2019 marks the twentieth anniversary of the MP3 format coming of age. Although every self-respecting audiophile will shiver at the thought of this mediocre sounding lossy digital music file, there’s no denying how important it has proved in the great scheme of things. It was the ‘enabler’ of computer audio, going on to become the common currency of today’s cloud-based music streaming. Yet this didn’t come to pass by accident, as the format had to battle a threat to its very existence two decades ago. Had things gone differently, the world might have become another place – and that’s why it’s interesting to reflect on this format’s past, present and future…
For many audiophiles, the certainties of the pre-MP3 world endure. Plenty of people still play digital audio discs, and the idea of using computers, network attached storage devices or internet music streaming still seem pretty alien. Yet others understand that we’re now in a changed world, one that would not be where it is today without the emergence of MP3 two decades back. The world is so different because this innocent little file format carved out a path that has permanently transformed the way we buy and listen to music.
“MP3” is a snappy way of saying Moving Picture Experts Group Audio, Layer I Part 3, or MPEG-1 Part 3. The format was first published in 1993, as an ‘open source’ way of coding music in a lossy way. The level of compression was variable, but the compression system was not – indeed it was the result of a protracted struggle between two competing systems during the nineteen nineties. It used so-called ‘perceptual coding’ that takes advantage of the phenomenon of auditory masking. Way back in 1894, American physicist Alfred M. Mayer first showed that tones could be made inaudible by the presence of others, and fifty five years later, an algorithm was finally created. From this a psychoacoustic masking codec was proposed in 1979 by Bell Labs. The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) was formed in 1988 to create global standards for digital video and audio, and then exactly thirty years ago this month, MPEG called for an audio coding standard, and work began.
The codec was reputedly refined over and over again by listening to Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner, a particularly well recorded American folk rock standard of the late eighties that developer Karlheinz Brandenburg loved. MP3 took on much of the technology already developed for MUSICAM – a professional audio broadcast codec – and finally, researchers were able to get the same sound quality from 128kbps MP3 as they could from MP2 at 192kbps. The final international standard was published in 1993 with scant public interest, but little did we know that five years later, things would be dramatically different. On 9th September 1995, the first real-time software player was launched; WinPlay3 made it possible to store a modest amount of music on the average 500MB hard disk drive of that time.
The internet revolution was in its infancy, but really beginning to heat up. By the late nineties, many tech-savvy people had access to it, and one of the star attractions was the large amount of ‘open source’ music in MP3 format. Nullsoft’s Winamp player was released in 1997, and this drove the underground ‘free music’ craze overground. Indeed, computer hardware sellers and internet service providers began to sell the idea of free music as an attraction for their wares, while record companies looked on nervously. In 1998, the first portable solid state digital audio player – the MPMan – was released, and then the Diamond Multimedia Rio PMP300 appeared. One year later, the Recording Industry Association of America took the makers of the Rio to court in a bid to get its sale prohibited – and failed.
Ironically the publicity that this generated drew ever more people’s attention to MP3, and the fall in price of solid-state memory meant the players became increasingly affordable. Launched in 1999, Napster became an overnight sensation; for several years it was able to hold off lawsuits by claiming itself to be a peer-to-peer website that held no pirated music. But it wasn’t until October 2001 that MP3 went truly mainstream. Although a number of ‘MP3 players’ had been on sale for a year or more, the first Apple iPod offered a seamless way of getting and playing music. It was a step change in convenience and took the geekery out of the format. In doing so, it catapulted the idea of ‘computer audio’ into the public’s imagination. The Jonathan Ive design sported a distinctive scroll wheel that made it very easy to use, and the stylish polycarbonate player came in a choice of 5GB and 10GB capacities, starting at just under £300.
In order to use the iPod, users could either download MP3 files from the iTunes Music Store or ‘rip’ their own Compact Discs using their computer’s CD-ROM drive and the iTunes app for Macs or PCs. Many people did the latter and never looked back – the die for using computers for the enjoyment of recorded music was cast. That’s how we get to where we are today; the past fifteen years have seen an explosion in the amount of storage available for a given price, and ever-faster broadband.
Cheaper memory and faster internet speeds opened the door first to hi-res music files, and then streaming. This venerable open source file format is still alive and kicking in 2019, now used as a ‘lowest common denominator’ music carrier in a world where hi-res PCM and DSD files are the choice of the cognoscenti. Without this iconic digital music file, we would surely not be where we are now – looking towards the forthcoming world of ultra-high resolution digital musical enjoyment, and the associated new formats that will surely follow. Because of the unique design of our products, you can be sure that dCS will be there too.
Andy McHarg, dCS Technical Director
“My thinking time ranges from about forty nanoseconds to about three years”, says dCS Technical Director Andy McHarg. He’s referring to the sheer bandwidth of the projects he works on – on one hand he is custom coding the superfast microprocessors found in dCS DACs, and on the other he’s working years in advance looking at the company’s product development strategy. In other companies, people in his job would have less of a role in planning new products, but technology – and where it is going – is central to dCS, an indivisible part of what is done.
“I was actually born in Cambridge”, he explains. “I always wanted to be a footballer as a kid. I support Liverpool, I fell in love at an early age and now I’m stuck with them. I was a hard working kid at school – although by no means a model child. I did computing, maths, electronics and biology for my A Levels and then Applied Computing at the University of East Anglia, which is basically computing and electronics. It sort of set me up for my career here at dCS, lots of work with embedded microprocessors, and all that sort of stuff – although they were a lot slower back then. The first CPUs I started coding on were 8-bit Intel 8051s, those were the days! Considering the latest Vivaldi has three 32-bit CPUs with 64MB of RAM, we’ve come a long way…”
When Andy graduated, he had a very strong idea of his future career – whatever he would be, it would not be a software engineer, he says. “So I became a software engineer, oddly. The trouble with being a software engineer is that there are so many problems you have to fix to make everything work properly. For that reason I rather fancied being more of a hands-off analyst sort of person, but that didn’t happen! Instead, I came to dCS as my very first job from university – to help with some of the engineering capture tools. There were all these whacky tools that were put together in house to make different bits of software talk to other bits of software. Those were the days when we were still doing the Ministry of Defence contracts, and audio was very much a sideline.”
Andy remembers the founder of dCS, Mike Story. “He was quite scary, a really clever guy but seemed a bit intimidating to me at that age. He was, shall we say, very fast to work out when things weren’t entirely correct. He knew everyone’s job better than they did; anyone who has ever worked with Mike will tell you that he is one of the smartest guys you will ever meet. So I became a software guy, and when the audio team started on the first control board, I was drawn into that and never looked back!”
When asked if Andy thought this was more interesting than military radar work, his reply is an unequivocal, “God yeah!” When he joined dCS, the company was already making the 900 studio analogue-to-digital converter, and just about to make its first DAC. “Tony Doy headed the new audio division. He and Duncan MacLeod, Technical Director at the time, came up with the configurable processing board concept which had a microprocessor on it – basically a computer purposed for audio. We used FPGAs – Field Programmable Gate Arrays – which were pretty new at the time, new and exciting. It was a challenging project because the basic spec was to make the best DAC in the world. As with all these things, it took a bit longer than we expected – even with seven people working full time for around two years.”
Andy explains that, “everyone else in the industry was popping a Philips Bitstream DAC chip in a box with its matching digital filter chip, adding a few buttons and a controller chip and calling it a DAC. Ours was rather different to that. My friends in electronics thought it was a bit stupid – after all, what’s the point of doing all that work when you can buy a chip that does it all, basically? It was a struggle, but Mike used to walk around telling us to get on with it, and we did. He was an audiophile, and so was I. We were so happy with the result, and it won many awards – although he used to say that awards don’t pay the bills, whereas working products do!”
The resulting dCS950 DAC was rip-roaring success in the pro world. “But what happened then was something very fundamental to the history of the company”, adds Andy. “Our Japanese distributor started selling this stuff to Japanese audiophiles, who loved them. Yet we began to get complaints about how complicated they were, and how clunky. Basically they found it hard to live with pro gear, so we decided to do a more user-friendly version, and Elgar was the result. It was easier to use, better to look at and more housetrained, basically.”
As for his life at dCS, Andy explains that, “we had – and still have – a really tight-knit engineering team and we were – and are – always learning. This makes for an intellectually stimulating environment and made the job interesting for me then, and now. Even though we have our arguments, we’re all on the same page. Keeping up with developments in technology is always difficult but that’s why I like it. In other branches of electronics there’s often the attitude that audio is a solved problem, yet there is of course so much scope for improvement. What I like is that on a personal level, everybody here can point to something in a product that they have done – and it is them. It is nice, but it’s a double-edged sword because you’re responsible if it doesn’t work! You have to be big enough to stand up and say that was my fault. Some people can’t deal with that…”
Andy thinks that you have to be a certain type of personality to work at dCS. “We have the somewhat enviable position of being the best in the world, but that means you are there to be shot at and you really can’t let out a product that is not the best. When you start thinking about it like that, it becomes quite stressful. Being Technical Director since 2005, I would know!”
Back in the nineteen forties, when music was sold on shellac discs, there was no such thing as album artwork. Your prized new purchase came in a paper slip cover that carried little but the logo of the record label. By the fifties however, the widespread move to vinyl LPs saw the adoption of cover art, and things would never be the same again. Admittedly, it was often pretty figurative – with just a posed photograph of the recording artist and their name – but it was a start. By the early sixties however, things finally began to change…
Most rock historians will tell you that The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band started it all. Not only was it a seminal piece of mature, well crafted pop music with a coherent interlinking theme, but the cover of its beautiful gatefold sleeve was a modern art masterpiece. A montage of a host of cultural icons of that era, it tells you so much about British society back then and gives a vivid backdrop to the music too. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the featured album covers in an exhibition celebrating seventy years of iconic album artwork. Launched as part of the UK’s first National Album Day celebrations, it spans seven decades of popular art, music and design.
In association with the Best Art Vinyl Awards, an expert panel of judges was enlisted to select the finest album artwork from 1949 to 2004. These form the backdrop to the current Best Art Vinyl Awards which has been running since 2005. Together, they’re a fascinating retrospective of British popular culture, one album at a time. Given that the LP was launched in 1948, it’s right to kick off with the year running up to 1949. The Alex Steinweiss design is the visual backdrop to a recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 in E Flat Major opus 55. At the time he explained that as the first art director of Columbia Records, he thought plain sleeves to be, “so drab, so unattractive… so I convinced the executives to let me design a few.” The recording industry never looked back.
Follow the link at: www.nationalalbumday.co.uk/news/most-iconic-70-album-artworks-of-all-time-revealed/ to get the full list; on the way you’ll see some beautiful artwork from albums such as the 1959 release of Billy Mure’s Supersonic Guitars Volume I, designed by Charles Earnes. This shows a military jet breaking the sound barrier, and must have looked so modern at the time. In 1962 The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari featured a group photograph of the band on a Malibu beach, pointing out to sea. Snapped by Ken Veeder, it captured the spirit of the age. The Blue Note jazz label had some great covers, and Reid Miles’ design work on Donald Byrd’s A New Perspective saw him behind the swooping modern bonnet of the then new Jaguar E-type sportscar. 1964 must have seemed like the future.
Scott Walker’s sultry, psychedelic sounding Scott 3 from 1969 was given a great look by the Linda Glover designed, John Kelly photographed cover. This sees him placed in the centre of model’s eye, looking suitably dreamy. Contrast that to the brutalist, functional design of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn (UK Edition), inspired by a Ministry of Transport motorway sign by Margaret Calvert. 1974 must have seemed a very different place to the romance of Donald Byrd’s E-type cover shot a decade earlier. Three years later came the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, a striking Jamie Reid design that went on to become iconic of the punk movement with its cut-out ‘blackmail’ lettering.
The first album cover to catch the nineteen eighties zeitgeist was Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing, designed and shot by Jean-Paul Goude in 1981. It looked brilliantly angular, showing a new androgynous look that became an icon of eighties style. Throughout that decade, British indie label 4AD released some of the most beautiful guitar music, and every new disc had its own Vaughn Oliver design. This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End In Tears from 1984 showcases his talent for dreamy, gothic imagery. In 1989, the standout debut of the year was the eponymous The Stone Roses, complete with John Squire’s Jackson Pollock-inspired painting entitled ‘Bye Bye Badman’ with its varnished lemon slices. By 1994 it was the turn of a former Stone Roses roadie – Noel Gallagher. His band Oasis had a huge hit with Definitely Maybe, the cover for which was designed by Brian Cannon, using a Michael Spencer Jones picture. The latter had just been to the Egyptology department at the Manchester Science Museum, which might explain why singer Liam Gallagher was lying still on the floor. The photograph was taken in the living room of guitarist Paul Arthur’s house.
In 1999, The White Stripes’ debut long player was all the rage, and its cover created a look that was even more direct than their music. The photomontage by Ko Melina Zydeco and Heather White is striking. By 2004, Kanye West was fed up with the violent ‘gangsta rap’ imagery of his genre of music and chose something completely different. College Dropout’s cover was an Eric Duvauchelle design that was irreverent and fun loving. Four years later, Fleet Foxes’ eponymous album featured a 1559 painting called Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel The Elder, no less. The band’s guitarist said, “when you first see the painting it’s very bucolic, but when you look closer there’s all this really strange stuff going on like dudes defecating coins into the river and people on fire, people carving a live sheep, this weird dude who looks like a tree root sitting around with a dog.”
If you cannot attend the exhibition, then there’s a downloadable PDF on the National Album Day website so you can see every year’s award for yourself. Of course, your choices may be very different to the judging panel, so why not let us know your own nominations?
The United Kingdom is marking its first ever National Album Day. Held on Saturday 13th October, it’s said to be a celebration of, “all aspects of the UK’s love of the album.” There will be a host of events – including some live MQA streams – showcasing the joys of this time-honoured way of listening to music. Indeed, it is now seventy years since the first ever album was sold, with an estimated five billion albums thought to have been sold in Britain since the format’s advent in 1948, according to the British Phonographic Industry. Since then, it has proved amazingly resilient in a world of fast-changing fashions, but there are now concerns that it’s under threat. Although music sales are strong – increasingly so via streaming – there’s a sense that some recording artists are losing interest in the album format, while others only pay lip service to it. Some critics say that musicians are now releasing sequences of songs rather than a cohesive musical whole. Has the spirit of greats like The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon finally passed?
National Album Day is backed by the British Phonographic Industry, with the BBC giving it extensive coverage. At 3.33pm on the Saturday, everyone in the UK is being asked to stop what they’re doing, sit back, relax and play their album of choice in full from start to finish. There is much to be happy about, with the format still selling in sizeable numbers. For example, there were 135 million albums either purchased, downloaded or streamed in 2017 – a rise of 9.5 per cent year-on-year. 4.1 million of these were on vinyl, which is the highest level since the start of the nineteen nineties, incidentally. Whether you’re a vinyl junkie or not, this is good news for the music industry and in turn for music fans, because it makes recorded music more visible to younger audiences, or older ones who have got out of the habit of buying music at all.
Some have criticised the event, describing it as gimmicky. Yet still many young artists have a great regard for albums, with some talking about wanting to make their Never Mind the Bollocks or London Calling. They don’t, it seems, want to see the album format relegated to pop music’s past. Although revenues are holding up, actual album sales in units are half those of 2010, down last year to 45.8 million physical objects purchased and 13.8 million digital sales. The revenue increase came from streaming, which has contributed to the charts since 2015. Unlike the old days, when one person walking into a record shop and buying a vinyl copy of Hotel California would constitute a sale, there is now a complex formula that defines streamed album sales. It down-weighs the two most popular songs from any album to the average of the next ten, then divides the total plays from the twelve tracks by 1,000. Who knew?
It’s hard to get too judgemental about the future of albums. Media pundits have been declaring it dead for several years now, with some pretentiously talking about streaming singles as the new ‘lingua franca’ of modern music. Yet the idea of just buying singles is nothing new; seven inch, twelve inch and then CD singles were all hugely popular in their day, as many people’s physical disc collections – be they analogue or digital – attest. Albums are beloved by so-called super fans, for whom endless remastered box sets are being released, seemingly every week. Indeed, this is what some believe to be the problem, as the mainstream music industry continues to mine the seam of classic music reissues. It’s certainly true that £80 box sets of ten or so CDs that cost pennies to produce, tries the patience of some loyal collectors.
The upside to streaming is that it is now possible to get very high quality sound, providing you have a serious digital front end and network streamer of course. For example, MQA is collaborating with Pitchblack Playback and The Association of Independent Music to hold an all-day, fully immersive listening event to celebrate National Album Day 2018. Six albums, released on independent labels, will be played back in MQA to deliver what Pitchblack Playback calls “the original studio performance”; it’s certainly going to be a great sounding event. It is being held between 11.30am and 6pm in The Sensorium at Aures, London. It’s a free-to-attend occasion that should be a unique listening experience; full details can be found at: http://www.pitchblackplayback.com/national-album-day/, and tickets are on a first come, first served basis.
The albums being played include Mogwai’s Every Country’s Sun (Rock Action Records), Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here (XL), The Fall’s I Am Kurious Oranj (Beggars Banquet), Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race For Space (Test Card Recordings) and Young Fathers’ Cocoa Sugar (Ninja Tune). J. Willgoose Esq from Public Service Broadcasting said: “It is great to be a part of National Album Day. As a band we put a lot of thought and effort into producing albums rather than isolated songs, and trying to use our music to tell stories. Giving fans the opportunity to experience our album The Race For Space in the dark, focusing on nothing but the music, is a great idea and we hope people get something out of it.” MQA’s Mike Jbara added: “It’s inspiring to be involved in a project that puts artists and music fans at the centre of the experience. We’re proud to partner with AIM and Pitchblack Playback to deliver the ultimate listening event for National Album Day.”
Whichever direction album sales may go, many of us will treasure the format forever, as it is such an elegant way of packaging a diverse but interconnected range of moods and emotions from a band in a series of different but sequentially ordered songs. Long may albums play!
Welcome to the future. Speak to music industry insiders and ask them for the big picture, and it all looks very different to ten years ago. The one thing that defines where we are now, compared to where we were then, is the change in people’s music buying habits. Most of the money made from music sales now comes from streaming. In the United States, the Recording Industry Association of America reports that it now accounts for three quarters of industry revenues.
In the first half of 2018, total revenues from recorded music grew by 10% to $4.6 billion – and streaming accounts for most of that at $3.4 billion, a huge 28% year-on-year increase. This includes Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, TIDAL, along with internet radio services like Pandora, SiriusXM and ad-supported on-demand streaming services such as YouTube, Vevo, and ad-supported Spotify. The RIAA says that the most lucrative format for the music industry is paid subscriptions, with these growing by a third and bringing $2.5 billion into the industry coffers.
In other words, three quarters of recording industry revenue came from streaming, and three quarters of that from paid subscriptions. This is dramatically outperforming advertising-supported music streams, meaning that people want their own private world of music uninterrupted by commercial messages – even if it costs them money to get it. In other words, just as music buyers a generation ago would go to the music shop on the High Street to buy CDs, happy to pay money to get personal access to ‘their’ music, so the same thing is happening now online. It is interesting that this goes against the notion of free music that peer-to-peer sharing sites like Napster once promoted. The figures do show that advertising-supported services like YouTube, Vevo and the basic Spotify also grew, but nowhere near as fast as subscription services. Market research company Nielsen reports that the revenue from these made up only 11% of total streaming revenues.
Every time a new set of statistics comes out, people say “the writing is on the wall for Compact Disc”, and are then proved wrong. Yet in the United States at least, the venerable silver disc is now really taking a hit. The RIAA reports that shipments of physical products decreased by one quarter to $462 million in the first half of this year, which is a higher rate of decline than in recent years. Indeed revenues from CD specifically fell by 41% in this period, while vinyl LP sales crept up slightly by 13%. Physical music media made up just 10% of total industry sales. It’s hard to put a gloss on this, and shows that there’s a fundamental change in the way we consume music now taking place. Of course, CD still has a long life ahead of it, but it’s becoming more of a niche pursuit now – a status that it will have to get used to.
Further proof that streaming is now the only real game in town, is the decline of digital downloads – revenues fell 27% in the first half of this year to $562 million, which is the the lowest level in over a decade. The same pattern is apparent for individual track sales, down 28% year-over-year, and digital albums down 26%. This category now made up just 12% of total revenues for the first half of the year – nearly fifteen years or so later, the days of buying your favourite pop songs on iTunes Music Store are now fading away.
Although hi-fi buyers might feel more than a little nostalgic for the demise of Compact Disc, the US music industry doesn’t seem too saddened by it. Revenues were up strongly in the first half of the year and paid subscription streaming seems to be rebalancing the dynamics of the industry. Mitch Glazier, President of the RIAA, thinks this is a great opportunity, saying that record companies are helping to foster “a diverse streaming marketplace”, meaning there’s a good deal of choice for consumers in how they get their streamed music.
He points out that there is still work to do on music licensing legislation in the USA, but the basic picture is rosy. The challenge is of course to increase the number of artists available on streaming services, and to improve the breadth and depth of music – rather in the same way that even by the early nineteen nineties, there were still vast numbers of albums that had not yet gained a CD release. As streaming services improve, choice will get better and the take-up of streaming services should in turn increase even more.
dCS proudly announces its Bartók network DAC and headphone amplifier – a single-box, state-of-the-art digital-to-analogue converter with full network streaming functionality and Class A headphone amplifier.
Retailing at £9,999 for the streaming DAC and £11,999 for the streaming DAC with integrated headphone amplifier, the new dCS Bartók DAC brings together dCS’s past, present and future.
Replacing Debussy as the most affordable DAC in the illustrious dCS range Bartók shares the same DNA as its bigger Rossini brother, featuring the Rossini Ring DAC™, custom high performance UPnP music streamer and dCS digital processing platform inside a simplified chassis that uses only one power supply. As with all dCS DACs Bartók measures best in class across all technical dimensions.
Bartók plays music through an array of industry-standard USB, AES or S/PDIF digital inputs. It can stream over Ethernet from a NAS drive or online music services such as TIDAL™ or Spotify™, and from Apple devices via Airplay™. The network interface can perform full MQA™ decoding and rendering.
The DAC section is equipped with independent balanced and unbalanced line outputs that can drive power amplifiers directly, avoiding the need for a separate preamplifier.
The Bartók Headphone DAC features a custom designed headphone amplifier that works extremely well with both high and low impedance headphones in balanced or unbalanced formats. Taking the dCS analogue output stage as a starting point Bartók maintains that level of analogue performance at the same time as being optimized for a range of headphone impedances.
Bartók supports all major codecs including high resolution PCM and DSD, with user-selectable upsampling. There is a suite of DSP filters to tailor the sound to suit individual taste, and great care has been taken to minimise jitter at all stages with the dCS ‘auto clocking’ architecture. The network streaming section currently runs at up to 24-bit, 384kS/s and DSD128, supporting all major lossless codecs, plus DSD in DoP format and native DSD.
As with all dCS products, Bartók is designed and built in Great Britain to the highest standards, with aerospace-grade machined aluminium casework damped by internal sound deadening panels to reduce resonance. Multi-stage power regulation is employed, with twin mains transformers to isolate the DAC circuitry from the headphone amplifier. A choice of silver and black finishes is offered.
Firmware can be easily updated via CD, USB or the new automated download and update facility. This lets dCS add new features and improve the performance of Bartók over its lifetime – keeping it contemporary years after its rivals have become obsolete.
Bartók delivers an immersive experience with precision and detail captured inside a panoramic soundstage. Bartók plays music from any source in a vibrant and musically engaging way, with great dynamics and inky-black silences. This open window and faithfulness to the original recording is now available to headphone lovers too.
Late October 2018
Since 1987 dCS has been at the forefront of digital audio design, building world-beating hi-fi equipment in the UK to the highest possible standard. Each dCS product is first in class for technical excellence and musical performance, thanks to ground-breaking innovation. Designed like no other, dCS products deliver a natural musicality and faithfulness to the original recording.
See full product details here.
Copyright © 2018 Data Conversion Systems Limited. All rights reserved. dCS, dCS logo, Ring DAC are trademarks or registered trademarks of Data Conversion Systems Limited. Data Conversion Systems Limited disclaims any proprietary interest in trademarks and trade names other than its own. All specifications are subject to change and, whilst they are checked for accuracy, no liabilities can be accepted for errors or omissions.
Martin Reynolds, dCS Technical Support Specialist
Originally from North West London, Martin Reynolds proved a bit of a boffin at Harrow County Grammar School. He won the school chemistry prize, and took a great interest in science. “I loved electronics and hi-fi too,” he says. “Things were very tight in those days, back in the nineteen seventies. I used to buy Wireless World magazine and from the age of around fifteen began to cobble together enough money to buy parts for an amplifier. It sounded great, but only because I made it myself!”
Martin continues, “I took my ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels a year early, then found I was too young to go straight on to university. I spent most of 1975 with the Post Office Research Department, where I was put in charge of an experimental facility making lasers for telecommunications applications. It was interesting stuff, and involved a mix of chemistry and electronics, which suited me down to the ground. Then I went to the University of Kent, and studied electronics. I graduated about third in my class, so knew my way around a circuit diagram better than many…”
“I dived in with both feet”, says Martin. “I loved my specialist subjects, and spent the summer vacations at GEC Research Centre in Wembley. They had some interesting things to throw at me – I was hand-wiring experimental computer boards using the old 8086 processors. It was absolutely cutting-edge stuff at the time, but incredibly slow by today’s standards, of course. Although they were only 8-bit, when you had to wire every bus by hand it took some time. These days you’d put a circuit on an auto-router and it would route the board for you by magic. Then in 1976, I was tasked with prototyping one of the world’s first digital closed circuit television cameras, which had a staggering 9 kilopixel resolution!”
.It was only a matter of time before Martin joined the hi-fi industry. “An opportunity came my way, and I was roped in by Bill Beard of Beard Audio Systems. He started up as a cottage industry producing premium tube power amplifiers which sounded really, really good. Compared to anything I could afford to make at the time, they were amazing. Of course, they were quite easy to design, with standard tubes such as KT88s, ECC83s ECC81s and so on. We got some great reviews at the time, but they were too big for my digs in Clapham so I never owned any, sadly. It was the first incarnation of the valve revival – even in the late seventies they were considered antique, and most people had abandoned them. But some great tube amps came out back then and blew the market’s ears off. A large part of this was their Class A operation…”
It was fun working with Bill Beard, remembers Martin. “Being a so-called cottage industry you had to do pretty much everything yourself. Initially there were two of us and it grew up to about five. I loved it, but after five years I decided it was time to move on. I got married, got a new job and found myself at Neve Electronics designing high end studio mixing consoles. Like dCS now, this was a highly prestigious company to work for. Although I joined as a design engineer, they discovered my talent for taking things that weren’t working properly and modifying them so they did. So I found myself in charge of the Product Support department, in addition to designing new consoles from scratch, eventually to lead the analogue R&D department. I was there for a decade, leaving not long after we had won The Queen’s Award for Industry.”
Martin joined dCS in 1996, managing the development of the company’s first hi-fi product – the Elgar DAC, which itself was a ‘domestic’ version of the pro market 952. “We kept the pro-business going as that was one iron in the fire and then developed the consumer audio business. We got great reviews for Elgar and then started developing products to go around it. We discovered the upsampling effect because one of the next projects I managed was the 972 digital-to-digital converter, which was sort of digital audio Swiss army knife. It allowed studios to convert almost anything into almost anything else. There was just nothing like it at the time.”
“The basic design of the Ring DAC was very sound, and every generation sounds quite noticeably better than the last. I was surprised by how much better the Scarlatti sounded than the classic stack, and the Vivaldi just blew me away. That’s the way it works, you make the design as clean and as sanitary as you can and it responds with sonic improvements. Digital technology keeps on moving in leaps and bounds and you get the knock-on effect of processing power that is available in mobile phones. Every time we get more power, we have more scope for adding new features. The classic range ended up with an awful lot of extra functionality compared to the initial release. We are doing our level best with the new capacity, keeping the design as streamlined as possible. Rossini is a perfect example with just one huge FPGA that does nearly everything, with the DSP and micro controller piled into that huge chip.”
These days Martin concentrates on technical customer support. “Well, I have been writing the user manuals for the last twenty odd years so I’m probably the one person in the company who knows the whole product range best,” he confesses. “Most folk I deal with are lovely, and make me feel like I have made the world a better place. What I love most is when people I’ve advised end up even happier about the product than they were before – especially if you show them something that they weren’t even aware that it could do.”
Ben Ashcroft, dCS Service Technician
“I am massively grateful for my opportunity”, says Ben Ashcroft. “Some people say that they hate their job, but I just wouldn’t know what that feels like. I’m genuinely content at dCS. I joined as a Production Technician, putting units together, getting it out of the door, learning the new products inside out as I did my apprenticeship. But from the start of this year I am now a Service Technician. I’m working with another technician and learning from him the ins and outs of the products themselves. If faults do occur then I fix them, which is a great learning process for me.”
Ben admits that he “fell on his feet” with his job at dCS – something he hopes and intends to make a career of. He says that he was in the right place at the right time to get hired by the Cambridge company, and isn’t looking that gift horse in the mouth. “I don’t take it for granted. That’s why, when I go to college on day release from the company, I don’t just settle for passes – I do my absolute best. I fully appreciate the extent of the opportunity I’ve got here, and because it’s a relatively small company everything that you do is noticed. I really like that. If I had a job elsewhere then I would be more of a number than a person; I might have just settled for passes because no one would really notice. But at dCS I get a lot of encouragement from my peers, and that’s great.”
Ben remembers his first interview. “I went in and openly said that I have no experience in engineering, and that all I can tell you is that I’m a blank page, I’ve got a good work ethic and I am willing to learn and to grow into any role you desire of me. They must have believed in me and trusted me, otherwise I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I explained that I was massively into music, and everyone who works here is too – I think they could see that I would fit in. It’s a pretty tight knit group of people here with – at the very least – one shared interest!”
Unlike some staff who have travelled from far and wide to work at dCS, Ben is a local guy. He followed a pretty typical path through school, although did very well. “My first full time job was at Sainsburys, something I continued with for a few years while I grew up. I’ve always been very academic, but also very sporty. I used to play football a lot, but got increasingly into music and technology. I started off liking indie bands but started getting into techno around the age of eighteen. It was initially stuff like dubstep and drum’n’bass, but nowadays it’s broadened to the whole spectrum. So, I do DJ-ing and create music myself too. I am so picky, I am very clued up on a lot of it.”
With his love of electronic music, he’s almost in a gang of one at dCS. “No one here shares my music taste I’m afraid, so trying to explain why I love it so much is hard because no one ever really agrees with me. Some people say it’s really repetitive and there is nothing to it. Perhaps I listen differently – I have got an ear for rhythm – it’s hard to describe. When you listen to electronic music it is little tiny details and the intricate things that people put in that just sound incredible, there’s a lot more to it than many think. It’s really layered, and introspective. Still, I am open to music like jazz and enjoy it.”
Don’t ask him to name his favourite artist, for there are so many. He was quite uncomfortable giving just one example because he’s so intense about it. “Well – Floating Points, Four Tet, Bicep – but there’s so much more”, he says. “Many of the people who buy dCS equipment probably won’t listen to the same things as me. But I guess it adds an extra dimension, and this type of music does sound great on our products! I also love making it, and going out to listen in clubs in the early hours at weekends. My friends and I know the DJs we’re going to listen to, we know the music to expect, we’re always on Shazam trying to recognise tracks, things like that. It is all just part of the culture, so to speak…”
Back on to the subject of his career, and Ben elaborates. “I had a good time at Sainsburys, and got recognised for my work ethic. But then it dawned on me that it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever, so I searched for engineering jobs. When dCS offered me my position here I did a three-year apprenticeship in electronic engineering, and passed with the best grade. I’m now doing my Level 4 HNC on day release, which is another two years. I’ve not dropped any marks, I’m smashing it basically! When I was at Sainsburys I enjoyed the customer-facing side and going forward that’s something I hope to be doing at dCS. I went to Norway at the end of last year to perform an upgrade for one of our customers, and it went really well – the job was done perfectly and the guy was really happy. It was incredibly satisfying.”
Ben’s definitely a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, with an irrepressible optimism about life and his future in a company he loves. It seems to have reflected back on him, because dCS Managing Director David Steven has been very supportive and given him a lot of freedom to go his own way. “They are never going to hold me back in that respect, I am always grateful for that”, he adds. Meanwhile, he’s just taking in everything he can from his colleagues. “Just because I get good grades doesn’t mean I’m actually good at anything. Actually I’m lucky because I work with so many experienced people, learn a lot from everyone and am always respectful to them. It’s a great place to get trained up – a kind of masterclass, really!”
The Munich High End Show is the hi-fi show that all the others want to be. In the space of thirty seven years, it has grown from a group of hobbyists – Germany’s High End Society – to a large scale international event. For the past fifteen years it has been held in Munich at the large, spacious and very congenial M.O.C. exhibition centre. The HIGH END 2018 show took place from the 10th to the 13th of May – and of course, dCS was there…
The great attraction of this show is that – unlike so many other hi-fi events around the world – it is not held in a crowded, crammed hotel. Instead, the M.O.C. is a proper, purpose-designed exhibition space. Also, it takes place in the beautiful city of Munich – the jewel in Bavaria’s crown. It’s a picture-postcard German city – a tasteful mixture of classical and modern architecture, it is clean, orderly, efficient and polite. There’s great shopping, superb dining and the hotels range from good to excellent. What’s not to like?
The M.O.C. building is large, spacious and easily accessible, with a lovely outside courtyard food and beer garden at its heart. The show gets more crowded every year – with a large contingent of visitors now coming from the Far East. Yet still it’s possible to walk around and see what you want without endless queueing or the feeling of being crammed into rooms like sardines in a tin. The dCS room is traditionally up in one of the atriums – large by hi-fi show standards, it’s able to accommodate a serious sound system with which visitors can hear what a dCS front end is really capable of.
This year, a Dan D’Agostino Momentum stereo power amplifier and a pair of Wilson Audio Alexia 2 loudspeakers were pressed into service. This was driven by a dCS Rossini DAC and Rossini Clock, fed by the new Rossini SACD/CD transport. A range of music was played throughout the show, including recordings made by Wilson Audio’s Peter McGrath. Some of these had been Master Quality Authenticated-encoded, and visitors were able to make direct A-B comparisons of the original recordings and their MQA equivalents. dCS also took part in an MQA livestream of six-piece London-based band Misha Mullov-Abbado, streamed direct to Munich from Miloco Studios in the UK’s capital city.
This is the great thing about hi-fi shows. Of course they’re relatively noisy environments, and no manufacturer is ever truly happy with the sound they achieve with the imperfect acoustics of their show space. Yet it’s possible to walk into a room and hear something that no amount of words on a page can describe. The dCS room gave one of the clearest and most immersive sounds of the show. Of course, given the calibre of both the equipment and source materials, anything less would have been a disappointment!
The muscular D’Agostino amplifier served up vast amounts of clean power, which in turn produced great results from Wilson’s big Alexia 2 loudspeakers; they delivered a strong central image with excellent stage depth. The system was able to reproduce the three dimensional recorded acoustic of an original musical event faithfully, and the room was large enough to let the speakers supply extended bass. Although the varying number of people present in the room actually changed the tonal balance slightly, the system always sounded highly realistic. The dCS Rossini is an excellent DAC, offering much of the flagship Vivaldi’s performance despite being dramatically less expensive. Although it doesn’t have the forensic clarity of the top dCS digital front end, it is still extremely revealing and one of the finest ways to make meaningful comparisons between recordings.
It was an exhilarating week for dCS. The logistics of setting up one of the finest sounding rooms – and indeed systems – of the show were formidable. Yet there was a profound feeling of satisfaction when all was said and done. The MQA livestream was a great crowd puller, while the MQA file comparisons fascinated many visitors who heard them. Yet the Rossini’s sheer breadth of capabilities meant that it also wowed people with its superb silver disc sound, as well as its ability to stream a wide variety of music via its built-in Tidal functionality, and play hi-res music from USB memory sticks. If you ever get the chance to visit Munich one May, make your way to this seriously special show and hear the difference for yourself.
Listen to our top tracks played in our room at Munich this year: https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/25c6f933-975f-4216-b308-bfd424cd00c6
It wasn’t hi-fi that interested Michael Evans from an early age, but mechanical design. “I have always loved taking things apart to find out how they fit together and work”, he says. “From a young age I was fascinated by bikes and cars, so it wasn’t a complete surprise that I ended up at Brunel University reading Product Design, for which I got a BSc for my troubles! It was a four-year course, a really interesting one that covered all things from graphics and branding right up to CAD. We did engineering and the fundamentals of structures and electronics and mechatronics – it was a very good overview of the entire design process.”
Suffolk born Michael found himself on a six month placement in Winchester at a design consultancy. “It was very varied and we worked on everything from recycling units, household appliances to a small swimming aid for children. Then I spent the next six months at IDentity Consulting in East Sussex, who tended to work more in the automotive sector. I actually went back after graduating, and I was there for three years or more. We completed projects for Porsche and Dunlop in the UK, among others. Then I decided I wanted to work for a company that did all its design and manufacturing in-house, so I could gain an in-depth knowledge of manufacturing processes as a whole. I was designing parts and accessories for Evotech Performance – they’ve got dealers worldwide and grew quite considerably in the few years that I was there.”
Michael was there for three or so years, after which he came to dCS. “That wasn’t before I took a bit of a break, because I wanted to spend a month in Australia and another in Canada, snowboarding. Making the move to this company was as simple as reading a job ad and thinking it sounded really interesting. It was different to what I’d been doing but was about applying very similar design principles. The main change was that – coming from the motorbike side of things – everyone wanted parts to be as stripped back and as lightweight as possible, whereas dCS is almost the opposite, as weight is a sign of quality. Put a unit in front of someone and if it weighs next to nothing, they’re going to question what’s inside. It’s a very different sort of functionality, but again it’s all based on the same sort of design principals just reapplied.”
When not living in a virtual world, Michael does the exact opposite and enjoys material challenges. “I do a lot of cycling – these days more on the road than off – and also running short to mid-distance races. I recently completed the Cambridge Half Marathon, and love snowboarding in the Alps, plus scuba diving and other outdoorsy stuff.”
This update brings MQA compatibility to Network Bridge along with various bug fixes and stability improvements.
To support this software release the Network Bridge iOS application has also been updated. This will update automatically (if allowed on your device) or manually updated via the App store.
We thank you for your continued support and patience.
Dan Thomas, dCS Production Technician
“I didn’t enjoy school very much, I was in a hurry to learn by doing things,” says Dan Thomas. “I taught myself the practical way – everything from welding to playing the guitar. I’m not very good in a classroom, I much prefer real life! I loved music – and still do – but by the time I left school I was getting into marine tanks. It’s a pretty unusual hobby I admit, but I love building and running them. They’re a lot more delicate than a normal freshwater fish tank – there are more things that can go wrong very quickly. But there’s just nothing like having a piece of the ocean in your living room!”
Dan is originally from Swansea – which perhaps explains his interest in oceans and fish – but moved to Stevenage aged eleven. He commutes to dCS in Cam-bridge everyday, and after a hard day’s work there’s nothing he likes more than working on his very own barrier reef! “I have a pretty large tank, about eight feet by two-and-a-half feet by two-and-a-half – which translates to about 1500 litres – so it takes up the whole wall of my Dining Room. I try to be as environmentally friendly with it as I can, so instead of getting large corals out of the ocean I’ll get an aquacultured frag and put that in. It might only be an inch but within a few years you’ll have a football sized coral that you can then pass on frags to your friends.”
He has some very exotic fish, too. “I’ve got one called a Gold Flake Angel which is quite a rare and beautiful fish; my wife gave it to me for my thirtieth birthday. I’ve also got a Regal Angel which is also difficult to keep, and I also love Wrasse. They’re particularly interesting because they actually sleep under the sand. When the lights start dimming down they literally just shove their heads into the sand and then flip themselves underneath it to hide. Every so often you’ll walk past at night and they won’t have hid themselves so well! I have Yellow Tangs that go around eating the algae off the rocks, and crabs and snails that also keep the tank clean. My conches and starfish keep the sand bed turned over, so it’s partly self-maintaining if you get the balance of the sea creatures right. Still, I wouldn’t call it a peaceful pastime. It’s calming after being at dCS all day but I always end up working on it…”
Every man needs a hobby, but Dan has more than one – and there’s a pattern here as he takes them all really seriously. “Yes, you can tell I am quite OCD about everything. I love music so obviously I had to get a full four-box Vivaldi system”, he explains. “I was really lucky to be able to buy it, but it does sound fantastic. It’s not quite as good as what we’ve got in the dCS listening room, but it’s work in progress! I’ve managed to piece together things over the years. I’ve got Pass Labs amps and Audio Physic Tempo 2 speakers, which are pretty good. I’m fortunate with my job that I can borrow different bits and pieces from work, so I’m trying all kinds of exotic cables…”
Dan is one of the only people at dCS who owns the four-box Vivaldi, which betokens a certain seriousness in his nature. “I think most people have got Rossini Players, and some have Puccinis which they bought a while back. Actually I started off with one of these a good few years ago, and then I decided to upgrade the DAC, and it sort of escalated from there. You know, I thought I might as well go for it, if I am going to go for it. It just sounds incredible now.”
Dan “just kind of fell into” working for dCS, as he puts it. “I wanted to do something with my life. When I was about twenty years old, I wanted to get some skills because I wasn’t happy with my life. I had a friend who was working for the company and he said they were looking for someone, so I came for an interview and started when I was just twenty one as a trainee workshop technician, and I have been here for ten years now. Because it’s obviously an expensive product, everything has to be perfect. So I have been trained very well and have got a good eye for detail – which also helps with the fish tanks! I suppose I am pretty meticulous about everything, really. I like to think of every product we make as being mine. I want it to be as good as the one I’ve got at home – I don’t want to see anything that would upset me. I’d love to say that my one at home is put together extra specially, but they really are all the same. They have all got to be perfect, we won’t let anything go that isn’t.”
A keen guitarist, one of his favourite albums is Guns N’Roses Appetite For Destruction. “There’s some intense playing on that; everything on there is very difficult to play. It makes me feel a little bit sick that all the guys in the band were about seventeen when they wrote that. So, it’s crazy how good they are. That Slash had been playing guitar for maybe three or four years while it takes me months to learn one of their songs drives me crazy. I went to see them live last year when they played in London, and it was pretty spectacular. Best gig I have ever been to.”
“I tend to take everything that I do very seriously. For example, I’m really into fitness too. I started that off because I used to be overweight when I was in my late teens. I began to research a lot about nutrition, and started going to a gym. I’ve done lots of research and nowadays I actually weigh all my food – I record everything that I’m eating, and record my training. If it is something I am passionate about, then I go all out!”
Updates can be performed from the internet using the app. Tap, Configuration > Version > Check for Updates
dCS products are purchased by music lovers, audio aficionados and people simply wanting the best that money can buy. All three types of buyer go through a process of selection that leads them to arrive at the same conclusion; they may apply slightly different criteria, but all end up being proud dCS owners. Any dCS owner knows that they are not inexpensive; even the Network Bridge or Debussy DAC costs more than most would ever contemplate spending on hi-fi. So to get to the point of considering such a purchase requires prospective purchasers to have been on a journey of sorts. Given that you won’t see a Vivaldi four-box stack system in your local electrical discount shop front window, the marque needs a degree of seeking out. The premium price and limited availability of dCS products means – in effect – that people who discover the brand are actively seeking something very special.
Often customers ‘find’ dCS by personal recommendation; friends enthuse about their new purchase to others. Others discover the brand by visiting a high end hi-fi dealer, or by attending live events or hi-fi shows. Some read about dCS in magazines or periodicals, and/or arrive at the dCS website and want to know more. In all cases, at this point anyone who’s even curious about this enigmatic brand, needs to know why dCS products are different, and what it is that justifies the price.
Listening is the only true litmus test. It’s hard to explain in words just what the feeling of hearing right into a recording is like – the eerie sense of being there at the studio desk as the final multi-track is mixed down to stereo. Many people have the confidence to trust their ears; reading hi-fi magazine reviews is a good way to get people to listen to dCS equipment, but ultimately it isn’t other people’s opinions that count, but your own…
That’s not to say that technical performance isn’t key. People often talk about things in terms of, ‘which is more important – measurements or listening?’ To dCS, this is a false opposition. The company ethos is that technical correctness is essential; there’s no getting around the fact that if a product scores poorly in terms of distortion, signal-to-noise ratio, stereo separation and so on, then it simply cannot deliver the musical goods. Yet that’s just the start; dCS products are carefully – and repeatedly – auditioned during the development process. The senior design engineers know how technical measurements correlate to subjective sound quality; there’s a very complex relationship there and it requires great skill and experience to get the balance right.
Understandably, there’s a lot of confusion over this. Many hi-fi magazines don’t measure products they review, arguing that technical measurements are at best partial and don’t tell the whole story. Others might agree with the latter part of that statement, but still do and often find measurements instructive in understanding how a product performs. Historically, fashion has veered from one extreme to the other over the years. Five or so decades ago – long before dCS started – British hi-fi magazines were totally preoccupied with measurements. It was possible to read reviews where four fifths of the text discussed the product’s relative merits in terms of signal-to-noise ratio or stereo separation, with just a perfunctory summary of the subjective sound quality at the end.
By the late nineteen eighties however, the UK hi-fi press tended to do long essays about the subjective sound of products, with many omitting technical specifications completely. It was as if there was a backlash against how those earlier reviews had been written, with some people actively deriding anyone who took measured performance seriously. It was fashionable to draw attention to hi-fi products that measured well but sounded bad. Compact Disc itself was used as an example of something that had startling technical performance for its time, yet could often sound very mediocre indeed.
The starting point for dCS products is technical performance. Be it in the digital or analogue circuitry, distortion, noise and other characteristics are carefully analysed on the company’s state-of-the-art test equipment so problems can be designed out wherever possible. The sound is then fine tuned by a combination of listening and measurement; this ensures that improvements are not ‘happy accidents’; every change is repeatable and demonstrable to the development team. After the design phase, dCS products have to be made the same every time, so rigorous testing is essential here too. A highly sophisticated, custom-made, automated test facility is used to ensure that each individual product comes out right. Done this way, prospective purchasers can both hear the difference and be reassured that they will own something with exemplary technical performance that delivers consistently high performance for decades to come.
“Back in the early nineteen seventies,” says Chris Hales, “electronics was very much the future – and that proved to be strangely prophetic. It was really exciting, because back then not so many people were taking an interest in the subject. When I was a teenager I used to tinker about at home and was also an aspiring musician at the time. I loved playing with effects units, making strange noises. I went to the grammar school in Grantham, Lincolnshire, where I was born, and did fairly well in science and mathematics, though not as well as the school’s most famous pupil, Isaac Newton, who was a couple of years above me…”
Speak to Chris about music and he radiates energy. “I loved progressive rock at that time. Pink Floyd was one of the first bands that I really started listening to, and then Genesis and their contemporaries. Then I began to develop an interest in jazz fusion – being a bass guitar player it was very interesting what was going on. My hero is Jeff Berlin, an American electric bass player who is just phenomenal. He played with Bill Bruford – a founder member of Yes, who was a great, very musical, drummer. He released a few albums out on his own. To my ears, even now, that is the pinnacle of sophisticated fusion music.”
Chris suddenly gets very animated. “My favourite album of his is Feels Good To Me, which has got pretty some weird stuff on it. It has Annette Peacock on vocals, Dave Stewart on keyboards and synths, the great Allan Holdsworth on guitar and Kenny Wheeler on the flugelhorn. It’s a bit odd in places but unlike a lot of fusion music it never disappears up its own… It always seems to have a kind of structure to it and a purpose beyond clever soloing. That really got me at the time. I ended up listening to a lot of jazz for quite a few years after…”
He’s also a fan of Brand X, which was his first foray into this genre of music. “Their bass player Percy Jones was one of the first guys to play fretless. For someone who is learning an instrument and trying to make an impression, you tend to gravitate towards those people. In actual fact, I went to see Brand X on tour but it was Bill Bruford’s band, who were supporting, that really won me over. His band had much more focus and – in a way – a pop sensibility. All their songs had tune and structure, a start, middle and an end. That music was so innovative to my ears back then, and it didn’t suffer the somewhat aimless noodling Brand X’s tunes sometimes suffered from”
When Chris wasn’t playing fretless bass guitar, he managed to work hard enough to win a place at York University reading Electronic Engineering. “I studied drinking” he confesses, “and proved myself to be pretty good at it! I did also learn some electronics, but in a way a university education is as much about learning how to approach problems – particularly in an engineering subject. I learned some techniques that I still use today, but equally the attitude of not being daunted by a problem and just figuring out what is going on and sorting it, was the real thing I took from it. Even though I spent too much time in the pub and not enough hours in the lecture theatre, it was still hugely beneficial for me.”
His first proper job was HH Electronics, a large musical instrument amplification manufacturer. “I joined them as a junior design engineer and this lasted nine months, then moved to another company designing power amps and PA systems. I was learning on the job and it was very interesting. Then I went to Neve as an analogue designer, and this was one of the best companies I have ever worked for – they do excellent engineering and it’s very professional. Getting things right is important to me, so that suited me well. I did quite a lot of work on their big recording console at the time. I suppose that was my first exposure to proper, disciplined engineering. Until then I’d made it up as I went along when I was calling the shots, but here was a company with structure and procedures, and it was great to work in an environment like that. Interestingly, several dCS staff are ex-Neve…”
Chris then moved to C Audio, doing big power amplifiers for sound reinforcement. “They had a strong client base in the UK with touring companies – I think U2’s Adam Clayton used our power amps”, he recalls. “After that, I joined dCS as a Test and Verification Engineer. My job was to get things running smoothly; I spent an awful lot of time in my early years testing software, thinking up systems and regimes for testing both hardware and software. This was my first exposure to digital audio so I had no idea about S/PDIFs or similar, so it proved quite a challenge at first! I loved working with some of the great brains of the industry, such as dCS founder Mike Story – he’s a tremendously talented guy, and it was a privilege to work with him. Mike has a highly idiosyncratic approach to things, and his single-mindedness when it comes to observing an issue and doggedly fixing it, is quite inspirational.”
“These days, my primary role at dCS is circuit design, and that includes digital. Because my background has been so varied and multi-disciplinary, I have an interest in everything – still very much with the focus on the test and measurement side. Being able to manufacture something consistently is very important, as is the ability to understand exactly why you’re making it the same every time! Sometimes I think my job needs someone who is just a little bit ‘OCD’ about these things. As an engineer I intuitively know when something is wrong – and thanks to years of embarrassments in my earlier professional life, now realise how important it is to put it right as soon as one can.”
“The dCS Rossini has made previously skipable tracks part of my must listen regimen. Yes, my listening regimen. The audio antidote to stress is a great HiFi system with great music. It’s capable of restoring one’s health after days and weeks we’d rather forget.”