By Lam Seng Fatt
I just heard the best-sounding SACD player that ever graced my humble home system recently. It was also the best-sounding CD player and one of the best DACs I have tested. I am referring to the dCS Puccini SACD/CD player.
After having it in my system for about five days, I realised what was missing after I had returned the unit. The dCS recreates a most natural sound that is full-bodied and rich with harmonics and correct timbres. Leading-edge dynamics were accurately rendered with the right amount of snap and sizzle while decays were sustained and lifelike.
While acoustic instruments benefit the most from this, electric instruments are not left out and their timbres and tones are rendered realistically too. I felt the reproduction of the piano by the dCS was the best that I have heard with all the woodiness adding much body to the sound.
Spatially, the soundstage size and positioning of the images with lots of space between the musicians and singers reminded me of the walk-through sound-staging of the Wadia CD players, but the dCS rendered a fuller and richer sound. The sound-stage also went deeper and there was great layering of images.
The dCS sounded smooth and grainless and not once did I detect any hardening of the sound even on vocal peaks, brass instruments and electric guitars.
Though the sound was rich and full, the details were not drowned out by the richness. When I played a hi-res file of The Girl From Ipanema, the saxophone sounded so realistic that I could hear the reed vibrating. On SACD tracks like Pray It Never Happens by Maeve, Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You by Claire Martin and Stars Fell On Alabama by Carol Kidd (from Linn Records The Super Audio Collection Vol 4), I heard details I had never heard before in my home system. At this juncture, I must say that I have heard excellent SACD players elsewhere like the Esoteric and Playback Design in friends’ houses and the TAD in AV Designs’ showroom, but in my home system, the dCS Puccini was the best.
In the few days that I had the dCS in my system, I played it directly connected to the Bryston 4B SST power amp with Oyaide XLR interconnects. Many people have noted that this is the best way to connect a dCS and its digital volume control outperforms some quite expensive preamps.
Its output can be adjusted from the default 2V to 6V and unbeknownst to me, someone had set it to 6V and I spent the entire session listening to the dCS at this level. However, later at an audiophile friend”s house, I felt that the 6V output sounded better than the 2V when both outputs were tested.
During Christmas, I picked up an AC Ryan media streamer and I quickly connected my 500GB Western Digital external hard disk to it. The media streamer was connected to the dCS Puccini with a DH Labs D-75 coax and within minutes of figuring how to negotiate the menu (which was displayed on the plasma TV connected via HDMI cable to the streamer), I was soon listening to ripped CD files and hi-res music of various sampling rates.
Strangely, all music files streamed to the Puccini were either 24/44.1 or 24/48 as shown on the display. Ripped CD files (native 16/44.1) and hi-res files of 24/88.2 and 24/176.4 resolution were accepted by the dCS Puccini as 24/44.1 files while 24/96 and 24/192 files were accepted as 24/48. (Update 14/2/2013: I attached the AC Ryan media streamer to the resident Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 and the same thing happened. The display showed the sampling rate to be either 44.1 or 48, so it is the media player that is downsampling the files)
I am not sure if this matters at all since the dCS converts all files of all native resolutions into 5 bit 2.822 MHz or 3.072MS/s DSD files to be processed by the proprietary Ring DAC. It is this proprietary conversion system that gives the dCS its signature sound.
The Puccini is designed to be a single-box heart of a digital-based sound system. The SACD/CD transport is a TEAC Esoteric UMK-5 mechanism which is disabled when the Puccini is used as an external DAC. It has two SPDIF inputs for media streamers and other sources.
To take its already high performance even higher, you can buy the matching Puccini U-Clock which features four Word Clock outputs that reduce jitter and improve performance. It also has an asynchronous USB input which allows a laptop to be used for streaming music and this input supports hi-res PCM files up to 24/192 and DSD files on DOP (DSD over PCM). People who have used the U-Clock say the sound quality does go one notch higher.
The Puccini is a solidly-built player with fine workmanship and weighs quite a bit too. For the money you are paying for it – at around RM70,000 – it had better be well built and sound good.
dCS products are distributed in Malaysia by A & L Audio Station.