Saying it aloud sounds a bit silly… but this truly is a golden era for standalone DAC buyers. Today’s DACs come in every form factor imaginable with expanded connectivity options and future-proof format and resolution support. Whether you’re shopping for your first external DAC or looking to upgrade, chances are there’s an ideal product within your budget that covers your requirements and promises years of enjoyment. La belle epoch du DAC is now!
Chasing DAC magic
In our previous review, we explained how easy it is to integrate Roon and improve the sound quality of a legacy hi-fi system with a carefully chosen DAC. Saying it aloud sounds a bit silly… but this truly is a golden era for standalone DAC buyers. There’s a burgeoning selection of affordable, feature-rich, great-sounding DACs from an ever-growing list of manufacturers.
Comparing current options in the <$500ish range to that of even a few years ago brings their rapid proliferation into sharp focus. Today’s DACs come in every form factor imaginable with expanded connectivity options and future-proof format and resolution support. Whether you’re shopping for your first external DAC or looking to upgrade, chances are there’s an ideal product within your budget that covers your requirements and promises years of enjoyment. La belle epoch du DAC is now!
We also touched upon adding high-resolution wireless streaming convenience to DACs without networking capabilities with the help of a Roon Ready Bridge or streamer. We’ll cover that in more detail later in this article as we continue our how-to/review theme by pairing two Expert Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) award winners. EISA’s 2021-2022 Best DAC recipient, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M, with the 2022-2023 Best Streamer awardee, the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2.
High-quality sound meets feature-packed value
Brit-gear powerhouse Cambridge Audio has built exemplary audio components for five decades and DACs since the mid-1990s. That pedigree of expertise is reflected in each new product they deliver. The DacMagic 200M is their latest flagship converter and neatly exemplifies the high-quality sound meets feature-packed value mashup we mentioned earlier. The proverbial boxes get a real tickin’ with this one.
The DacMagic 200M provides:
- Dual mono ESS Sabre DAC chips.
- Support for up to 24-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512
- Full MQA support – Cambridge Audio’s first device to do that. If you’re one of Roon’s many TIDAL subscribers looking for an endpoint that can handle MQA decoding & rendering, the DacMagic 200M takes you there.
- Two sets of optical/coaxial input connections + USB-B and Bluetooth aptX
- Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outs
- A capable Class A/B headphone amp
- Intuitive ease of use and all the front panel LEDs you could want.
- All of that is packed into a footprint roughly the size of a cigar box – making it equally at home on a desktop or in an AV cabinet.
The “single device solution” honor is tossed around plenty often in reviews, but the DacMagic 200M legitimately crushes it. It can accommodate three wired digital sources plus Bluetooth while integrated into a system and still handle headphones duties – for just $549. That’s a lot of DAC for the money. If the flexibility and features detailed above are on your must-have list, the DacMagic 200M certainly deserves a look. As expected, build quality, fit, and finish are typical top-tier Cambridge Audio caliber. So is its sound signature.
The DacMagic 200M has a curious reputation among some reviewers for being on the warmer side. I don’t really hear that. Defining “warm sound” is entirely subjective. In my opinion, warm sound involves a more classic tube-driven character, subtly rounded highs, and a pronounced midrange richness. The DacMagic was nearer to that in our test legacy system but not so much with powered monitors. As expected, the Bluetooth sound quality wasn’t as good as direct wired connections. But that’s typical with lossy streaming protocols. However, the DacMagic 200M’s Bluetooth sound was notably better than I’ve heard in some competing devices. In my opinion, Bluetooth connectivity is more of a convenience feature than a sonic one.
Integrated with my test legacy system (RCA input only Yamaha receiver, B&W LM1 stereo speakers, and budget <$100 sub), the DacMagic 200M delivered clean, balanced, agile, and punchy sound. There was excellent detail and clarity throughout the frequency spectrum. The results were even more shocking when I connected it as a pre-amp to a pair of Klipsch R-15PM powered bookshelf speakers.
The Klipsch are very efficient, energetic powered monitors – the detail retrieval and crispness of the DacMagic 200M practically exploded from the speakers. The notes seemed to be etched into the air. It wasn’t excessively bright or abrasively aggressive; more articulate and expressive in character. Though admittedly, the bagpipes in AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’ n’ Roll) certainly shaved off a few extra ear cilia.
In headphones, the mids were full and seamlessly balanced with the punchy low-end but not augmented or pushed forward, cramping the highs. Snare drums had a nice snap, and cymbals resolved with crisp detail. Imaging and soundstaging were pleasing with an organic depth and breadth through headphones. Some tracks/headphones pairings exhibited a more pronounced “audiophile” character. But that had more to do with the source material or headphones I selected than a defining quality of the DacMagic 200M.
Overall, the sound signature was balanced, natural, pleasantly detailed, and thoroughly enjoyable. Just what we expect from Cambridge Audio gear.
Bridges to better sound
Another question we frequently see from potential customers concerns Streamers and Bridges, what they do, and whether they need one to use Roon.
Technically speaking, your phone, tablet, or computer are streamers because they receive and play digital music over the internet or your home network from streaming services or local file storage. The trouble with those devices as streamers is they aren’t designed for optimal music playback. When installed on a device, Roon software takes over streaming responsibilities from the operating system and provides better quality audio. However, depending on your needs, you may still want a standalone streamer whose only tasks are audio-related.
Roon Ready network bridges behave similarly to streamers, but they’re more Rooncentric – any audio hardware attached to one is made immediately available to Roon. They provide plug-and-play readiness from Roon to the digital inputs of your audio gear, whether it’s a standalone DAC, powered speakers, or a legacy system with digital inputs. They’re an instant system game-changer.
Some recent audio hardware has streaming protocols built in that are compatible with Roon, such as Airplay or Chromecast. Those streaming methods have bit-depth and resolution limitations that can be offensive to some Rooners. Limiting a high-resolution FLAC file encoded at 24/192kHz to CD-quality 16/44.1kHz is anathema to many listeners. Nobody wants that, give us all the bits, man! If your feelings are reflected by any of the scenarios I mentioned, we can help.
The Roon Store has several network bridges to choose from, and our selection is growing.
Achieving prime sound with the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 streamer
Primare of Sweden has applied a uniquely Scandinavian approach to audio manufacturing for nearly forty years – winning them awards and loyal customers. Their components meld premium sound quality with refined, timeless aesthetics. Primare practices the Swedish principle of Lagom (“laah-goam”), which translates to “just the right amount.” It’s an appreciation of harmonious, proportional balance – in all things.
Fortunately for us, Primare puts that into practice in its components. Their 2022-2023 EISA Best Streamer winning NP5 Primsa MK2 continues their penchant for striking the perfect blend of technology, functionality, and ease of use. “Just the right amount,” as defined by Primare, turns out to be quite generous.
The NP5 Prisma MK2 is the latest version of their standalone Prisma technology – the feature-rich platform at the heart of Primare’s most prestigious hi-fi components. The app reveals that the NP5 Prisma MK2 is an impressive hub of features, not just a streamer.
Even better, it’s a perfect candidate for this DAC + Streamer pairing how-to. There are a few critical factors to remember when selecting a streamer or bridge. They apply to our scenario as well.
- Ensure that the connectivity features are consistent with those on the device you’re connecting it to.
- Similarly, confirm that the streamers’ file format and resolution capabilities match those of the DAC, AVR, or component you’re pairing it with.
- Reflect upon whether a DAC is actually needed. If the DAC in your AVR, integrated amp, disc player, or powered speakers is to your liking, then forget the whole external DAC business. Connect a streamer/Roon Ready bridge directly to the device you already have, and you’re set to go.
The NP5 Prisma MK2 gels perfectly with the DacMagic 200M. Its connection points are simpatico. It can send 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP, and MQA via coaxial to the DAC. Yes, the DacMagic 200M capabilities exceed 24/192kHz PCM but streaming services currently cap resolution at 24/192 FLAC or MQA. Anything above that is still a unicorn format that doesn’t exist.
As a bonus, the NP5 Prisma MK2 brings high-quality streaming to any component with a digital input plus all the added benefits of the Prisma platform. Anyone interested in Roon who owns a playback device with digital inputs is all set. One and done. And it’s wee, small enough to sit atop the DacMagic 200M or disappear entirely in an AV rack. It’s about the size of the first generation of Roku boxes.
But what about sound quality; is that a factor with streamers as it is with DACs? Yes, whenever components are being paired they should be as compatible sonically as they are in terms of connectivity and format support. Sending Roon wirelessly through the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 to the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M offered an unexpected surprise.
The DacMagic 200M suddenly exhibited a sumptuous warmth. I pulled up the Great British Sound playlist Cambridge Audio shared with us (now available on the Home page in Roon) and hit shuffle.
I played the first three tracks it kicked out through the DacMagic 200M on its own, then again with the NP5 MK2/DacMagic 200M pairing. Each time the crisp detail of the DacMagic 200M was slightly rounded, the mid-range tonality more decadent, the bass meatier and more responsive. Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good crackled with added soul, energy, and attitude when fed through the NP5 MK2/DacMagic 200M combo.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M by itself was plenty sweet. Teamed with the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2, it was absolutely divine. For my sonic tastes, they offer a perfect blend.
The award-winning Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M and Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 perfectly demonstrate the improved sound and convenience that can be had by carefully matching quality externals. It also demonstrates just how painlessly and affordably adding Roon Readiness to your setup can be with the help of The Roon Store. Whether you’re shopping for your first DAC or Streamer, or looking to upgrade, chances are there’s an ideal product within your budget that fulfills your needs and promises years of enjoyment.
Additional observations of note:
- Some DacMagic 200M reviews I’ve read incorrectly state that it can’t be switched between variable and fixed output mode. The instructions are cleverly hidden under the heading Toggle between fixed and variable output modes in the owner’s manual.
- The volume knob on the DacMagic 200M has a bit more resistance than most. If you have difficulty turning knobs, the DacMagic may provide a workout. I also noticed a bit of play in the knob but realized it facilitates the mute function achieved by pushing the knob inward.
- The DacMagic 200M is set to turn off after 20 minutes of inactivity by default. That seems to make some folks dyspeptic. Thankfully it’s easy enough to turn off. See the manual for more details.
- For Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 MQA passthrough, use the Primare app to set the digital output to Native and sample rate to 192 kHz when connecting it to an MQA compatible DAC.
- The Primare Prisma app is a treasure chest of features and incredibly easy to use. Peak around it there and enjoy it in addition to Roon.
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M and Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 FAQs
Are these devices Roon Certified?
Yes, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is Roon Tested and requires a wired USB connection. For wireless Roon RAAT streaming, simply connect the DAC to the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 Roon Ready streamer or any other Roon Ready bridge.
What file formats and resolutions do these devices support?
- Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M supports up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM, DoP64 (optical) up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP64 (coaxial) support up to 24-bit/762 kHz PCM, Native DSD512, DoP DSD256 (USB) Full MQA core and renderer
- Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 supports up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP128. WAV, FLAC, LPCM, MQA, AIFF, ALAC, MP3, MP4 (AAC), WMA, OGG
What type of input and output connections do they have?
- Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M: Inputs are 2 x Optical/Toslink, 2 x SPIDF, 1 x USB Type B, Bluetooth 4.2 SBC and AptX. Outputs include 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output, 1 x unbalanced RCA, 1 x balanced XLR
- Primare NP5 Prisma MK2: inputs are 1 x USB Type-A input for connecting digital storage devices. Outputs include 1 x Optical/Toslink, 1 x Coaxial RCA. Connectivity for Roon Ready, Airplay, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, UPnP, and more with the Primare Prisma App.
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M:
- DAC Chip Set: Dual ESS9038 DAC chips, one per channel
- Frequency response: 10Hz – 58kHz (± 1 dB)
- Total Hamonic Distortion (THD): @ 1KHz, 0dBFS
- Audio inputs: 2 x Optical/Toslink, 2 x SPIDF, 1 x USB Type B, Bluetooth 4.2 SBC and AptX
- Audio outputs: 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output, 1 x unbalanced RCA, 1 x balanced XLR
- Output Impedance: <50 Ohms unbalanced, <100 Ohm balanced
- Max Output Level: 2.1V RMS unbalanced, 4.2V RMS balanced
- Headphone Output Power: >300mW at 32Ω, >65mW at 150Ω
- Supported File Formats: support up to 24-bit/96 kHz PCM, DoP64 (optical) up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP64 (coaxial) support up to 24-bit/762 kHz PCM, Native DSD512, DoP DSD256 (USB) Full MQA core and renderer
- Power supply: 100-240V AC
- Dimensions: 8.6″ (W) x 2.0″ (H) x 7.6″ (D)
- Weight: 2.6 lbs
- Warranty: 2 years
Primare NP5 Prisma MK2:
- Connectivity: Roon Ready, Primare Prisma App, Airplay, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, UPnP
- Audio Inputs: 1 x USB Type-A input for connecting digital storage devices
- Audio outputs: 1 x Optical/Toslink, 1 x Coaxial RCA
- Supported File Formats: support up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DoP128. WAV, FLAC, LPCM, MQA, AIFF, ALAC, MP3, MP4 (AAC), WMA, OGG
- Power supply: 100-240V AC
- Dimensions: 5.6″ (W) x 1.4″ (H) x 4.9″ (D)
- Weight: 1.1 lbs.
- Warranty: 3 years
What comes in the box?
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M:
- Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M
- AC power supply
- 3 AC power plug adapters (US/Euro/UK)
- 1-7/8″ Bluetooth antenna
- Quick Start Manual
- Important Safety Instructions
Primare NP5 Prisma MK2:
- Primare NP5 Prisma MK2
- AC power supply
- 4 AC power plug adapters (US/UK/EU/AU)
- RS232 cable
- User Guide
- Chromecast Built-in Quick Start Guide