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Hi All, We have finally had the DAC showdown and it was very interesting but perhaps not completely surprising in its outcome. The Naim is the best!! TaDa! Shocker, who would have thought... Looking (listening) more closely though the Rega offers many of the 'exciting' attributes of the Naim sound.

The Rega offers a more clear and better defined sound than the 2 Cambridge units and a surprisingly full rich bottom end when compared to the very fleet of foot but ever so slightly light in the bass sound of the Naim DAC. It does loose it a bit on complex passages when the Naim just sails on through remaining composed and thoroughly musical. As mentioned above the Naim is the nicest and by far the most satisfying to listen here, but at approx AUD$3500 more expensive it is out of the realm of many folk's budget and therefore the Rega is the easy winner on value.

The two Cambridge units had very similar characters and compared with the Naim and the Rega offer a very slightly warmer, very slightly duller sound. Lacking the resolution of the two more expensive units and the clarity/focus/timing as well. A pleasant enough listen and the 'Plus' version does offer a very slightly improved sound in the definition stakes but this was not apparent on all material we played (which included Rickie Lee Jones-Magazine, Donald Fagen-Morph the Cat , Alicia Keys-the Element of Freedom, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss-Raising Sand, Jimmy Webb-10 easy Pieces, and Kirk Lorange-No Apostrophe). To sum up in regard to the two Chinese built DACs, more of the same, but better features and 5% - 10% more resoluton.

In blind listening tests we consistantly picked the Naim versus the Cambridge Dacmagic, but had considerable trouble achieving 100% with the Naim versus Rega blind test. On some material (less complex stuff like Jim Webb) there was not much in it. On other more demanding material like the amazingly good song but amazingly poorly recorded Empire State of Mind from Alica Keys, the Naim owned it.

We are talking of realitively small differences here compared with say loudspeakers or Tube versus Transistor amps, but differences still worth listening for and there is certainly more enjoyment to be had with the better two DACs on offer.

The DAC comparo set up Rega DAC exposed.
The DAC comaro set up. Naim versus Rega versus Cambridge. The Rega is very nicely screwed together. Made in the UK in Rega's factory. Mild steel lid of approx 1/8" adds weight, solidity, and.....weight.
Rega DAC exposed. Rega DAC exposed.
"Best used with EL84 Valves".......WTF? ICs, doo dads, tri-modulators, and other stuff.

We also briefly compared optical versus coaxial and came up with no difference. I know, I know surely they must sound different. Well maybe so, but Keith and myself could not hear it but we did hear the difference between the two Cambridges and there isn't much in them!

It was a very interesting listening session and one that does result in a clear order of performance but it is somewhat coloured by the significant extra features offered by the Cambridge Dacmagic Plus and the very significantly extra cost of the Naim.

Its the Naim for me and the Rega for Keith. Although I would perhaps slip sideways and buy the ND5XS streamer which has a DAC built in offering perhaps all of the earlier released 'DAC only's' performance.

Copyright - Keith Clifford and Andrew Hutchison 2012. This page last updated 27-02-2012