February 22, 2013

dCS Puccini CD/SACD Player

The dCS Puccini SACD/CD player made it to my "Gear that Impressed in 2012" list (see my post of the same title on 14 Jan 2013). In that post, I said that "In one stroke, the dCS Puccini vanquished my past impression of the dCS house sound... The dCS Puccini continues the dCS tradition of being technically excellent, but it also sounded excellently organic, with music flowing naturally."

This dCS is now one of a couple of digital players that I'd aspire to own.

If I were to look at it in terms of features on offer, the Puccini is the most complete and most versatile digital player that i have ever come across. In addition to its ability to play SACD and CD, the Puccini has 2 digital inputs, both RCA, that accept 24 bit PCM at 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 & 192kS/s, so you can be certain that your investment is future proof if you decide to include CAS into your playback system (nowadays, this no longer seems to be an 'if' question though, but a 'when' one). The Puccini also has a word clock input, and therein lies an upgrade path. When the upgrade itch gets too strong, the owner can add the Puccini U-Clock, which incidentally also has an USB input, allowing you to stream music from your PC and notebook.

Another attraction to investing your digital future with dCS is that the company is committed to updating the technology in its customers' gear on a continuing basis. dCS provides periodic firmware upgrade for their players mostly for free.

Before I go on to talk about my listening experience with the dCS Puccini, let's get a couple of its features that affect setup out of the way. The first is the matter with the upsampling schemes and the multitude of digital filters that it offers, you can select to convert the PCM signal from your CDs or your rips to DSD and run it through one of the 4 digital filters on board; or you can keep the PCM signal and choose one of the 3 filters on offer (classic, long and asymmetrical, the last one seems to be similar to Meridian's apodizing filter and Ayre's 'minimum phase', labelled as MP, offerings). In the week I had the Puccini, I found that I always preferred the PCM upsampled to DSD option, so throughout the evaluation period, the setting of the player was maintained that way. DSD sounded more continuous and more analogue to my ears. After that, the choice of which filter to use did not matter much, their differences were subtle to me at best.

Next is the setting the dCS Puccini's maximum output level, which is either 2V or 6V (applicable to both its balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs), and whether to connect the dCS Puccini directly to my monoblocks or to a pre-amp. It has a volume control onboard that allows direct connection to a power amplifier, bypassing the need for a preamp and also the use of a few cables. dCS advises that if you connect directly to the power amp the output level should be set to 6V (and you'll use the Puccini's volume control to set the listening level). If you use a preamp, whether you choose 2V or 6V, the volume control should be set to maximum.

So, I had to decide whether to leave my Pass Labs XP20 preamp in the chain. I found that generally without the preamp, the sound was slightly purer and more rounded; with the preamp in, the music's dynamic expression was better. The XP20 was transparent and neutral enough to ensure that the differences were minor if they were there at all. In the end I decided to leave the preamp in as I enjoyed the slightly freer dynamics (however I know of a Puccini owner who swears by the sound without a preamp). On the choice of  either 2V or 6V output level, I couldn't say that I did a scientific comparison by making sure that the sound pressure level for both settings was the same when listening, but at the end I thought the 6V setting gave better transient and control with no loss of refinement and delicacy, so 6V it was.

Thus set up, I was extremely impressed by the dCS Puccini's portrayal of my favourite music. There was an inherent rightness to the sound that was instantly recognisable, a trait seems to come naturally with much of British hifi equipment - which many credit to the school's midrange naturalness. It was a sound that one will instinctively feel at ease with, not requiring much processing in our brain to believe that there was actually a singer and some musical instruments playing in front of us.

The expression of timbre and tonal colours from the Puccini was top notch. The solo violin in Sarah Chang's Debut album positively shimmered, with beautifully rendered harmonics. The violin was floating in mid air, and the notes were wrapped in a rich silvery brilliance. The playing was lyrical. I never heard this CD with so much technical sure-footedness and yet full of expressions of emotional beauty.

The solo piano on Danny Wright's Black and White album was another high point. From the pings on the right hand to the bangs on the left, every note was excellently reproduced, and again done with full harmonic beauty. I could almost get the illusion that the Steinway was playing in the room right in front of me. I could hear the hammer striking the string. I could hear Wright's workings on the keys and the pedals. The amount of information reproduced were impressive.

With vocal music, the dCS Puccini laid bare all the details in the singer's performance, such as the little breathes, the little nuances in the voice, the little vibrations and turns in his/her elocution. Some may dismiss these audiophile artefacts as unimportant in musical enjoyment, however the dCS Puccini showed that all these were not just sound but an integral part of the performance, and they came across clearly as part of the performer's artistry. I had much more enjoyment with the Puccini's take on the recordings that listening to music that I thought I was already familiar with became a journey of new discoveries.

The Puccini's highs were pristine and rich. The mids sounded naturally correct. The bass might lose out a little on slam but it was well defined, agile and tuneful. The Puccini's music rendition had a natural flow, an ease and a density that is very rare in digital reproduction.

I just wanted to listen on and on. It was hard to let go when the time came. I bet the dCS Puccini will do the same to you too.

The dCS Puccini lists for RM73,625. dCS is carried by A&L Audio Station, Ph: 03-7958 2884

1 comment:

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