Cambridge Audio DACMagic XS Review
In the world of high fidelity audio, Cambridge Audio is a venerable name with many awards and accolades spanning a company history of over 40 years. In the last few years. CA has begun to produce entry level offerings targeted at the PC audio market where quality DAC’s are hard to find. Enter the DacMagic XS – a matchbook sized DAC that offers USB 1.0 and 2.0 functionality and supports bit depths and sample rates as high as 24 bit / 192 kHz.
This market segment seems to have become the overnight darling of the audio world, with companies like Audioquest, HRT and iFi among others all coming to market with tiny DACs that feature built in headphone amplification and quality components. The DacMagic XS is no different, featuring an ESS SABRE ES9023 chip and a specification THD at <0.004%.
The DacMagic XS does not run in driverless mode, however the software available on CA’s website is relatively lightweight. I performed the majority of my testing in Foobar2000 listening to FLAC files streaming via WASAPI (Event) mode. Throughout my listening evaluation I ran the DacMagic XS in two modes – as a pure DAC connected to my JDS Labs 02, Schiit Vali and Woo Audio WA6 headphone amps, and also as a standalone device. The majority of the listening was done on my Beyerdynamic T90 headphones, though I also listened a fair amount with Audio-Technica CKM-99 IEM’s and assorted earbuds at the lower end of the spectrum.
So, all the introductory info aside, how does the DacMagic XS Sound? Surprisingly good. Tonally neutral, relatively black (low noise floor) and very inoffensive no matter your listening style. Comparing it to my daily driver (a KingRex UD384) I was hard pressed to find anything to complain about. At twice the price, the UD384 does have a lower noise floor and slightly better stereo imaging (in my opinion) but the differences aren’t nearly as apparent as you’d think.
Many aficionados state that “a DAC is a DAC” provided it’s not designed with cheap components. For the most part, I agree with this sentiment, though I can clearly tell my DACs apart, usually in terms of tonal characteristics. My AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2 for example has a decidedly smooth and buttery sound with a touch of mid-bass emphasis, while the UD384 is dry, slightly clinical yet images like a dream. In this sense, the DacMagic XS is probably the ideal solution for most of us. It has almost no character to speak of, it’s tiny, easy to use, well-constructed and perhaps best of all, affordable, coming in at a mere 40 dollars more than the DragonFly yet including onboard volume control with a whopping 53 steps.
Over the month I spent with the DacMagic XS, it was a steadfast companion on the go or at my desk. It performed admirably with a plethora of musical genres from classical to nerdcore and chillout to heavy metal. The DacMagic XS is a wonderful addition to any mobile music lover’s arsenal of toys, and my new go-to solution for high quality digital to analog conversion on the go. Highly Recommended.This post has been promoted to an article