A worthy successor to the internationally acclaimed Cambridge DacMagic Plus, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M adopts a more contemporary design with a dual ESS Sabre DAC compatible with PCM streams up to 32-bit/768kHz, DSD512 and MQA. Its connectivity is more exhaustive than ever, with coaxial, optical and USB-B inputs, as well as RCA and XLR outputs. The Cambridge DacMagic 200M also integrates a headphone amplifier with a 6.35mm jack output associated with a class AB amplifier section. Finally, a Bluetooth aptX receiver makes it possible to stream music from a smartphone. With its numerous features and attractive characteristics, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M promises great performance that could immediately rank it among the best references at less than €500.
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: the brand
Since the late 1960s, the British brand Cambridge Audio has been committed to leaving no obstacle between the listener and the music. Its approach is simple: maintain a unique identity and offer systems that are resolutely musical. In 1968, the brand’s first device was the Cambridge Audio P40 amplifier, equipped with a toroidal transformer. This radical choice for the time resulted in an extremely slim model whose excellent technical capabilities quickly made Cambridge Audio famous. In the 70s, the Cambridge Audio Classic One amplifier was created and implemented a multitude of new technologies, establishing itself as a revolution in amplifier design.
With the growing popularity of CDs in the 1980s, Cambridge realized the undeniable advantage of separating the CD player from the digital-to-analog converters. From this realization was born the Cambridge Audio CD1, the first CD player composed of two separate blocks. The operating principle of the device was to separate the DAC from the magnetic fields created by the transformer. The lower stage contained the DAC and the analog filters, while the upper stage housed the control and playback elements as well as the power supply.
The expertise acquired by Cambridge Audio in the design of digital/analog converters for its CD players led to the launch of the first Cambridge DacMagic DAC in 1995. The DacMagic was the first DAC to be awarded the prestigious What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision Best Buy award. Its success was such that it gave birth to a whole range, which is the most popular in the British manufacturer’s catalog. The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M of this test is the latest model of this iconic range and should offer an excellent performance after over 25 years of improvement.
At the forefront of innovation, Cambridge’s expertise lies in a wide range of electronics, including stereo amplifiers, power amplifiers, audio network players and CD players that are at the heart of many music lovers’ hi-fi systems.
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: packaging & accessories
The Cambridge DacMagic 200M comes in a recycled cardboard box on which the name of the brand and some of the DAC’s characteristics, notably its Hi-Res certification and MQA, Roon Ready and Bluetooth aptX compatibility, are printed. Once the box is opened, we find the Cambridge DacMagic 200M wedged inside a molded cardboard insert and slipped inside a black fabric pouch. A second insert holds the power adapter and the Bluetooth antenna.
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: presentation
The Cambridge DacMagic 200M keeps the tried and tested design of its predecessor. It is relatively large and is intended to be placed on a desk, next to a computer, or in a hi-fi cabinet. However, it is rather disconcerting when you first pick the device up. It is relatively light considering its size. It weighs only 1.2kg for a width of 215mm, a height of 52mm and a depth of 191mm. This weight is even more surprising when you know that the chassis is entirely made of aluminum. Cambridge made the wise choice to make the device bigger in order to separate the components and thus limit interference. Moreover, the power supply, which is one of the most cumbersome elements of a DAC, has been separated to limit disturbances. We therefore find ourselves with a device whose internal layout is above all thought for musicality rather than compactness. This is rather good news at a time when DACs are becoming increasingly smaller.
The front panel of the Cambridge DacMagic 200M DAC is machined from a single piece of 3mm thick aluminum. It features the device’s four controls: a power button, a source selector, a volume potentiometer and a filter selector. The latter lets you activate or deactivate the three pre-programmed filters: Fast, Slow or Short Delay. Cambridge Audio promises a different sound signature with each filter to suit the desired listening experience or the characteristics of your equipment. However, we only detected very subtle changes when activating these different filters. In addition, the front panel of the Cambridge DacMagic 200M also incorporates several LEDs to show the sample rate of the files being played, whether they are in PCM, DSD or MQA format.
The rear panel of the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M DAC and headphone amplifier features so many connectors that it almost seems cramped. There is a USB-B port to use it as a USB DAC with a computer and four digital inputs: two coaxial and two optical. The Cambridge DacMagic 200M features an unbalanced RCA output and a balanced XLR output. Their level can be fixed to use it as a source, or variable to use it as a pre-amplifier. The output mode is easily changed with a long press of the Cambridge DacMagic 200M’s volume control. Thanks to this double fixed/variable output, the Cambridge DAC can be easily associated with any integrated amplifier or power amplifier. However, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M has no remote control, therefore the volume can only be adjusted using the potentiometer. This is not a problem when used as a source, but requires you to get up every time you want to adjust the volume when it is configured in pre-amplifier mode.
Double ESS DAC
The Cambridge DacMagic 200M’s conversion stage uses two ESS ES9028Q2M chips. This high-end model was selected by the British manufacturer for its very high clarity, low jitter and analytical character. Moreover, by using these DACs in a dual mono configuration, the conversion of the left and right channels is done independently, which allows the digital signals to be more precisely processed, offering a wider dynamic range, a larger soundstage and a distortion reduced to less than 0.001%. These chips also give the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M a wide bandwidth ranging from 10Hz to 50kHz, ensuring that it can reproduce all the details in your digital files.
Thanks to this dual ESS Sabre converter, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M provides optimal support for the vast majority of formats, including FLAC, WMA and AAC. It can play these files up to a very high resolution of 32-bit/768kHz for PCM streams. It can read these files up to a very high resolution of 32-bit/768kHz for PCM streams. Native decoding of DSD files is also included up to DSD512 (DSD 22.1 MHz), as well as MQA files. The Cambridge DacMagic 200M USB DAC is therefore able to efficiently handle your entire music library.
The very versatile Cambridge DacMagic 200M can also be used as a headphone amp and has a dedicated class AB section for this purpose. It is associated with audiophile quality components to ensure great musicality and reduce distortion to the strict minimum. On its front panel, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M is equipped with a 6.35mm headphone output with reduced impedance for more power, less distortion, less noise and better control. Thanks to this unique design, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M headphone amplifier supports headphones with an impedance ideally ranging between 30 and 600 ohms. It can deliver a very respectable 300mW into 32 ohms, enough to power most headphones and earphones on the market.
In addition to its digital inputs, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M headphone amplifier and USB DAC also features a Bluetooth 5.0 receiver. Streaming music from a smartphone, a tablet or a computer is therefore made much easier. The receiver supports the Bluetooth aptX codec to optimize the received data rate, but the quality is still lower than in Bluetooth aptX HD, LDAC or with a wired connection. During our test of the Cambridge DacMagic 200M, the Bluetooth transmission was convincing with MP3 files from Spotify. With FLAC files however, the loss of information generated by Bluetooth compression was much more noticeable and the sound was a bit muddled. Consequently, it is best to use this mode of transmission for standard, not HD files, or for occasional playback with a smartphone.
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: key specifications
- Dual ESS ES9028Q2M DACs
- Adjustable filter: Fast, Slow, Short Delay
- Class AB headphone amplifier
- Volume control potentiometer
- 32-bit/768kHz, DSD512 and MQA compatible
Supported sampling frequencies
- 44.1kHz to 96kHz PCM, DoP64 (Optical)
- 44.1kHz to 192kHz PCM, DoP64 (Coaxial)
- 44.1kHz to 768kHz PCM
- Native DSD 64x to 512x (USB)
- Frequency response: 10Hz to 50kHz (± 1dB)
- THD+N: < 0.001% at 1kHz
- RCA max. output level: 2.1V RMS
- XLR max. output level: 4.2V RMS
- Signal-to-noise ratio: > 115dB
- Max. output power: > 300mW into 32 ohms / > 65mW into 150 ohms
- Recommended headphone impedance: 30 to 600 ohms
- 1 x RCA stereo output (line or variable)
- 1 x XLR output (line or variable)
- 2 x coaxial S/PDIF inputs
- 2 x optical S/PDIF inputs
- 1 x USB type B input
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 215 x 52 x 191mm
- Weight: 1.2kg
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: listening conditions
For this test, we connected the Cambridge DacMagic 200M DAC to the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition network player. We used the latter to play FLAC and DSD files shared on the local network and to access our Qobuz playlists in 24-bit/192kHz. The USB DAC mode of the Cambridge DacMagic 200M was also tested with a MacBook Pro connected using the NorStone Arran USB A > B cable. We alternated between using the Cambridge DacMagic 200M as a source, a preamplifier and a headphone amplifier. For the first two configurations, we connected it with Audioquest Yukon RCA cables to the auxiliary input of the NAD C375 BEE hi-fi amplifier, and then to the main-in input of the same amp. The headphone amplifier was tested with the Audioquest NightHawk headphones, a semi-open circum-aural model.
Once the different sources are connected, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is directly operational. It does not require any complex configurations and can be used without any particular knowledge in hi-fi. When used with an integrated amplifier, the only adjustment to be made is to press the volume control for a few seconds to select the output mode: fixed or variable. Then, you simply have to activate the input of your choice and adjust the volume to your liking. The volume control is very precise and smooth, whether the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is used as a hi-fi preamplifier or a headphone amplifier. However, a remote control would have been useful to control the device remotely, especially when using it as a preamp.
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: listening impressions
With Empire of the Sun’s album Walking On A Dream, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M revealed a strong dynamic character, with a vigorous reproduction full of energy and drive. The Cambridge DacMagic 200M showed authority in the lower end of the spectrum, with rich, accurate lows. The bass, which is very present on this electropop album, was deep, tight and always under control. Although they were omnipresent and powerful, they did not disrupt the other frequency ranges, which were consistently balanced and correctly positioned in a wide soundstage that was full of details.
The Cambridge DacMagic 200M DAC also knows how to be very soft, as demonstrated by Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. Combined with our Audioquest reference headphones, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M provided an appealing feeling of space and transparency. The singer’s voice was embodied with freshness and an unwavering naturalness in the center of the stage. It was framed by clear percussion instruments with striking attacks that once again demonstrated the Cambridge DacMagic 200M’s sense of rhythm. The electric bass that accompanies the track benefitted from a physical and authentic reverb that the Cambridge DacMagic 200M perfectly mastered. The song was lively and beautifully soft.
In a completely different style with Anne-Sophie Mutter’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M DAC and headphone amplifier took advantage of its lively character to bring the orchestra to life. The wide dynamic range of these pieces was magnified, with an exceptional impulse response that ensured an immediate reaction to the orchestra’s every demand. When the orchestra was at its peak, it materialized with grandeur and the sound remained coherent, without ever becoming muddled. The more subdued passages benefitted from the Cambridge DacMagic 200M’s very good signal-to-noise ratio, which ensured a transparent sound without any unwanted noise. The timing of the violins was bold and vigorous, while the spacious soundstage allowed the string instruments to unfold with ease and beautiful articulation. The overall sound was tangible and felt alive.
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: compared to…
Cambridge DacMagic Plus: launched at €549 and now available for €389, the Cambridge DacMagic Plus is the predecessor of the Cambridge DacMagic 200M. Its DAC is a little less versatile and is limited to PCM streams up to 24-bit/192kHz. Unlike the Cambridge DacMagic 200M, it can’t read DSD or MQA files. The connectors are very similar, with USB, optical and coaxial inputs, as well as RCA, XLR and 6.35mm jack outputs. The headphone amplification section provides a very similar performance and sound signature. The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M, on the other hand, takes advantage of its more powerful dual DAC to provide a more accurate, balanced and detailed sound reproduction.
Atoll HD100: sold for €595, this French DAC is equipped with a Burr Brown PCM5102 converter. It has optical and coaxial S/PDIF inputs as well as a USB type B port. With the latter, the supported resolution is limited to 24-bit/96kHz, while the coaxial input manages PCM streams up to 32-bit/384kHz. This DAC is therefore designed to be associated with a network player or a CD player rather than a computer. Despite this, it remains a serious contender thanks to its extended frequency response from 1Hz to 150kHz, its headphone amplifier with dual jack output and its variable level RCA output. Soundwise, the Atoll HD100 manages to capture even more micro-details in the very high frequencies and offers even deeper bass. On the other hand, the Cambridge DacMagic Plus is a bit more transparent and smooth.
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: who is it for?
The Cambridge DacMagic 200M is a versatile device designed to meet the needs of many different users. Used as a USB DAC and headphone amplifier, it will naturally find its place on a desk, next to a computer from which it will be able to handle all the music stored there or played from streaming services. Its format also allows it to be placed on a bedside table where, together with a network player such as the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition, it can be used as a high-performance connected headphone amplifier to enjoy music without disturbing those around you. Finally, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M DAC can also be installed next to the living room hi-fi system where it will optimize the playback of your CD/SACD player, network player, Blu-ray player, TV or computer. In this case, we recommend setting its output to a fixed level to use it as a source. Although the preamplifier mode is very good, this function isn’t particularly user-friendly due to the absence of a remote control.
Cambridge DacMagic 200M: conclusion
The Cambridge DacMagic 200M honors the previous electronics in the British manufacturer’s DacMagic range, with an optimized performance and more modern components compatible with the latest Hi-Res files. The conversion of different tracks is always excellent and fully reproduces the details and naturalness of the recordings. The headphone amplifier section of the Cambridge DacMagic 200M is just as good as the conversion stage and manages to reproduce every tiny detail within each track. Whether paired with headphones or an amplifier, the Cambridge DacMagic 200M offers a very transparent sound signature and can be soft and smooth as well as dynamic and bold when the music demands it. Consequently, it is very versatile and can easily accommodate any musical style. However, it is unfortunate that there is no remote control, which would have made it more intuitive and user-friendly to use, especially when used as a preamplifier. Despite this, Cambridge DacMagic 200M is an essential piece of equipment and ranks among the best DACs and headphone amplifiers in its category.
What we liked:
- The transparent soundstage
- The wide dynamic range
- The tonal balance
- That each frequency range was expertly handled
We would have liked:
- A remote control
- For the filters to have a more noticeable effect
- An aptX HD and LDAC compatible Bluetooth receiver