When I got a Cambridge Audio DacMagic about two years ago (see my Macworld article about it) I was immediately impressed by how it improved the quality of the music I listened to from iTunes. Even with compressed music, it gives better detail and spaciousness. While I am not an audiophile, the DacMagic is certainly a worthy addition to my stereo.
I just noticed that Cambridge Audio has released a new version of the device, the DacMagic Plus. (Apparently this was released a couple of months ago; I just saw a mention of it in a classical music magazine.) This improves on the original by adding a headphone jack and volume control, allowing it to be used on its own as a headphone amp, which is very practical. In addition, it has a digital pre-amp, so it can be used with active speakers, and it has a Bluetooth receiver so you can stream music from Bluetooth devices.
I would have liked to see AirPlay compatibility, for streaming from iTunes, but you can always stream to, say, an Apple TV connected to the DacMagic Plus via a Toslink cable. However, with only two digital inputs, this may be limiting for some.
For me, though, the big advantage would be using it as a headphone amp, when I want to listen to headphones. The device is compact enough that I could put it on my desk, rather than next to my amp which is on a shelf a few feet from my desk chair, making headphone cable paths a bit easier to use. (I use my DacMagic for my office stereo.)
Unfortunately, it is more expensive than the original DacMagic: it lists at $679, but is available from Amazon.com for $599; the original DacMagic sold for around $429. But the addition of the headphone amp and jack make it a very useful product.
If you’ve never tried a DAC – digital-audio converter – you might be surprised to hear how much of a difference it can make, especially if you play music from your computer. (If you have, say, a high-end CD player, the difference will be much less obvious.) If you want a device to add detail and clarity to your sound, do check out the DacMagic Plus.