Getting an Earful
If there’s one thing that teachers can agree on it is that most notebooks do not deliver high-quality audio to students. Cambridge Audio’s DacMagic XS can remedy that by replacing the system’s audio card with a high-quality device that plugs into variety of sources. Think of it as an upgrade that can improve any pair of headphones or speakers, creating top-quality sound for everything from listening to an audio clip of the inauguration to playing an educational game.
The small black aluminum box weighs just 3.5-ounces and has a USB cable that plugs into a PC or Mac desktop or notebook computer; it comes with a cloth pouch and a connection cable. While it works with Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 7 and 8 as well as Mac OSX 10.6 and newer systems, and there’s nothing to install, DacMagic doesn’t work with iPads or Android tablets, where it could potentially have the largest impact on audio quality.
Instead of relying on the computer’s audio circuitry, the DacMagic uses a sophisticated 24-bit digital-to-analog converter that can work with audio streams that have sample rates from 44.1- to 192-kilohertz with a USB 2.0 connection. The system’s peak performance drops to 96-KHz with older USB 1.0 systems. On the downside, the device can’t take advantage of the increased data flow possible with USB 3.0. It works with .MP3, .WAV, Flash and just about any other audio format used today and I was able to use it on a variety of computers old and new.
The DacMagic has a green LED light to show it is working and is able to produce clear audio that mirrors the limits of human hearing between 20- and 20,000 hertz. With a low .004 percent total harmonic distortion, DacMagic makes the typical PC’s audio sound like a phone booth. While the device’s .15 watt amplifier is perfect for headphones, it’s not enough to power a set of unamplified speakers; Cambridge Audio also sells DAC converters for classroom audio systems and speakers.
Easy to set up and use, DacMagic doesn’t require batteries, but tends to get surprisingly hot when it’s being used. Just update the audio section to use it as the sound system. After plugging the headphones into a computer’s 3.5-millimeter audio jack, you’re ready. Unplug the DacMagic and the system reverts to the computer’s default audio device.
The device is simple to operate. In fact, there’s nothing to adjust, except for volume with the box’s up- and down-arrow buttons, but you can’t limit the system’s maximum output to protect the listener’s hearing from damage.
The sound that DacMagic XS provides is not only crystal clear, but with rich mid-range tones and deep bass notes. For music and spoken-word programs, it is like night and day, regardless of whether it’s used with high-end headphones, inexpensive ear plugs or plugged into an amplified speaker set. Unfortunately, the converter box is a little too easy to lose or have stolen at school.
It comes with a two-year warranty and the DacMagic XS is a formidable device that can improve any set of school headphones. But, at $189 it is an expensive add-on that most schools won’t be able to afford.
+ Improves audio quality for headphones
+ Small, light box
+ Easy to use
+ USB 1.0 or USB 2.0
+ Two-year warranty
- Doesn’t work with Android, Chrome or iPads
- Not powerful enough for speakers