Previously in Technopolis, I’ve introduced you to portable digital-to-analogue converters (DACs), which enhance audio output from a laptop. So far on the DAC front, we’ve had the £250 Meridian Explorer, a large-ish unit that plugs into your laptop with a USB lead, and into which you then plug your headphones. We’ve also had the £170 AudioQuest DragonFly, which is much smaller, but connects to your laptop like a USB stick; some like this arrangement. Me – not so much.
Now, there’s the £100 DacMagic XS from Cambridge Audio. It connects more like the Meridian, effectively resembling a swelling in your headphone cable, and is so tiny (53.5mm x 10mm x 30mm) that it disappeared into the recesses of my Samsonite rucksack and took some finding when I wanted to test it on my last business trip. Performance-wise, to my ear, it’s very close to the DragonFly and not that far off the Meridian. You’d need to have superb ears to differentiate between them. In form, it’s the best of the three. And there are even sturdy volume-control buttons, which don’t figure on the rivals.