dCS announces the release of a software update that provides MQA compatibility to all
current product ranges – bringing the MQA experience into what many regard as the best
digital music source in the world.
MQA, Master Quality Authenticated, provides a means to efficiently encode and transmit high
resolution audio. MQA is based on the axiom that, in audio, high resolution can be more
accurately defined in the analogue domain in terms of temporal fine structure and lack of
modulation noise, than by any description in the digital domain, particularly one that relies on
sample rate or bit depth numbers.
MQA works by converting the analogue music to digital and back to analogue again. The
conceptual framework models analogue as an infinite sample rate representation, which can be
approximated by a hierarchical chain of downward and upward splines. The MQA encoder takes
account of and corrects aspects of the original analogue-to-digital and studio preparation chain.
Although a listener can enjoy the encoded stream at CD quality without a decoder, the best
result comes with an MQA Decoder, or a combination of MQA Core Decoder and Renderer,
which reconstructs exactly what was heard in the studio.
The MQA Renderer performs sampling reconstruction under song-by-song instruction from the
encoder, while at the same time matching and optimising the attached DAC to deliver an
authenticated analogue output.
MQA Decoders include a Renderer which is customised for each built-in digital-to-analogue
converter. Generally, the converter includes an integrated DAC which is not wholly configurable
and may have some performance limitations. For this reason, most MQA decoders include
for the built-in converter.
dCS does not use IC converters in its DACs; instead the process of reconstructing analogue
from the digital stream is entirely custom, using specific software and discrete hardware to make
a DAC. However, unlike other non-integrated DACs, the dCS is still modelled on reconstruction
using oversampling, filtering and high-speed conversion.
David Steven, Managing Director, dCS states:
“The dCS and MQA teams have been in discussion, development and testing for almost a year.
This is a unique and exciting implementation made possible by the flexibility and capability of
our platform, as well as the fact that both companies have aligned philosophies, strong mutual
respect and trust.”
Bob Stuart, Founder & CTO, MQA adds:
“In the case of the dCS Rossini, the MQA and dCS teams were able to work together to develop
code which accurately matched the MQA hierarchical ideal reconstruction to analogue. This
MQA implementation is unique, as it is the first opportunity to enable a DAC which, by providing
exact rendering to beyond 16x (768 kHz), matches the desired temporal response with very low
dCS owners can update their firmware to support MQA via the ‘internet download and update’
dCS Rossini – October 2017
dCS Vivaldi One – November 2017
dCS Network Bridge – November 2017
dCS Vivaldi DAC & Upsampler – December 2017
dCS proudly announces Vivaldi One – a limited edition digital music player
specially designed to mark the company’s thirtieth anniversary. Limited to just 250 uniquely numbered pieces, it puts an integral CD/SACD transport alongside the latest dCS Ring DAC in a single box, together with state-of-the-art network streaming functionality.
Vivaldi is the dCS flagship line, and the culmination of three decades of the company’s legendary expertise in music recording and playback. Having pioneered high resolution digital audio in both professional and consumer fields, championed the benefits of upsampling and clocking, and originated asynchronous USB for computer audio, dCS has an exceptional and proven track record. To commemorate this, the new Vivaldi One offers state-of-the-art technology inside, and superlative style outside…
Wholly designed and manufactured in Great Britain, Vivaldi One’s aerospace-grade aluminum casework comes in a choice of three exquisite finishes, never before seen on dCS products. The Gloss White and Piano Black versions are finished by HQ Lacquer, a family-owned British business of over three decades’ standing, famed for its high quality finishes. After meticulous paintwork, multiple lacquer coats are applied and then heat-cured for days, for glass-like smoothness. Alternatively, Vivaldi One can be supplied plated in Decoplate™ 24K Gold or other precious metal by FH Lambert Ltd., the world-renowned specialist in decorative metal plating. This highest grade of gold plate confers a lavish, opulent feel and accentuates the fascia’s subtle curves.
Vivaldi One features the Esoteric VRDS Neo™ SACD-capable transport, allied to the latest generation dCS Ring DAC. It first appeared in high end dCS studio equipment nearly three decades ago, and has been continually refined and improved since then. Effectively a digital signal processing computer, the dCS Ring DAC and Digital Processing Platform runs PCM up to 24-bit, 384kS/s, DSD up to DSD128 and DSD in DOP format. Vivaldi One also supports all major lossless codecs including MQA. Driven by custom-designed software running on Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chips, Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chips and a microcontroller system. Offering twice the logic capacity of previous generations, Vivaldi One houses the latest 2.0 Ring DAC with double speed mapper, making it the highest expression of the dCS art. The result is an extraordinarily translucent sound, giving an exceptionally realistic window on the music being played.
Reflecting the unique nature of Vivaldi One, each piece is personally supplied to the customer by an expert dCS engineer, who will configure it to get the best possible sound. Its extensive networking capabilities – including its ability to stream music from NAS drives and online services such as TIDAL™ and Spotify Connect™ over Ethernet, from Apple devices via Airplay™, and audio via industry-standard USB, AES and S/PDIF digital inputs – will be carefully configured to the customer’s needs.
Commemorating the company’s thirtieth anniversary, Vivaldi One also comes supplied with a specially curated music collection, reflecting the musical passions of the dCS designers, engineers and technicians who created Vivaldi One – plus an engraved plate showing its individual serial number.
Handmade in the United Kingdom, Vivaldi One embodies all that’s best about dCS in one beautifully crafted box. It is built to last, and perform to the very highest standard for many decades to come. This timeless piece retails from £55,000, and is available from June 2017.
Since 1987 dCS has been at the forefront of digital audio, creating world-beating,
life-enhancing products that are a unique synthesis of exact science and creative
imagination. Each of our award-winning product ranges sets the standard within its
class for technical excellence and musical performance. As a result, dCS digital
playback systems are unrivalled in their ability to make music.
All dCS products are designed and manufactured in the United Kingdom using proprietary
technology, and materials and components of the highest quality. A carefully judged
balance of our unique heritage and world-class engineering ensures there is a rich
history of ground-breaking innovation inside every dCS system.
Review by Ted Chen
Thirty years ago, the nineteen eighties was at its height. Lethal Weapon and Dirty Dancing were packing cinemas across the western world, Michael Jackson was soaring up the album charts with BAD, and U2 was wowing the rock world with The Joshua Tree. The Simpsons appeared on TV for the first time, and Prozac made its world debut. Reagan, Gorbachev and Thatcher were the world’s leading statespeople, with the latter signing the Single European Act, bring about the formation of the European Union. Many Brits will remember ‘black Monday’ – when billions of Pounds were wiped off the value of stocks – and the ‘great storm’ which laid waste to much of southern England, too.
In the midst of this tumultuous year, a tiny tech start-up appeared in Castle Park, Cambridge. Data Conversion Systems Ltd. was set up to do electronics engineering consultancy work, starting with Ferranti, Marconi Avionics and British Aerospace, developing RAF Harrier and Typhoon radar systems. Since then, dCS has come a very long way – emerging to become one of the formative forces in high end hi-fi, all around the world. No other company can accurately claim to have played such a pivotal role in this development of digital audio as dCS.
Like many great organisations, it was a single individual who stamped his personality and his genius on this one. dCS founder Mike Story was described by those who worked for him as something a firebrand, and a maverick design engineer of the very highest order. Right from the start, dCS worked on advanced mathematical and scientific challenges. It became a key defence contractor with ultra-specialised digital signal processing know-how. “In his technical field,” remembers former dCS Executive Chairman Derek Fuller, “Mike was world class, truly ‘A-star’ material…”
Wanting to study electronics at Oxford, Story was disappointed to find there was no such course offered and so instead chose physics. After a short stint doing a PhD in electrochemistry at Imperial, he decided that electronics was for him, formed a team and got venture capital backing to start dCS. “We were primarily a consultancy, and people would come to us with interesting and challenging problems, and we would attempt to fix them”, explains dCS Technical Director Andy McHarg.
At this time, the prime mover on the world digital audio scene was Philips. The Dutch consumer electronics giant invested hugely in a series of DAC chips and digital filters, not only to fit to its own highly successful CD players, but also for a great many OEM designs for other manufacturers too. These sixteen bit, four times oversampling machines sounded very respectable considering their modest price points, doing much to win over a sceptical hi-fi world to the digital audio cause. At the same time, Japanese manufacturers like Sony did much to improve Compact Disc with a series of high end CD players, transports and DACs – paving the way for the high end digital audiophile scene.
At this time, dCS was not involved with audio professionally. Many employees were interested, and indeed some were gifted musicians, but the move to music making didn’t come until the end of the Cold War, and the so-called ‘peace dividend’. The spectacular yet unforeseen collapse of the Soviet Union led to the West no longer needing to spend quite such huge sums of money on defence, and dCS found British government contracts drying up. Soon however, the BBC came to the Cambridge-based company for consultancy work on their DAT machines, and slowly more audio-related work was completed. “In 1988,” McHarg remembers, “there was a shift when we started designing the first dCS 900, applying a lot of what we had done for the military in it. With radar you need extremely high signal to noise ratio, and we’d got that with our analogue-to-digital converters we had in the Harrier and Typhoon.”
1989’s 900 was the first fully rounded dCS audio product, an ultra high quality analogue-to-digital converter. Indeed, it was the world’s first 24-bit design, and used the now-legendary Ring DAC circuit. From this point on, there was no going back. Recording studio legends such as Bob Ludwig from Gateway Mastering, Bert van der Wolf at Northstar Recording and arranger/composer Tony Faulkner soon swore by this product. The 950 followed in 1993 – the partnering DAC to the 900 – and it fast became a worldwide sensation, offering professionals and audiophiles alike the chance to experience a state-of-the-art digital-to-analogue converter, capable of superlative quality playback.
Since then, dCS has never stayed out of hi-fi headlines. With a string of innovations to its name – from the first hi-res DAC, the first upsampler, pioneering work in clocking and the first asynchronous USB digital input – the Cambridge brand has gone from strength to strength. Now in its thirtieth year, the company isn’t resting on its laurels, as the world shall soon see…
For the best part of fifty years, the music industry sold physical products – 45RPM singles, LP records, cassettes and Compact Discs – in vast quantities to people who went to shops to buy them and take them home. Massive amounts of music were moved from manufacturing plants to distribution depots and then a network of retailers, most of which were on the high street of your local town. At the same time, it ran music charts – compiled by market research companies such as Gallup – which broadcasters closely relied on. What was hot, and what was not, informed record shops what to buy (to sell to their customers), and told radio stations what to play. It was a complex web, but it worked seamlessly and generated vast amounts of money for many people in the loop.
The ‘underbelly’ of the system was so-called ‘plugging’. Record companies employed people to go around radio stations and persuade them to play their new releases. Pluggers charmed station programmers, to get their wares on air. At the same time, the market research companies that compiled the music charts ran a network of designated ‘chart return’ record shops. In effect, if you bought your Adam and The Ants single in a particular store, it would count as a sale whereas in some other shops in didn’t. For nearly half a century, the music industry ran a tight ship – an ever repeating cycle of speculatively signing new artists up, recording and releasing their records, plugging them, getting them radio play, and then waiting for the sales – and hoping for a high chart position which would guarantee even more. Now though, in the past five or so years, that has all changed because of streaming.
In 2017, playlists are the order of the day – they have become the default mechanism by which vast numbers of people listen to their favourite music, and discover new material too. Instead of pluggers and radio station programme managers, music recommendation algorithms are being used to introduce us to new sounds; the idea being that if you like, say, Porcupine Tree, you may well discover a soft spot for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. In other words, these clever bits of computer code number crunch vast amounts of people’s choices which are similar to your own in some key ways, and then recommend artists and albums you may not yet have heard of. In the old days, you either had to stand in a crowded record shop on Saturday afternoon for a few hours and chat to the owner, or have a big brother who didn’t mind sharing his own voyage of musical discovery with you.
Although computer-generated advice sounds like a great idea, there has been a strong movement against it. Music is such a personal thing, and is tied in with people’s view of themselves and their world. For example, although there are superficial similarities, many Genesis fans might not be happy to be recommended a Marillion LP. For that reason, a trend for ‘curated’ playlists has emerged, when real human experts carefully manage what they think fans of particular types of music will like. The likes of Beats Music (now Apple Music) have been very vocal about the importance of this. Other players such as Spotify have stayed with more advanced algorithms, with Discover Weekly and Release Radar. These are important for driving streams within the Spotify ecosystem, but curated playlists still remain key. To this end, we’re now seeing a business of pitching playlist owners – a sort of twenty first century music plugging…
Instead of the record companies trying to sniff out chart return stores for better sales, these days people concern themselves with ‘skip rates’. A company may be able to convince a streaming curator to include their track, but if too many people then skip it, it’s unlikely to go on other playlists. There’s also the importance of ranking order on a playlist; if a song is fairly low down, it may be played less but is less likely to be skipped, because many listeners will be running the stream as background music and in a more laid-back mood. By contrast, if the record companies pitch a new artist to the playlist curator and he puts it towards the top of the playlist, it’s likely to have a far higher skip-rate because people often want familiar hits to get them going. The secret for record labels pitching tracks to playlist curators is to find the right balance between audience size, number of streams, and skip rates.
Welcome then to the music industry, twenty first century-style. Fifty years ago, it was about pushing your new single on the radio and getting it into the shops on time. Now it’s about getting attention on the internet – using a successful online strategy that is able to grab and hold people’s attention via playlists on increasingly popular streaming services. The world is a different place.
When Sony introduced Digital Audio Tape thirty years ago, many people genuinely thought it to be the future of music. Looked at now though, DAT is an irrelevance – a long gone and largely forgotten curio from those awkward early days of consumer digital audio.
The year after its launch – 1988 – saw Compact Cassette replace the vinyl LP as Britain’s best selling music format. So the idea of another serial-access tape system, wasn’t necessarily a turn off back then. Indeed, many people thought DAT to be the very height of sophistication – its tape was fully enclosed from the outside world, less than half the size of cassette and able to carry up to 180 minutes of music. Better still, it was digital – which was of course the future of everything, as far as eighties punters were concerned. Digital fuel injection, digital watches, digital climate control, Digital Audio Tape; what was not to like?
Indeed the hi-fi magazines of the day were intrigued, many seeing it as an exciting new technology. Okay, so it may have been a traditional magnetic tape-based format in an increasingly random-access laser disc world, but it did promise superior sound to CD. As we all know, silver discs of the day only allowed 16-bit, 44.1kHz resolution, but new-fangled DAT ran at a sampling frequency of 48kHz – and therefore represented the state of the art. No consumer digital audio system bettered it. Only in the pro sphere was it surpassed, when a decade or so later dCS analogue-to-digital converters worked with the Nagra D recorder to make the first 24/96 hi-res recordings possible.
Although DAT’s 48kHz sampling rate doesn’t seem much these days, Compact Disc’s was so low that the sound-degrading phase effects from its filtering got worryingly close to the audio band. DAT on the other hand lifted these up just a touch, to where they were far less consequential to the sound. The result was a larger improvement in sonics than you might expect; that extra headroom made one hell of a difference. Early demonstrations of DAT showed a substantially sweeter and crisper sound; the later machines could be switched to record at Compact Disc’s lower resolution, and when you did this the difference was clear to hear. The hi-fi press was certainly charmed; one specialist magazine even went so far as to claim, “DAT wipes out CD”, on its front cover.
With all the marketing muscle of the giant Sony Corporation behind it, this new format could hardly fail, could it? Well, exactly one decade earlier, the Japanese giant had just discontinued its short-lived Elcaset format – a kind of reel-to-reel tape inside a VHS-sized cassette. This gave excellent analogue sound, but no one cared because it was too big for consumers already used to the far smaller Compact Cassette. Surely then, the dinky DAT format could succeed? Sony certainly thought so, and began releasing albums in its native Japan, from avant-garde artists such as New Order and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Yet it was not to be. Despite having a host of clever features that Compact Cassette lacked, such as real time tape counting and track numbering, DAT did not prevail. Even its superior sound to CD couldn’t compensate, and sales barely got off the ground. People realised it was too expensive, fiddly and sometimes quite unreliable too. It certainly wasn’t the sort of object that you could throw into your car’s glovebox, next to a bag of melted Werther’s Originals.
Then suddenly the format took off in recording studios. Just when we least expected it, a generation of small-to-medium sized studios began using DAT as a mastering medium. This happened to coincide with a surge in new music-making technology; hard disk recording was becoming affordable, and songs were now being crafted on computers with Cubase. MIDI synthesisers and sequencers were getting cheaper, and whole dance music records could be laid down digitally then mastered for posterity on – of all things – DAT. As is so often the case with audio formats, it ended up being used for a different purpose than was originally intended. Oddly, DAT became cool amongst a generation of small studio-based nineties musicians.
Plug a classic Sony DAT player into a modern dCS DAC now, and it’s surprising how good it sounds. A well fettled DAT machine is still capable of working as a fine digital transport, and the developments in DAC technology that dCS has brought in the intervening years have done nothing but good to the old format’s sound. Even though the Bitstream DACs fitted to most DAT recorders were very highly regarded at the time, they are miles behind a Debussy, for example. So farewell to an ill-fated format that meant something to some people for some time; it joins the ranks of Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) and MiniDisc (MD) in the story of doomed digital audio. Despite this, never forget that for a short period in the late eighties, it really did look like the future.
Review by Edgar KramerDownload
Review by John AitkinsonDownload
HiFi+ , November 2016
Review by Chris ThomasDownload
Review by Jeff Dorgay
Tone Audio #77
The sutle growl in Plastikman’s “Mind Encode”
rolls out into my listening room in such a sinister,
encompassing way, it’s almost frightening. It
instantly reminds me of the aural magic that its
much more expensive sibling, the four box Vivaldi,
which until now was the only digital playback
system capable of being this visceral.
Review by Jeff Dorgay
Tone Audio #77
It’s always a blast to take a trip in the wayback machine,
especially in the world of digital audio, where years are like
dog years. Back in 1996, dCS introduced the world’s first high
performance DAC, the Elgar, with 24/96 capabilities. (And a
$12,000 price tag) It was later updated to Elgar Plus, allowing
for 24/192 and DSD capabilities and there was no price
increase of note, until the exchange rates forced the importer
to raise the final price to $15,000. Having spent the last six
years using dCS as my digital reference, revisiting the Elgar, or
in this case an Elgar Plus, supplied to us by Music Lovers in
San Francisco – a premier dCS dealer.