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Moving On Up

Date: 18th December 2015

Moving On Up

The world would be a different place without the Law of Diminishing Returns. The fact that, for example, a £100,000 luxury car isn’t necessarily twice as fast, smooth or comfortable as a £50,000 one, is an almost universal concept and leads many to conclude that it’s not worth the additional expense. It logically follows then that the pricier the product is, the poorer value for money it offers…

There’s much to confirm this point of view, not least because many manufacturers of luxury goods – be they automobiles, couture, or hi-fi – slavishly follow the formula that their luxury products are little more than the cheaper ones done conspicuously better. Luxury car makers tend not to, for example, radically redesign their suspension systems for their top-of-the-range models, or offer new forms of engines to people able to pay a higher price. There’s relatively little ‘out of the box’ thinking, with many brands instead preferring to adorn staid engineering concepts with extra fripperies in a bid to justify the price.

Many think that this makes good business sense, because most people rely on brand loyalty or what reviewers say to inform their purchasing decisions. But it’s only when you probe beneath the skin of a product that you can really sort the wheat from the chaff. Proper research lets you discern between companies offering conservatively engineered designs in fancy packages, and those that really push the envelope in their respective fields – and truly justify their price tag.

dCS does not – and nor ever could we – start from the former standpoint. There are plenty of products featuring inexpensive off-the-shelf DAC chips which are implemented well and put in exotic cases, and these go on to sell against us in the market. dCS designs however, work the other way round. Our core technology is the Ring DAC – the most technologically advanced way of converting digital audio to analogue sound out there– and it doesn’t come on commercially available silicon from an OEM manufacturer in China. Rather, the Ring DAC is implemented on a large circuit board, running multiple Field Programmable Gate Arrays containing bespoke, dCS-written code. This is firmware-upgradable far into the future, so a dCS digital converter won’t go out of production in a few years, when the chip manufacturer pulls the plug.

This is the most complex and expensive way of producing a DAC, with heavy hardware and software development costs – but is the only way to do the job properly. The dCS product range duly boils down to how exactingly the Ring DAC board is implemented. Vivaldi has no compromise, employing all the know-how that the company has amassed over three decades at the forefront of digital audio. The attention to detail is absolute, the quality control without peer, the consistency over time and over the production run is total. Sonically, it is breathtaking across all formats, giving a vibrancy and life even to standard Compact Disc that betters other top DACs playing hi-res music. Don’t audition it if you don’t want to buy one though, because it will tell you what your current converter is doing wrong in no uncertain terms…

At the other end of our model range is Debussy. Despite being the ‘entry level’ product, like all dCS designs it is fitted with the full Ring DAC board and offers a mouthwatering taste of what is possible. The sound is obviously more powerful and three dimensional than rivals, with unique insight into the music that one simply doesn’t get from lesser machines of plainer origin. It may be ‘dCS-lite’ but is still proudly and defiantly a dCS – Debussy is emphatically not a cheaper design that has been spruced up for high end appeal.

Sitting in-between the two is the brand new Rossini. Effectively a more affordable version of the flagship Vivaldi, it has fewer compromises than Debussy while being priced between the two. It has the general look and functionality of its big brother, and manages to retain its painstaking attention to detail on the audio engineering side. Sonically, it has that bold, exuberant and commanding character of the Vivaldi, while missing very little of the detail and musical insight you get from a 4 box Vivaldi stack. It’s a redoubtable package, and all the more impressive considering it costs less than half of the flagship dCS Vivaldi system.

The new three-strong dCS range gives a graduated approach for prospective purchasers, then. Starting with the best implementation of the superb Ring DAC at the top, it offers the same powerful heart in the less expensive models, with the minimum compromises necessary to achieve the price point. This results in a range that outclasses its commercial rivals, on account of its unique technology – hardware and software – and peerless attention to detail across the board. Contrary to the law of diminishing returns, the improvements are clear to hear as you go up the range, yet each dCS DAC works superbly in its own right.