The Only Gadget You Need to Make Your Travel Headphones Sound Amazing

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Did you know that computer manufacturers spend as little as $2 on the sound cards in many modern laptops? Which explains why their cheap headphone jacks frankly suck. They’re simply not good enough to get the most from your headphones.

Which leaves you with two options: buy a high-end (read: expensive) pair of better headphones with built-in processing. Or buy a DAC (digital audio converter) headphone amp with which you can use any pair of headphones you like.

I much prefer the latter option which is where Cambridge Audio’s new DacMagic XS headphone amp comes in.

Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS Headphone Amp (connected)

The Skinny

In their own words, the DacMagic XS is:

… an instant upgrade to any computer’s sound output. It connects quickly and easily to any USB port and allows you to hear your favourite music and movies with every drop of detail, exactly as the artist intended.

Here’s the gist:

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The Traveler’s Take

The first thing I love about the DacMagic is the size: about the size of a matchbox and only 100g, it’s insanely small. The case is also constructed of durable, brushed aluminum to boot so it’s built to withstand the rigors of the road.

Straight out of the box, the one-sheet quick start guide provides installation instructions that took less than a minute to complete. On my Windows 8.1 laptop, I simply plugged the unit into an available USB port, plugged the headphones into the DacMagic and … that’s it.

Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS Headphone Amp (closeup)

I tested the unit on a variety of different music genres (including talk/podcast, EDM and of course some Bieber) and in my opinion this thing sounds great! I admit that I’m no audiophile, but it kicks out some seriously loud sound from my budget RHA earbuds. Cambridge Audio promises a boost of up to 10 times more power than most laptop sound cards manage. While I haven’t access to an audio lab to prove this claim, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Like most travelers, I often find myself in loud environments on the road: coffee shops, airports, trains, and of course planes. An ultra-portable device like the DacMagic is perfect for being able to crank up my headphones to drown out all of the ambient noise, especially when I’m working.

As an added bonus, the unit features dedicated volume controls so there’s no need to fiddle with the ones on your laptop.

If there’s one thing I’d love to see is a similar unit for smartphones, as that’s my primary music device when traveling.

Pricing + Availability

Available now in black for around $200 USD from these Cambridge Audio dealers.

Disclosure: Vagabondish received one complimentary DacMagic XS unit in advance of this review. Read our view on sponsored content.

About The Author

Mike Richard
Founding Editor

Mike Richard has traveled the world extensively since 2008. He's camped in the Jordanian desert with Bedouins, tracked African wild dogs in South Africa, and survived a near-miss great white shark attack in Mexico. He loves the great outdoors, good bourbon, and he (usually) calls Massachusetts home. He also enjoys speaking in the third person.

One Response

  1. JinPak

    Wow… Its cool to have this one additional in my pocket while travelling to anywhere. But $200 seems pretty much high. Does it really worth if we can replace headphones for more quality sound?


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