Revelation! Richer harmonics, massively expanded soundstage, air and space, ambience and sense of acoustic all returned. With knobs on. Notes had a longer and deeper decay, all the better to appreciate their shape and how they were formed. Now the Puccini was starting to sound like a proper, ten grand player. The Missa Criolla had a sense of acoustic space with depth and tactility, the percussion sits at the very back of the recording and now that distance was palpable but, if anything, the percussion was clearer, tighter and more solid than before. This is clearly a player capable of deep and subtle discrimination. Some might accuse it of being overly analytical, ‘Moon over Bourbon Street’ from Sting’s live album All This Time (Polydor B00005RT0M) was crystalline and beautifully presented, bass being particularly tight and strong, but perhaps a tiny bit compartmentalised, similarly ‘Brand New Day’ from the same album leaves one with the sense that something has been deconstructed and reassembled (which, of course, it has) which may partly be down to the dCS player’s extraordinary precision: bass is tighter and better defined, leading edges of notes, indeed general levels of articulation, are overall significantly better than any non-dCS player I’ve encountered; instrumental separation, placement and solidity are quite extraordinary. Then along comes ‘Shape of My Heart’ and blows my theory apart with a deeply affecting version of a song I’d previously thought was good, but not one of his best. So, it does do emotion, rather well as it happens. Take it from me.
It occurs to me that if I’d started with the Puccini on its own feet on the ReVo stand, without hearing it first on the Quadraspire table, I wouldn’t have had my nose quite so forcefully rubbed in the fact that all was not as it should have been. I might have tinkered, aware that the player was underperforming, but without any real sense of what I was missing. Clearly the dCS player can, in some circumstances, spectacularly fail to impress. Get it right, though, and the Puccini becomes a vital, vibrant thing. Rhythmically impeccable, it never gets tripped up by complex polyrhythms or rubato; combining classical and jazz in Shostakovich’s Waltz from the Jazz Suite No. 2 the player’s sure-footedness allowed a real sense of fun to infuse the piece, this felt less like a concert or recording session, more like a sunny afternoon on a seaside fairground.
Technically, the Puccini contains little that is new, mostly just the latest implementation of the dCS Ring DAC technology with upsampling of the digital signal to DSD format before delivery to the DAC. There is the facility to leave the data as PCM (i.e., not upsampled to DSD) in the various menu options but, if you do opt for this version, much of the magic leaves too; the sense of acoustic space, naturalness of instruments and the feeling of being in the presence of a musical event is evidently an important part of the DSD upsampling option. The DSD upsampler also provides a choice of output filters which progressively reduce the bandwidth, trading detail, air and space for a reduction in perceived harshness. If your system is limited in frequency extension this may be an option worth exploring, but if you can justify around £10k on a CD player you probably have an amplifier and loudspeakers which can cope and will probably do as I did, check them out, then leave the factory recommended filter option set. The player uses a high quality TEAC UMK5 dual-laser CD/SACD transport, modified with a custom-made aluminium CD-tray replacing the standard plastic part. This mechanism operates with a silky precision well worth the elevated asking price, indeed the casework, switchery and display are all made to a satisfyingly high standard, to my eyes this is the best-looking dCS product yet.
The use of the TEAC UMK5 transport means, as expected, that the Puccini also plays SACDs. Given the already impressive performance of DSD upsampled CD I was expecting great things from the SACDs in my collection. I wasn’t disappointed. We glibly use expressions like ‘shape’ and ‘solidity’ to express ideas in reviews but high-definition formats such as SACD show just how much can be achieved by this process. Kick-drums now have a real sense of body, firing their beats at you like hard-edged nuggets of sound; delicate, breathy female voices, for example Eleanor McEvoy’s fragile vocals on Yola, are easy to discern, even over loud, complex or bass-heavy mixes because they float free of the background, claiming their own space. The SACD layer of the Dies Irae from the Nicholas Harnoncourt/Vienna Philharmonic Verdi Requiem (Sony BMG 82876 61244 2) gains not only weight and body, but a sense of presence and urgency, which is lost in the general melee that is (by comparison) the CD layer.