harbar.net component based software & platform hygiene

Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Print | posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 7:31 PM

In July 2011 I purchased the Cambridge Audio Sonata NP30, a network music player. After about six months of use I posted a detailed review, which was somewhat surprisingly popular. Often people I meet in work related situations will want to talk more about tune streamers than some facet of SharePoint! :)  In early May I got me the Stream Magic 6, and again here is a review after a period of extensive use (roughly four months), as opposed to the claptrap you will read in “hi-fi” rags that only used the thing for half a day!

The Stream Magic 6 (SM6) is Cambridge Audio’s first foray into the mid market for network music players. £300 more than the NP30, at £700 it competes with the likes of Yamaha and Pioneer, but not of course the likes of Linn etc. It certainly is a welcome step up from the NP30. In some ways the SM6 could be considered a combination of the NP30 and a DacMagic+. However that is a slightly unfair statement, and there’s more too it than just combining the two capabilities in a single box.

I’ve been using it for approximately four months and have it hooked up to a Sony STR-DA5600ES using the RCA outs and 2 Channel Direct thru to a pair of Sony SSK-70EDs. Here’s the SM6 in situ (in my rather awful rack):

SM6_1
click to view full size image

 

Industrial Design

It’s immediately clear the SM6 is a step up in terms of design and construction from the NP30. Obviously the SM6 is a full width component which makes it much more at home with “serious” gear (the NP30 is really designed to be coupled with other Sonata components). Build quality and finish are far superior. Different (better) materials are used for the front panel and it’s also much weightier. Whilst it’s somewhat similar to the NP30 it just looks and feel more professional and the differences are significant. Alongside the addition of the filter controls (more on that later) the jog shuttle is really good, with excellent tactile operation. Much better than the one on the SM6. And then there’s the display which was one of my biggest gripes about the NP30:

SM6_2
click to view full size image

Whilst it’s still the same overall size this display is MUCH better. A much higher “resolution” is used making it seem a lot less dot matrix, and it is much more readable from reasonable distances. Also it’s a much cooler blue, and in fact it very closely matches my receiver display (and that of a CA One+).  When the unit boots there is even some “artwork” which points to this display being able to do more interesting things than what it’s used for on the SM6.

There is also an additional row on the display. This makes a huge difference to usability from the front panel or supplied remote control. One of the biggest drawbacks to the NP30 was the inability of the display to show enough information leading to an almost constant scrolling of the display and having to wait for the scroll. This is now much less frequent as more characters can be shown and the extra row means navigation and selection is far easier. It would be nice if the display was slightly wider for sure, but whereas the NP30 display was just cheap and nasty, this display is quality.

Another of my complaints about the NP30 was the inability to turn the display off when listening. This has been addressed with the SM6 by allowing three levels of brightness, one of which is “off”. It’s not actually off but it’s so dim that from more than about 3 feet you can’t see it:

SM6_3
click to view full size image

So not off off! Which would be nice, but good enough to prevent the display being annoying when seriously listening.

 

Hook Ups and DAC

Alongside the basics (WLAN, LAN, RCA outputs and SPDIF and TOSLink digital inputs) the SM6 acts as an up sampling DAC for all sources. It effectively has the same feature set here as the DAC Magic+. On the rear is a USB input, which can handle up to 24/192 from a computer (for Windows via a CA driver). I guess this is seen as a neat feature, but I haven’t used it other than to test that it functions. For my needs I don’t care about this capability at all! I won’t be connecting this guy to my laptop very often! There are also XLR outputs should those be your bag.

You can also enable the unit to act as a pre-amplifier for active speakers if you so wish (I don’t). As with the NP30 there is also a USB port on the front to allow the use of memory sticks and so on.

 

Sound Quality, Formats and Performance

Now for the real stuff. It sounds superb. The majority of my library is 16/44.1 and it really does shine. The ATF2 up sampling is used for all sources. You can clearly tell that a rip of a CD is not quite up to the quality of my SACD player, but it’s also clearly better than the NP30. For £700 this unit seriously kicks ass. It’s very tight, there’s no drop off either at the low end. Extremely good spacing, and vocals and strings are simply stunning.

Feed it some good 24/96 and it gets even better. Anything over that is a bit tenuous especially given today’s mastering approaches, but this player can’t play them anyway. Only the Computer USB input can do 24/192. I would like the unit to support this over the stream, but I only have a very small amount of music in this format. I really don’t yet buy that 24/192 is of any practical use for stereo recordings at present.

Give it some crap MP3 or whatever it also does a great job of making them sound half decent. But if that’s your source material you should just do Sonos anyway! The unit also has some “streaming services” such as BBC etc that I don’t really use. I have setup a bunch of ‘net radio thou for the odd things I like (e.g Candy Dulfer’s friday nite funkathon).

Performance wise it is rock solid, like a brick house. Much better over the WLAN than the NP30 although I use the LAN, and actually this stuff is more to do with firmware updates than the unit itself.

Whilst not initially available, firmware updates provided gapless playback, which really should be considered a pre-requisite feature for a player of this ilk. Thankfully almost immediately after I got the unit I was able to use betas of the firmware. Gapless works just right, no missing stuff, unless you play via digital outs, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway!

The up sampler has three filters, similar again to the DacMagic+ and found on high end CD players etc. The differences are clearly audible and deserve experimentation depending upon the source material. I have mine set using the minimum filter as the default.

 

Usability

As mentioned above front panel and remote control usability is significantly improved. The Android and IOS app is also improved, and now uses the name Stream Magic. I have only used the IOS version on an iPad. It’s a lot better than the previous UuVol.  I still wish however that CA would open up application development. I can’t use a UPnP control app like Kinsky, and in the near future I definitely want to control this bad boy using a Microsoft Surface. In the meantime, the IOS app still suffers the odd mishap when it gets confused but overall it’s much more usable.

 

Conclusion

The SM6 is the best mid market network music player. At a fantastic price it really delivers the goods. The focus on sound quality is very pleasing, other players have better controls/apps, but they simply don’t sound as good. And that is what it’s all about (or at least should be). I’m sure plenty of people will also like the Computer USB feature but that’s not for me.

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons.

Pros

  • stunning sound quality and musical performance
  • exceptional FLAC handling over the LAN
  • very high quality build
  • great value for money
  • zero server side lock in

Cons

  • no open control app development
  • no track remaining time display
  • no support for above 24/96 for streamed content
  • filter/phase led stays on when display is turned “off” (minor gripe)

If you are in the market for a good value network player, and you care about musical performance I strongly encourage you to listen to the Stream Magic 6!

What have I done with the “old” NP30? Well that’s now in the bedroom hooked up to CA One+ system which is a very nice combination, although perhaps a new version of One+ will be introduced with the capabilities built in. It certainly seems as if CA are leveraging the streaming and DAC stuff across their components more and more over time.

 

s.

Feedback

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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Dear Spencer,
Your review just popped up on my radar so I thought a short thank you for taking the time and trouble to write this was the least I could do. I am so glad you enjoy the product and will be sure to pass on your comments (including the "cons" and not only the "pros") to the product designers involved. Customer feedback like this is always a great motivation for those involved in bringing the product to market
Many thanks!
James Johnson-Flint
Founder, Audio Partnership Plc (parent company of Cambridge Audio)

8/31/2012 4:47 PM | James Johnson-Flint (CA CEO)
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Dear Spencer,
Your review just came to my attention so I thought a short thank you for taking the time and trouble to write this was the least I could do. I am so glad you enjoy the product and will be sure to pass on your comments (including the "cons" and not only the "pros") to the product designers involved. Customer feedback like this is always a great motivation for those involved in bringing the product to market
Many thanks!
James Johnson-Flint
Founder, Audio Partnership Plc (parent company of Cambridge Audio)

8/31/2012 4:50 PM | James Johnson-Flint
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Thanks for your kind and very positive comments about the Stream Magic 6. It is always excellent to see honest, considered and detailed feedback on our products. Above all, we are delighted that the product meets expectations. We also take on board your thoughts about the Ap and the display and we will see if we can work something out to improve these areas going forward.
Regards
Ed Selley
Cambridge Audio

9/3/2012 3:21 PM | Cambridge Audio
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Thanks for the excellent and very thorough review. It is always excellent to hear positive feedback on our product from customers and we feel that you have captured the basic imrovements we were hoping to achieve with the Stream Magic 6. Your comments on the control interface are also taken on board and we will see what we can do to improve this going forward.
Regards
Ed Selley
Cambridge Audio

9/4/2012 10:09 AM | Cambridge Audio
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

I was not able to install the CA USB driver for my PC. It stuck at the installation phase and kept saying unable to detect the device. However, without installing the driver, I was able to play up to 24/96 music through the CA SM6.

Any suggestion? Customer Service of CA went away for 1 week and was unable to offer any solution.

9/21/2012 8:27 AM | Philip
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Hi Spencer, your review really intrigued me, I am a dedicated Slimdevice/Squeezebox user but am obviously concerned about the future support of the products now that Logitech have ceased development and production. If you have any experience with the slimdevice/squeezebox range I would be particularly interested in your assessment of the SM6 compared to the Slimdevice Transporter my primary WiFi source. Cheers, Martin

12/11/2012 8:45 PM | Martin O'Shaughnessy
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

I used Squeezebox duet for quite a while and was happy with the basics but hated the duet controller. good thing was open app dev. I always fancied a transported but never had the chance to hear one/use it. SM6 is far superior to Squeezebox, but can't offer any comparison with the transporter

1/8/2013 4:52 AM | harbars
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

My experience hasn't been so good.

When it works (streaming from a Synology d411j) it's great. But every 30 minutes or so the music stops - I can't figure out whether it is the Synology or the Magic 6. Tried everything. Cambridge support polite but absolutely no help. Happens when wired or wireless.

Any ideas gratefully received.

1/17/2013 7:31 PM | Richard Morris
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Thank you for the review. This is very helpful.

Could you please elaborate on the following statement in your review:
"Gapless works just right, no missing stuff, unless you play via digital outs, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway!"

Is there an issue with gapless playback via the digital outs? I am considering purchasing this device and if so would use it to be a source for multiple devices (main system and multi-zone system). There is only one standard set of analog outputs and my multi-zone system does not accept digital so that is where my analog outs will need to go. So my main system will need to use one of the digital outs.

Does the ATF2 up-sampling also benefit music via the digital outs or only via the analog outputs?

Thank you in advance for your reply.

2/8/2013 11:40 AM | Thor
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Bought one this afternoon. I was looking for a new DAC in the £1000 or thereabouts price range but the one I had in mind (made at Salisbury, not far from me) is very new and has a long delivery time so purchased this streamer instead, influenced by its good reviews and its flexibility. It was up and running within half an hour, with internet radio and my NAS, at least.

I could not get the default type 1 USB driver to work at all. It was recognised by Windows, and JRiver, and was configurable in the Windows Control Panel, but no sound came out in the Control Panel 'Test' function or from the analogue outputs. On downloading, installing, and choosing the CA type 2 driver in the 'Settings' menu it all worked perfectly (JRiver 18, WASAPI or ASIO).

The 'computer' USB port is an excellent idea and was very influential in my purchasing decision. Wonder why no one else does it on a streamer?

Sound quality is absolutely superb. I cannot imagine how it could be better. It even makes internet radio, which I never previously liked , excellent. Very, very pleased.

And it appearance even matches my existing Salisbury made boxes!

A suggestion for Cambridge Audio (and all other streamer manufacturers). Please put a VGA or AV port on the back so we can attach a screen that we can see from across the room. We won't have to bother with an Apple or Android remote then.

3/24/2013 8:01 PM | Mark Powell, Southampton
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Also seeing the same issue as Richard Morris, SM stops frequently while playing FLAC files from a Synology NAS.

At random times during play the music simply stops. The display panel reports a Stopped condition. At this time the iOS app can only repeat the current song, any attempt to go forward/back puts the player in Stopped mode. The only way to clear the condition is to quit the app completely and return to the album that was being played.

This is a replacement unit, the original unit behaved exactly the same.

3/25/2013 9:56 AM | Ian Moran
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Thanks for this review. I agree with you that the sound quality is what it's all about - I would dislike a media player that connects to everything, handles perfectly but the sound is not top-notch. What's the point if you can't enjoy the music? Since I consider buying SM6 I am happy to hear it's a quality product sound-wise.

I think the next step is to bring functionality & visibility up to par. I agree so very much with the above comment about a video output from SM6. To be able to skip WLAN and hardwire everything would be absolutely great.

My dream would be to load all album art from one artist on my TV-screen for a nice, big overview and then select an album with just the SM6 infra-red remote. Something similar was probably possible with Squeezebox, but since they are no longer supported I am glad I didn't buy one.

I'm gonna buy the current SM6 but as soon as a video output is fitted to an updated model I will buy that one too!

6/8/2013 4:59 PM | Thomas Svensson
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

yes please CA big screen port you need to step up your game thanks pete

7/17/2013 4:08 AM | m3paj
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Hi,
I purchased an SM6 a few weeks ago but have now returned it for repair.
When playing music from USB or network drives and browsing the music from either an Ipad or Android phone, everything initially works fine.
Then when returning to the app after listening for e.g. 2 hrs, the app hangs or crashes and I need to reboot both the SM6 and the app in order to switch to another album.
I find this very irritating. For me the app was one of the reasons for purchasing this product.
Is anyone having the same problems?

Many thanks Martin

9/4/2013 11:01 AM | Martin Axelsson
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Hi,

I recently compared this playing a FLAC file against the original CD ay my local dealer. The CD player and the SM6 were connected to the same amp and speakers. Unfortunately I found that the SM6 sounded very poor by comparison. It sounded flat. I have read nothing but glowing reviews of the sound of the SM6 yet in my experience I found it disappointing. Has anybody else had an experience like this?

Thanks Malcom.

9/16/2013 3:17 PM | Malcom
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

I have the Stream Magic 6 and I love it. But I sure miss what is also requested above: A connection to a TV-screen. With a TV-out and a remote you could sit back in your sofa and browse through your music collection with great visual comfort.

With server software that doesn't downsize the album-art too much you could watch the covers filling the whole TV-screen, just like a picture on the wall.

It sure would be nice to get rid of the fiddly & minimalistic tablet/Android combo! The tablet app should be kept of course, for those who like it, but it's not for all.

A generic solution would be the best, functioning on all TV's much like a DVD-player. The problem with Android apps is that you're stuck with... Android.

A pointing and scrolling remote would be nice and preferable, something like LG's magic remote. But any remote combined with a TV-out would be a revelation and should be the next step in development. The great sound is already there.

HDMI/AV/Scart would work on almost all TV's, but VGA is less common these days. At least I haven't had VGA on my TV's for years.

It would be interesting to see Cambridge Audio responding on this topic, since there are several people requesting a TV-out in these comments.

11/6/2013 12:04 PM | Pontus
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# nd5xs vs stream magic 6

Hi
My system first of all Naim Nait XS amp and some Neat Elite Se speakers.( Great combo)
I bought a ND5XS and found the sound to be all highs and lows and nothing in between at all! I sold the naim ND5XS and picked up the stream magic 6 wow ! lovely full bodied sound !
Only problem was the Android app so bought Bubble UPNP and disabled the local renderer and full audio bliss!!!

1/14/2014 2:05 PM | julian gedzierski
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Hi,

I have just purchased a SM6 but ironically, looking at the above posts, because I did not want and cannot use a big screen. I will elaborate. The upscaling abilities and quality DACs that make the SM6 such a quality product are replicated in Cambridge Audio blu-ray players the BD 751 and 752. I have the BD751 and cannot comment on the 752. The 751 is a fantastic blu=-ray player but even better as a cd player due to the DACs. (Incidently the 751 has 5 DACs so is arguably better value than the SM6 as they are the same price.) The 751 has the ability to stream music in the same way as the SM6 and the sound quality is nearly as good. (I have not had the SM6 long enough to properly evaluate). So, why did I get an SM6? Well, the streaming features on the BD751 can only be accessed from the TV screen. This makes selecting music from a large library very time consuming. Worse, from my point of view, as I use a plasma screen the static high contrast images were causing significant image retention with some apparent burn in. In addition, I suspect the lack of display circuitry (which has to be bypassed through a pure direct function on the 751BD for the best sound quality) accounts for the slightly better sound quality of the SM6. I think some of the display issues of the 751BD have been solved in the later 752BD which uses a web based approach. If a big screen approach is needed I would recommend looking at the 752BD but I think the Ipad/iphone approach of the SM6 is the ultimate solution having tried both.

3/6/2014 4:56 PM | Roger Trencher
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Joining these comments just to say that I have the SM6 and like it a lot.

But when I read the above comments about a big screen output it teases my appetite so I'm sure that's what I want now.

Does anyone know if such an audiostreamer with big screen output is available today? I want to check one out, even if it's not from Cambridge. I wouldn't want a trade-off in sound quality though, so maybe it's tricky to find one.

3/19/2014 7:13 PM | Michael P
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# re: Four months with the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6

Agree with Roger's comment re the screen. I run a gt30 plasma, which has wireless media playing capability from my NAS drive, however u need to keep the telly on which jot only leads to micro burning of the sharp graphic interface, but also large power consumption. Am really thinking of buying this player because of the sound test (compared this against the np30) at richer sounds imn York, and the separation and clarity was immense. Just waiting for the price to drop slightly more before I jump, but certainly looking forward to it and the android friendly interface. Kept up the good work can, certainly come a long was since my old A1 amp I bought in 99. Thanks

4/5/2014 11:39 PM | Magnus

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