One of the great things about the NORMA REVO DS-1 is that it’s extremely adaptable, thanks to the adjustable filter. This helps it make a better ‘fit’ into a far wider range of systems than most media players. The difficulty for a reviewer is that makes it hard to pin down in sound quality terms. You can specify ‘slow’ or ‘sharp’ filter (as well as spec any form of upsampling). This has more depth than simple system matching, because in a multi-source digital world, not all services are created equal; a well-manicured local collection of high-resolution files and accurately ripped CDs generally sounds a lot better than a haphazard collection of music files curated on an internet ‘music discovery’ service. The NORMA REVO DS-1 allows the listener some opportunity to make the Deezers and Spotifys of this world sound more like audiophile sources, without sacrificing our existing material.
Put simply, ‘slow’ is more of a full-bodied sound; rich and legato, and describing the elegance of the music rather than its raw intensity. On the other hand ‘sharp’ puts emphasis on transient performance and gives the sound a little more pep in its step. There’s a tendency at this point for people to ask “yes, but which one is better?” This is wrong. It’s not about ‘better’; it’s about what best suits you, your musical tastes, and – perhaps most importantly –what best suits your system.
It’s also easy to get the filter and upsampling options wrong and think the DS-1 a Jack of all Trades, and that the ‘slow’ setting means ‘soggy’ and the ‘sharp’ setting means ‘aggressive’. In fact, the DS-1 does have a common character. It has a rich, refined midrange that gives instruments a sense of harmonic finesse, and builds up and down from there. It doesn’t tame – I played Janis Joplin’s Pearl album [Columbia] both through CD and USB and it gives her raucous energy full throat (which is saying something; her vocal chords were fully weaponised by then) – it just gives body and structure, and that holds throughout.
An important consideration of this ‘shape-shifting’ quality of the DS-1 is not just best ‘fit’ in a system, but how it helps bring out the best in good recordings. But even this ultimately comes back to personal taste. So, the archetypal old-school audiophile, with their collection of 1950s jazz and classical music will gravitate toward the imagery and unforced dynamics of ‘slow’, and those who like audio to replay Infected Mushroom recordings are likely to go for ‘sharp’.
Filter settings, aside, the upsampling options also work not only to highlight good recordings, but also help the less good ones bring out their best. Not everything recorded in the 1960s is fabulous, and the Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills Super Session [Columbia CD] can sound edgy and brash at times. But, by increasing the upsampling, the DS-1 made it possible to listen ‘through’ the harshness, making listening a more satisfying experience in the process.
I am aware that I have devoted more time discussing the filter and upsampling than the sound of the DS-1. But a good digital source should be a discreet and ideal match for the amplifier, and the DS-1 is just that. Those filter and upsampling options just make the DS-1 a match for more amplifiers.