dCS 972 D/D converter dCS 972 Followup, January 2001
I first auditioned and reviewed the dCS 972 digital-to-digital converter back in February 1999 (Stereophile, Vol.22 No.2). Until the Accuphase upsampling/oversampling gear showed up, the dCS 972/Elgar combination was pretty much as good as it got around here.
Well, a lot has changed since then, and the new 972 running v2.3.1 software is a much more capable "box." You'd be hard-pressed to fault it as a piece of pro gear. The 972 will do DSD and PCM from 192kHz to 11.025kHz. In the PCM world it supports AES/EBU, dual AES, S/PDIF, and SDIF-2. DSD data formats include SDIF-2 and SDIF-3. (Have to get a clutch of BNC cables to try the DSD options.) It can sync to an outside word clock or an AES reference. It converts sample rate and format, has multichannel sync capability, does bit-for-bit multiplex/demultiplex operations, goes PCM to DSD and the other way 'round, removes DC from DSD, offers multiple filters on many sample-rate conversions plus three types of dither, 10 options for noiseshaping, a "Maximized" output-level control, a balance control, and outputs digital silence when digital silence is input.
The 972 monitors bit activity, stereo level, or the CRC, parity, and invalid flag errors in the input data. There's a test generator with a "high-quality" (160dB) signal generator that can be dithered and/or noiseshaped when truncated. There are user-programmable and preloaded setups, it remembers your last settings, and, finally, you can activate setup lockouts!
Archives can be made for storage in 24/192, then used to produce output in SACD, DVD, CD, and other multimedia formats. AES3, S/PDIF, SDIF-2, and DSD are all supported, and multiple units can be synchronized for stable multichannel operation.
"The biggest problem we had when we were handling the 972," deadpanned dCS importer Gary Warzin, "was the number of people calling up asking how to use it!" (The 972 is now distributed by Independent Audio in Portland, and still costs $6995.) It's true—it took me an age to learn how to drill down and make menu choices, and then store and recall various setups. And the old unit's transformer always buzzed, which used to get on my nerves late at night. Nothing I did stopped it.
Well, the buzz has been banished from this latest incarnation, but it's no easier to use. In fact, the new 972 is more complicated than the old because it does more! But I'm an old hand at it now—or thought I was, until I locked up the new 972 so tight one night punching its buttons that I had to call the UK the next day for the special, undocumented reset procedure! After that, all went swimmingly well.
As you'll see in the body of the dCS Purcell review, the 972 comes in a very slight second in the Ultimate Sound Sweepstakes when used with the Elgar Plus. But it's a piece of professional rack-mountable gear, and—aside from the very intriguing DSD possibilities, which I'll look at down the road, and which I hear is the hot setup in Japan—I can't think of one reason why today's Upsampling Audiophile would prefer a dCS 972 over a $5000 dCS Purcell.—Jonathan Scull