TESTING TIMES


dCS writes: "dCS products are purchased by music lovers, audio aficionados and people simply wanting the best that money can buy. All three types of buyer go through a process of selection that leads them to arrive at the same conclusion; they may apply slightly different criteria, but all end up being proud dCS owners. Any dCS owner knows that they are not inexpensive; even the Network Bridge or Debussy DAC costs more than most would ever contemplate spending on hi-fi."

"So to get to the point of considering such a purchase requires prospective purchasers to have been on a journey of sorts. Given that you won’t see a Vivaldi four-box stack system in your local electrical discount shop front window, the marque needs a degree of seeking out. The premium price and limited availability of dCS products means – in effect – that people who discover the brand are actively seeking something very special.

Often customers ‘find’ dCS by personal recommendation; friends enthuse about their new purchase to others. Others discover the brand by visiting a high end hi-fi dealer, or by attending live events or hi-fi shows. Some read about dCS in magazines or periodicals, and/or arrive at the dCS website and want to know more. In all cases, at this point anyone who’s even curious about this enigmatic brand, needs to know why dCS products are different, and what it is that justifies the price.

Listening is the only true litmus test. It’s hard to explain in words just what the feeling of hearing right into a recording is like – the eerie sense of being there at the studio desk as the final multi-track is mixed down to stereo. Many people have the confidence to trust their ears; reading hi-fi magazine reviews is a good way to get people to listen to dCS equipment, but ultimately it isn’t other people’s opinions that count, but your own…

That’s not to say that technical performance isn’t key. People often talk about things in terms of, ‘which is more important – measurements or listening?’ To dCS, this is a false opposition. The company ethos is that technical correctness is essential; there’s no getting around the fact that if a product scores poorly in terms of distortion, signal-to-noise ratio, stereo separation and so on, then it simply cannot deliver the musical goods. Yet that’s just the start; dCS products are carefully – and repeatedly – auditioned during the development process. The senior design engineers know how technical measurements correlate to subjective sound quality; there’s a very complex relationship there and it requires great skill and experience to get the balance right.

Understandably, there’s a lot of confusion over this. Many hi-fi magazines don’t measure products they review, arguing that technical measurements are at best partial and don’t tell the whole story. Others might agree with the latter part of that statement, but still do and often find measurements instructive in understanding how a product performs. Historically, fashion has veered from one extreme to the other over the years. Five or so decades ago – long before dCS started – British hi-fi magazines were totally preoccupied with measurements. It was possible to read reviews where four fifths of the text discussed the product’s relative merits in terms of signal-to-noise ratio or stereo separation, with just a perfunctory summary of the subjective sound quality at the end.

By the late nineteen eighties however, the UK hi-fi press tended to do long essays about the subjective sound of products, with many omitting technical specifications completely. It was as if there was a backlash against how those earlier reviews had been written, with some people actively deriding anyone who took measured performance seriously. It was fashionable to draw attention to hi-fi products that measured well but sounded bad. Compact Disc itself was used as an example of something that had startling technical performance for its time, yet could often sound very mediocre indeed.

The starting point for dCS products is technical performance. Be it in the digital or analogue circuitry, distortion, noise and other characteristics are carefully analysed on the company’s state-of-the-art test equipment so problems can be designed out wherever possible. The sound is then fine tuned by a combination of listening and measurement; this ensures that improvements are not ‘happy accidents’; every change is repeatable and demonstrable to the development team. After the design phase, dCS products have to be made the same every time, so rigorous testing is essential here too. A highly sophisticated, custom-made, automated test facility is used to ensure that each individual product comes out right. Done this way, prospective purchasers can both hear the difference and be reassured that they will own something with exemplary technical performance that delivers consistently high performance for decades to come."