Valab NOS Dac VS. Cambridge Azur DacMagic

has anyone done a comparison between these?
Funny you should ask that, cause currently I have both the Dacmagic and Valab, and have been comparing both with the sound of my Onix xcd-88 (same as original music hall cd25)with OPA627 opamps. I'm using the Onix as the transport.

I've only had them for a week or two, and I'm still evaluating, but right off the bat, these 2 dacs sounded quite different from one another. Also note that my speakers are a pair of Magnepan IIc's, that I've only been using for the past couple months, and I'm still working with tuning the sound with placement, subwoofer level and tweeter resistance. My room is very live, and I sometimes struggle with too much treble energy with some CD's, and the Onix certainly doesn't help. The Onix doesn't fatigue me at all, but just can sound thin.

So far, I have not really warmed up to the Dacmagic. When directly comparing to the Dac in my Onix, something about the dacmagic is fatiguing, to me, and I can't quite pinpoint it, yet. The midrange sounds natural and full, but more forward sounding then I'm used to.

Up until yesterday, my impressions of the Valab were not very positive. It was definitely easy to listen to (non fatiguing), but seemed to lack depth and top end extension. I was pretty much ready to write off the Valab, but I tried another Digital cable I had on hand, which is one I made from silver plated, dual shielded 50ohm coax. This cable seemed to improve the treble extension of both dacs, and acually seemed to narrow the gap of sonic differences.

After the cable change, the Dacmagic still irritates me. I decided to just listen to the Valab for the whole session, and see how it goes. Up until this point, all of my listening tests have been at moderate sound levels, since I've been struggling with overly hard and congested treble at louder levels. At these moderate levels, the Valab sounded pretty good. I'd call it a "safe" sound, but did not sound real full and deep.

I decided to crank up the volume to a level I had not reached with these newly acquired maggies, and lo and behold, things came together. I spent hours listening to a variety of music with varying degrees of recording quality, at fairly loud levels, and enjoyed it. As a comparison, comfortably listening to either the Onix or the Dacmagic at these louder levels proved to be dependent on the disc.

The Valab seems to be a very forgiving dac, and sounds smooth through a wide range of recordings. It was allowing me to listen to discs that I couldn't previously listen to because of various sonic dislikes. If your CD playback sounds too inconsistent between discs, or irritates the heck out of you, you may like the Valab, although you do get the background noise due to the lack of filtering. The Valab does seem rolled off on top, but this could benefit some systems.

I'm still gonna give the Dacmagic a chance, but at this point, I prefer the sound of my CDP's output over the dacmagic, although I think the Onix tries to sound too detailed. I think I'll add a bit of attenuation to my Maggie's tweeter sections to tame the top end, a bit, before my next session. Who opinions may change.

If I had to pick one today, I'd keep the Valab, but only because my last session with it was positive. It's been rare for me to listen for 6 hrs straight, and walk away feeling musically satisfied.
The DacMagic will smooth out when broken in. Have you played with it's various filters yet? You may prefer the steep filter.

I'm the second owner of my Dacmagic. The previous owner had it for 6 months, so it's got some time on it. My Valab is also second hand, with less time on it, and for me, it's easier to listen to, whereas the Dacmagic makes me want to start trying out different cables or transports. Also keep in mind the rest if my system and room are far from stellar, so even if I had the best cdp ever made, I'd still be struggling with the rest of my reproductive chain.... uh.... for music, that is.

I'm simply trying to get a point where I can just sit down, at any given time, and listen to my stuff without getting annoyed by it, and always wanting to tinker with it. Tough to do on a beer budget.

Oh, and yes. I kinda do like the steep filter.
If you are on a beer budget but not afraid to "tinker" check out this thread on the Valab. I've listened to the Valab stock (my own unit) and with the many modifications posted by contributor 'Bill Allen' whose own personal unit is incredibly better than stock. He is going to mod mine in the near future. I rarely use the term "giant-killer" but in this case it is absolutely correct.
Rooski, just got my DAC MAGIC ( used)for almost a week now.In my all tube system and connected this to my Jolida JD-100 as transport sounded bright and a little fatiguing but disconnected and sounded the way i like it ( warmer).
Now i connected DAC MAGIC this all s/s system and cheap marantz 5 cd carousel as transport and sounded very fatiguing then i adjusted my tone control on my preamp minusing treble and little plus on the bass and the result was very no more fatiguing and enjoying music.Though i never heard Valab so i cannot compare it to DAC MAGIC.
Btw if your preamp have tone control then u-can adjust it with your dac magic.pescolar
I've had a DACMagic in my system and I was pretty impressed with its performance, especially at the price point. Always seemed very "clean" sounding with very good details. I've replaced it recently with an MHDT Labs Paradisea+ NOS DAC, and I have to say, I much prefer the NOS DAC sound, at least in my system. I've heard of the VaLab stuff and know that it utilizes some of the same technology as MHDT. I think there are a lot of dependancies with systems and what your listening habits are, but it seems that the NOS DAC's are geared to the "musical" camp and the OS DAC's (like the Cambridge) swing toward the "accuracy" camp. If the VaLab isn't quite tripping your trigger but you're looking for the NOS "sound", you might investigate the MHDT stuff.
Interesting read so far. FWIW, I prefer the Valab (after 300+hrs of burn in) in my digital amp based set up over the Bel Canto DAC3 for sheer musicality and emotion.

Mine is currently the early 2009 iteration. Not sure if yours is of the current or original batch but there's been notable improvements. To me the NOS sound is more analog-like and thus, closer to the real thing.

The BC was definitely in the accuracy/analytical camp but killed the music in the process and devoid it of emotion. I think a warmish or tube-based system can use the accuracy and high resolution of the BC DAC3 to compliment and balance out its attributes better. My digital sytem doesn't need help in that department and thus the result I've observed.


I have a Valab that I bought to play with. I did the cap upgrade as mentioned on the Hi Fi forum. The DAC is REALLY good compared to my Wavelength Cosecant V3. It's going to make my dad very happy with his new computer audio setup that I'm giving to him.
Ok, after a week of silence, I had another few hour session of comparing. I've always found I can't compare sound quality, very well, after prolonged listening, due to confusion. I get a better sense of what I'm hearing on a "first impression" basis, like I'm listening to someone's system for the first time. After a week of not listening, my memory, and expectations, for what my stuff sounds like is pretty much gone.

Anyways, after listening to the Valab, for a few songs, and then going back to my CDP's internal DAC for the same songs, I figured out what the Valab is lacking, in my system. It's the "blackness" of the background that's absent. Yes, the Valab is easy to listen to, but it sounds more like I'm listening to music being reproduced within my room. By comparison, my CDP creates a whole new "space" from where the music emerges from, and I find it easy to suck myself into this space, and listen from deep within. With my eyes closed, I feel as if If I'm somewhere else. I think this sense of space is what most of us are striving for. With the Valab, I feel as if I'm still sitting in my own living room. It just sounds more 2 dimensional. I'm sure some modding or cable swapping would help, but do I wanna go down that path?

On the other hand, I found if I got up and walked around to other areas of the house, the Valab sounds more listenable, and more what people would expect a stereo to sound like. It's like, if I was going to have a party and crank some tunes, I would use the Valab. Hmmm.... Maybe I'll just stick with my CDP, for now, and use the Valab for my "party DAC", cause I can crank some loud hard core music through this thing without things sounding objectionable, but for solo critical listening from my sweet spot, my CDP has the edge, by a wide margin. Much more fine detail being heard, but somewhat tilted towards the top.

So, how does the DacMagic fit in? Compared to my CDP, it does have a fuller, and probably more realistic sounding midrange, but it seems to push the midrange forward, somewhat masking the top and bottom extension, and also masking that sense of "space", I've grown accustomed to. The space is there, but it's harder for my brain to drift into it, kinda like the forward midrange is acting like a wall, keeping me out. I think my CDP's seemingly recessed midrange forces me to pull my focus deeper in. My CDP gives me more of a "dished" sound, and my original goal was to find something to pull some midrange out, but I think the DacMagic might be pulling out too much, for my tastes.

BTW, in case anyone was curious, my Valab is a March 2009 version, and my analog interconnect of choice is TMC Whites.

Having had the Onix XCD-88 for a while (few years), it mostly acted as a transport as I found the internal DAC lacking. Not sure what kind of digital cable you have going from transport to DAC, but quality there makes a huge difference (Acoustic Zen MC2 on mine). In my system, the Onix was never competitive at all with either the Valab or any of my previous DACs.

Again, in my system, the Valab bested a BC DAC3 and all others I've tried--more analog-like, non-digital and very fullsome, 3D sound with flesh and blood feel the vocal presentation. Admittedly, it isn't as silent as the OS DACs but it preserves the original intent of the music better.

But hey, if you can do sans DAC, put the dough toward more software instead.


I did put better opamps in my Onix, and the interconnects I matched with it help out, greatly. Remember, my rig is tweaked around the sonic signature of the Onix, so swapping in another source would likely require re-tweaking the rest of the chain. Maggies can be very resolving, and I've always found it easy to hear the slightest sonic changes. I may not pinpoint the difference, but something in my brain will always tell me "somethin' ain't right".

For a digital cable, I started with the popular Blue Jeans Belden/Canare cable. Lately, I've been trying another cable I built.

Everyone keeps saying "sounds like analog", and honestly, I have not heard "high end vinyl" reproduction in about 30 years. I don't use vinyl, and I don't have any "audiophile" friends. My only reference for music is an occasional live performance.

Anyways, I know my Onix as a stand alone player has many weaknesses (and I hear them), but "in my system", it has certain attributes which I've grown fond of, mainly the depth it creates. It can give me a sense of "music in my head" instead of just "music in my room". So far, with the Vlab, I gain certain musical qualities, but I'm losing the depth and some fine detail. At least, in my system, in my room and in my head :-)
Oh.......I forgot to mention, all the cables I use are known to have some top end roll off, and my maggies are older models with a planar magnetic tweeter, and have a natural sharp roll off above 16k. All this treble roll off probably compliments the sound of the Onix, which many have described as being sometimes heavy in the top end.

That explains it. The top end roll off wouldn't compliment the Valab for sure. I have silver cables from Valab to pre and I think it better serves the top end. In the end, musical satisfaction is in the ear of the beholder.