dCS Verdi La Scala CD/SACD transport & Delius D/A converter Page 2

But does upsampling sound better simply because it makes it easy for the best (digital) filters to do their job? Does it work, as some have suggested (footnote 1), because the comparatively shallow filtering that's part of the package leaves in the information stream some high-frequency artifacts that consequently act as another round of dither? Or is it something else?

I don't know. Neither do the good people at dCS—although they say they're working hard to find out.

Fun later
The two products at hand comprise a sort of economy version of the full-monty dCS front-end. I mentioned earlier that a dCS Verdi La Scala is the same thing as a dCS Verdi transport plus a dCS Purcell (accent on the second syllable, please) in the same box. But I said that only to be cute: It isn't actually true. The Verdi La Scala is indeed an upsampling version of the Verdi, but the only upsampling it does is to bring the data from "Red Book" CDs up to the 2.822MHz standard of DSD. (By using the word only I don't mean to diminish the thing's effectiveness: That's quite the stunt, if you ask me.) If you use other digital sources in your system, and you wish, for example, to upsample a 16-bit/44.1kHz input to a 24-bit/192kHz output, you need something like the standalone Purcell—which also lets you select among three different dither schemes, control the noise shaping to your liking, and other such niceties.

The Verdi La Scala puts out a 2.822MHz DSD datastream through an IEEE1394 jack, primarily because that's the way Sony Corporation, coinventor of DSD, wants it done. But since the 1394 is an asynchronous connection with a data buffer at each end, it isn't terribly good with timing information. So rather than trust the D/A converter to extract the word clock from the datastream, you must run a separate BNC-terminated cable from the word-clock output jack of the Verdi La Scala to the word-clock input jack of your converter—which, in an all-dCS system, will typically be an Elgar Plus or (ta-da) a Delius.

A pause to review: If you want to hear true DSD or upsampled-to-DSD sound from your system, the simplest setup scheme is to run two cables from the Verdi La Scala to the converter: one to carry the datastream via the IEEE1394 connection and one to carry the word clock. Simple.

Let's back up a few yards: If you just want to play your Verdi La Scala through an old-fashioned, non-DSD converter, either as a stopgap measure or because you prefer it that way, all you need is to run a single cable from one of the Verdi La Scala's many AES or S/PDIF outputs to the input of your D/A. In that setup, your D/A converter will indeed extract the word clock from the datastream coming off the disc, even with single-layer SACDs! It can do that because, while the Verdi La Scala is capable of upsampling "Red Book" data to the DSD standard and outputting it at the 1394 jack, it also downsamples true DSD to 16/44.1 and makes those data available at all of the other jacks. Among other things, that means that the consumer who's working his or her way toward a full dCS system can use just a Verdi La Scala with virtually any converter and still enjoy music from SACDs. Very cool.

And while it doesn't do everything that a Verdi plus Purcell can do, the Verdi La Scala has some other nice tricks up its sleeve. You can use it to send DSD/upsampled "Red Book" to one set of your DAC's inputs, and non-upsampled or even downsampled data to another. You can program it to defer to either the SACD or "Red Book" layer or your hybrid discs, as you wish. You can tease all kinds of information from its display, including serial number, software version number, and, so help me God, the temperature of its circuit board, in Celsius or Fahrenheit. You can use it to burn in your other components with modulated pink noise—something even the pink Hello Kitty player can't do. (My daughter was impressed when I explained this to her.)

And if you think the Verdi La Scala is a clever thing, the Delius will leave you reeling.

Derived from the more expensive Elgar Plus, the dCS Delius can convert virtually any digital consumer audio datastream, from 44.1kHz to 2.822MHz and making all local stops in between, to two-channel analog sound. It accepts DSD and upsampled "Red Book" data at its own 1394 jack, and provides RCAs, BNCs, XLRs, and TosLink for all the rest.

Engineered into the Delius is a fully digital volume/balance control, workable from either the front panel or the remote handset. In both cases, the adjustments are fine and smooth. Other digital controls include polarity inversion, more pink noise, various display settings, and a choice of several different antialiasing filter curves for "Red Book" and low-pass filters for DSD. Once you get the hang of the dCS menu system, those filters are easy to select; the Delius remembers the last filter used for each given sampling rate, and uses it again unless advised otherwise.

The Delius also has its own word clock, which the dCS engineers suggest can be used to reduce system jitter overall. As I mentioned earlier, a typical DSD-capable installation involves connecting the Verdi La Scala's word-clock output to the associated DAC's word-clock input. But for theoretically better performance, the person who owns both of those dCS products can instead run a cable from the word-clock out of the Delius to the word-clock in of the Verdi La Scala. (One must then run a quick software routine to tell these two playmates that the game has changed, and that the one that had previously done the hiding must now do the seeking. It takes about six seconds.) Thus the entire digital front-end is timed to a single master clock, without having to worry about extracting same from the datastream itself.

Finally, it's worth noting that the Delius can be used to drive a power amplifier directly, from either its unbalanced (RCA) or balanced (XLR) output. The output voltage can be altered, also through the software menu, to suit virtually any system.

Setting up and listening
For the user accustomed to portables and one-box players, installing and setting up a dCS combination may be somewhat daunting. That complexity is unavoidable, given these components' undeniable—and undeniably laudable—flexibility, but there's no getting around the fact that the Verdi La Scala and Delius require some quiet study in order to understand and exploit their abilities. dCS seems to acknowledge this, both in the thickness of their user manuals and in their inclusion of laminated software "flow charts" for quick reference. If you're actually reading this review and not just looking at the pictures, you'll have no trouble whatsoever—as long as you take your time and follow the instructions in the proper order. And keep in mind that the flexibility of these components is intended not only to provide good performance today but also to allow for future software upgrades, virtually without limit.

Now then: My preference for analog sources is no great secret, and I often find myself swapping opinions on the subject with folks from all over the map—but I'm forever amazed at the wildly different reasons some people have for their own vinyl enthusiasm. We're all hearing the same things, I suppose, but we're all coming away from the experience having made sense of only some portion of the whole, like the blind men and their elephant. Whether or not that's a bad thing, I'm in no position to say.

Remarkably, the musical and sonic accomplishments of the dCS digital gear contain something for all of us analog diehards. If the things you prize most about vinyl are the smooth and naturally extended trebles, and the extraordinary spatial depth of which the medium seems capable, then you'll declare the dCS system to be the most analog-like digital front-end available, and you'll cherish it.

Similarly, if what you value most about vinyl and analog tape is the natural flow, momentum, and pitch correctness of the music itself—and this is the porch I rock on—the combination of Verdi La Scala and Delius will satisfy you in a way that no other digital front-end of my experience can manage.

On disc after disc, CD and SACD alike, the dCS combo was never commonplace: It always sounded magnificent and realistically colorful. Even CD-Rs of old bluegrass performers—little more than field recordings, really—grabbed my attention more on this front-end than on anything else. And SACDs sounded smooth and layered and organic in a manner that my Sony SCD-777 SACD player can't quite swing, bless its heart.

I could cite disc after disc, and describe in affectionate detail the minutiae of sonic differences, but that would be a waste of time when one simple observation will do: The combination of the dCS Verdi La Scala and Delius sounded more like analog than any other digital source I've ever heard. As a lover of good music and good sound, this system left me wanting for nothing except the means to afford it.

Footnote 1: Notably, the brilliant Douglas Rife—no stranger to these pages—whose DRA Labs developed the MLSSA software relied on by Our Mister Atkinson for loudspeaker measurements.
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