Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 Network Music Player

Device Type: Network Music Player/Preamplifier/DAC
Input: Ethernet, USB (Type B for Audio), USB (Type A for USB storage device), S/PDIF Coax, Toslink, RCA Control Bus for use with other Cambridge Audio components, Wi-Fi Aerial
Output: 1 pair RCA, 1 pair XLR, S/PDIF Coax, Toslink
Dimensions (H x W x D): 3.4 x 16.9 x 12.2”
Weight: 8.8lbs.
Availability: online
Price: $1,149.00
Website: www.cambridgeaudio.com

Its Magic
People looking to play hard drive and Internet-based music without a computer have one choice—a network player. You could argue that a network player is a computer but that's missing the relevant point which is some people don't want to tie up their computer for use as a music server. They'd rather use a computer as a computer. So a dedicated device is their solution. The Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 gives you most everything you'd expect from a network player including the ability to play up to 24/96 music from Network Attached Storage (NAS), USB-based storage, the Internet, and it throws in a 24/192-capable USB DAC to boot.

The Stream Magic6 can handle WAV, FLAC, AIFF, WMA, MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, and ALAC file formats and its Dual Wolfson WM8740 24-bit DACs can accept 24/192 data through the USB and Coax S/PDIF inputs. The Toslink, Network/Ethernet, and USB inputs handle up to 24/96 data. The default setting for the USB Audio input is USB Class 1.1 for a 24/96 max input and I'm sure Cambridge sets this as the default so Windows users don't have to load drivers to get the USB audio working out-of-the-box. To change this, I did, you just have to go to Settings > USB Class > and select 2.0 which will get you up to 24/192 playback without drivers if you use a Mac and with a PC when you download and install the Cambridge Audio USB Audio Class 2.0 drivers from the Cambridge website. 24/176.4 data is not supported so all incoming 24/176.4 data is downsampled to 24/88.2.

The Stream Magic 6 has a black and blue front panel text-based display, front-mounted controls, a remote, as well as the Stream Magic OS/Android app for controlling all functions. That big knob on the right side is also a switch when pushed and I found it generally easy to navigate using that knob more so than the remote but the iOS app was my preferred controller especially when navigating my NAS-based music. You can also use the Stream Magic 6 as a digital preamplifier by turning on this feature under Settings > Advanced and when you do that big knob also functions as a volume control. The volume is DSP controlled and Cambridge claims there is no related bit reduction when used in preamp mode. The Stream Magic 6 also upsamples all incoming data to 24/384 for playback using a DSP from Analog Devices. The digital outputs provide bit-perfect pass through.

Since I have my music stored as FLAC files on the UPnP-enabled Western Digital MyBook Live 2TB NAS in the Shared Music directory, all I had to do after connecting the Stream Magic 6 to my network with an Ethernet cable was browse to the "Media" option on the Stream Magic 6, hit "Enter" and select the "MyBook Live" directory. After that, you can browse by Album, Artist, Genre, etc.

The Stream Magic 6 also works with Internet Radio and streaming services including Rhapsody, Pandora, and Sirius XM. For Internet radio, there's a web-based app (www.stream-magic.com) that allows you to add stations to your favorite list that will then show up on your Stream Magic 6. I very much enjoy Internet Radio and find its thousands of stations endlessly fun to browse through and even more fun to listen to. Radio is a great way to discover new music and its free and endless. You can also connect a USB hard drive or flash drive to the two USB Type-A inputs (one on the front, one on the back) and play back your hard disk-based music. The Stream Magic 6 supports FAT32 and NTFS file systems.

There are user-selectable filters that include Linear Phase, Minimum Phase, and Steep. The current selection is displayed on the front panel and you can select these filters from the front panel or the remote. Nice. The remote can also control other Cambridge Audio devices. The Stream Magic 6 is also Wi-Fi enabled and there's an optional BT100 aptX Bluetooth adapter ($109.00) that would come in handy for those looking to play back music from their mobile devices.

Playing with Magic
Once you've got all of your connections made, disks attached, Internet radio stations selected, streaming services set up, its time to play. I found the Stream Magic 6 a breeze to use regardless of the source. Browsing through my NAS-based music library using the Stream Magic app for the iPad was very responsive with album art displayed (for all of the albums I have album art for which is most but not all albums). Moving between sources was also seamless, from NAS to Internet Radio just a few taps away. I never once had to look at the manual for playback options including saving stations to the preset list (just click "M+").

The Stream Magic 6 supports gapless playback as of a July 2012 firmware update. Speaking of firmware updates, each time you start the Stream Magic 6 it checks for newer versions of the firmware automatically. You can simply select "Update Firmware" (if there's one available) and the unit will update itself.

I mainly used the Stream Magic 6 to play back NAS-based music, music on my MacBook Pro via USB, and Internet radio. Obviously this last option offers the lowest sound quality (I don't store and play no MP3s) nonetheless it was completely enjoyable. Internet radio stations vary in quality but even streaming at 128kpbs was fine for background listening and exploring. Higher quality files sounded better, of course, and here the Stream Magic does a very good job of playing back CD-quality and better files. The DAC in the Stream Magic is on the smooth and easy side as opposed to the detailed and hard-sounding.

While the Stream Magic 6 is not the last word in resolution, its presentation is pleasantly detailed and its tonal balance leans towards the fat, mid-range rich side. Singers sound nice and physically present, and chesty where appropriate. Bass was fat, full, and fun and tonal colors were nicely portrayed if leaning every so slightly toward the darker side of the spectrum. There was no hint of grain or strain to upper frequencies while there was enough glimmer, sheen, and bite when called for. Overall I kept thinking—nice—when making listening notes. And that's a good thing. I found the differences between the user-selectable filters subtle but another nice-to-have feature especially the ability to switch through them with the included remote.

When playing back music from the USB DAC, you have to use your computer to control playback which makes perfect sense. I'm not sure how many people will make use of this feature since NAS-based playback seems more likely with a network player but having a USB DAC is a nice-to-have feature. The USB DAC sounded ever so slightly less full-bodied as compared to the network-based music but retained the overall sonic character of fat and fun. I did not try any of the streaming services since I don't subscribe but we can base our sound quality predictions on Internet radio which was again just fine. I'll mention this again because its worth noting—the Network connection can play back up to 24/96 data, nothing higher. If you want to play back higher sample rate data you need to do so via USB or Coax S/PDIF.

To test the Stream Magic 6's preamp, I connected it to my Pass INT-30A via the balanced connections and turned the Pass' volume control to its max position. Using the Stream Magic as preamp, the sound seemed less smooth as compared to the Pass as preamp. This is a somewhat difficult thing to gauge since level-matching is mandatory and I just used my ears as guide but with the Pass acting as preamp I could not get it to sound as sharp and biting as when using the Stream Magic's preamp regardless of the volume. The overall presentation also seemed more relaxed with the Pass' preamp, the Stream Magic's preamp closed things in a bit. If I owned the Stream Magic and Pass, I'd be using the Pass' preamp.

I also took the Wi-Fi connection for a walk but it was short one for a few reasons mainly because I have a wired connection available and a wired connection is always better than a wireless one and the wired connection can handle 24/96 whereas Wi-Fi cannot. That said, I was able to play CD-quality files from my NAS and stream from Internet radio with no problems and no dropouts. 24/96 files would not play, experiencing regular dropouts. From the Stream Magic manual, "Note: If you wish to play 24-bit/48kHz or 24-bit/96kHz content from a UPnP server, a wired Ethernet connection will be required as the high data rate of these files is beyond most Wi-Fi networks capability."

Network Players and Screamers
My guess is most manufacturers breathed a heavy sigh of relief when Logitech decided to discontinue the Squeezebox Touch. As it stands, the Stream Magic 6 is a very nice full-featured option for those looking to play music from their NAS, a USB hard drive, a computer, and the Internet. The Pioneer Elite N-50 (see review) for $699 offers up most of the same playback options while adding 24/192 playback via the network connection, as well as AirPlay and iPod compatibility so if you're in the market for a network player, I'd suggest also taking a look at the N-50.

The Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 was a joy to play with. The Stream Magic app for the iPad made navigating the various input options a breeze and the app was surprisingly responsive with near-0 lag time. NAS-based music came with its associated Album art, and once I loaded up a few favorite Internet radio stations I was streaming and singing (some might call it screaming) till the cows came home. Having touch screen access to so much music from so many sources is addictive and the Stream Magic 6 adds the all important caveat of making it all sound like its worth listening to.



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COMMENTS
jazz and cocktails's picture

other than 24/192 & USB support, i'm not sure how this differs from a Transporter.  and Slim Devices did this 8 years ago, with broader codec support, and a wealth of multiroom &  3rd party app support (Mog, Pandora, Sirius, Rhapsody, Spotify, etc).

and the Transporter still sounds world class.

Wcwc's picture

I might be interested in a streamer if they have ALAC support. All my music is on a NAS drive in ALAC format. I don't want to maintain two libraries just to be able to use the streamer and the other airplay devices I own with the files in lossless format.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

The Stream Magic does in fact support ALAC as of a recent firmware update - I had listed AAC twice instead of ALAC. Apologies for the confusion.

Axiom05's picture

I hope that this is not going to be a trend, re. lack of ALAC support. I was disappointed to see that the SD card reader on the Resonessence Invicta also does not support ALAC files. Like many, I use iTunes to store music files and do not plan to change. I would think that ALAC support would be high on the list of features for any new product these days.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I had listed AAC twice instead of ALAC. Apologies for the confusion.

Keevs's picture

I use the Stream Magic 6 as my primary music playback source. Via wifi only, not physical network connection. And it plays all my 24-bit files upto 96KHz flawlessly with no cut outs, and all my files are ALAC as I use my Mac Mini in the study as the UPNP server. I've had the SM6 since December 2012, so the firmware since then have had no problems with ALAC and 24/96 over WiFi. I've also connected my MacBook Pro via USB 2.0 to the SM6 and it plays 24/192 ALAC no problems as well.

Waroroses's picture

I have been living with my Stream Magic 6 for a couple of weeks now.   The device works well; more importantly it sounds fabulous. Before I got it hard wired to our router and switch to connect to our home Internet network to my great frustration the app which is intended  to work on iPads and Android phones did not work when the device was in the wireless mode. Not too many audiophiles would not hard wire. I was thrilled this week when the app was updated to correct bugs. Yesterday the app opened flawlessly and the Streamer was immediately located on the network. One day later, the app is back to its endless searching mode. The cure? According to the product support people, the router and the Stream Magic should be turned off and restarted after 30 seconds. I really don't want to run down to my lower level to go through that routine often. I have spent more time looking at the error messages than selecting music. Cambridge: sorry to report the bugs are not fixed. 

Waroroses's picture

Update.  The problems I reported earlier were have been resolved. The rproblem it turns out was the crappy router which was supplied by our internet service provider. A new Netgear router has cleared up the connection problems totally. The provider tipped me off when I called to troubleshoot by mentioning that ey don't use the Actiontec brand anymore because of too any problems. 

solo2's picture

Apart from the filters and, arguably, a better inboard DAC, I'm not convinced it does much more than Grace Digital Audio's tuner that costs one-tenth the price.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

The Cambridge Stream Magic includes a preamp and a 24/192-capable async USB DAC. The Grace Tuner doesn't.

But basing the value of hi-fi components purely on functionality is missing a big part of the picture, imo. After all we recently reviewed a USB DAC for $99 and another for $20,000.

solo2's picture

Actually, my Grace tuner plays 24/192 quite well from a USB thumb drive or from a wired ethernet connection. You're right about the pre-amp, of course.  

There may be more to the value of hi-fi equipment than its functionality, but when that value, whatever it is, raises the cost of the equipment by a magnitude of 10, I'm holding onto my wallet.  But that's just me, I guess.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Which allows you to connect to the Stream Magic directly from your computer via USB as opposed to a USB Type-A input for use with USB storage devices.

I don't like to try to justify price/value since value is in the eye, ears, and wallet of the buyer.

Keevs's picture

From what I have learned in my HiFi journey (expensive journey it is), is that the spec sheet (not measurements) cannot indicate what sound a component will give.

My streaming journey started with an Apple Express, then a Apple TV ver 3, and now this Stream Magic 6.

Recently, I plugged the Apple TV via optical to the SM6 to test wheather the sound from streamed song would sound the same. I thought it would be fairly similar streaming the same song to the ATV using the SM6 DAC vs streaming to the SM6. However, it wasn't. One noticible thing was the soundstage streaming directly to the SM6 was much wider and deeper then the ATV->SM6 DAC, which was narrower, more forward, and slightly less refined.

Gretschguy's picture

Keevs, are your files 24 bit for this comparison?  Perhaps the Apple TV outputs only 16 bits via its digital output?   Are you able to see if it is downsampling in any way?

clyde's picture

I've tried 2 different units of the Stream Magic 6 and neither plays AIFF files, even though AIFF is advertised as a compatible format. It will play my FLAC files and MP3 files with no trouble.

Weird thing is the display indicates that the AIFF file is playing, but only white noise comes from the outputs.

All my files are on USB thumb drives.

I've written to Cambridge Audio about this, but have yet to receive a solution.

 

Eltonnotjohn's picture

I purchased one of these about 9 months ago. Very pleased. I have some networking experience and within thirty minutes of taking it out of the box it was running with my Seagate GoFlex Home NAS, or JRiver as a server, or JRiver via USB. I think the USB connection is a VERY useful feature, few streamers have this. It gives good versatility. I also use it connected via one of its S/PDIF inputs to improve my TV sound. (I have several ways to do this but my chosen method means less switching).

The networking  96 limitation is a shame and I think Cambridge should improve it, but it is not really a problem. Can we really tell the difference between 24/96 and 24/192? But it does mean I have to downsample some music and I can't do that if using the Seagate NAS. The Stream Magic via Ethernet plays at 24/192, but keeps stuttering.

Interface.

Buy the silver one. The labels are easier to see than on the black one.smileyMore seriously, the supplied remote is not so easy to use. But it is no worse than any other manufacturers. It is the small screen that is the problem, and they all have that.

Apple/Android remote. Not tried the Apple version but the Android one is poor. I use the BubbleUpnP one (5 Dollars) and it is fine. It also controls JRiver perfectly well, so you don't need their 'Gizmo' but I have both installed.

One 'interface' problem I did have. I had to rename the music files on the Seagate drive with the CD 'track number' at the beginning rather than anywhere else or the Stream Magic displayed them in alphabetical 'track name' order. Apparently it displays things on the first field it sees.

Sound Quality

As good as any other. I was going to buy a Naim streamer but my local authorised Naim dealer (UK) never has much Naim stuff in stock though his website says he has. Irritating, why do they do it?

Would it have sounded any better? I doubt it. All these things are entirely 'digital' except for the DAC so I doubt there is any difference. The DAC? - Naim's will sound 'different' but that is all, we can't know what the source (CD, download, whatever) is supposed to sound like anyway. I actually use my Stream Magic with a dCS Debussy DAC and it sounds 'different' again. Better? How can we know? Do what sounds 'nice' to you. And I use the Debussy for other things too.

Thank you for an honest review and Cambridge Audio for a good box.

Clyde and others,

You have to accept that worldwide, Apple computers are a small minority. They don't like supporting other people's hardware/software/standards so why should people support theirs? It works both ways but Apple refuses to acknowledge that. In fact my Stream Magic works fine with AIFF or ALAC on my three sources (above) just as Cambridge claim, but I have not tried a thumb drive. I don't have any Apple TVs, Airport Expresses or whatever to confuse the issue.

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