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DacMagic XS review: supercharge your laptop audio

Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS
Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS
Cambridge Audio

Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB

Rating:
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The DacMagic XS is a simple USB sound amplifier, the sole purpose of which is enabling you to crank up the volume on your PC through basic power amplification. In other words, with the DacMagic XS, you can really crank that sh*t up.

The Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS gives your PC or laptop an instant audio boost.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS gives your PC or laptop an instant audio boost.
bryan edge-salois

Laptops in particular generally suffer from low-power audio output, and it doesn’t take much ambient noise to drown out those underpowered laptop speakers (or headphones, or both), even when they are cranked to maximum levels.

This isn’t a problem you’re likely to notice as much during casual use, but anyone that’s ever watched a movie on a laptop during a flight—or in any environment with even modest ambient background noise—knows what I’m talking about.

The DacMagic XS is small and covered in a sleek, black brushed aluminum. It uses the 150mW ESS Sabre ES9023 24-bit DAC to boost your laptop’s audio ‘oomph’ without sacrificing sound quality. A small cloth carry bag is included with it.

Installation is simple, and there are no drivers required. Just connect the DacMagic XS to your PC’s USB port, and then connect your headphones to the 3.5mm input for an instant bump in audio power output. Use the volume buttons on the DacMagic VS to tweak it, which you may need to do. (For my own testing, the DacMagic XS genuinely surprised me with how loud it was right out of the gate.)

The Test

I ran through a selection of tunes using my laptop’s (unaided) built-in sound and the SteelSeries 9H headset. I listened to the music with all volume levels set to maximum (both in software and through via the inline controller on the SteelSeries 9H.)

I also set the DacMagic’s volume to maximum. That last part may have been a mistake.

The DacMagic XS was much louder out of the gate, without producing any distortion. The already capable SteelSeries 9H headset has excellent noise suppression qualities thanks to very thick ear cup cushioning, and paired with the DacMagic an army of Kaiju could have flattened my entire office behind me and I wouldn’t have glanced up from my monitor.

Overall: 4/5 stars

The DacMagic XS is a sturdy traveling companion well worth its space in your laptop bag. It’s especially useful in situations with a lot of ambient noise—such as watching movies or listening to music on airplanes.

So why only 4 stars and not 5? Although the DacMagic XS does what it’s designed to do and does it well, it carries a steep price—around $180—and it’s pretty much a laptop-only accessory. Because it requires a full-size, standard USB connection, it won’t work with most tablets or any smartphones—two classes of device that would greatly benefit from it.