- Written by Stephen Hornbrook
- Published on 30 August 2012
Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus In Use
I’ve always struggled with the AKG701’s lean sound, especially when they are driven by a weaker portable device. Pairing them up with the DacMagic Plus gave them the punch they were missing and allowed me to enjoy listening to them again. Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” sounded tight and energetic. They 701’s were still a bit bright for my tastes, but the difference between listening through an iPod and the DacMagic Plus was obviously in the Plus’s favor. With the new PSB M4U2 and a selection of music, including Of Monsters and Men’s Dirty Paws, I found the DacMagic Plus to deliver great dynamics. I preferred the linear phase filter setting with the PSB as it enhanced the midrange dynamics a tiny bit. Overall the PSB were a great match with the DacMagic and they provided a full, clean, and dynamic sound.
When used with HiFiMAN HE-400, the DacMagic Plus was a pleasure to listen to. For a planar magnetic design, the HE-400’s are fairly efficient and were easily driven with the Plus. This was the ideal combo for my tastes and I was able to enjoy many hours of listening while at my desk working. 2L Recording’s “Beethoven: Sonate 32” sounded very good at 192kHz, but in a blind A-B test I am not sure I would have been able to tell the difference between the 96kHz version. My brain convinced my ears that the piano had a slightly larger soundstage in the 192kHz version but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just an effect of pretty blue 192kHz LED lighting up on the Plus. Placebo or not, it sounded wonderful! Unfortunately the headphone amp was not quite powerful enough to drive headphones like the HifiMAN HE-6 and Audeze LCD-3, but this was not surprising as those have some pretty stiff requirements.
I switched the DacMagic Plus to fixed line-level output mode to do some listening in my home theater. Specifically, the 24/192 version of Norah Jones Not too Late sounded excellent. Her voice was clear and firmly planted in the center of the soundstage, never wavering back and forth or up and down. In an effort to expose my true levels of nerdism, I shall describe my experience when comparing the DacMagic Plus DACs to the Oppo BDP-95 DACs (dual ESS ES9018 chips) using a couple of my favorite film scores: How to Train your Dragon by John Powell and Conan the Barbarian by Basil Poledouris. Track 8, “Forbidden Friendship”, on HTTYD features a cast of mallet instruments that provide a great atmosphere to test the depth and width of a soundstage. The Oppo provided a warmer sound with more bass and midrange fullness along with a wider soundstage. On the DacMagic Plus, the soundstage was not as large, but it was more clear and concise. Instruments were planted in their own space, giving a more realistic presence. I found the DacMagic Plus to deliver great detail and crispness to the mallet instruments. Listening to Conan only furthered these findings. Again, the Oppo had a wider, more enveloping soundstage with a bit warmer midrange and increased low end presence, but the DacMagic Plus delivered a more concise soundstage where the strings and brass sounded especially clear and neutral. The low end response on the Plus was tight and quick, allowing upright bass performances in jazz ensembles to shine. They are both great performers and in the end it always comes down to personal preference.