Ok so below is my original post, exactly detailing my experience. However, since doing it I've learned a lot more about confirmation bias and things in audio etc, (perhaps I wanted my iQube to be worth the money).
I don't want people spending their money one way or the other off of this information, I think if I did testing in future I would try to only ABX test.
Ok, I tested it today and I would like to post my impressions of the £350 DACMagic Plus. Skip to "Testing - Amp" for the (perhaps) useful bit.
- I am quite new to the audiophile world, and this is my first time trying to post impressions. Because of that I will only be posting what I heard, as I don't feel that I am experienced enough yet to make any decisive judgements.
- As I said, I am new to the audiophile world. I don't really understand a lot of the language that people use on these forums, for example specifically what "bright" means, etc. When I describe the sound I will do my best to describe what I heard, and I will actively avoid using any words like "warm" to avoid any confusion, in case it does not mean what I think it does.
- The unit was a display unit, and perhaps burned in but I guess not, but at least more so than it would be out of the box.
- It was very simple to use. I noted a few people in this thread complained about it being a hassle, like switching to USB 2.0, but I thought it was fine. Although having said that my mum would not have been able to do it (I'm 22), but that doesn't say much.
I used a laptop and the audio in, and used the USB port. I am afraid I did not use the S/PDIF or TOSLINK as my laptop has neither of these outputs, it's just one I use for uni. I was listening at the shop, so obviously couldn't use my desktop. Luckily they had internet, but they did think I was a bit mental bringing a laptop and an amp and using the internet to test stuff in the shop and installing drivers etc.
(spoiler: I then didn't buy it, so I'm sure they thought I was one sandwich short of a picnic. It was also kind of awkward giving them back all their cables I used. I don't know how people normally "audition" hardware but I certainly didn't do it the most comfortable way.)
Testing - DAC This section is entirely skippable
The basic premise of the test was to listen to my on board sound amped by my iQube, and then listen to the the DM+ as a DAC feeding the iQube.
Result: On board sound is ****. I already knew this, so nothing new here. I went from realtek to DM+ and didn't bother switching back and actually testing. The DM+ made an enormous difference which I'm sure I don't need to go into.
Is the DAC better than on board sound? Yes. Is it good compared to it's competition? No clue sorry.
Testing - Amp
So for this test I compared the DM+ amp against my iQube V1. The iQube is a ~£300 portable amp, and there are a few threads on it here.
I switched between the headphone out on the DM+, and using the DAC of the DM+ feeding into my iQube. I started off with BBC Radio 3 HD, and played wav/flacc files including classical, rock, prog rock, etc, and some electronic songs (e.g. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs). I played it through Winamp and have the ASIO plugin for it.
I had a bit of a fiddle trying to make sure the volumes were the same. I actually found this quite time consuming so if someone could give me a tip on doing this quickly I would very much appreciate it. I'm not sure if this is important but, to me at least, if one is a bit louder it seems to increase the volume of the extremely quiet parts more than the loud parts, therefore bringing more of the music out. But yet you kind of gauge the volume by how loud the loud parts are, which I felt had less "sensitivity". I'd quite like some info on that if anyone does, or if something is wrong with my ears :)
So I expected them to be similar seeing as the iQube is in a nice little portable, lightweight, rechargeable unit and that although cheaper does not have any DAC. I was quite wrong.
The sound through the iQube was much "fuller". I was really tempted to buy the DM+ just for use as a DAC, I really liked this sound. Through the amp in the DM+ it was less impressive. I am struggling to describe it so I will draw a picture, apologies in advance because I am bad at paint.
Ok, so above is a scale of 1-10, and it's not linear, it's probably exponential. 1 is a full piece of music someone has made on a casio keyboard, but all the instruments sound like they're coming out of the same casio keyboard speakers. All the parts sound like one instrument making different noises, and they all blend together. 10 is where you are standing in a room with a full band, and you can hear the symbols as a separate instruments, and the bass and the drums sound like unique sounds.
The red is realtek audio. The orange is the DM+ amp, and the green is the DM+ dac with the iQube amp.
I didn't notice any specific difference in hi/mid/low, it was just really good across the board. It was really good, but not great, definitely less than the iQube. It did feel a little bit "compressed". As if the frequency range had gone through a Compressor guitar pedal and squeezed it all in.
TL;DR The amp on the DM+ blurred things a little.
I like the DAC, I thought it made really nice sounds, but didn't have something to directly compare it to.
The amp was not great. It wasn't just because it was USB input either, because I liked the USB input, through the DAC and to my iQube. If you are buying this with the intention of using it as a headphone amp, similar dac/amps I am looking into in this price range are the Asus Xonar Essence One, Musical Fidelity V-DAC and V-CAN (possibly with V-PSU) and some of the Audio-gd equipment like the NFB-10SE.
As it stands I think I may buy the NFB-10SE.
Sorry that was so long, I didn't expect it to be. Thank you for reading if you did. I may come back later and trim some of the rubbish out of this post. If any of it was helpful, I'd like to know. And I would especially like some tips on how to improve my testing for when I'm deciding to buy equipment in the future.