[This review originally appeared in issue 65 of Hi-Fi Plus magazine, which is published in the U.K.]
Some years ago I was driving late at night, listening to Late Junction on Radio 3. A piece came on which intrigued me, I bought the CD a few days later. The album is Frame (Black Box Music BBM1055), the title track composed by Graham Fitkin, performed by Simon Haram and the Duke Quartet. I duly got it home and played it. Oh dear. Forced, nervous, aggressive and shrill. I’d obviously picked up on something when I heard it on the radio, but the edginess was probably drowned out by background noise in the car.
There’s another Graham Fitkin piece on the album, ‘Hard Fairy’ and, once again, I could tell there was something remarkable in the music, but the recording, or the system, was just making a nasty noise. As my system has improved over time, the album has occasionally been pulled out, retried, and quickly put back again. No longer. Shortly after the dCS Puccini arrived, I conducted what has become known as the ‘Frame’ test. Then I played ‘Hard Fairy’. Then, grinning like a Labrador with a stolen Sunday roast, I played it again. And again. I’ve probably played those tracks more in the couple of months since the Puccini arrived than I ever did in the preceding six years.
The thing is, the music still has the aggression, is still hard and, yes, still a bit harsh, the Puccini has most definitely not produced an airbrushed, elegant and beguiling sound thereby making a dodgy recording bearable. That is not what it does. What it has revealed is that behind, or perhaps within that edginess there is indeed some amazing music, played by some equally astonishing musicians. The album has gone from unlistenable to unforgettable. And how has it done that timing that’s how. I’m sorry, I’ll say that again. And how has it done that? Timing. That’s how.
dCS players do sometimes polarise opinions. There are those who get wildly enthusiastic about their capabilities and those who, in a nutshell, don’t. I quite admire equipment like that. Whether I like it or not, I respect the fact that people will argue about it. That means it probably has something worth arguing about, even if it doesn’t necessarily float your boat. The thing is, dCS equipment doesn’t sound quite like anything else out there – at least, not in my experience.
I believe the fundamental reason for this is dCS’ digital processing expertise, evidenced by their proprietary DSD data format and Ring DAC. This patented technology, produces an analogue signal possessed of more detail that I’ve ever heard from CD. Upsampling of the data to DSD format in the digital domain allows the Ring DAC to reconstruct the analogue signal using rather more data points than should exist at first glance. This is not interpolation, nor conventional oversampling, nor are they ‘inventing’ data which is not already encoded on the disc, it is rather like one of those mathematical conundrums which defies common sense logic until you see it from another point of view. Suffice to say, there is apparently more musical information on your average CD than conventional DAC technology is equipped to convey. This translates not only into revelatory levels of low level detail and ambience, but also into simply exquisite timing. The dCS has the ability to unravel the music like no other player I’ve yet heard.
It is, however, entirely possible for much of this to pass unnoticed. Shortly after the arrival of the Puccini, the MusicWorks ReVo equipment stand arrived. I delayed installing it until I’d got the measure of the Puccini and part of that process had involved some experimentation with support. Using my own, MusicWorks modified, Quadraspire acrylic reference table I find I can get decent results with a wide variety of equipment through a little fiddling and faffing around. For example, my regular Cairn Fog3 CD player responds well if you take the weight off its feet and rest it instead on a set of Nordost Titanium Pulsar Points. Some other players, notably the dCS Puccini, don’t. The Puccini was definitely happier on its own feet when sat on the Quadraspire top shelf. So naturally, when I reinstalled the Puccini on the new ReVo stand, I set it on its own feet.
Putting on YoYo Ma, playing the Prelude from the Bach Cello Suite No.1 was hugely unexpected: vague, slow and dull. Other pieces, for example Ariel Ramirez’ Missa Criolla had a soundstage which had imploded. I was beginning to think I’d broken the player during the messing about. Then I remembered something the MusicWorks guys had mentioned: that they sometimes got better results if they bypassed the equipment’s own feet and rested the kit directly on its own baseplate, easy to do with the ReVo support.