Anyone heard the new dCS Debussy dac?

danielaparker -- Wed, 05/19/2010 - 21:40

I'm currently using an Esoteric X-03se as a source, but am planning to replace it with a DAC and computer source.  I've built a  small "silent PC" with a Lynx card, and was orignally planning to connect it to an Esoteric D-05 DAC via XLR connectors, externally clocking the Lynx card from a master clock.  However, I've recently seen some reports of the new  dCS Debussy dac, which looks interesting.  Has anyone had the opportunity of auditioning one?

hamblis -- Thu, 05/20/2010 - 14:29

I've not heard it but have been talking to a dealer recently about upgrading my dCS Delius / Verdi LaScala.  He keeps Puccini, Pagannini and Scarlatti systems on demonstration and dealt extensively in the old Classic series.  He rates the Debussy as better than the (now replaced) Elgar Plus and also rates the Elgar Plus as marginally better than the Puccini.  I know this is all anecdotal but I hope it helps you form an idea of where the Debussy pitches.

danielaparker -- Thu, 05/20/2010 - 21:38

Thanks hamblis, that feedback is helpful. Did your dealer comment on how the Debussy stands up against the Pagannini? Big difference? Small?

I doubt if I would have the opportunity of auditioning the Debussy though, before ordering it. I may have a chance to audition one or two older used dCS models. My dealer has the full Esoteric range, and I currently have the X-03SE, so I'm very familiar with the Esoteric sound. Any idea if there's anything about the dCS sound that might not make an Esoteric owner happy?

My dealer describes the dCS sound as "very musical,not forward in your face, very open and airy". Someone on the naim forum suggests that it is "analytical and not energetic". On avguide I've seen the dCS sound described as "extraordinarily lifelike" (Viner), and by a Hi-Fi Plus reviewer with "something niggling away ... another player at around half the price ...had a wonderfully natural sense of ease and liquid phrasing which the dCS would struggle to better."

The combo of the Debussy and the Paganini Clock is within my budget, with the trade in of my X-03. Anything further up the dCS line is out. But I think this might do.

-- Daniel

Alan Taffel -- Mon, 08/16/2010 - 07:57

I heard the Debussy at CES and was sufficiently impressed to request a sample for review. At the show, the DAC's asynchronous USB interface came closer to matching good S/PDIF (in this case, provided by one of dCS' transports) than I have ever heard. The Debussy is now in house and I will provide a full report in a forthcoming TAS.

Alan Taffel
TAS Senior Writer

danielaparker -- Mon, 08/16/2010 - 12:03


Thanks for the comment, look forward to the review.

I never did have the opportunity of auditioning the Debussy. I ended up going with MacBook Pro, Amarra 2, Weiss Int202, and Scarlatti Dac, firewire from the MBP to the Int202, and two AES/EBU cables from the Int 202 to the Dac. I have to say it sounds suberb.

And, note to Suteetat, there is no problem playing everything from 16/44-24/192 with the Int202 in dual wire format without changing anything, sampling rates other than 176.4 or 192 are unaffected and output in single wire format.

-- Daniel

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Suteetat -- Thu, 05/20/2010 - 23:52

One think to consider when using dCS with computer server. Debussy accept via USB 16/44-24/96, via single XLR upto 24/96 and dual XLR from 24/96-24/192.  (It has been a few months since I looked at Debussy so if dCS has done something differently or improve the situation, this may not be relevance.)
So for people with music server who plays everything from 16/44-24/192, dCS does not support every format through single connection. This is a major pain.  I talked to dCS in the past and they think that single XLR does not have adequate bandwidth for 24/192 and dual xlr sounds better which I agreed from my experiment in the past. However dual XLR does not work with 16/44.1.  You can manually switched between single and dual XLR depending on what you are listening to but at least with my old Esoteric DAC, I found listening to single XLR while having both XLR cables connected from Lynx card actually degraded the sound somewhat.
I assume that when Win7 release USB driver that supports 24/192 (not sure when that is), then it might be possible for dCS to support all files through one connection. However I am not sure if it will require only firmware update or hardware update and dCS is not commenting anything about that  when I last asked.
I ended up looking at other DAC that support single XLR input upto 24/192 just for the sake of convenience.

hamblis -- Sat, 05/22/2010 - 00:39

I've added products from Vertex AQ to my system (mains filters, support platforms, etc.) which they target at RFI and Acoustic vibration. They significantly reduce the noise so that music is cleaner, more articulate and more believable. So, I'm describing dCS equipment in the context of my system overall, including the room, which is greatly improved by the Vertex products.

One of the key aspects of dCS is that they oversample PCM to DSD. For me. that over sampling is the only option to take when you have a choice on offer. I've never listened to Esoteric but I've seen reviews of the X03 SE saying that it punches much above it's weight - it's one of the great high end values. I know Esoteric also offer upsampling or oversampling in some of their range but I can't see it in the X03 SE specs. I have a feeling that you might find the X03 SE a little different to, say P03/D03, let alone dCS. I'd expect you to find the X03 SE a little fuller and rounded or the dCS somewehat cleaner and more detailed. The dCS has very good bass. Bass texture and tone have significant subtlety which I feel is crucial as a platform for all music. Whether it's classical or amplified, dCS equipment shows the shades and tones of music and it's truly believable.

About the the Naim forum comment: I think traditional Naim systems had their own sense of rythem and timing. The company has an incredibly committed following and, whilst I suspect the differences are less pronounced nowadays, there's still a form of "tribalism" at play.  I wonder about the "not energetic" comment, though.  Paul Simon's "Rhythm of the Saints"  leaps out of the speakers, dynamic and energetic.  John Bonham of Led Zeppelin drove their music with complex rhythms.  His pace, attack, balance and sheer power and energy are all there.  Same with, say, Brahms and Enescu - the energy in the contrasts of the Hungarian dances is wonderful.  I'd have no doubts on that score.  I take HiFi Plus magazine but don't trust their reviews of digital equipment.  Steve Dickinson's article was a good one but still had that "damning with faint praise" they use If it isn't Wadia or analogue.... 

From my dealer's comments, Paganini DAC is better than Debussy.  Too my mind, the "diminishing returns" issue is in play, as ever.  It could be that the Debussy, supported by the best ancilliaries, competes with a less well supported Pagannini. I think it's worth keeping that in mind.  No question, though, that the DAC will perform better with the best signals.  If you can add a clock, that will help a lot.  More, I'm told that the DAC's will do better with an already oversampled signal, so an upsampler will help too.

I understand Suteetat's comments about high resolution above 24/192 although I wouldn't mind switching inputs.  dCS are guided by decisions about sound quality which I like.  When there's a standard, they'll adopt it although maybe it'll require an upgraded platform to deploy it.  Meanwhile, their asynchronous USB hub simplifies the investment in a PC server and allows flexibility - I can plug in a server or anyone's laptop with equal facility and very high quality.

Gone on too long but I hope this helps.

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