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Stereophile test of the Cambridge Audio DacMagic


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Hi!

 

Don`t know if you`ve seen the DacMagic test on the Sterophile website:

 

http://www.stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/cambridge_audio_azur_dacmagic_da_converter/

 

If not, it may be worth a look.

The manufacturer comments on the subject of the bad USB Jitter performance caught me.

Seems to be a very interesting point for further examinations.

 

What do you think about it?

 

Cheers

Harald

 

Esoterc SA-60 / Foobar2000 -> Mytek Stereo 192 DSD / Audio-GD NFB 28.38 -> MEG RL922K / AKG K500 / AKG K1000  / Audioquest Nighthawk / OPPO PM-2 / Sennheiser HD800 / Sennheiser Surrounder / Sony MA900 / STAX SR-303+SRM-323II

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John Atkinson states "The DacMagic obviously features superb jitter rejection via its conventional data inputs. The USB input, however, performed significantly worse on this test..."

 

and

 

"Although its USB input is really of only utility quality and shouldn't be used for serious listening, the Cambridge Azur DacMagic otherwise offers superb measured performance."

 

and

 

"...considering its street price of $400, this level of performance is astonishing."

 

The wall wart mentioned as a possible limiting factor is an AC-AC adapter. Not a typical AC-DC adapter.

 

I have at least a couple thousand hours on a DacMagic and I've stated elsewhere in the CA forum that I experienced sub-par performance by USB. I used a Locus Cryoparts USB cable and a very fine quality Ridge Street Poiema USB cable. A boutique grade USB cable may have the potential of making a best possible connection but it is not going to magically remove jitter.

 

I've been using the DacMagic by its coax SPDIF inputs with an older Monarchy DIP mk2 in line and getting much better quality audio. There was a difference with the DIP in line but I didn't do much A/B comparing. I intend to go back to USB very soon as I have an Empirical Audio Off Ramp with a Superclock 4 on the way. That will also run in through the DacMagic's coax SPDIF input. I expect it to provide the system's absolute potential. It will be interesting to see how well the DacMagic's native SPDIF jitter rejection compares with a very fine reclocking.

 

I recommend the DacMagic as an exceptional value at the $400 price point taking into consideration its USB limitations.

 

-Rand

 

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Nuke Yuler said... "The wall wart mentioned as a possible limiting factor is an AC-AC adapter. Not a typical AC-DC adapter."

I came across this today ... might be of interest to some. http://www.russandrews.com/product.asp?lookup=0&region=UK&currency=GBP&pf_id=1882&customer_id=PAA0432060609202NPFCPJDWSQNECLVK

 

Nuke Yuler also said... "I intend to go back to USB very soon as I have an Empirical Audio Off Ramp with a Superclock 4 on the way. That will also run in through the DacMagic's coax SPDIF input. I expect it to provide the system's absolute potential. It will be interesting to see how well the DacMagic's native SPDIF jitter rejection compares with a very fine reclocking."

Can I ask how you came to the conclusion that an Empirical Off Ramp would be a good upgrade.

Were you able to test before hand or are you buying blind / on advice of others on a forum (this or another)?

Did you consider the Pace Car as well?

Are there any other devices you tried?

Have you been able to compare the DAC Magic with Off Ramp combination (cost around $1400?) to a similar priced DAC?

 

Would certainly be interested in your findings when you have received it.

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Unfortunately the PSU is designed for English sockets - though any 230v input could be used with adaptor plugs I expect.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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That will also run in through the DacMagic's coax SPDIF input. I expect it to provide the system's absolute potential.

 

Unfortunately, you will still have the system's intrinsic jitter to deal with. For example, the s/pdif input will "reject jitter" from the incoming signal the same way it would with any other. This usually involves a clock which adds its own jitter unless it is really good. An example of this change in internal clocks is the PS Audio cullen upgrades which replaces the internal clocks with low jitter clocks.

 

Any signal presented to a dac will only be at best as good as its internal clocks.

 

I'm curious to hear how it sounds though, I may be full of [email protected]

 

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Harald,

 

Yes, the manufacturer's comments were very interesting.

 

To wit, Cambridge appeared to show data indicating a huge difference (increase) in jitter between AC-powered laptop computer and battery-powered laptop. The amount was shocking, and would certainly likely affect the sound no matter how inaudible you feel jitter might be. This was via USB connection and is corroborated by Stereophile's desciption of the audio quality via the USB connection as being "strictly utility", i.e., it works, but not up to audiohile standards, and not up to the level of quality of the Coas S/PDIF connection.

 

FWIW, I have NO idea why anyone would pay 2 to 2 1/2 times the price of this DAC ($400) for a reclocking device - a much better investment would seem to be a DAC with better jitter rejection, IMO.

 

clay

 

 

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While I was weighing the expense of the Off Ramp I took into consideration that I could be putting the money toward a Benchmark or something similar. I decided to go with the Off Ramp because I intend to use it with other DACs including a modded Valab. (Which I expect to replace the DacMagic for Redbook and similar content in my system.) I didn't consider the Pace Car because the Off Ramp does what's needed and the Pace Car was more than I wanted to spend.

 

The Off Ramp arrived yesterday. It won't get set up until this weekend and then it will take a month of hours to burn in.

 

I'm convinced the Off Ramp with Audiocom clock upgrades is probably the best, most effective USB reclocker available. The Bel Canto does not stand against it based on jitter assesments made at Sterophile when using it to feed an older DAC with no jitter rejection. On the other hand, while I've seen no professional measurements for the Off Ramp I have read professional reviews that put it above similar products when directly compared. I consider the expense an investment in a versatile, excellent quality piece of equipment that's a reliable and proper way to erase a variable in my system.

 

I trust Steve Nugent. I believe he's a straight-up businessman with very high quality products and reasonable prices. (I'd like to see Chris review Steve's equipment here at CA.) I think he's good at promoting his products in these forums without being overt about it. He's a worthy, smart guy. (Okay. Do get a T shirt?)

 

I'm aware that running the Off Ramp by SPDIF to a DAC is bit of a backstep but there is no alternative to connect with my components. I expect SPDIF has been implemented in the Off Ramp the best way possible to compliment the excellence of the Off Ramp's design. I gather from what Steve has said about the Valab DAC that it has at least a decent SPDIF connection that doesn't limit its potential. SPDIF in the DacMagic has been proven excellent by Stereophile.

 

- Rand

 

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Here's a couple more alternatives for power supplies:

 

From rock-grotto

http://www.rock-grotto.co.uk/pinkiev2.htm

 

From Maplin

http://www.maplin.co.uk/Module.aspx?ModuleNo=96964

 

The "Little Pinkie" (first link) costs £100, the Maplin one is a mere £16. For comparison the Russ Andrews version (Audio ELF's link) is £90. UK prices, not including shipping. The Maplin psu is a generic one, the other two are 'hifi'.

 

Reason I'm interested is because the stock unit for mine runs very hot, and has a crack in the case (I dropped it, that's the problem with being a poor little souptin with no hands). Have still to contact Richer Sounds (UK dealer) to see how much they charge for a replacement for the official psu.

 

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John Atkinson said the DacMagic has superb measured performance by its SPDIF inputs. I've been listening to the DacMagic for a while by coax SPDIF from an M-Audio Audiophile 2496 card (very good quality play) and then with an older model Monarchy DIP mkII conditioner/reclocker in between (better quality play).

 

Last weekend I put an Empirical Audio Off Ramp with a Audiocom Superclock 4 on the USB of my music server by a Ridge Street Poiema USB cable and an Audioquest VDM-5 silver coax cable into the DacMagic. Just regular Red Book 16/44.1. Simply put, it sounds like a sonic curtain has been lifted from my speakers. I put together a highly resolving system on a budget and I really had no idea how resolving until the jitter was truly nearly completely removed. You can read around at what people say about focus, presence, clarity, 3D sound field, etc when their system is doing what it's suppose to do. That's what I hear since the Off Ramp went in.

 

I find it very interesting that the DacMagic SPDIF does so well by Stereophile's measurements, yet when you feed it through a very fine reclocker it opens up like the gates of heaven. What does that tell us? Makes me wonder what an Off Ramp can do for a better DAC than the DacMagic.

 

- Rand

 

 

 

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Great to hear a success story. I've been toying with the idea of the off-ramp for a while but I'm waiting to gather enough cash to purchase it with superclock. I've also been thinking about having my dac modded to have an i2s input. That would be killer with the off-ramp I bet.

 

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I'm glad the Off Ramp has an I2S option for later. That was a modest selling point in consideration for purchasing it.

 

I'll mention again, I'd like to see Chris give the Empirical Audio hardware, perhaps at least the Off Ramp with a Superclock 4 a serious CA review. It's certainly worthy computer audiophile hardware and likely sets the reference for its job/niche.

 

- Rand

 

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I got the maplin supply last week and I would recommend it. It runs much cooler than the ca one and I think it has improved the sound. Everything sounds more even and together. Worth a go at £16.

 

It would be interesting to do a comparison of all 3.

 

I have also noticed a massive difference replacing a basic optical cable with the van de hul (?) mini toslink.

 

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