dCS Network Bridge

Device Type: Network Player/Roon Endpoint
Input: Ethernet, AirPlay, USB (data), 2x Word Clock Inputs on 2x BNC, WiFi (coming this summer)
Output: 2x AES/EBU on 3-pin male XLR connectors (can be used as dual AES), 1x S/PDIF (Coax), 1x SDIF-2 interface on 2x BNC connectors
Dimensions: 360mm/14.2” wide x 245mm/9.65” deep x 67mm/2.65” high
Weight:4.6kg/10.2lbs.
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Price: $4,250.00
Website: www.dcsltd.co.uk

"Take 'em to the bridge"—James Brown, "Sex Machine"
Can a piece of hi-fi be a sex machine?

photo credit: dCS

The dCS Network Bridge is meant to reside in a hi-fi system between the network and the hi-fi; a bridge over troubled water1. The Bridge accepts an input from your network via wire (Ethernet), AirPlay, and WiFi capabilities are coming this summer which will handle file resolutions up to 24/96, and converts your musical data into a DAC-acceptable output (see "Output" above). The single AES and S/PDIF outputs pass up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM and DSD64 (DoP), while the dual AES outputs pass up to 24-bit/384kHz and DSD128. The SDIF-2 outputs make due with 96kHz and DSD64. AirPlay passes PCM up to 48kHz. The Bridge can also perform integer down-sampling to match your DAC's resolution limits. Supported file formats include FLAC, AIFF, WAV, ALAC, AAC, MP3, WMA, OGG, and DFF, DSF.

Various: mono no aware

Now for some people those facts, or what they do not include, may make the dCS Network Bridge a no-go because it cannot play every resolution bit-perfectly unless you have a DAC that supports dual AES inputs. I, on the other hand, am of the opinion that how well a piece of hi-fi plays most of my music is its most important trait. I admit to not owning, or if I do I don't really care, any PCM music above 24/192, and I can count those on a disinterested hand, and DSD multiples pale in comparison to a system that plays most of my music well. Or to put it another way, I am not of the school that says "High-Res for High-Res' sake" ("l'hi-res pour l'hi-res").

Christopher Berg: Conversations

The Network Bridge is what we call the proverbial no-brainer for dCS DAC owners looking to plug into networked audio. dCS has developed their own control app for playing back your stored music while the Bridge also streams Tidal and Spotify Connect. Done. Unless of course you want a better interface to your music and Tidal in which case dCS has made the Bridge Roon Ready. The question for those of us who do not own a dCS DAC, if you do you can skip this review and go to your dealer and listen, is—does the Bridge work for the rest of us?

Ryuichi Sakamoto: async

Being dCS, the Bridge is a FPGA-based design which means the elves at dCS have seemingly imbued the Bridge with dCS magic pixie dust, er bits. The other "Key Features" worth noting, because they are more than likely key to how the Bridge performs in situ, is the Auto clocking system (as used in the dCS Vivaldi and Rossini) and Multi-stage power regulation which isolates digital and clock circuitry. While there are still some hermits in caves who believe WWII is still being fought and "bits are bits", we know better. The Bridge, being FPGA-based, is firmware updatable via its network connection ("What dark magic is this?"). These software updates will include performance enhancements including an MQA update which will natively perform the 1st MQA unfold to 24.96 and the USB port, which is currently for USB storage, will become USB DAC enabled so you can output your data via USB to your USB DAC.

Juana Molina: Halo

The Bridge is, in dCS terms, rather understated in its appearance being all 90 degree angles and all (no wave), and its sole subtle little blue front-mounted LED is the only indication that its On. The on/off switch is located around back (set it and forget it) along with all of the ins and out business. The dCS logo sits subtly up top, white over aerospace-grade machined aluminum. In terms of sex machine status, I view the Bridge as the understated silent type.

Current 93: Nature Unveiled (new to me)

The Bridge displaced my microRendu in my system which includes the DeVore Fidelity gibbon X, Ayre AX-5 Twenty, and totaldac d1-six all cabled together with Tellurium Q Black. For this review and my future well being, I purchased the Tellurium Q Black AES cable which I used to connect Bridge to totaldac.

"Stay on the scene"
To my ears, my system has sung with the best of 'em. By "best", I do not mean to suggest that my system is "that which is most desirable," rather it is among those systems that connects me to my music the mostest. I say this as preface to the fact that while I have my overachiever Sonore microRendu (see review) on hand for direct comparison, its $640 price tag may make some readers cry foul!; psychological pricing? My point being, I have heard my system sing with many pieces of hi-fi including the stellar $16k Sound Galleries SGM Server (see review) which lifted things to heretofore higher heights. So while I will not be comparing the dCS Network Bridge to a similarly-priced competitor, I will be comparing it to what I choose to own and what I would choose to own if my bank account was suddenly bloated beyond recognition by the demise of an unknown relative.

Golijov: Azul

With the dCS Network Bridge installed, my system sounds as good as it ever has (besides, I don't have, nor do I need, any unknown relatives). What this means is, it is my opinion that if you own a healthy helping of network-attached stored music and are interested in streaming from Tidal or Spotify and you have been sitting on the fence about how to connect A to B (A being the network-based music and B being your hi-fi) because you felt "this stuff changes too fast so I'll get something cheap", dCS' the Bridge provides a very compelling argument for the getting the hell off the fence.

György Kurtág: Kafka-Fragmente

As compared to my system, which includes the overachieving microRendu, the Bridge-endowed system and the music it played sounded more refined. More real. This means that I hear things more clearly, feel things more fully, and am generally more able to lose myself in music. That last bit being the entire point of this hobby. For me.

Have you ever had a run where all of the new music you hear you love? I've been on one and the dCS Bridge made all of it all the more lovely by caressing the beauty out of the bits. To my ears and experience, the Bridge does not suffer from self-noise or if it does, it does so to vanishing low levels. This means music is presented as if emanating from its source without obstruction. Most digital, even my overachieving microRendu, adds something in between causing the blurring or stifling of Jean-Marie Piel's infinitely small:

"The essence of an interpretation lies in working on the infinitely small -- be it an attack on a note held back for a fraction of a second (perceptible if the preceding note is reproduced neither too short nor too long), or be it a note that develops in itself; or, on a larger level, a crescendo or diminuendo encompassing several notes -- all of which gives music a sense of direction, its palpable dynamics, its quivering life, and all of which, in the end, lies in the nuances."
Nuance is reproduced music's life blood and dCS gets it. And the Bridge gets this as fully as any other similar-functioning-device I've heard in my system including the Sound Galleries SGM Server, at least according to my pleasure-O-meter and recollection of listening to much of the same music through both, including many-a-piece I'm nearly painfully familiar with, what having heard some selections going on 30 years or more (or less). You could then say the Bridge is a damned bargain! Or you could say, $4000+ for something a $35 Raspberry Pi can do? If you said the latter, I have to wonder what you are doing here since our basic believe systems about this fine hobby are in conflict. And looking for conflict in a hobby is just plain silly2.

Rahim Alhaj: Letters from Iraq: Oud and String Quintet

The dCS Network Bridge brought out the best my totaldac has to offer, and it has a lot to offer. When we buy hi-fi, there's nothing better than finding that something we own can rise to any occasion (or system "upgrade"). The d1-six does this and so do my DeVore gibbon X, which I've heard paired with near countless amplification and upstream components. These kinds of components are like sleeping beauty, waiting for the right kiss. The Bridge laid one heckofa smacker on my d1-six. And me.

Giusto Pio: Motore Immobile

I'm a fan, a big fan, of letting other people play their music through my hi-fi, easily. Without fuss, without pretense. Playing my iPhone-resident music through my hi-fi via the Bridge's AirPlay took all of a few seconds to happen and what's more is it sounded wonderful. Was it better or worse than Ethernet? I conducted a series of double-blind tests and concluded that I prefer real butter. And if you want to read a love poem to butter, I have read none better than Alex Halberstadt's "Is the World's Best Butter Worth 50 Dollars a Pound?".

"Should I take 'em to the bridge?"
But...is it worth it? I thought I heard someone thinking that and the obvious answer is...that's for you to decide. What I'm saying is that in my experience, the dCS Bridge offers some of the finest-sounding musical output my system has had the pleasure of pleasing me with.

You could say the Bridge is a bargain or you could say its really expensive. Either way, its way with music is like a sex machine (get on up).


1. Bits are not just bits in hi-fi
2. That's what forums are for

Also in-use during the dCS review: microRendu

Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
bobflood's picture

I am amazed at the power of software and that seems to be one of the strong points for dCS. I like you don't expect a large influx of cash so I will be sticking with my microRendu/LPS-1 combo for now but if....., well you never know.

Speaking of the power of software; if you have not upgraded your microRendu to the new 2.5 OS, do so ASAP. I think you will find that it moves your microRendu a few steps closer to this device. I was really surprised at the major improvement it made to the sound of the microRendu.

One of the beauties of this dCS device is that over the years dCS will no doubt be able to add features and increase performance with only software changes.

snoopy's picture

Good Day Bobflood

went on Sonore website and i can't find an update for the MicroRendu
it is strange that they dont talk about it. where it can be find??

thanks for your time

bobflood's picture

The update to 2.5 requires a replacement of the SD card in the microRendu. This must be ordered from Sonore directly. The cost is $20 (for the new card, postage and handling). They say that there is no charge for the update itself. There is much more info on this on the sponsored forum for Sonore on Computeraudiophile.com.

snoopy's picture

thank you bobflood, buy on there website it is not obvious to find
have a good one

stevebythebay's picture

Been interested in other's reactions to this product. I too have been using the microRendu for quite some time (well it's all relative I suppose, in my case nearly a year). And there's an upcoming ultraRendu in the wings. This is about the fastest moving area in computer audio I'm aware of. With recent SoTM activity as well.

How are you connecting this to the DAC? I'm guessing AES/EBU but maybe S/PDIF. What cabling are you using (your "associated equipment" page doesn't indicate that). In my case, using Berkeley gear, running USB out of the microRendu into the Alpha USB D-D converter then into the DAC would be "shortened" by going AES/EBU from the dCS into DAC.

Lastly, it would be nice to understand from recordings you've listened to through this device what sonic characteristics are particularly telling for you.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"For this review and my future well being, I purchased the Tellurium Q Black AES cable which I used to connect Bridge to totaldac."
Amused's picture

Hi Michael,

How does the dCS Network Bridge compare to the SOtM sMS-200 Ultra that you reviewed recently?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...of the SOtM. I have never heard it.
Amused's picture

Sorry, I didn't check the name of the reviewer.

Did Steve have the chance to hear the dCS?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Steve lives in CA and I live NJ. I don't think we could get any farther apart ;-)
Amused's picture

Too bad... In your opinion, is it worth the asking price or do you think there are better options on the market in the same price range?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Because it suits my needs and preferences perfectly. The AES input on my totaldac is the preferred input so having AES out is important. It's also important for me to have multiple digit outputs for reviewing. If you have a USB DAC, the dCS currently will not work with it. That upgrade is coming but I do not a date. If you only need USB, there are certainly other options, including the SOtM.
Amused's picture

At the moment I am using the SOtM sMS-200ultra as a network player, which is connected to my Singxer SU-1 DDC and from there via HDMI cable to my Holo Spring lvl3 DAC (i2S input which sounds best). But the Holo has an AES input as well, so I guess connecting the dCS shouldn't be a problem. I was thinking of getting a clock modified switch and going for the SOtM "trifecta", but the cost would be too high for me because of high duties and customs rates in my country for importing the stuff. Then again, I would need to spit out some serious money for the best power supplies (say Paul Hynes SR7), etc. The cost just keeps getting higher. That's why the dCS NB appears to me like a great proposition, an opportunity to go for a one box streamer solution and not having to worry about power supplies and cabling between different decrapifiers along the audio chain. But sound quality comes first and foremost. I don't have the luxury to do an A/B test at home, so I need to rely on professional reviewers. I hope the dCS is the box I am looking for.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Listening, ideally in your system, is the only way to really know for sure.
sordidman's picture

Nice, - but.....
So far, I've never seen anyone assert that Roon sounds better than MPD or LMS with Redbook level uncompressed material. No way am i trying to poo-poo on the SQ of a device that I have not heard: nor the review. However, - i do question the glorification of Roon. As any hardware that only has Roon as its means of playback makes it "less-than" right out of the gate.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
"dCS has developed their own control app for playing back your stored music while the Bridge also streams Tidal and Spotify Connect. Done."
sordidman's picture

My error, - I didn't see those important words "stored music"

Thanks for the correction.

Cheers,

DH's picture

Sonore just announced they are going to release a higher end model of the microRendu, the ultraRendu.

I'd guess that for much less of the price of the DCS unit, the ultraRendu will get you a ways towards closing the gap you heard between your mR and the dCS cridge.

Papidon's picture

Hi Michaël,

I am a newbie and it's my first post here.

Thank you so much for this review I was eagerly waiting for from you. This Network Bridge is objectively an expensive piece of gear but a mandatory one if you own a legacy dCS DAC as I do. And I own the oldest ancestor : Elgar +.

I continue to like listening music through it and I am not convinced yet I should resell this DAC shortly like a useless slave unable to read the latest digital audio formats. For now Elgar is in emergency ICU perfused with an IFI micro IDSD DAC as USB/Spdif interface from my Mac mini.

I would rather try to give Elgar a second life with the Bridge even I have no real direct clue how much Elgar can be left behind by the youngsters off the shelf chipset dacs of today. As I live permanently in the far countryside of northern Thailand, it is impossible to make any valuable comparison live in my system!

This dCS Network Bridge is the best way to bring internet and USB altogether to my old Elgar : if I have read you well dCS has already planned to let its Bridge bring a full USB compatibility to Elgar by firmware update later .

The Bridge being a dCS device, I guess it was taken care in the best way possible of its electrical immunity from the numerous interferences. I have already a PS Audio power conditionner and a dedicated power line for the hifi gear. I try also to keep separated the power feed of the other network devices from the hifi one and the Mac mini stays in the next room. I don't know what I can do better because I got a very shitty unstable polluted electricity here . In this configuration the Bridge and a well chosen cat6/7 cable should obviously be efficiently hepful.

Various experienced audiophiles through dedicated forums seems to concur that a well isolated gear make it less sensible audibly to the differences of the cables you plug in.

For that matter and to determine in what price range I will choose the right ethernet cable for me, I would like to know if you have tried and compared different Ethernet cables in your system between the dCS Network Bridge and Total DAC ; what is the result you experienced in this case : has the subjective differences you know already between these cables had widened or diminished using the Bridge?

Thank you for your answer and any advice you will pleased to give.

DavidZ's picture

I've had the dcs network bridge to demo this weekend, replacing the SOTM SMS 200. All of Michael's observations hold, IMHO. I would add one more adjective: exquisite. The presentation is just "right" in a way that overachievers like the SMS200 and the Mrendu (which I had before the SOTM) can't quite get to. Very impressive!

wdw's picture

Took a dealer loan of the dCS Bridge home for a listen...totally bad news for our pocketbook. Needless to say, it never left our system. within a few bars of background music heard will we were just unpacking the groceries after bring the piece home, it was immediately apparent how discreet this unit is.
Unit was brand new, so dead cold, but when sitting down for a more serious listen, my wife and I just keep shaking our heads in disbelief at how good this bit of gear is. Subtle, quiet, musical.
If you have a network audio system and specifically ROON you owe it to yourself to audition it. Set-up consisted of connecting the wires and ROON finding the Bridge right away.

MQG30's picture

Since I understand that the Rossini offers the same functionalities as the network bridge, why adding an external box & cable to an external DAC rather than going for the Rossini? Final price is pretty much the same. Is the Totaldac so addictive?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The totaldac is that addictive ;-) and I can make very good use of the Network Bridge's multiple digital outputs when reviewing other DACs.
MQG30's picture

Handsome answer. Tx - Since the DCS network bridge can be used with other DACs, will you include it in your evaluation of the 0-1 from Canever? Are you also considering a review of the Lampi Atlantic Golden? Sounds like both offer some addictive magic too.

Kunter's picture

The DCS NB is now in my system. What is your experience with burn-in? After 5 hours it really changed from harsh to quite musical. I wonder how much further it will go.
Output is to a TotalDAC D1-6 without an output stage similar to the 12.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...is to play everything that comes through here for a week or so, 24/7, before beginning to give it a critical listen. Which is a fancy way of saying -- I don't know ;-)

Nice system!

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