Cambridge vs Marantz
Cambridge Audio Dac Magic when used with a Marantz 6005 Cd player:
The short version is that to my ears, the Cambridge Audio Dac Magic (CADM) has a crisp tone and tends to widen but flatter the soundstage while creating definition between instruments. The Marantz’s own dac (CADM out of the loop) sounded punchier, particularly drums and bass, with a slightly narrower soundstage but with a bit more 3 dimensionality. The overall sound of the Marantz is smoother, but with less definition between instruments.
Here’s the long version: I’ve had the CADM for 5 years, bought to upgrade my old Marantz DVD/CD player from the early 2000s (the rest of my system is Adcom 5500 amp, Adcom GFP 750 preamp, Tyler Acoustics floorstanding speakers and Tributary cables and inter connects throughout). The CADM claims to "upsample", which in general I think created a wider and clearer sound, which I felt brought an improvement to the old DVD/CD player. After listening to a friend’s Oppo CD and Musical Fidelity CD players (with the CADM integrated into his system) I decided to try to upgrade without spending a fortune. I bought the Marantz 6005 used for $250.
All the CD players listed above, plus a cheapo $30 dollar Samsung CD player bought at BJs recently (which did not sound terrible, despite the low cost) when played through the CADM tended to sound like the CADM. The CADM made them all crisper - which was an improvement to the low end CD players, but robbed the Oppo of its vinyl like warmth, and the Musical Fidelity of its captivating, lush qualities. Through the CADM background vocals, rhythm guitars and light percussion all now had more clarity (which to my ears is a positive), but lead vocals and strings which are already engineered to stand out through the CADM now seemed too bright -- at times edgy and sterile. The CADM does widen the soundstage way beyond the speakers -- the soundstage will be as wide as your room, no matter what CD player you deploy.
Taking the CADM out of the loop and listening to the Marantz 6005 on its own, I found percussion and the percussive qualities of all instruments (the pluck of the bass string, piano key hammers etc) to be more present. Average recordings from the 60s and 70s sound a bit muddy at times on my aging mid fi system and benefit from the CADM, but from the 80s forward I definitely prefer the Marantz without the CADM. The Marantz soundstage has at least a little bit of depth (not in the same class with Musical Fidelity), for example on Michael Buble’s recording of Moondance, Buble is nicely out front of his big band, but that space disappeared with the CADM. I wouldn’t describe the Marantz sound as being like vinyl, but more in that direction than the CADM. With the CADM out of the system, the only thing I feel I’m giving up on most recordings is the wideness of the sound stage, but I’ve decided its worth the trade.
For listening tests/experimentation I listened to albums with which I have extreme familiarity (Abbey Road, Bad Benson, Gaucho, Aja, Thriller, When it Falls (Zero 7), So Near So Far (Joe Henderson), Pieces of Africa (Kronos Quartet) World Without Tears (Lucinda Williams) and Medicated Magic (Dirty Dozen).