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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miniature Musical Marvel, 5 Dec 2013
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
I think that German and Japanese designers would be proud of this device as it is miniaturisation at its best. It measures about 53 mm by 29 mm by 9 mm. It is smaller than a Pioneer box of matches and does not weigh much more, at about 25 gms. I bought it yesterday from Richer Sounds and gave it the "once over" last night. Not only is it very small but it sounds very good.

The sales assistant at Richer Sounds knew what he was talking about and refreshingly knew something about his subject. He assured me that the device would work with Windows 8 and it did. The device worked from the box and I had it up and running in 5 minutes or less. The power is derived from the USB on a laptop or PC. You plug in the USB cable at one end and your headphones via a 3.5 mm jack at the other end. The device automatically loads the Cambridge Class 1 driver which you select in the Sounds window in the Control panel. You then open up your player select some tracks and off you go. The only adjustments are a + and a - "volume" control button which when pressed together perform other functions. The device has a small indicator light. It really is that simple - and then you hear much better sounding music than is produced by the sound card of the laptop.

But, of course, there are complications if you want to use its other facilities. Cambridge have two forms of driver:

Class 1 which supports sound files up to 24 bit/96 kHz. CD quality files are 16 bit/ 44.1 kHz - this driver loads automatically. 24/96 and above is sometimes termed "High Resolution" or "HiRes" by audiophile "experts" and HiFi magazines and, of course, it is the new fashion.

Class 2 which supports sound files from 16/44.1 kHz to 24 bit/192 kHz - this driver must be downloaded from the Cambridge website. Class 2 operation is supposed to be so much better.

Class 1 sounded good enough for me as most of my music is CD quality which has all been converted to 256 kbps MP3 for use on a computer tablet or 'phone.

I was tempted not to download the Class 2 driver because I do not believe for one minute any of the hype propagated by HiFi magazines,forums,blogs and advertisements. However, I decided to do it so that I could write this review.

For Windows 7 and 8 you have to download and unzip version 1.67. For Windows Vista you download version 1.43. I am not going to put this driver on my Vista machine. For MAC users the procedure seems to be simpler.

To select from Class 1 to Class 2 or back you press the two volume buttons "together" but you must turn off your player first (foobar, VLC etc.) When Class 2 is selected a little pink light flashes and when Class 1 is selected a blue one flashes. The drivers are automatically selected: so far so good.

The light flashes different colours for when you are playing "LowRes" as opposed to "HiRes" music. But why do you need to be told? You are meant to be able to hear the difference!

Cambridge recommend that with Foobar you download and install a "plug in" for ASIO or AUDIO STREAM INPUT OUTPUT. But when you attempt to download ASIO you are warned by the software designer, Peter, that ASIO provides home users with little or no benefit for the risk of possibly destabilising audio operations. Some web research revealed that Windows 8 users are actually having a problem with this. Needless to say I took the designer's advice and did not download ASIO. ASIO is for recording professionals not home consumers; so see [...] There is so much hype and bull surrounding all this and you fiddle with it at your peril.

I tested the device on classical, folk, jazz, pop and rock music and Class 1 and Class 2 sound great at CD quality fed from the laptop hard drive: and also 256 kbps MP3. On my other reviews about HiFi equipment I comment that, all other things being equal, I could not hear the difference between CD quality and HiRes music but I tested for this in the vain hope that my bronze ears would turn back to golden. But , I had no such luck. I do not believe "HiRes" hype either.

This DAC does not sound any better to me than the Lindy DAC which I have reviewed before and which I still use with pleasure connected to my desk top PC. So why the 5 stars and not 4?

It is very well made and tough with an aluminium case - so 5 stars. It is tiny - so 5 stars. It sounds great in Class 1 or Class 2 operation - so 5 stars. And, of course, at 100 it is great value for money.

I doubt that a similar DAC costing 3 or 4 times more will sound much better. If manufacturers do double blind listening tests they are reluctant to release the results. HiFi magazines are also reluctant to do double blind tests too . I wonder why? We have probably reached the end of the road as far as stereo sound reproduction is concerned and the equipment is now better than our ears and perception. We are in the realm of the law of diminishing returns. It will be very difficult for any manufacturer to produce a smaller , more convenient and better sounding device than this one.

So why did I buy it?

It is very small and light to go travelling.

I have decided not to buy a network streamer for my dining room as, for occasional streaming, using a laptop is much more versatile when connected to a mini-system. This device gives HiFi quality music when connected to the amplifier via a double-ended 3.5 mm cable/jack rather than headphones.

What more can I ask for? It also makes the music sound almost as good as my main HiFi. It is also unobtrusive.

There are no drawbacks as far as I am concerned but you could easily lose it on the road: it is literally that small. Just be careful with the volume controls when changing from headphone to amplifier operation and back, as you could damage your equipment or worse still your hearing.

All this for 100 quid; I recommend it highly.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Initial review, 28 Nov 2013
By 
Tim Chapman - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
Hardly any reviews on this product at the moment. Took a gamble and bought one - currently have a DacMagic Plus 'desktop' DAC which is pretty good and worked on the assumption that this 'portable' DAC might have similar qualities.

It does. Not only that, it's genuinely tiny! Certainly something you could chuck into a laptop bag along with a decent pair of in-ear phones.

Coupled with audirvana pro on a macbook, and a pair of Klipsch X10i's, the sound quality is very good. It's never going to be as good as a desktop setup (e.g. DacMagic Plus and AKG K702's), but it is reasonably close to that quality. Slight loss of sound stage focus, bass a little lacking in punch, but what can you expect from such a tiny package?!

Very pleased with this DAC - plays up to 192Khz files, 24bit, with no difficulties and the headphone amp is very effective (bit too good, actually - watch out for high volume!).

The usb cable seems a tad budget, but you could always replace this if needs be (not sure if you would really notice much difference though). Seems well made (it's an aluminium box, so not much to say!) and looks durable enough.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best 100 I ever spent..., 21 Nov 2013
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
I have all my music on my computer in itunes and used to just plug my headphones into my macbook and I thought it was OK - I got this after some advice from a friend who said it was what I needed to get even more quality from my music - the bonus is the it works on all sound from my computer including youtube and spotify.

I am very happy - now looking at even better headphones to see if there is any more quality I can get
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 100 well spent!, 3 Feb 2014
By 
Gordon Mackay "Gordonmac" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
I have been using this with my Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones and also via a cable to my Hi-fi amplifier and have to say it appears to make a vast improvement to... everything!

On my Mac I've also been using alternative software to iTunes, an application called Swinsian and this also seems to offer even more quality from my MacBook Pro :)

Delighted!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1st DAC - Glad i got it., 30 Dec 2013
By 
C. O'Connor "xen0phon" (Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
This is my first DAC so I'm not the expert on how this sounds compared to other DAC's but what I can say is that it makes a significant change to music from your laptop. Everything just immediately sounds better, kick drums have a real thump to them (Arctic Monkeys new album AM)and on some older tracks (Voodoo Chile by Jimi)if you close your eyes you really feel inside the music like I have never felt before, you can hear his breathing as he sings and the guitar sounds right there in front of you...

Anyway, I was blown away as this is my first experience with a DAC so maybe my judgement is clouded on the sound quality.

The item itself is very small and perfect for using on the go, I like the fact that it's attached to a USB cable rather than directly to the port.

Not everything is amazing though as I must say it's not a doddle to set up if you need to download the drivers from Cambridge Audio, their website is fine but you'll have to do some searching to find the right drivers, I was directed to a link that gave me the wrong driver initially so it was only after some additional searching that I found the right one to get up and running on Windows 8.1. this is not the DAC's fault of course but worth mentioning for anyone reading this.

Also when moving from USB class 1 to Class 2 you will need to unplug and then plug the device to change it from one class to another, or maybe it's just my one, either way it's a bit of a pain to have to do this each time if I'm moving from my work laptop to my Home PC (work laptop doesn't have administrator rights of course so I have to use class 1...) These are minor niggles that will only affect the initial learning period with the device but it's something that could have been done a bit better in my opinion (or maybe that's just me being a spoilt child)?

Overall I love this unit and would recommend it to anyone who has never owned a DAC before as it will make you very happy indeed and it is reasonably priced compared to some of the DAC's out there, for anyone that is more experienced I can't really advise you as you'll know more than I do!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like good quality headphone sound from your computer, this is where it's at, 28 April 2014
By 
Graham Hind (Llandrillo, Wales) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
I have a MacBook Air and wanted to be able to listen to good quality music while I work. I upgraded my headphones to Audio Technica ATH-M50 and tried a different DAC which made quite a bit of difference but unfortunately let me down. That DAC was second-hand and would have been around 70 full price (by the way, I had purchased it on Amazon from a company, they refunded fully). After searching the reviews I decided this was the one. Very small, nicely made, really nothing to it - until you listen! If you are like me and wondered whether DAC technology might be a snake-oil solution, designed to extract money for not much benefit, this little Cambridge product will cure you. I won't bother you with mythical hifi descriptions: just a world of difference between the headphones plugged straight into the laptop and the headphones via this. I have listened to headphones costing more than twice as much as mine plugged directly in, there is absolutely no question but that this DAC brings the very best out of what you have. If you care about the quality of music you are listening to and want to listen from a computer, get one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DacMagic XS USB DAC, 18 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
This small black box works wonders with the audio output from my lap top. Everything sounds so much clearer and makes listening to anything a pleasure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cambridge Audio's Little GEM!, 20 Mar 2014
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
This is a Really Great little Headphone DAC/Amp from Cambridge Audio. In essence the DACMagic XS Cleans up/Purifies & Amplifies the sound from your Computer/Mac/Laptop, be it Music, Films, HomeMovies or Games and makes it a PLEASURABLE LISTENING EXPERIENCE. Its about the size of a Matchbox and connects to your Computer via USB on one side of the XS, whilst your Headphones connect to the standard 3.5mm Jack on the other side of the DacMagic. Setting up couldn't be easier, just plug it in, go to your Control Panel then click on Sounds and it will automatically download the file and Hey Presto you're ready to go! You can also go online to Cambridge Audio and download their Free USB 2.0 Upgrade (this took a couple of goes to do but has improved Sound Quality). All in all for under 100 you Will have Audiophile Quality Sound from your PC/Mac/Laptop and a Big Smile on Your Face!!! Recommended
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing sound enhancement, 12 Feb 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
Blown away by the difference this little box makes to the quality of sound coming out of my iMac. Might have to invest in a better set of headphones now.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ideal for giving HD music and decent headphones boost while sat at your PC, 12 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: DacMagic XS USB DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) / Headphone Amp (Electronics)
This box of tricks will certainly give you your bang for buck, considering its diminutive size it kicks out up to a 150mW from its solid state circuitry with nothing more than its casing as a heat-sink. Tiny it may be but its feature set belies its form factor. All you need to do is download the USB 2.0 driver for Windows from cambridgeaudio.com's support page and you have got 24/192 in yours ears(provided you have those FLAC files)
No less than 54 volume steps if you care to count them and simple, intuitive double and long key presses on the + & - buttons will provide you with the array of settings. Confirmed on every keystroke by the multi-coloured micro LED indicator. The PDF User Manual provided on the cambridgeaudio.com site couldn't be any easier to follow and for Mac users the set-up configurations are even easier!
Needless to say, this guy now sits permanently plugged in at the side of my PC and is in its carry pouch just as soon as I'm off on my travels along with my HD music library that's growing by the week!!
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