Computer audio is far from perfect, despite its reliance on the ‘perfect' and indisputable ones and zeroes used to represent the music. The first stage to getting better quality sound from your PC and Mac is by taking the digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) outside the box.
Cambridge Audio's new upsampling DacMagic audio converter does just that, and a lot more, in the pursuit of great sound. It has one USB input for direct connection to your computer, plus two more switchable inputs, each with a coaxial and optical (Toslink) digital connector. These inputs can be used to improve the sound of a CD player, DVD player, set-top TV box or games console. The DacMagic's stereo output is simply connected to your existing stereo hi-fi system by a pair of phono cables.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic is a small unit, only about 21cm wide, and is designed to be sited flat like a normal hi-fi component; or on its side, like a tower PC, with the help of a separate rubber platform foot. On its front panel are two control buttons: one to switch between three inputs, plus an interesting option to select between three digital filters.
These filters each give a subtly different final sound, and you can choose whichever suits your ear and taste in music. The second filter (‘Min Ø'), for example, is a minimum phase type which often brings out a more natural feel, especially to fast transient sounds. This kind of choice in filters is normally only the preserve of vastly expensive high-end audio converters.