Review: With its new DacMagic 200M, Cambridge Audio has launched a small D/A converter that is not necessarily spartan with Bluetooth, headphone output
The small Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is a D/A converter with an impressive list of features. There’s PCM sample rates up to 768 kHz, DSD512, MQA certification, a small armada of different inputs and a sleek exterior. The cost of 499 euros ( www.cambridgeaudio.com/deu/de ) makes you sit up and take notice, because usually DACs armed to the teeth with the latest technology are one thing in particular: they are not cheap.
On the back you can see that while the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is designed in a commercial building in the UK, it is at least ‘assembled’ in China. The price could hardly be explained otherwise. But Cambridge Audio has a respectable reputation. Anyone who wants to call their own components with good sound properties and a rather unexcited British design, does not like the big volume manufacturers and – apart from the large Edge series – does not want to see half, whole or multiple average monthly wages go from the account immediately inevitably comes across Cambridge Audio when doing research.
The digital heart of the 200M is an ESS Saber ES9028Q2M converter chip, which is able to drive word widths of up to 32 bits, provide the high sample rates mentioned at the beginning and meet MQA requirements . Strictly speaking, two of these chips are integrated, although they each work with two channels by default, but some manufacturers use dedicated DACs for left and right (mainly to enable higher channel separation), such as Cambridge with the DacMagic 200M.
The two converter chips can be fed via several interfaces that can be selected on the front. Two S/PDIF doubles open the gates either electrically or optically, which will please users of multiple players such as CD and DVD/Blu-ray players. A USB-B interface is also available, with which very high sample rates, even above 192 kHz and DSD, are then possible. A Bluetooth that also accepts aptX-encoded data-Antenna stretches into the air at the rear. In view of the high-resolution wired audio inputs, Bluetooth is a little out of the ordinary. The standard 4.2 is offered and only aptX – for example no aptX HD. The 200M completely dispenses with another type of wireless connection, and that is a remote control. This is probably a dampener for prospective customers who have already seen the latest DacMagic as a switching and Walt center that can be conveniently controlled from the listening chair.
It goes analog with the well-known red and white RCA (“cinch”) sockets or with the XLR output pair (balanced with a reference level of +4 dBu instead of -10 dBV). When it comes to power supply, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is content with a simple external plug-in power supply with 12 volt secondary voltage. This is not a problem for the two converter chips, because they are also explicitly suitable for use in mobile devices – nevertheless, experience shows that additional high-quality power supplies can offer audible tuning potential.
The front and the operating logic of the Cambridge DacMagic 200M are, as you would expect from such a DAC, simple and largely self-explanatory. LEDs indicate push button source and sample rate, and use of DSD or MQA data. The large rotary encoder digitally adjusts the output level for the two analog socket pairs, but a fixed volume level can also be selected. The rotary encoder always also determines the level for the 6.3 mm headphone jack on the front, behind which there is an amplifier for headphones with impedances of 10 ohms and up. In some situations, such as when using active speakers without further regulation, it is therefore unfortunately not possible to listen sometimes via loudspeakers, sometimes with headphones, without switching off the speakers in the latter case.
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M: Sound Test & Comparisons
Perhaps one or two regular Fairaudio readers can guess how much fun the authors have in selecting new and additional music productions in addition to the standard reference discs, with which test devices can be tested in terms of sound. I regularly get into a certain euphoria, which sometimes also drifts into silly stupidity. That was especially true in this case, because after decades I actually listened to Judas Priest again for longer than the duration of a song . And then there’s the album Defenders of the Faith, whose cover is so unspeakably ugly.
No one will be surprised if I ascribe extensive linearity, neutrality and therefore normality in a positive sense to a DAC that was released in 2021 and measure the properties of the sound profile less in bathtub fillings and more with the pipette. I also chose Rob Halford ‘s group because they were early priests-Albums are mixed plenty biting. The DacMagic does not reproduce this focus area too crystalline or glassy. This is one of the sticking points with many new converters, which have a very fine resolution and quickly appear sharp and cold – which is not only due to the level frequency response, but also to the high dynamics and a fast and finely resolving further audio chain (for me this is particularly a Stax SR-2170) can be particularly evident. The Cambridge is exemplary for long-term use.
Overall, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M looks more modern and fresher than the older Lavry DA11 (approx. 1,500 euros), but shows no tendency to sound surly, poisonous or hectic. This is perhaps what is meant by the marketing claim “Great British Sound” on the back, which I found more accurate after hearing it than right after unpacking it. Because I had already prepared a few (friendly) points of attack in a very prejudiced manner.
But it certainly makes sense to fan out my sound impression more precisely.
It is basically to be expected that the bass sounds highly precise up to the infrasonic limit and is nice and crisp according to the latest converter technology. The bass reproduction is not lulling, exuberant or thick, but also not thin, dust-dry or sterile, which would also contradict my understanding of “British Sound”. So Cambridge drives “middle of the road” here, which is a very sensible approach for a converter. The synth bass on “Push Upstairs” ( Underworld , on Beaucoup Fish) compared to the analog output of my CD player (Rega Apollo, approx. 1,000 euros) not only makes it clear that the converter technology has progressed over time and the chips in the bass have become a little “tighter”, but also that a CD player upgrade with stand-alone converters usually brings a sonic gain. Albeit not a huge one. Compared to the Merging Technology HAPI (8 Ch. AD/DA, approx. 7,500 euros) equipped with premium cards, I can detect minimal differences in the upper bass. This is slightly less stringent on the Cambridge DacMagic 200M than on the HAPI, but these differences are really microscopic.
Mids & Metal
For the assessment of the mids and highs I chose the metal veterans Judas Priest , but of course I also listened to a lot of other material, including acoustic and tidy productions. I can state that the resolution in the mids is breathtakingly high. Singers breathing, painting noises, percussive sound components – both the critical, fast, attack-oriented level changes and the textures of tonal components are reproduced with high contours without appearing artificial. In terms of level, the presences are perhaps slightly ahead, sharp elements in the music are neither tamed nor pronounced.
Fortunately, the fact that the trebles also have a very high resolution is not a problem for the Cambridge D/A converters. Instead of flaunting air and details at the upper end of the listening range, the converter seems to be slightly more restrained on the level side. At this point I would like to remind you of my comparison with the pipette.
Current converters, which use high-quality chips from AKM, ESS, Burr-Brown and other manufacturers, almost on purpose would have to bend a frequency response in order not to reproduce level linearly. The implementation of these chips makes differences, which are mainly reflected in the stage. For a recording of a Beethoven string quartet, I set up various stereo main microphone systems that, due to their functional principle, deliver different qualities in spatial imaging – some are very rigid, sharp and true to angle, while others are perhaps a little more indifferent, but with grandiose depth and high immersion .
Cambridge has given the DacMagic 200M two converters whose high channel separation should have a positive effect on the stereo stage (and also in terms of depth!). In short: the concept works perfectly. Above all, listeners who listen to music in which the fanning out of the instruments and the depth of the natural or artificial space are essential will have their true joy with the Cambridge. The converter not only manages to present the positions of the four instruments of the Beethoven quartet clearly and tangibly, but also to vividly present the depth gradation of the two instruments placed in the middle (second violin and viola) as well as the spatial reflections.
In terms of fine dynamics, which will not surprise anyone, the converter is also very well positioned. Short rises in the material, such as those generated not only by percussion instruments but also, for example, by piano hammers or the human voice (just think of [t]or [k]), the Cambridge plays with astonishing accuracy. This is particularly noticeable when the shortest possible pulses are converted as a test, which are reproduced much less washed out than with older and cheaper converters. If you want more here, you have to look around in the converter league with a four-digit price tag.
Rapid sequences of hits, as can be found in abundance on the Priest album, are passed on in an agile but not hectic manner. Even the large changes in dynamics, as they occur in the aforementioned recording of the string quartet in the form of many forte passages immediately following piano passages and numerous crescendos/decrescendos, do not pose any challenges for the converter. Without leaving the tonal linearity or swerving after sudden changes, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M reproduces the recording dynamics as they are limited by the microphones and preamps used.
How a converter deals with the dynamics of music is one thing, but as a user you can consciously change the available technical dynamics: If the playback level is digitally reduced, you are giving away potentially possible value resolution. That could, in theory, cause stomach ache. But the DacMagic shows that as long as you don’t overdo it and dampen extremely hard, you can consistently benefit from the high technical dynamics of the Cambridge.
Fast, slow, short…
“Fast”, “Slow” and “Short Delay” are the three switching options of the DacMagic 200M, which cause a direct selection of the three filter types on the converter chip, which the manufacturer ESS deviates from as “Fast”, “Slow” and “Minimum Phase” designated. No new worlds open up when you switch. In fact, “Fast” can be described as a little “meatier” and “Slow” a little more open. Differences due to anomalies due to possibly mirrored signal components, intermodulationand I couldn’t hear anything like that. I would definitely recognize the difference between “Slow” and “Short Delay” in a blind test with 50% (in)accuracy… “Short Delay” seemed a little more sober to me, but I won’t put my hand in the fire… and yes, I think I can hear reasonably well.
The situation is similar when using different inputs, so it was irrelevant to the sound whether a data stream was optically or electrically wired to the DacMagic via S/PDIF or via USB. Even with digital sources, which can be assumed to have a less stable clock due to their age and class (old computer audio interfaces), no difference in sound could be determined. However, it turns out that there is definitely a gain for the attack ranges of particularly short instrument sounds and the detailed representation of the room structure, for example, when working with high and very high sample rates instead of 44.1 or 48 kHz. The difference from the simple to the double sample rate (at 88.2 or 96) is, as usual, more noticeable than from there to four, eight or even sixteen times. Since there is a lack of material which was not only recorded in such a format, but also worked with these values from the editing to the final product. My own recordings, A/D converted with DSD256 or 384 kHz, served as the main basis for the checks mentioned, because there I know particularly well where I have to “listen”.
Felt on the tooth
However, the use of the Bluetooth connection brings a noticeable difference in quality. Identical material is fresher, finer resolution and better graded in depth via USB than obtained from the same source via Bluetooth aptX. This in no way means that the wireless connection per se should be despised. But at Cambridge, the budget was rather spent on two first-class converter chips and a successful integration of them, instead of paying for all codec implementations. A right decision in my opinion. And yet you can still listen comfortably via Bluetooth if necessary.
Conclusion: Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M
With its new DacMagic 200M, Cambridge Audio has launched a small D/A converter that is not necessarily spartan with Bluetooth, headphone output, multiple inputs and high PCM and DSD sample rates, but it does its job seriously and without compromise operates: The conversion from the digital to the analogue domain takes place with great accuracy, but without any conspicuous processing vying for attention, but with restrained neutrality. Deviations from this neutrality are reflected in the fact that the presence range plays at a slightly higher level and the deepest basses and highest trebles are therefore slightly less important. Typical for converters, these are the smallest nuances. For a device that only costs a mid three-digit amount,
- Product: Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M
- Concept: D/A converter
- Price: 499 euros
- Digital inputs: 2 x coax, 2 x Toslink, 1 x USB-B, Bluetooth aptX
- Formats: Optical -> 44.1 kHz to 96 kHz PCM at 16 to 24 bit, DoP64; coaxial -> 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz PCM at 16 to 24 bit, DoP64; USB -> 44.1 kHz to 768 kHz PCM at 16 to 32 bit, Native DSD 64x to 512x, DoP 64x to 256x
- Outputs (adjustable): XLR, RCA, 6.35 mm headphone jack
- Dimensions & Weight: 52 x 215 x 191 mm (H x W x D), 1.2 kg
- Colours: Lunar Grey
- Other: IR remote control, 3 digital filters
- Guarantee: 3 year