dCS 972 D/D converter Page 3

The 972/Elgar delivered an extremely balanced presentation withal, the lush textures of the music and harmonics never "over-plushed" or obscuring, the incredible detail never chaffy or too sharp. Upsampled, the totality of the musical experience was completely available to me. In fact, it was hard just playing the system in the background—the sound was so interesting and compelling that I usually found myself gravitating toward the Ribbon Chair. I sensed—truly for the first time so profoundly—that I was hearing a full and complete restitution of the original acoustic, down and into the noise floor. In the same way that frequencies higher than 20kHz are known to influence signals within the audio band, I think the sound of music as it decays into the ambient noise floor and below has an effect on that heard above that threshold.

As a result of this heightened resolution, there was a wondrously expressive sense of delicacy in the music, as much felt as heard. I not only heard deeply into the ultratransparent and airy soundfield, but seemingly into the fabric of the music itself.

Don't take this paean to the 972/Elgar's midrange as an indication that all was not perfectly well above and below. Hardly. Transitioning down from the midband proved unruffled, natural, and linear-sounding; the upper, mid, and lower bass were beautifully fleshed out and present. The depth, power, and control were simply the best I've experienced. And above that singular midrange, the 972/Elgar effortlessly and seamlessly reached up into an extended, linear, airy, open, sweetly nuanced, and expressive treble range.

The fabulous new release by Patricia Barber, Modern Cool (Premonition PREM-741-2), stands as powerful testimony to why one might, in all good conscience, drop $19k on a digital front-end now. Barber sounded shockingly present and real in our listening room. Her voice was organic and ultradimensional in a physical, even a spiritual way. The ease of presentation, the openness in the highs, that particular sense of naturalness and musicality, the extreme palpability—all served to focus the music in a unique way.

Listen for the wonderfully pellucid ringing of a bell at 3:50 into "Postmodern Blues," just as Barber picks up the lyrics again after an extended interval. "Abstract expressionism is gone / Aesthetic quiescence is gone..." The soundstage was alive with her voice and the powerfully acoustic bass. "Klee and Kandinsky are gone..." Along with crappy digital sound, it would seem. "Dalí and Dada are gone..." The taut bongos drove the lyrics along con brio. "What we're left with is wrong..." At 5:00 into the track Barber picks up the beat and drives it home until the end of the song. The air, the transparency, the powerfully acoustic bass, the impact and utter realism of the bongos, the wonder of her voice hanging there between the Utopias...man, listening to this track changed my life.

Looking for Orchestral Sweep, I set up Schumann's Manfred Overture with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra on a new Sony Classical Masterworks Heritage release (MH2K 62349). The romantic music and lush textures were touching, powerful, and visceral. The immediacy was astounding, the venue's acoustic apparent out to its farthest corners. It seemed that the very essence of the music and the performers were laid out before me. Changing to Bizet's rousing Carmen Suite No.2 with Bernstein/NYP (an SBM'd Sony, SMK 63081), I was beside myself with the effulgent music; there was hardly room for both of me in the Ribbon Chair! No matter the heaving density of the score, no matter the heights to which crescendos roared, the 972/Elgar combo never faltered or put a note wrong. Every element of the huge, airy soundstage, every harmonic nuance and vivid detail, everything was reproduced with stunning clarity and integrity.

Lounging in the Ribbon Chair with a vintage Armagnac in hand, I spun Bags Meets Wes! (DCC GZS-1093). This engaging and fine-sounding CD is one of my favorites by DCC's Steve Hoffman. As I grooved along to Milt Jackson's magic mallets—the tonal color was tremendous—I meditated on the nature of transients, bloom, and decay. In my reviews I'll note how a component captures these vital elements. Listening to the 972/Elgar, I felt that somehow, from deep in the soup of high-speed floating-point calculations, the true nature of the music emerged completely unscathed. I reveled in 24/192's apparent felicity to timbre, timing, pace, its naturally quick rise time, the highly detailed leading edge and follow-on bubble of acoustic information rife with detail. Acoustic bloom lingered in the air before twinkling out into the ambient noise floor with the grace and naturalness of an Olympic diver.

Afterward, I turned with relish to The Timekeepers: Count Basie Meets Oscar Peterson (JVC JVCXR-0206-2), one of the latest xrcd2 releases from producer Akira Taguchi. I closed my eyes and leaned into my favorite track, "Rent Party." By the time this transcendent piece ended, I realized that the 972/Elgar had, in fact, redefined the listening experience for me. It's that good, that encompassing, that magical.