I’ve been following Cambridge Audio’s products since I reviewed the company’s original DacMagic for Macworld, back in 2010. The company has been kind enough to provide me samples of some of their devices, and I recently received a DacMagic 100, their newest DAC.
The DacMagic 100 is similar in concept to the original DacMagic, but is much smaller: it is 46 x 106 x 130mm (1.8 x 4.1 x 5.1″). To put that in perspective, it’s a bit smaller (length by width) than an Apple Magic Trackpad. It has four inputs: three digital inputs (two S/P DIF and one Toslink), and one USB input. So connecting this device to a Mac, you can either use a Toslink cable (this is a digital audio cable; all current Macs have headphone jacks which double as Toslink jacks) or a standard USB cable.
The front of the device has a power-on button, a source selector, and a display showing the incoming sample rate. One difference between the original DacMagic and the DacMagic 100 is that the new device goes up to 192 kHz; the original only supported up to 96 kHz. To be fair, most people won’t need this increased sample rate, as the majority of high-resolution music files sold are at 96 kHz, but some may want to use this, especially if they work with computers in a recording studio.
Output goes over standard RCA jacks. The original DacMagic (and the more recent DacMagic Plus) also have XLR outputs, which most people outside of recording studios won’t need.
So, the procedure is simple. In my case, using the Toslink connection, I run a Toslink cable from my Mac mini’s headphone jack to the DacMagic 100; it then connects to my amplifier. As with the DacMagic I had before, there is a noticeable improvement in detail, clarity and soundspace.
An external DAC replaces the internal chip in a computer or other device. While Macs have decent DACs, they are not designed for playing audio at high quality. Using an external device overrides the internal DAC in a computer, greatly improving the sound quality. You can also use a DAC such as this between a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray player and your amplifier, to improve the sound of discs you play. There is a noticeable difference between the sound of an average DVD/Blu-Ray player and that of the same device with its audio running through a DAC>
The DacMagic 100 is not cheap. It is currently selling for $369 on Amazon.com. But it is an excellent device, offering great sound, and with four inputs, is flexible enough to serve either for a computer-based music system, or a more complete home entertainment system with multiple devices running through it. (For example, a DVD player, Apple TV and game console.)