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dCS Elgar D/A Processor Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 July 1997
Image The dCS Elgar digital-to-analog converter is a ground breaking, precedent setting, digital processor. The future of digital is, to say it politely, uncertain. Everyone knows standard 16 bit - 44.1 MHz sampling rate CDs are not the best digital performance we can currently achieve. The question is what will the next format be? Will it be 24 bit - 96 KHz, 24 bit - 192 KHz, Sony and Phillips' DSD, or something else. We're pretty sure the audio delivery method will be a DVD, but as for the format, there is quite a bit of speculation.

Investing in a digital processor (DAC) for your audio system can be as risky investing in CCC rated bonds. The potential sonic returns can be amazing and worthy of the investment, but if technology changes you'll be lucky to get 20 cents on the dollar. Sensing this and seeing that most other high end DACs become obsolete because they are, at least partially, chip driven, dCS has wisely developed a unique DAC that is completely software driven.

The Elgar has an excellent build quality with a very unique angled case, however, priced at $12,000 USD, you can argue that the Elgar is far from cheap. Yet, like a new luxury car or a network computer, based on approved credit you can actually lease an Elgar for $439 a month (36 month close ended lease with $1 residual value). This option is useful for studios earning income from making 24 bit recordings, but for personal use you'll want to check with your banker to make sure you've got ample cash before investing in the Elgar.

The value in the Elgar comes in its Platinum Upgrade Guarantee. When--not if--digital technology changes over the next three years, you will get your Elgar upgraded at no cost. The only way dCS could offer you this kind of 'future proofing' is because The Elgar is a completely software driven DAC. Parts do not need to be added to change the operation of the processor in most cases. This is simply revolutionary.
Listening to The Elgar
I found the Elgar to have a number of rare and wonderful musical qualities not normally associated with a digital-to-analog converter. While reviewing Wilson CUBs I raved about how good the left to right soundstage was on Rickie Lee Jones "Dat Dere" from the album Pop Pop (Geffen). Yet, when I inserted the Elgar in place of my reference Mark Levinson No. 36s, I heard an immediate increase to this already impressive soundstage width. The resolution and detail on this cut were excellent with a very smooth, non-edgy, non-digital sound.

Next, I segued into Lyle Lovitt's "North Dakota" from his 1992 release, Joshua Judges Ruth (MCA). This a cut features Lyle in a duet with Rickie Lee Jones and the Elgar's performance provided an amazing reproduction of already very resolute cut. On this track, I again found the soundstage to be amazingly wide, but in this case, I heard somewhat of a hole in the center image. It seemed as if the sound was focused more on the outer edges of the soundfield than in the center.

On the remastered AC/DC "Back in Black" (Atco) I continued to hear the wide soundstaging, but found at higher volumes the Elgar caused some ear fatigue as compared to my Mark Levinson No. 36s. This problem was not nearly as evident as lower volumes, but what kind of wimp listens to AC/DC at low volumes anyway?

Finally, on Madonna's "Vogue" from The Immaculate Collection (Sire), a cut recorded with Q-Sound effects, I found the image to pop amazingly out of the soundstage. I have used this cut to evaluate many digital products, but of them all, the Elgar performed the best on this booming dance track. The bass on this cut tends to become bloated on lesser digital products where it was intended to sound big and booming. With the Elgar the bass was impressively tight.

The Voodoo Powers of 24 Bit Playback
The Elgar plays every format we know, ranging from standard 16 bit CDs to 24 bit 96 KHz source material fed from something like a 24 bit Nagra reel-to-reel. Most of us don't have a Nagra or any 24 bit source material, but soon we will. I attempted to borrow a Nagra from a producer friend of mine, but he was, unfortunately, out of the country.

At an audition of higher resolution digital playback presented by Sony at an AES (Audio Engineering Society) convention in LA, I heard the magic of 24 bit versus its digital and analog competition. The demo featured the same cut played from 1/2 inch analog master tape versus 16, 20, 22 and 24 Bit digital sources on a Krell-Watt/Puppy system. At 16 Bit, the analog master tape was clearly more musical. At 20, bit the digital came into its own, but at 24 bit the digital was just remarkable. More dynamic, more resolute, more everything. It was amazing. You may not be able to utilize 24 bit playback right now with your Elgar, but with Mobile Fidelity and Classic Records 24 bit-96 KHz music DVDs coming soon and with Theta's 24 Bit DaViD DVD/CD transport less than a month away, the time to get excited about 24 bit is now.

The Downside
The Elgar is an shockingly expensive product in a category (DAC) that is quickly disappearing. D-to-A's are increasingly being integrated into high end 5.1 A/V preamps and CD players. In order to do a 24 bit, 5.1 demo you would need three Elgars priced at total of $36,000. dCS does everything they can to ensure your not going to take a bath on an Elgar if you ever sold one, but I am not 100 percent sure. Before I invested in an Elgar I would be certain I had accepted devaluing a majority of the $12,000 investment for excellent 2 channel digital to analog performance over the next three years.

The Elgar has level attenuation, but is not a preamp which could have added more value to the package. You can add a $4000 analog-to-digital converter to an Elgar, but why not just buy a preamp? The remote on the Elgar has many features, but is clunky and wasn't very useful since I controlled volume from my Mark Levinson No. 38s' much sleeker remote.

The Elgar DAC is for a listener dedicated to owning a state-of-the-art digital playback system with a cost-no-object budget. The Elgar is a worthy competitor to any DAC on the market and features a revolutionary design and upgrade plan. Its performance is truly high end and for anyone looking to invest $12,000 in the future of digital now, it is a worthy investment.

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