Erick Lichte, January 2012

I had on hand three DACs that, in my and a few others' opinions, represent the best digital audio reproduction in their respective price classes: the Bel Canto Design e.One DAC3.5VB ($5440 as reviewed), the Weiss DAC202 ($7737), and the dCS Debussy ($10,999). Each represents a major advance in the handling of digital conversion, and each is based on a completely different design paradigm in its manufacturer's quest to wrest the best from all those zeros and ones. Unsurprisingly, each also has a completely different sonic signature.

In his review of the dCS Debussy (January 2011), Michael Fremer commented on the Debussy's lean sound, startling transients, and deep yet taut bass. That's what I heard, too. The Debussy has an uncanny ability to pick apart recordings with surgical precision. For the first few weeks, I was entranced by the dCS's sheer resolution, and the solidity and immediacy of every sound it played. However, after a few weeks—and after comparing it with some of the other DACs I had on hand—I grew slightly weary of the sound's ultra-honest but slightly threadbare quality. It's no surprise that less-than-stellar recordings were not treated kindly by the Debussy, which picked out their flaws instead of accentuating their merits. But even with great-sounding recordings, I missed some fullness in the midbass and sweetness in the treble. I also felt as if the Debussy were downplaying the ambience and reverberation around each instrument, in favor of a solid yet dry picture of each sound. Though I certainly respected the Debussy, ultimately it was not the best match for me.

I then listened again to the Weiss DAC202, which sounded as different as could be. The Weiss's sonic signature was full, round, supple, and sweet. All of the organic qualities I found lacking in the Debussy's sound were there in spades in the DAC202's. But again, this ease and grace of musicmaking came at the cost of transient snap, low-bass weight and speed, and the separation of instruments in the mix, both laterally and from front to back.—Erick Lichte

Data Conversion Systems Limited
dCS America
PO Box 544, 3057 Nutley Street, Fairfax
VA 22031
(617) 314-9296