dCS Vivaldi at EARSNOVA

the dCS Vivaldi stack

Earlier today I made the 50 or so mile trip into Manhattan for the US premier of the dCS Vivaldi Digital Playback System at NYC retailer EARSNOVA. As you can see, the Vivaldi system continues the dCS tradition of the stack. From top to bottom we have the Vivaldi DAC ($34,999), Vivaldi Transport ($39,999), Vivaldi Master Clock ($13,499), and the Vivaldi Upsampler ($19,999). The Vivaldi stack represents a ground up redesign and all out assault on the state of the art as dCS defines it which adds up to $108k more or less and the ability to play back nearly every digital format you can get your hands, hard drive or NAS on including CD, SACD, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, WMA, ALAC, MP3 (could you imagine?), M4a, AAC, OGG, DXD (24/352.8 and 384kHz), and DSD (via DoP which dCS initiated).

David Steven of dCS (right) and John Quick's ear (left)

David Steven, dCS' Managing Director, gave a very informative introduction and overview and then handed off the nitty gritty to Technical Director Andy McHarg and Chris Hales, Director of Product Development (and apparently the company mixologist who makes a mean Gimlet). John R. Quick of Tempo High Fidelity handled the DJ duties and played us a few CDs, SACDs, CD-quality files, HD files, and one DSD track and then David Steven stepped back in to play some music from the NAS.

the Vivaldi Master Clock on top of the Vivaldi Upsampler

The associated system consisted of a pair of Rockport Technologies Altair Speakers ($97,500/pair) driven by Constellation Audio Centaur Mono Amplifiers ($48,000/pair), and a Constellation Audio Virgo preamplifier ($19,000). The dCS gear sat on an HRS rack and the one cable I noted was the AudioQuest Diamond USB ($549/.75m) which connected the Vivaldi DAC to a MacBook Pro running Audirvana Plus.

So what does all this add up to? What words can you use to talk about the sound of a $270K+ hi-fi that you listened to for minutes not hours? Good? Great? Really really good? Accurate? People who shop for and buy products in this league probably do. I certainly enjoyed myself, but I often do when listening to music, and I found EARSNOVA to be a comfortable place, with some rooms decorated more like a home than a hi-fi shop (which I like). All of the music sounded big and bold, and some sounded positively beautiful and those Rockports throw around some fairly serious bass which sounded a bit lumpy at times but I was sitting well off center near a corner so I may have been hearing a different picture than those up front center. I really don't have much to add except to say that the one DSD track we heard reinforced my recent comments regarding DSD play back which is to say it sounded smooth, natural and effortless.

Back to the Vivaldi, owners of the stack can upsample to DXD or DSD or leave things at their native resolution, and connect to a network via Ethernet and stream files stored on a NAS since the Upsampler is a UPnP device. There's a dCS app for iOS or Android devices to control NAS playback. You can also buy just the DAC since it comes equipped with a host of inputs including Asynchronous USB, AES/EBU, 4 S/PDIF (2 Coax, 1 BNC, 1 Toslink), and 1 S/PDIF-2 (2x BNC). The Vivaldi DAC also includes the "‘next generation versions of the dCS Ring DAC, Digital Processing Platform and Clocking System" as well as a digital volume control so you can skip a preamplifier if you so desire.

Andy McHarg (left) and Chris Hales of dCS both sitting and listening

There's really much more to the Vivaldi story which you can read all about on the dCS website and you can also download the Vivaldi Technical Summary PDF right here.

And here's a visual tour of EARSNOVA's other rooms:

Joshua Cohn President of EARSNOVA (center)

earwaxxer's picture

That kind of bucks is a 'fools errand' IMO. I don't care how 'good' it supposedly sounds. There are so many things that influence how we perceive music, including the mood of the listener at the time. I have a very hard time believing a $100K component sounds that much better than the plethora of choices of 'high end' affordable gear. Its bling bling show off crap. I think it just makes a fool out of the owner. I have much more respect for someone that has put together a very musical and satifying system from the top industry and user respected 'good value' gear.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...is admired in most pursuits so I fail to see why its not also applauded in hi-fi.

The desire to own what we consider to be the best is admired in most pursuits so I fail to see why its not also applauded in hi-fi.

I think it just makes a fool out of the owner.

Really? What if this amount ($100k+) represents a smaller percentage of their yearly income than what you've spent on yours? Does that make you a fool? My point being price and value are relative to ones personal finances so if someone decides to buy a system that costs 5% of their annual income who is more foolish - the guy that just spent $2,500 or $250k?

dparker's picture

What about the trickle down benefits from cost no object products?  The value gear guys can't afford to sit around and do research and dev all day.  Personally, I, am thankful there are millionaire music lovers out there who purchase this stuff and keep the industry driving forward.  Maybe not even millionaires. Some might drive an old beat up pickup and spend their dough on a top notch audio system. Not foolish to me. Just priority differences. 


And there is a difference in a $100K system to my ears, but without a sound isolated room and ultra low noise floor and super tuned acoustic conditions...I agree with you earwax it is foolish to buy the gear. 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Which I'm enjoying right now through the Sonore/exD DAC.

And their Asynchronous USB technology and Ring DAC technology has found its way into more affordably priced products from Arcam for example...

Pablo's picture

I'm sure that this companys make a system with this values knowing that there's allways some millionares wanting to buy the most expensive gear avaliable, not necessary the better one. They also can be sure they will stack some easy $$. 

So why not ? If there's a market I would do the same for profit.

beaur's picture

I was there on Friday.  I am in no way the target audience for this gear but I am always interested in SOA audio.  I went into it with the mindset that buying any digital, even midpriced gear, as the formats\platforms seems to be in flux is not a wise move.  DCS seems to have so over engineered their gear and made a good case that most of the changes will be software driven that I would love to be able to spring for the gear!.  

DSD does seem to be the way to go but I just can't shake the feeling that there will be a change incompatible with most current gear just around the corner.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...is limited content. Steven from dCS confirmed that they'll have a DSD (DoP) upgrade for their entire line by the end of the year.

One of the benefits of file-based playback is this ability to offer new features/upgrades via software/firmware updates. dCS certainly emphasized the 'future-proofing' built into all of their gear and the Vivaldi takes it a few steps further, one example being its greatly increased processing power.

marcusavalon's picture

$19,000 for a computer in a box that adds noughts and ones to the original digital source does it actually improve the sound quality really or is it just clever software algoriths  we are now listening to rather than music?  I can't see how you can get more than is in the original digital source you are using.

I have no doubt the DCS system sounds amazing and it should do at the price they are asking for it but I really dont undertsand upsampling.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Upsampling is more involved than adding 1s and 0s and I'd say its main benefits have to do with what it removes as opposed to what it adds. And the Vivaldi Upsampler is much more than an upsampler but we really cannot talk about basic functionality and try to equate that with price.

Unless we want to be silly - after all who would pay $Millions for some paint on canvas?

firedog55's picture

I don't have any problem with uber expensive equipment - when it is state of the art. But I do object when mid-level audiophile stuff is dressed up in fancy casework and sold as "high-end" SOA. I don't think dCS does this, as their stuff tends to be SOA. But others have. 

If someone has the cash and wants to buy something because it looks cool, that's also okay.  I understand that fancy casework adds tremendously to the final retail price. Just don't market it as something it isn't.

For better or worse, audiophiles mostly buy with their eyes, not their ears (present company excepted, of course); and it's well known that the high end market is driven by equipment cosmetics. Our senses tend to be driven by what we see. The McGurk effect or something like it also influences audio sales.

hotsoup's picture

I don't have any problem gawking at this stuff either. It kind of makes me feel better about the amount of money I spent on my own system. I also read the text using Robin Leach's voice in my head, so it's pretty entertaining actually.

labjr's picture

"Unless we want to be silly - after all who would pay $Millions for some paint on canvas?"

Someone who will sell it in the future for a profit or at least get their money back.

I once had a conversation with a businessman in Atlanta who had a nice Ferarri parked outside. He told me he used to buy corvettes but got tired of losing 70% of his investment  each time he got a new one. He said, "...at least some brain surgeon will buy my Ferrari when I sell it..."

I think even if I had the money I wouldn't spend half a million on a stereo system. Not like people walk by and admire it.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

If you think everyone that buys art gets their money back, you don't know the art market very well.

If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning.

DJ's picture

And where is a hammer that you had in Scott Wilkinson's show? Hihihi

BTW, could you make Q&A with the leading DAC manufacturers on how do they address problem of noise, generated in PCs, switches, etc., entering DAC which we all know is the cause of different SQ perceived from the same DAC connected to different digital equipment.


Michael Lavorgna's picture

BTW, could you make Q&A with the leading DAC manufacturers on how do they address problem of noise, generated in PCs, switches, etc., entering DAC....

That's a great question. I'm planning to interview some DAC designers...

milnes's picture

Gropius said something like this.

Advanced technology and well made products is not an inexpensive excercise.

In most developed economy's engineers are relatively two a penny next to many well educated professionals but they still dont come cheap and in the UK and USA engineering has to be about High End because (a) that is the only market left and (b) making products in this country is expensive. I would shudder to think what the cost of the iphone would be if it was made in the USA or the UK!

Its not even an argument but a fact that music has more effect on us through our lives than all the other art forms. Music exists throughout the universe and can be seen in the fabric of science itself. The periodic table was developed out of ideas founded upon musical notation. So for me the luxury of immersing ones self in music in the safety and comfort of ones own home is a pleasure too few have experienced or understand. Just because you can hear something that is described as hi fi doesnt mean that it sounds like the real thing or that it sounds like what a dCS system is trying to do. Reproducing music is complex and the dCS engineering is unique and for that you must pay because research and development is expensive.

Well done Earsnova for bringing this product to the market in the USA!

attilahun's picture

I demoed the dcs Scarlatti four piece stack (which I think this new system replaces) in my dealers listening room. I went in with enormous skepticism that a $100,000 digital system would differentiate itself to me.

The system blew me away, the best digital sound I've heard. 

When I asked my dealer if you really needed four separate components to achieve this sound, he said, "well if you're right, then this "cheap" dcs all in one dac for $20,000 should sound the same. It didn't, the sound shut down and much of the magic was gone. 

I can't afford the dcs stack but I am hugely impressed with their accomplishments. 

The company also has a cool history with military technology (radar?) that they've applied to the audio world. 

I'd be surprised if the new stack weren't another breakthrough.