Two tech trends are ruining the quality of your music. And no, I don’t mean MP3s and iPhones. I mean the fact that the computer is becoming the primary source of entertainment for many listeners, and yet the desktop computer — with its potential for decent sound cards and robust sound — is going the way of the Dodo. To put it bluntly, laptop audio stinks, and not just the tiny built-in speakers. As we clamor for thinner and cheaper laptop computers, manufacturers aren’t left with a lot of room (or a lot of money) to dedicate to the digital-to-analog converter. As Cambridge Audio demonstrates with its new DacMagic XS (which I’m assuming stands for “Extra Small”), though, a good DAC doesn’t have to take up a lot of space.
Measuring in at smaller than a matchbox (30 x 10 x 53.5 mm, or 1.2 x 0.4 x 2.1’’), the DacMagic XS packs in a USB Class 1 and USB Class 2 digital-to-analog converter built on the ESS SABRE ES9023 chip, with support for files up to 24-bit/192kHz. It also sports a pretty rockin’ little headphone amplifier, with 150mW of power — right at two-and-a-half times the output of an iPhone or a good laptop headphone output jack.
It also features integrated volume controls and LED sample rate indicators, and all in all only adds a bit of a bump to the end of your headphone cable.
One thing worth mentioning is that the use of the ESS chip may mean that the DacMagic XS won’t sound exactly like it’s big brothers in the DacMagic line, which rely on Wolfson DAC chips. I’m not saying that’s better or worse, and it’s probably unavoidable given the tiny size of the XS — plus, it’s worth noting that the implementation of the DAC chip has more impact on sound than the chip itself. I only mention it in case any of you belong to the “Wolfson or GTFO” camp.
At any rate, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS also costs a lot less than its DacMagic Plus and DacMagic 100 forebears. Look for it soon for about $189.00 at your favorite Cambridge Audio retailer.