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Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6
Sound Quality
Conclusion
Measured Performance
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SOUND QUALITY

Sound quality from 24/96 files played from my USB Whizkey was exactly as expected, with no addition or subtraction. Echo from around the drum kit and the snap of snare was beautifully displayed on ‘Misery’, from Dave’s True Story, a Chesky demo track. The Stream Magic 6 painted up a capacious sound stage; bass sounded solidly punchy but treble was delicate and detailed, gentle brush stokes on cymbals coming across with delicious presence. As usual there was no digital harshness or glare of the sort common to CD, and even Blu-ray.


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To emphasise this point ‘Divertimenti” from the Trondheim Soloists in full 24/192, played via USB from a computer, sounded full bodied, richly detailed and yet gently portrayed across the treble regions. Violins were clearly separated, one from another, and there was little of the monotonality, or loss of timbre, associated with digital. Upper frequencies sounded pure and sweet. What was surprising about this is the download file I was playing at full 192kHz sample rate via the Stream Magic 6 was much more convincingly balanced, meaning smoother, denser and less screechy, than the Blu-ray version I use repeatedly as a review test track. So it’s a track I know well and what I heard from the Mac Book Pro playing this file via iTunes was obviously better than the version I have on Blu-ray and, by the highest current standards, of utterly superb quality. I am finally beginning to like digital!


What was a little intriguing here is that with the Mac Book Pro set to 192kHz sample rate, the Stream Magic 6 flagged up 192kHz, even when 96kHz or 48kHz files were played. As Mac fans know, the Audio utility in OS-X sets a fixed output rate and up or down samples to it. This was the first time, however, I have encountered 192kHz as a fixed output option. Even 44.1kHz CD derived files were sent at 192kHz – but no, they did not sound better!  So ‘Stairway to the Skies’, a Within Temptation iTunes+ download (44.1kHz sample rate, 256kbps data rate) had Sharon den Adel singing from a somewhat muddled sound stage as usual, even when upsampled to 192kHz sample rate by the Mac and processed via the Stream Magic 6.


However, I also use many tracks from the Eagles album ‘Long Road out of Eden’ album, ripped from CD, as test material and these sounded cleaner than the original CD. The slowly sung ‘I Love to Watch a Woman Dance’ was purer via the Stream Magic 6, with less harshness than the CD and greater insight too. In other words, this CD at least sounded better when processed through the system and I can only suspect re-clocking and jitter reduction are the mechanisms responsible. Why didn’t the Within Temptation album The Unforgiving sound better? Probably because its sonic problems are different, lying within the original recording or AAC compression, neither of which can be lessened by subsequent digital processing.

I would not say there was more to be heard from CD, only that it was better balanced and more purely conveyed from the Mac through the Stream Magic 6.


Digital processing is a horribly technical and convoluted subject at present but the final results are very promising, fidelity wise. Classical music fans would drool over the Trondheim Soloists ‘Divertimenti’ download playing at full 24/192 resolution through the Stream Magic 6, for example.



 

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