Electronics

Pint-sized DacMagic XS USB DAC headphone amp packs a powerful punch

Pint-sized DacMagic XS USB DAC...
The DacMagic XS USB headphone amp from Cambridge Audio
The DacMagic XS USB headphone amp from Cambridge Audio
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The DacMagic XS sits between a USB port on a computer or laptop and your headphones
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The DacMagic XS sits between a USB port on a computer or laptop and your headphones
Support for USB Class 2 audio allows users to completely bypass the audio path set by a computer's OS for improved output quality
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Support for USB Class 2 audio allows users to completely bypass the audio path set by a computer's OS for improved output quality
The front of the black brushed aluminum housing has analog up and down volume controls
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The front of the black brushed aluminum housing has analog up and down volume controls
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The tiny device can handle the playback of high resolution audio
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The tiny device can handle the playback of high resolution audio
The small and light DacMagic XS delivers a mighty 150 mW volume boost to help drown out background noise
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The small and light DacMagic XS delivers a mighty 150 mW volume boost to help drown out background noise
The DacMagic XS promises a much better listening experience than a computer's soundcard can provide
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The DacMagic XS promises a much better listening experience than a computer's soundcard can provide
The DacMagic XS USB headphone amp from Cambridge Audio
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The DacMagic XS USB headphone amp from Cambridge Audio

It doesn't seem too long ago that a quality headphones amplifier was the size of a chunky paperback novel, and would occupy so much space in a laptop bag that it would probably get left behind more often than not. Now the UK's Cambridge Audio has managed to squeeze a high-end digital-to-analog (DAC) converter and headphone amp into a device that's smaller than a matchbox.

The DacMagic XS has been designed to give digital music lovers a much better listening experience than a computer's lackluster soundcard or poor quality audio out jack can provide. Measuring 1.2 x 0.4 x 2.1 in (30 x 10 x 53.5 mm) and weighing 100 g (3.5 oz), it sits between a computer's USB port and the headphones through which you listen to your tunes. The front of the black, brushed aluminum housing has analog up and down volume controls, and support for USB Class 2 audio allows users to completely bypass the audio path set by a computer's OS for improved output quality.

The small and light DacMagic XS delivers a mighty 150 mW volume boost to help drown out background noise
The small and light DacMagic XS delivers a mighty 150 mW volume boost to help drown out background noise

The device features an ESS9023 24-bit DAC and delivers a mighty 150 mW volume boost, promising enhanced clarity, and oodles of bass response. It has a 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response, a signal-to-noise ratio of 103 dBr, and boasts total harmonic distortion of less than 0.004 percent.

The unit can also handle the playback of high resolution (24-bit/192 kHz) audio. A single LED on the bottom edge changes color to indicate the sample rate of an incoming signal, as well as letting you know when you're at minimum or maximum volume.

This all sounds pretty good for a teeny unit that only costs US$189, and if an early review in What Hi-Fi? is any indication, the DacMagic XS looks like it could be worth every penny.

Have a look at the short promo video below.

Product page: DacMagic XS

4 comments
TheSplund
I have their iPod iD50 Dock - the one with the DAC - and it is very good indeed, and I've been looking/waiting for something like this but more for a portable iPod/DAC solution for 'phones. Only down-side I can see is that it's not for 1/4" plugs but TBH I think I'd rather blame Sennheiser for not doing a smaller jack option for my 585s - a 1/4 jack would just make this neat little DAC bigger.
Yusuf Khan
The LG G2, and hopefully the Nexus 5, has 24 bit 192kHz audio output, so new phones will probably be getting this too and it won't be too difficult to use the phone as a DAC. With that in mind $189 doesn't seem so reasonable anymore.
Matthew Chard
@TheSplund... There is a portable DAC like an ipod available. It is called the Fiio X3. It uses a up to 64GB SDXC card, but is not big enough for my music collection. I am waiting for the Fiio X5 that should be capable of handling larger sdxc cards. http://news.cnet.com/8301-13645_3-57601714-47/fiios-nifty-$200-portable-high-resolution-music-player-is-a-knockout/ cheers...
Satweavers
Is there a built in limit to keep the level below the permanent hearing damage threshold?