite slowly when turning it up making it easy to find exactly the right listening level for your preference but also a lot of turning when shifting for some easy to drive IEM’s to some harder to drive full sized headphones. I find the changes between the three different digital filters to be very subtle but in my experience this is the way it works in most devices offering this feature so I won’t hold it against the DacMagic Plus.
The DacMagic Plus offers one USB B digital audio input and one separate DC power input. It also offers two groups of optical and coaxial input as well as optical and coaxial outputs. The two groups with SPDIF inputs work so as you can only choose to connect either one optical or one coaxial source to each of them. I still think this is a smart move from Cmbridge since it gives more flexibility in terms of sources that can be connected. There’s also one 6.3 mm headphone out socket. In addition there’s a RCA line out option as well as a set of balanced outputs. I’d have liked an analogue input as well to be able to combine it with other, non-digital sources.
The DacMagic Plus works very well with Android when connected with an OTG cable and using USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) as music player. Although Android and sound does not have a great reputation the Plus have worked with every Android device I’ve tried it with (with the help of UAPP).
The DacMagic Plus support all popular file formats for audio up to 24bit/192kHz files. Being released already back in 2012 it naturally lack support for DSX/DSD files.
The accessories included are:
1 USB cable (USB A to B Type)
1 User's Manual (including warranty card)
4 spikes for fixing (to attach the main body to the floor)
1 stand for using it standing on the short side
1 Power adaptor (DC 12V)
I’ve used the DacMagic Plus a lot for the last month and my unit has played for well over 100 hours.
Click to show! (Click to show)
- Digital to analogue convertersDual Wolfson WM8740 24-bit DACs
- Digital filterAnalog Devices ADSP21261 DSP; upsampling to 24-bit/384kHz
- Analogue filter2-Pole Dual Differential Bessel Double Virtual Earth Balanced
- Frequency response20Hz to 20kHz (±0.1dB)*
- THD @ 1Khz 0dBFs<0.001% 24-bit
- THD @ 1kHz -10dBFs<0.001%
- THD @ 20kHz 0dBFs<0.002%
- Signal to Noise Ratio-112dBr
- Total correlated jitter<130pS
- Crosstalk @ 1kHz< -130dB
- Crosstalk @ 20kHz< -112dB
- Output impedance<50 Ohms
- Max. output level (unbalanced)2.1V rms
- Max. output level (balanced)4.2V rms (2.1V per phase)
- Digital input word widths supported16-24bit
- Digital input sampling frequencies supported32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz**, 192kHz
- Audio output upsamplingFixed 24-bit/384kHz
- Max power consumption12W
- ColourBlack or silver
- Dimensions (HxWxD)52 x 215 x 191mm; (2.0 x 8.6 x 7.6”)
- *Steep filter disabled
- **Digital 1 & 2 Inputs only
- Headphone output
- THDat 1kHz 0dBFS 24-bit signal with 22kHz low pass filter = 0.001%
at 20khz 0dBFS 24-bit signal with 80kHz low pass filter = 0.003%
- Frequency response10Hz - 100kHz
- Recommend headphone impedance32 Ohm to 600 Ohm.
Demolist:Click to show! (Click to show)
Mark Knopfler – Sailing to Philadelphia
Røyksopp (Feat.Susanne Sundfør) – Save Me
Ane Brun – These Days
Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana
Metallica – Die Die My Darling
The Peter Malick Group – Immigrant
Eva Cassidy – Songbird
Thomas Dybdahl – A Lovestory
Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why
Celldweller – Unshakeable
Jack Johnson – Better Together
Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo remix)
Dire Straits- So Far Away
Björk - Moon
Lupe Fiasco - Deliver
Morrissey – Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
The first thing that I noticed when I started to listen to the DacMagic Plus was the lean, clean and airy presentation it offers.
Bass extension and impact is very good without any noticeable roll off in the lower frequencies. The quality of the bass is ever so slightly on the loose side though. I’m not sure if it’s the rated 50Ohm output impedance on the headphone output that makes this happen or if it’s the characteristic of the amp/dac though. Unfortunately I do no longer own any really high impedance headphones to test with.
The midrange is liquid and smooth with plenty of details. The DacMagic plus sounds very linear through all frequencies and the midrange is no exception. Nothing really stands out and it sounds very natural and airy like a fresh breeze. I feel as if there’s some richness missing from the sound though and I’ve definitely heard offerings with more dynamics in the presentation. This makes the presentation feel slightly two dimensional and thin with some headphones. Although the sound is natural sounding I do find that vocals, especially male ones, lack some weight when comparing directly to other units. .
The treble is very well extended and airy and I’m not able to detect any harshness in it. Although being slightly on the bright and thin side it does never feel harsh or artificial to me but rather light and refreshing.
The overall presentation has good soundstage but better height and width than depth. Layering is also good as is the amount of air between the instruments. The background does also feel black and calm. Transparency is also quite good. All together I’d describe the sound of the DacMagic Plus as lean and clean. This is a signature that I personally find to be quite appealing when paired with warmer sounding and/or bass tilted IEM’s or headphones.
Please note that the comments in the comparison section are not in absolute terms but in comparison between subject A and B. This means (as an example) that if subject A is found to be brighter than subject B it does not necessarily mean that subject A is bright sounding in absolute terms. I hope this makes sense.
In these comparisons I’ve been listening through my Hifiman HE400i’s.
I’ve been using the USB input when doing these comparisons. Both units has been hooked up to two different laptops both running Windows 7 with the same settings and I use MediaMonkey as my player of choice.
Both units was connected to a simple switch box through their respectively headphone outputs. This way it’s very easy to switch between the sources in minimal time. I also use a simple Android app to volume match the amplifiers so although maybe not perfectly scientifically the result should still be pretty correct.
Burson Audio Conductor V2+ (1,499) vs Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus:
Compared to the DacMagic Plus the V2+ has a fuller and richer overall presentation without really having more bass presence, the bass on the V2+ has quite a bit better texture though. The Plus is thinner, brighter and dryer sounding while the V2+ is more organic sounding and has better timbre to the notes making it sound more natural. The V2+ is also a bit more distinct while they both have a very nice amount of air I the presentation. The V2+ has a darker, calmer background and better dynamics through the whole frequency range. The treble on the DacMagic Plus is slightly fatiguing in comparison.
The V2+ of course has some other advantages as well such as significantly higher power output (4W @32Ohms compared to ca 125mW@37Ohm on the Cambridge), two analogue RCA inputs and both pre-amp and DAC direct RCA outputs, in addition it also has a great quality remote control. The DacMagic Plus on the other hand offers an optical output, and balanced pre-outputs as well in addition to its RCA pre-out. It also has the three different filters to choose from.
Although both these are both desktop units that offers multiple inputs and outputs the V2+ pulls ahead on both sound quality as well as build quality and should also do so costing about three times the price of the DacMagic Plus.
JDS Labs Objective2+ODAC Rev B ($279) vs Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus:
Compared to the DacMagic Plus the ODAC has an overall slightly fuller sound. The ODAC offer more energy and attack while the DacMagic Plus, albeit being a touch brighter, is more relaxed and laid back. The ODAC is more distinct in what it does and has better clarithy while the Cambridge is smoother and had noticeable more air between instruments, this is also the reason that it feels more relaxed in my opinion.
Feature wise the DacMagic Plus offers both coaxial and optical inputs in addition to an optical output. The ODAC has an 3.5 mm analog input while the DacMagic has both RCA and balanced outputs. The ODAC is considerable smaller and both units feels very well built.
Audinst HUD-DX1 w/Burson SSV5i op amps ($479) vs Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus:
Compared to the DacMagic Plus the Audinst have a fuller and more bass tilted presentation. The Audinst is also definitely the warmer sounding of the two while the DacMagic Plus is brighter and dryer. Audinst offer more energy and attack while still maintaining warm and smooth. The treble on the DacMagic Plus is more airy but can also be more fatiguin. Overall the Cambridge unit is cleaner and leaner while the DX1 is more dynamic and warmer sounding.
Feature wise they both offer and optical inputs and outputs but the Cambridge unit has two optical inputs. They both have RCA analog outputs but the DacMagic Plus offers balanced output as well. They both have USB B inputs. The Audinst has the dual headphone outputs, one 3.5 and one 6.3mm while the Cambridge has one 6.3 mm output. The DX1 can also run directly from USB power which makes it a bit more flexible. The footprint of the DX1 is quite a bit smaller. Build quality feels very solid on both units with the Cambridge pulling slightly ahead. The Audinst unit is a good deal more powerful.
For even further comparisons feel free to visit this thread for breakdown between more $250+ amp/DAC units (this is a work in progress and several other units will follow in the near future).
The output impedance of the headphone out on the DacMagic Plus is rated to 50Ohm. This means that it may not be the ideal partner with headphones and IEM’s with lower impedance than 400 Ohm. I’m still confused if this is really correct and if so why Cambridge Audio would chose such a high output in their implementation.
In this section I’ve tested how some of my favorite headphones but also one earbud and one pair of IEM’s pairs up with the DacMagic Plus.
Hifiman HE400i ($449):
The HE400i, when paired with the DacMagic Plus, loose some drive and energy making it sound quite flat and unengaging to me. I wouldn’t say that they sound bad but I’d easily prefer a more dynamic slightly warmer source to pair with the HE400i’s for my preference.
The signature of the HD598 is quite laid back and relaxed and the presentation from the DacMagic Plus is like a fresh breeze for them and really brings out the best of them. The bass and the wide soundstage is still there but the slightly bright characteristic of the DacMagic Plus gives some well needed energy to the HD58’s without ever making them feel fatiguing.
AKG Q701 ($300):
The Q’s sound good but not great paired with the DacMagic in my opinion. The bass has good presence and impact, which indicates that the power is sufficient, but I find the overall sound slightly on the thin side and on some recordings even borderline shouty. This combination doesn’t sound bad but I’ve heard better sources for the Q’s.
Philips Fidelio X2 ($300):
The X2’s has plenty of dynamics on its own and can sound a bit too bassy and boomy when paired to a warm source that have more than the natural bass presence. With the DacMagic Plus it sound well balanced while still retaining its great dynamics. This pairing sounds fantastic in my opinion.
VE Zen 2.0 ($138):
The Zen 2.0 is a 300Ohm earbud that I like a lot and tend to use instead of closed headphones.
The Zen 2.0 has a smooth and pretty laid back signature that works very well with the DacMagic plus. There’s enough energy to make the presentation engaging and I don’t find the dynamics lacking at all when these two are paired together. I’d even go as far as saying that this is one of the best sources I’ve heard so far for the Zen’s.
Aurisonics ASG-1PLUS ($500):
The ASG-1PLUS is an 11Ohm hybrid IEM (1 DD + 1 BA).
The 1PLUS has an excellent out of head presentation and its bass (especially mid- and upper bass) is quite a bit subdued. I’d say that they work fine with the DacMagic Plus. The slightly bright presentation gives them some extra energy and transparency as well as a very nice treble. They do, however, also lack some dynamics in the lower regions that I know they can have with the right pairing to sound really great. This is still a very enjoyable combination though. Although the 1PLUS is not as easy to drive that the 11Ohm suggest I’m not able to detect any background hiss whatsoever when using them with the DacMagic Plus.
To sum up the matching section the signature of the Cambridge DacMagic Plus does make some of my headphones and IEM’s sound very good while some lack a bit in performing their best when paired with it. The DacMagic Plus has a very low amount of audible hiss even when paired to my most sensitive IEM’s. The biggest drawback is certainly the rated 50Ohm output from the headphone output, that being said I still found it to work great with even lower impedance stuff. Although I’ve not been able to find the rated output power from the DacMagic Plus from any reliable source I can say that it does have enough power for all my full sized headphones which still make it very versatile in practical use.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus may be a four years old release but in my opinion it still holds its own even in today’s crowded market. It offers the possibility to connect two different sources using either optical or coaxial connection in addition to the USB input. It also has digital outputs so that it can be connected to a DAC that don’t have a USB input. It has balanced outputs (which is very rare at this price point). On top of all this it does also sound great.
Priced at $400-500 the DacMagic Plus may not punch way above its price point but I’d still consider it an interesting option within its price bracket. It doesn’t support DXD/DSD but if that’s not a big deal to you and you value a great amount of connections it may still be a worthy contender for your new rig. If you’ve got headphones or IEM’s that match the sound signature of the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus I’d rate it as a very solid performer at its price point.
Audio Quality: 4.0