It doesn't seem too long ago that a quality headphones amplifier was the size of a chunky paperback novel, and would occupy so much space in a laptop bag that it would probably get left behind more often than not. Now the UK's Cambridge Audio has managed to squeeze a high-end digital-to-analog (DAC) converter and headphone amp into a device that's smaller than a matchbox.

The DacMagic XS has been designed to give digital music lovers a much better listening experience than a computer's lackluster soundcard or poor quality audio out jack can provide. Measuring 1.2 x 0.4 x 2.1 in (30 x 10 x 53.5 mm) and weighing 100 g (3.5 oz), it sits between a computer's USB port and the headphones through which you listen to your tunes. The front of the black, brushed aluminum housing has analog up and down volume controls, and support for USB Class 2 audio allows users to completely bypass the audio path set by a computer's OS for improved output quality.

The device features an ESS9023 24-bit DAC and delivers a mighty 150 mW volume boost, promising enhanced clarity, and oodles of bass response. It has a 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response, a signal-to-noise ratio of 103 dBr, and boasts total harmonic distortion of less than 0.004 percent.

The unit can also handle the playback of high resolution (24-bit/192 kHz) audio. A single LED on the bottom edge changes color to indicate the sample rate of an incoming signal, as well as letting you know when you're at minimum or maximum volume.

This all sounds pretty good for a teeny unit that only costs US$189, and if an early review in What Hi-Fi? is any indication, the DacMagic XS looks like it could be worth every penny.

Have a look at the short promo video below.

Product page: DacMagic XS