dCS Verdi SACD transport, Purcell D/D converter, Elgar Plus D/A converter John Atkinson, March 2005
Before I set up the dCS Verona that I reviewed in March 2005 in my system, I spend some time refamiliarizing myself with the two-channel Verdi–Purcell–Elgar Plus combination, driving the Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks directly via 10' lengths of Madrigal CZ-Gel balanced interconnect. (The Elgar's remote-controllable volume and selectable maximum output level facilitates this mode of operation.) To play SACDs, the Verdi fed the Elgar via a FireWire link; the Purcell was hooked up to the Verdi's AES/EBU data output and sent the upsampled DSD-formatted data to the Elgar, again via FireWire. The Elgar acted as the clock master, and, usefully, automatically recognized when a CD was being played via the Purcell or an SACD was being played on the Verdi, switching its inputs appropriately.
"Truthful, analytical delivery and [a] lack of tacked-on warmth," wrote Michael Fremer in his April 2003 review of the dCS system. More important, I found, there was a complete absence of the fatiguing high frequencies that are so common with CD playback. This was as true with modern, state-of-the-recording-art, all-DSD recordings such as Tierney Sutton's Something Cool (SACD, Telarc SACD-63548) as it was with classic recordings derived from analog master tapes—Dave Brubeck's Time Out, for example (SACD, Columbia/Legacy 7464-65122-6).
As well as the overall ease to the sound, I could hear into the soundstage to an extraordinary degree. The disposition of the musicians on K622, Antony Michaelson's reading of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, which I produced last year (SACD, Musical Fidelity MFSACD017, available from this website), sounded vividly realistic, everyone unambiguously in position, but without recorded detail being thrust forward at me.
That isn't to say the dCS stack smoothed over details. Such incidentals as the wayward intonation of Eugene Wright's double bass on "Pick Up Sticks" from Time Out, or Paul Desmond's clams on alto sax on "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" were distressingly obvious to a degree I hadn't experienced before. (It puzzles me why no one involved with the production of this 45-year-old classic was ever bothered enough by these problems to ask for another take.)
Even without the Verona, I quickly became very comfortable with the dCS's sound. I'd almost say it was the best digital source I have had in my home, though the memories of a weekend I spent in June 2004 with EMM Labs' SACD transport and DAC6 suggest that it isn't alone at the top of the digital hill. But with respect to the mighty duo of the Mark Levinson No.31.5 and No.30.6, which together have been my reference for CD playback for going on a decade, they were just pushed to one side by SACD played on the dCS combo, even when both went through a conventional preamplifier.—John Atkinson