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Cambridge Audio – Stream Magic Review
This is a good sounding yet slightly clunky device and to be brutally honest I’ve avoided publishing my review of this bit of kit for some time. When it first arrived it was actually the first bit of kit anyone had ever sent me and I was nervous of “opening my account” with a negative review. What if they never sent me anything ever again? Will the HiFi industry collectively just roll it’s eyes and say “oh James is off again”.
However, things change. Not least the firmware, which did an automatic update the other day just as I was plugging it in at my parents’ house. My parents’ CD player had died and I had suggested a streaming device to them as a solution. They wondered if I had anything they could try, and I remembered this Stream Magic, somewhat forlorn in the corner of my dining room. It had never been collected and had presumably been long forgotten by all concerned. So it was, with some trepidation that I offered them the use of it, to see if it was the sort of thing they would want. I say trepidation, as my experiences with it had not been great. The sound quality was never a problem, in fact in this area it was quite a little star performer. No, it was the networking and user interface which let it down; Sonos it aint. I had spent hours fighting my fire walls and trying to persuade this thing to find all my FLAC files with little or no luck. The MP3’s would play, but little else, and even that was intermittent. Parts of the manual told me I needed to use a different network stack in my PC to get the lossless files playing – third party software for networking; in my house? I’m not Deutsche Bank, it was ridiculous. And so I put it to one side and forgot about it.
A couple of weeks later I drove it over to my folks house and plugged it in, I told it the password for their WiFi and it instantly said it was updating itself, this took only a few minutes. From there on it was an absolute joy! I enabled file sharing on the PC (it uses UPnP) and we were off. I grabbed the old man’s Galaxy S3, installed the app and showed him how to navigate the system. He looked perplexed for a moment, he hadn’t realised his phone would be the remote (there is a very good remote control supplied) or that he’d be able to see album art and create playlists quite so simply!
So against expectation, within a few minutes the system was up and running; this came as a relief! It was a 6 Nations day and the Rugby was about to start! I’d been having flash backs to my fire wall hell. But no, here we were, only a few minutes in and playing wonderful tunes.
Most Audiophiles respect what Cambridge Audio do, most of us have recommended it as entry level kit to friends or students, but at £500.00 for the Stream Magic, this is a little up the ladder from entry level and student systems. Thankfully the Stream Magic backs up its price tag in this area more than any other. In fact it fights above its weight in many respects. The sound is solid and even handed, with just the slightest hint of forwardness in delivery. Those that are familiar with the DAC magic (I’m a happy owner) will be familiar with the quality sound their DAC’s and output stages produce. It doesn’t have any great character, it’s simply detailed, quite well refined and even handed. It also moves along at a good pace, and it takes real complexity in a piece to trip it up. Its compromises are few and are rarely noticed. It’s not the ultimate in HiFi, but it sounds like a more expensive bit of kit than a £500.00 Richer sounds box! It’s actually a bargain and that’s before we get to connectivity..
It’s probably easier to tell you how it doesn’t connect that how it does! You can even BlueTooth music to it from your phone (with the optional Blue Tooth dongle) , which is actually great for visitors at parties!
The diagram below gives you the full low down:
So would I reccomend this! Well yes! I currently use a Squeeze box with a Cambridge Audio DACMagic. However the sound quality from the Stream Magic is superior to that set up. The Squeezebox has a nicer user interface on the App, and that just evens things out for me, also the Squeeze centre software overcomes any need for networking knowledge. But for pure connectivity and ultimate sound quality, this is a clear winner. With digital inputs a plenty, it soon becomes the digital centre of your system! When it was first released the flakyness of the firmware put me right off this device, now I can’t wait to wrestle it back from my folks! Now… shh.. no one tell Cambridge Audio I’ve still got it… ;-)
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