This Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M review takes a look at an amazingly well-specified headphone amplifier and digital-to-analog converter. It is designed as a stand-alone alternative to the DAC installed on the majority of digital hardware (laptops, CD players, streamers, game consoles, etc.) to ensure. And as a feature bonus, it wants to do the same for your headphones: take the work of amplifying them out of your existing gear and do it better.
Of course, this type of product is not new, it is a category in its own right. The best DACs range from inexpensive USB DACs, designed to get the most out of your laptop or smartphone, to full-featured audiophile rack alternatives costing in the thousands, you’re spoiled for choice.
With the DACMagic 200M, Cambridge Audio is looking to take center stage, in terms of price and physical dimensions at the very least. It’s a tidy and compact device, but it has room to include compatibility with all interesting digital audio formats as well as a stack of physical and wireless connections.
And it doesn’t forget to make the audio quality as sharp as the specs. This is an improvement for just about any setup where you have good quality audio components, such as the best wired headphones, and which is massively future-proof.
Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M review: price and release date
The Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M is on sale now, and in the UK it’s yours for around Â£ 449. In the United States, you envision something like $ 499. Long-suffering Australian consumers will have to shell out a staggering 899 AU to take possession of a DACMagic 200M.
As already observed, there is quite a bit of choice when it comes to products like this, and the Cambridge Audio’s price puts it in more or less direct competition with some hugely popular alternatives.
Chord’s Mojo, for example, is more restrained in terms of pure functionality, but has long been admired for the quality of its performance. And despite the painfully funny brand name, Schiit’s tube Lyr3 is a good-sounding alternative for not much more money.
The DACMagic 200M is therefore in line with the competition for quality and could have the advantage over features.
Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M review: features
No doubt, the DACMagic 200M is specified to do the job. It might be a small 215x52x191mm but it’s packed with features.
Inside, business is handled by a pair of ESS Saber ES9028Q2M digital-to-analog converter chips. These make the 200M compatible with PCM digital audio files up to 32but / 784kHz, as well as DSD512. With MQA compatibility on board as well, there is no real digital audio file that Cambridge Audio cannot handle.
The connectivity is about as complete as the compatibility. On the rear panel there are a few Toslink digital optical inputs and a pair of digital SP-DIF coaxial inputs using RCA jacks – all four are capable of up to the 24-bit standard.
There is also a USB input which is good up to 32 bit – although it is of the less common USB-B type. That’s fine in terms of connecting to a laptop or other USB output source, but it’s 2021 – we’d like to see a simple USB-C option as well.
Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 4.2 with support for SBC, AAC and aptX codecs – there is a tidy screw-on antenna that helps with Bluetooth activity. Rear outputs to a pair of balanced XLR sockets and an unbalanced pair of RCA outputs.
The front panel (a nice slice of machined aluminum) features a power button, source selector, properly weighted volume control, and a collection of 12 small LEDs indicating the details of the incoming digital audio file. There is also a filter control (‘fast’, ‘slow’ and ‘short delay’) and a 6.3mm headphone jack.
Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M test: performance
It’s not only flexible when it comes to connectivity and what you have, the Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M is also physically versatile. It’s portable enough to be part of a desktop system (it needs to be powered from an outlet, remember) as easily as it can fit into your main system. So naturally that’s how we listen to it.
In some ways, it’s more impressive as a desktop device, if only for a colossal improvement over the sound of an unattended MacBook Pro. Connected via USB-B and playing content (of various genres and file types) from the TIDAL desktop app, gains in detail, weight, integration, focus, soundstage definition and much more , are evident and significant via Class A / B – powered headphone output.
Use headphones that are talented enough, and the 200M is a deeply rewarding little device. The low frequencies gain weight and authority, along with a stack of more information regarding texture and timbre. The high end of the frequency range is better defined, with expertly rated level of bite and attack accompanying increases in substance and fine detail. Voices in the mids are more immediate, more compelling, and, again, more detailed. The overall presentation is fluid, organized, and has a lot more rhythmic certainty than the laptop can handle on its own.
Introduce the 200M into a larger system, and a lot depends on the quality of the built-in DAC you are replacing and the capacity of the overall system, of course. An accomplished (and almost certainly expensive) CD player, for example, can show relatively small performance gains. But when you route a TV or set-top box, game console, or Blu-ray player through Cambridge Audio, all the performance positivity we noted in its desktop performance is clearly expressed. The improvements in rhythmic expression and fine detail recovery, in particular, can be truly surprising.
As far as Bluetooth goes, the 200M is quite a more skilled hit – a good deal of the eagerness, unity, and positivity of its performance tapers off a bit. Everything is relative, of course, however, and Cambridge Audio remains engaging and enjoyable listening. And as a way to bring wireless connectivity to a system that doesn’t have it, it could be a lot worse.
Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M test: design and ergonomics
When it comes to usability, it really couldn’t be easier. There’s no control app, no remoteâ¦ so just make your digital connection, plug the 200M into your amplifier or plug in your headphones, and that’s it. You will of course need to set a volume level and study your trio of filtering options – but basically the Cambridge Audio is a very simple device.
In fact, âsimpleâ could just as easily apply to the way the 200M is designed. It looks clean, anonymous in the best possible way – it doesn’t draw attention to itself but, if you’ve got the right touch and feel, it pretty much manages to make you look like you. you get what you pay for. The aluminum faceplate is quite luxurious and, uh, that’s about it.
Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M review: verdict
Rugged, compact, lavishly specified and with performance to match, the Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M is nearly perfect. If you like a wise, fast and smooth and aggressive sound, you will find your boat well and truly floating.
Cambridge Audio DACMagic 200M review: think too
The Chord Mojo is marginally, but undeniably, an even more accomplished DAC / headphone amp than the DACMagic 200M for sound – it’s even more skillful and revealing listening. But it’s battery powered, only has a pair of 3.5mm outputs, and lacks some of Cambridge Audio’s format features (especially MQA compatibility). If you just need something to go from a laptop or phone to a headset, this might be the best choice. But if you want versatility and durability, the DACMagic 200M is better for that.