Erick Lichte, January 2012
I had on hand three DACs that, in my and a few others' opinions, represent the best digital audio reproduction in their respective price classes: the Bel Canto Design e.One DAC3.5VB ($5440 as reviewed), the Weiss DAC202 ($7737), and the dCS Debussy ($10,999). Each represents a major advance in the handling of digital conversion, and each is based on a completely different design paradigm in its manufacturer's quest to wrest the best from all those zeros and ones. Unsurprisingly, each also has a completely different sonic signature.
In his review of the dCS Debussy (January 2011), Michael Fremer commented on the Debussy's lean sound, startling transients, and deep yet taut bass. That's what I heard, too. The Debussy has an uncanny ability to pick apart recordings with surgical precision. For the first few weeks, I was entranced by the dCS's sheer resolution, and the solidity and immediacy of every sound it played. However, after a few weeks—and after comparing it with some of the other DACs I had on hand—I grew slightly weary of the sound's ultra-honest but slightly threadbare quality. It's no surprise that less-than-stellar recordings were not treated kindly by the Debussy, which picked out their flaws instead of accentuating their merits. But even with great-sounding recordings, I missed some fullness in the midbass and sweetness in the treble. I also felt as if the Debussy were downplaying the ambience and reverberation around each instrument, in favor of a solid yet dry picture of each sound. Though I certainly respected the Debussy, ultimately it was not the best match for me.
I then listened again to the Weiss DAC202, which sounded as different as could be. The Weiss's sonic signature was full, round, supple, and sweet. All of the organic qualities I found lacking in the Debussy's sound were there in spades in the DAC202's. But again, this ease and grace of musicmaking came at the cost of transient snap, low-bass weight and speed, and the separation of instruments in the mix, both laterally and from front to back.Erick Lichte