DCS Delius DAC Reviewed

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DCS_Delius_DAC.gifMore than a few learned colleagues regard dCS converters as the finest digital processors money can buy. Sensitivity to this fact, though, shouldn't impress the observer: every brand, however awful, has a fan base, if only the designer's Mom and Dad. dCS, though, managed to acquire King Of The Hill status while being both embarrassingly low-key hideously expensive, the latter usually enough to inspire a following, the former mitigating against it.

Like the Elgar which set everyone into worship mode, the new - and far less expensive at £5000 - Delius is a 24/192 D/A converter with clean, clutter-free, slope-free styling to match the Purcell Digital Upsampler recently reviewed by MC. (Elgar, Delius, Purcell - surely the next dCS triumph must be named Lennon?) Its 460x405x65mm (WDH) case features a mix of satin and matte finishes, with a black glass top plate. dCS struck a nice compromise between the grim utilitarianism of studio gear and the frippery of fashion-dictated audio styling, the centre panel and lucid display given prominence by being a taller, separate housing. The four tiny buttons - power, input select, mute, and function select - have a luxurious feel and short travel, while the back is filled with pro-grade connectors. It's an ideal duality if you crave a balance between domestic ergonomic and aesthetic acceptability the fitness-of-purpose of studio gear. Weighing a substantial 9kg, the unit oozes confidence-inspiring quality.

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A fully-loaded, obsolescence-defying converter, Delius is also a proper digital pre-amplifier by virtual of six inputs and digital volume and balance controls; keep this in mind when judging its price, because it two components in one. Volume and balance can be accessed through a front panel rotary control, or via remote. Both the balanced and unbalanced main outputs are fully buffered and may be used at the same time, with maximum output levels of 2V or 6V selectable through the Function Menu.

Delius' heart is the discrete, proprietary dCS Ring DAC, a version of the DAC seen in the Elgar, with 5-bit/64 times oversampling architecture that 'avoids the limitations inherent in the conventional one bit and multibit off-the-shelf converter ICs that are the basis of most other D/A converters.' It boasts greater linearity than conventional DACs and a resistance to degradation over time or due to temperature variations. Its sample rates are 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, and 192kS/s, with 24 bit resolution, and the device benefits from software and hardware upgrades (from a PC, via rear-panel ingress). Amusingly, it's a development of A/D converters they produced for airborne radar, where the A/D can be a major limiting factor in the overall performance of the radar. I loved this bit, regarding dCS' non-hi-fi pursuits: 'Only the best will do. Anything less and you risk being blown out of the sky.' As opposed to merely being blown away.

Blessedly, and to allow space in this two-page allocation for other than a mere litany of operational specifics, the unit comes with 60pp owner's manual and a laminated flow-chart similar to the ones found with the more complex A/V processors on the market. And you need to keep both nearby for the first few weeks of use, the lamination providing the same life-extending properties as plastic-coated recipe cards. There are, for example, 27 categories under the 'Function' heading on the chart; trust me, you will consult it often.

In terms of 'customisability', this thing seems limitless. The function menu, either through the front panel buttons or via remote, allows you to tamper with more than any tweaker has a right to expect. Four selectable reconstruction filters are available for each sample rate, affecting the frequency response in the ultra-sonic region above 20kHz. Juggling the gains, you can enjoy an improvement in stereo imaging 'at the expense of a slight increase in aliasing', the latter manifested by a not-entirely-unpleasant increase in brightness in the sound.

Delius can mute and 'unmute' instantaneously or gradually. As dCS points out, when justifying what might seem about as necessary as an electric carving knife, that 'Ramping the volume is generally more pleasant to the ear, but in some cases an instantaneous mute may be preferable, for example when carrying out listening tests where the ramping volume levels could be distracting.' Ditto for the display brightness control, which allows the display to match the ambient light level in your listening room or to switch it off completely. For year, purists have argued that display illumination affects the sound, while those more concerned with merely aesthetic considerations might simply prefer not to have a bunch of numbers glowing during a listening session because it's distracting. Either way, the choice is yours.

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