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Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M Review

The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M DAC/pre-amp/headphone amplifier might be the high-res audio hub you’re looking for.

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200m DAC Headphone Amplifier Detail

When one considers that tens of millions of consumers have been stuck at home for almost 2 years, most headphone manufacturers can’t keep product in stock, and 99% of the population uses a wireless mobile device as their primary digital source – it’s probably a good time to explain to consumers why a DAC might elevate their listening experience in a very significant way. Some brands get it.

Cambridge Audio clearly understands that consumers might pay for a one-box solution that they can connect to their phone, Sony PS5, headphones, laptop, Roku streamer, and their home stereo. If that applies to you — The next generation Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is a product you need to seriously consider. 

DACs need to become a thing in 2022. And not just because 300 million people across the globe have jumped onboard the streaming train. The reality is that 95% of the people who stream music through Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, or Deezer have no idea what a DAC does and probably couldn’t tell you the name of 3 companies that make them. That’s a colossal marketing failure on all levels by the high-end audio industry.

Spotify HiFi is launching at some point in 2022 once the platform is able to contain all of the damage from the Neil Young/Joe Rogan fiasco — but will the Spotify audience even care?

Does high-res audio offer a discernable sonic advantage over MP3s, and 16-bit/44.1kHz CD quality?

It does. But 90% of the music available is still not high-res.

High-resolution audio refers to music files that have a higher sampling frequency and/or bit depth than CD, which is specified at 16-bit/44.1kHz.

Tidal and Qobuz offer high-res streaming on their platforms – but you won’t be able to really appreciate the differences between those files and CD quality sound without a DAC. 

In some cases, you may not think that high-res versions of some music offer a huge uptick in sound quality. That’s ok.

A DAC converts the digital signal from your laptop, streamer, or smartphone (using a wired or wireless connection) into an analog signal. In most cases, a well-designed DAC will make MP3s and the lossy files you stream from Spotify sound significantly better.

Now that I’ve confused and persuaded almost all of you not to buy a DAC, let’s take a look at the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M which is much more than just a DAC. 

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Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200m DAC Headphone Amplifier Front Angle

DAC Magic                            

The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is part of a new wave of digital products that wear many hats. Some of those hats fit a little better than others but there is no question that the DacMagic 200M is one of the best options in the DAC/pre-amp/headphone amplifier category. 

If you’re only looking for a standalone DAC, the DacMagic 200M still makes a lot of sense because of its wide range of digital inputs, antenna for streaming Bluetooth aptX, support for MQA, PCM up to 32-bit/768kHz, and DSD512. You must use the USB-type B input if you want to stream PCM and DSD at anything above 24-bit/192kHz.

The coaxial digital inputs (2) can decode 24-bit/192kHz, and the Toslink (2) can handle 24-bit/96KHz – a nice feature for your video game console, Roku box, or older CD player

Less than 10% of all of the digital music available is high-res and there is almost nothing at 32-bit/768kHz. I wouldn’t hold my breath for Spotify to offer 24-bit/96kHz, but this DAC should be future-proof for a few years.

Apple Music’s lossless and hi-res lossless roll-out hasn’t been perfect but it provides another option now for an “audiophile” quality streaming. The DacMagic 200M does 16-bit/44.1kHz really well.

The right side of the front panel is dedicated to displaying the sampling rate of the audio signal being fed into it. There are a lot of LEDs; each labelled with a different sampling rate – ‘44.1kHz’, ‘48kHz’, ‘96kHz’ and ‘192kHz’ — the appropriate LED illuminates when the unit detects the signal. Likewise, LEDs for MQA or DSD illuminate when those types of files or streams are detected.

The front panel displays a lot of information. Perhaps too much in a font that is quite small. 

Not to pick on Cambridge Audio, but why is this becoming a trend? I’ve reviewed 3 other products in the past 12 months that had settings printed on the metalwork that were almost impossible to read. 

I know we’re getting older but that’s not a good design choice in my opinion. 

The rear panel of the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is very well laid-out and I had enough room to connect 3 digital devices, the power cord, and a relatively thick pair of interconnect cables with room to spare. Cambridge has included both single-ended and balanced outputs on the rear panel and it’s clear that they have designed the DacMagic 200M to compete with similar products from Chord, Schiit Audio, Denafrips, and iFi Audio. 

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200m DAC Headphone Amplifier Back

Pre-Amplifier

Reading instructions from start to finish is really important. So is remembering to wear your glasses. 

The DacMagic 200M can also operate as a pre-amplifier and send the analog signal from its outputs to a power amplifier or a pair of active loudspeakers. Cambridge delivered the unit just as I was about to return the Acoustic Energy AE1 active loudspeakers, but I did manage to squeeze in a few days with his combination. 

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The unit has been designed with both fixed and variable output settings; the volume control knob serves multiple functions including selecting either one of these operational modes when you depress it and the “filter” button at the same time.

Just make sure you are in “Standby” mode when you make this change. 

Otherwise, you will find yourself stuck in variable output mode and turning the volume knob in an endless circle (there is nothing to stop its movement which I think is a design flaw) until you get frustrated and turn the volume all the way down on the DacMagic 200M and go to bed. 

I did this more than once. 

When I finally figured out how to make the change (and the proper sequence of LEDs illuminated), all was good with the unit. And my sanity. 

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200m DAC Headphone Amplifier Low Angle

The Headphone Amplifier

The improved headphone amplifier section of the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M proved to be a welcome surprise. The concept isn’t new; Mytek, iFi, Schiit Audio and Chord have been offering this feature for years on its products and it makes a lot of sense. 

If you’re building a desktop audio system and want to minimize the number of components to save space – you want a unit like the DacMagic 200M.

The headphone amplifier is a Class AB design with a lot more power than the previous design; it worked perfectly fine with the Meze Audio 99 Classics, Audeze LCD-1, and HiFiMan Deva that I use on a regular basis. 

But this one goes to eleven…

I found the sound of the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M to be rather consistent across all of the digital inputs; I’m still not a fan of Bluetooth aptX and while the sound quality was better than I’ve heard from some other DACs that offer this feature – I’m not a convert to wireless. 

The USB and Coaxial inputs both sounded very similar; I would give the USB a slight edge in the detail department, but the overall tonal balance was the same.

I switched back and forth between my MacBook Pro, Bluesound Node 2i, Andover Songbird, and Wattson Audio Emerson Digital streamers. 

Listening to Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redentor” let me know that the DacMagic 200M has a really smooth sounding top end; Byrd’s trumpet can illuminate really bright sounding equipment and I heard nothing of that. If anything, it struck a perfect balance between detailed and airy. 

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Even when I switched over to the more neutral sounding Acoustic Energy AE1 loudspeakers, the DacMagic 200M never really strayed into dangerous territory with Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, or the Boards of Canada. 

The DacMagic 200M is not a neutral sounding DAC; the midrange is on the warmer side, and bass notes are fleshed out; but it’s not as warm sounding as the Schiit Bifrost, Gungnir, or Helm Bolt.

It does not offer the detail of the Chord or Schiit DAC/headphone amps, but I rather liked how the DacMagic 200M straddled the line between warm and very engaging from the mids down, and just enough detail on top.

I did find it slightly leaner sounding with the Wattson Audio Emerson Digital streamer (compared to the Bluesound Node 2 and my MacBook Pro) and it wasn’t my favorite combination. 

Vocals are delivered with both sufficient texture and clarity. Lucius, Lana Del Rey, Natalie Merchant, and Amy Winehouse drew me in with each track; the different nuances in all of their voices were clearly defined and each singer was carved out in space with tight outlines.

Scale and imaging are excellent; I was particularly impressed with how the DacMagic 200M delivered soundstage depth/width with headphones. If you use headphones that are not very difficult loads; Grado, Audeze LCD-1, HiFiMan Sundara & Deva — you’re going to like how spacious everything sounds, and the dynamic punch with every type of music.

One thing for certain – music is never boring through the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M. 

It also never loses its composure with more complicated tracks; if you listen to a lot of classical music or orchestral works – this a DAC that unravels everything but doesn’t leave it on the floor for you to reconstruct. Strings have just enough texture and brass have some bite. 

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200m DAC Headphone Amplifier Front

Conclusion

The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M delivers a lot of features and performance for the money. Its support for almost every high-res digital format including MQA, DSD, and 32-bit/768kHz PCM is pretty rare at its price level. This is not a DAC you will have to upgrade anytime soon if you listen primarily to streaming services like Spotify or Qobuz, or have a lot of CDs you want to enjoy with better sound quality. 

It is also a DAC that does better in a system that needs an added layer of midrange warmth and a punchy bottom end. Stick it into a system that is already a tad dark sounding, and it will get boring rather quickly. 

Build quality is excellent and it has enough digital inputs for a small army of sources. I’m still not a fan of the small font (getting older Jaclyn) and I do wish that it had a more precise volume control knob. 

It’s a very solid offering in a crowded space with some very capable competition. 

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If your budget maxes out at $500 for a DAC/pre-amp/headphone amplifier solution – this needs to be near the top of the audition list. 

For more informationcambridgeaudio.com

Where to buy: $499 at Crutchfield

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. leon

    April 9, 2021 at 2:53 am

    cambridge audio is an awful company to deal with if you have problems.

    • Ian White

      April 9, 2021 at 1:38 pm

      Leon,

      I’ve been a Cambridge customer for many years and I know that their past customer service was definitely spotty. Having purchased 4 pieces over the past 3 years, I can report that they are a very responsive company now and reliability (jinxing myself) has not proven to be an issue. I can’t say the same for some other brands that I won’t mention.

      • leon

        May 14, 2021 at 7:40 pm

        they STILL won’t give or sell me a schematic to a piece years out of production.
        All they seem interested in is the flat rate fix-it fee.

        • Ian White

          May 14, 2021 at 8:54 pm

          Leon,

          Which piece? How can we help? We know people at CA.

          Ian

          • Leon

            February 3, 2022 at 7:58 pm

            Dac Magic Plus…….turns off at random. I’ve replaced the PS with a MeanWell 12v / 35 watt….which is overspec compared to the ps issued…which was 24 watts.

          • Ian White

            February 3, 2022 at 8:42 pm

            Leon,

            I like it sonically but the volume dial is useless.

            Ian White

  2. Benji Ng

    April 15, 2021 at 3:02 pm

    Can the optical and coaxial inputs decode MQA?

    • Ian White

      April 15, 2021 at 8:50 pm

      USB and coaxial worked fine. I never tried the optical but I will and let you know as I bought the review unit.

      Ian

      • Benji Ng

        April 16, 2021 at 12:02 am

        TQ Ian. I just want to ensure I buy something that is future proof. I will wait for the update on the optical input. Once again TQ.

  3. Stu Collings

    June 11, 2021 at 11:56 am

    Hi, Please can you comment on how it compares to the internal dacs of the Node 2i? Is it much of an upgrade? Thanks, Stu

    • Ian White

      June 11, 2021 at 1:20 pm

      Hi Stu,

      I would say it’s pretty close but the DacMagic 200M has more detail. The Node 2i and brand new NODE are warmer sounding.

      The DacMagic does 32-bit/384MHz and DSD. The NODE does not. Not that DSD or 32-bit/384MHz will ever present anything more than 0.05% of music available.

      The headphone amplifier side of the Cambridge is also pretty good.

      I’m not a fan of the cambridge as a DAC/preamp with active speakers. I wasn’t overly impressed with the volume control or its operation.

      The Node 2i and NODE are also streamers which make them a better value.

      A more neutral sounding system is better for the Node 2i or NODE.

      Ian White

      • Stu Collings

        July 3, 2021 at 10:12 am

        Thanks Ian,

        I currently use my Node 2i with a Beyerdynamic A20 headphone amp so will only be using the 200M as a DAC – I’m guessing the headphone amp in the 200M is good but not good enough to replace the A20?

        Stu

        • Ian White

          July 3, 2021 at 10:32 am

          Stu,

          Having not heard the Beyerdynamic A20, almost impossible for me to say. The 200M is decent as a headphone amplifier but I can’t see it being superior to most dedicated headphone amps.

          Best,
          Ian White

  4. David

    June 14, 2021 at 9:05 pm

    Has anybody tried using this DAC (USB) with high resolution/spacial audio files through Apple Music on latest MacOS (June 2021)? Is it compatible? I have tried it but it doesn’t seem to show the bit rate of the audio being played on the LEDs. I can’t find a setting for ‘exclusive mode’ for the DAC (this is necessary when using TIDAL to get MQA pass-through and higher sample rates).

    • Ian White

      June 14, 2021 at 10:02 pm

      I have the Cambridge DacMagic 200M and will check when I have Apple Music set-up on my iMac.

      IW

  5. ERIC WRIGHT

    July 31, 2021 at 12:06 am

    So would you say this is not a good option with the AE1s you used them with? I need a volume control for them as my current dac is only a dac no output control.

    • Ian White

      July 31, 2021 at 12:16 am

      Eric,

      Great sounding DAC but the volume control didn’t really work as well as a dedicated preamp with the AE1s. I wasn’t impressed with the operation of the volume control and ended up using my Schiit preamp with the DAC instead. Cambridge needs to use a better dial with more precise settings.

      Ian

    • ERIC WRIGHT

      July 31, 2021 at 6:06 pm

      Ian Thanks for the response, growing to love my AE1s and great review btw! I may go with the Zpre3? as I have 3 dacs the denafrips and the Modi3 plus an old dacmajic:) Just really need volume control. I’d get the Hestia but budget is a factor now.
      Eric

      • Ian White

        July 31, 2021 at 6:26 pm

        Eric,

        Thank you for the kind words. I really enjoyed doing the review. I was beyond impressed with the AE1s but sadly the distributor wanted them back ASAP.

        I would definitely use a warmer sounding DAC with the speakers. It really needs it to be a better long-term system.

        Have a great summer.

        Ian White

  6. Anil Kumar

    November 11, 2021 at 8:56 am

    Hi Ian

    The M200 has still not been released in India. Would you have bought a Denafrips Ares2 or Topping D90SE, instead? would you advise me to wait for M200?

    Anil

    • Ian White

      November 11, 2021 at 11:47 am

      Anil,

      The other 2 DACs that you mentioned are both excellent but I would need more context (the rest of your system) before giving a recommendation.

      Ian

  7. Anil Kumar

    November 11, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    Thnx Ian!

    I just installed Genelec G3 Active speakers + 7050C Sub-woofer

    Anil

    • Ian White

      November 11, 2021 at 3:28 pm

      Anil,

      Very nice speakers. Congrats on that purchase.

      I think it really depends on the tonal balance that you are aiming for.

      The Denafrips is darker sounding for sure compared to the other two. The more I listen to the Cambridge, the less warm I find it.

      From a resolution perspective, the Topping wins out but it’s also slightly cooler sounding to my ears.

      Audio is a balance. Do you want neutrality or some color in your system?

      Ian White

      • Anil Kumar

        November 12, 2021 at 5:05 am

        Thanks again Ian! I like colour! I listen to Trance & Techno too! i also love Indian instrumental classical.

        You said that the Cambridge volume knob is not much effective for speakers & so that kind of put me off from M200.

        Anil

        • Ian White

          November 12, 2021 at 2:37 pm

          I would almost suggest going with the Denafrip or even the Schiit BiFrost 2 (multibit) if that’s your budget range.

          Ian

  8. Anil Kumar

    November 13, 2021 at 3:36 am

    Thanks so much, Ian! I’ll go ahead with Denafrips Ares2. Thanks again for helping me decide!

    Anil

    • Ian White

      November 13, 2021 at 12:28 pm

      Anil,

      Enjoy and happy to help.

      Ian

  9. Anil Kumar

    November 25, 2021 at 9:15 am

    Ian!

    I got the Ares II and installed it last week! Amazing, just amazing! i am enjoying every small sound. Thnx again for the help!

    Warm Regards,

    • Ian White

      November 25, 2021 at 12:27 pm

      Anil,

      Great to read that. Enjoy!

      Ian White

  10. ORT

    February 4, 2022 at 2:49 am

    MQA, I bite my thumb at thee! A pox on Blob Stuart! Fie!

  11. Philip M. Dolson

    February 19, 2022 at 2:37 am

    Hello Ian . a little advice please , I own the Dacmagic 200m and the new Node.
    I am only able to send to the amp using an optical cable that seems to be working properly . I’ve read that using a USB cable produces a better result but can not get it to work. Any ideas , or is optical the way to go ?
    Thank You

    • Ian White

      February 19, 2022 at 1:20 pm

      Philip,

      The USB output on the NODE has not been enabled yet unless Bluesound sent out a new firmware update. Any day now…

      The USB input on the DACMagic 200M does sound better than the optical based on my tests with other streamers.

      Best,
      Ian

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