While the DacMagic Plus never failed to deliver good sound, the input source was the most critical factor in its performance. Its USB 1.1 input was by far the least exciting and most dynamically constricted source, with a soft veil over the leading transients. Even the Matrix 96/24 USB converter delivered better dynamics and speed. With the USB 2.0 input, sonics were substantially better, with more dynamic energy, inner detail, and life. The best sound I got from the DacMagic Plus was when it was connected via S/PDIF to the Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 4 USB-to-S/PDIF converter. The second best sound, which was extremely close to the Off-Ramp, came from the King Rex UD 384 DAC/converter also via S/PDIF. The good news here is a prospective owner can start using the DacMagic Plus via USB 2.0 and later, as USB interfaces improve, add an external convertor to further improve their system’s sound.
The DacMagic Plus’ headphone amp worked well with all the headphones I used. As with many DAC/Pre units, when you plug in a headphone the DacMagic Plus mutes the balanced and unbalanced line outputs. While I would prefer the option of selecting whether the outputs were off or on while a headphone was plugged in, that isn’t an option.
Although I’ve heard headphone amplifiers with better defined imaging specificity, the overall presentation was as dynamic and low noise as what I’ve heard from some far more expensive DAC/Pre’s, such as the April Music Eximus DP-1 ($3200). The self-noise or background noise level through the DacMagic Plus was very low—so low that inner details seemed easier to “hear into” than through the Eximus DP-1. My favorite headphone with the DacMagic Plus was the new HiFiMan HE-300. Together the two components produced a big enveloping soundstage that allowed instruments to dynamically bloom in a way that reminded me of what I hear from a live microphone feed.
Near the end of the review period I changed the set-up so the DacMagic Plus’ single-ended analog outputs went into the analog inputs on a April Music Eximus DP-1 Dac/Pre. Both the Eximus DP-1 and the DacMagic Plus were fed digital signals from an Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 4—the DacMagic got a S/PDIF signal while the Eximus received AES/EBU. With this configuration I could do direct A/B comparisons between the two DACs. The first speakers I listened through were the AudioEngine 5+ speakers. The two DACs sounded virtually identical through AudioEngine speakers—even the depth recreation was indistinguishable.