The full four-box dCS Vivaldi system embodies what high-end digital audio should be all about. It is complex, beautifully made, endlessly functional through its myriad of connection options and of course, very expensive. Unlike so many high-end products though it is refreshingly free of bling, preferring to reflect what modern day dCS are all about through its different sculptured front panels, super in-house design, build quality, and of course its remarkable musical abilities.
It’s been with us a few years now and I first reviewed it, over a couple of issues, just after its release. Those twin articles were really about its capabilities as a CD player and a digital hub. I moved up from a straight transport and DAC, before adding the clock and finally the Upsampler. This enabled me to stream files from external drives. Each additional box brought extreme improvements, though not necessarily of the kind I was expecting. Both the clock and the Upsampler built on the solid foundation of the DAC and transport, and what followed was a glorious and memorable period of musical involvement that had interesting repercussions for me as I learned that so many of those CDs I had thought of as being poor in sound quality, either recording, mastering, or transfer-wise, suddenly became musical revelations with a new life and relevance that took me completely by surprise.
Earlier this year Vivaldi was improved through a series of software updates and a hardware change to the Upsampler. I had never heard of any Vivaldi owners complaining about the existing performance, but when I got to hear what dCS had come up with I understood that, as far as CD replay was concerned at least, the company had moved the Vivaldi system onto an entirely new performance level. In fact, I soon realised that what they’ve actually done is launched the whole system into the stratosphere of digital playback. This is no minor update but rather, a new performance level entirely.
The hardware upgrades are within the upsampler and consist of completely new network and carrier boards. Sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? Actually it is far more significant as these changes have really focussed the whole prospect of the Vivaldi 2.0 as a musically convincing digital hub. From a personal point of view, I have had doubts about what I had been hearing streamed from external drives for quite a while. Yes, I had heard some decent stuff but, if I had a stored file and the CD I would shrug my shoulders and reach for the latter. Even with discs I had ripped myself, there was a downbeat edge to music, accompanied by a softening of dynamics and a real fall-off in colour and textures. The music was there but the magic had gone. I know that many people have been pretty satisfied with the state of play but all I can say was that these sources, with a few notable exceptions, always seemed second-rate to me. After getting that original Vivaldi at home and understanding the way it dealt with real musical issues, I was more convinced than ever that my listening future was going to be CD-based for the foreseeable future.
But, at a stroke dCS and the Vivaldi 2.0 system have completely changed my mind and my listening habits and that, to me, is no small thing.