07 December 2017
- Product Reviews
dCS Network Bridge Review
dCS is a name in the high-end audio community which holds a very high regard when it comes to quality and all things digital, recently celebrating their 30th Birthday. They started producing DAC's for the professional market way back in the 1980's with the first 24bit analogue-to-digital converter which appeared in 1989. Since then the company has gone from strength to strength with its current Vivaldi DAC its greatest achievement to date giving you the very best in their DAC technology and digital prowess, but it comes at a very high cost and is available to rich audiophiles who can afford it. Although the ring DAC technology is also available in their lower costing DAC's with the Debussy being one of them, it has been reviewed HERE at The Speaker Shack so make sure you check out that review after reading the NBR review.

The dCS Network Bridge is a new product for them, it does not look like much at first glance, with its sleek lines and boxed appearance but when you take a look round back things start to turn interesting. Think of it as an entry product into the world of dCS as it can be paired with any DAC from any manufacturer. So your favourite sounding DAC can be used and it will sit in between your network and equipment. There are currently some great reviews already out there for the NBR and they go into great detail about this new product, but I want to concentrate on how it will be used in my system and hope it will help some of you in a similar situation if looking at dabbling in the world of digital files and streaming. Also if you need some help choosing if this product is right for you. Coming from an Aurender N100H this will replace that part of my system and will make streaming possible with the help of dCS's own App and other third-party App/software namely Roon Labs

Features and Build Quality

The build quality of dCS NBR is outstanding and as with all their products, it is hand built at the companies HQ in Cambridgeshire UK. The casing is made from a solid piece of aluminium with the dCS logo embossed on the top of the unit and a single blue neon light on the front panel to tell you the unit has power, the rear of the unit has all the necessary digital inputs and outputs which consist of 2 AES connections which can be used simultaneously to stream up to 384Khz and DSD128 or individually to sample from 24bit 44.1Khz up to DSD64, 3 x SPDI/F connections, 1 ethernet and 1 USB connection for plugging into your network and a USB ext HDD. An external clock can also be connected via a dedicated SPDI/F BNC connection, all of the connections are gold plated for the best connections possible. dCS has a dedicated App which can be downloaded from the IOS App store. This App helps you set up the NBR and also stream music from the various sources that can be connected once installed.

NBR Key Features (From dCS website)

Streamlined FPGA-based design
Streaming services supported include TIDAL and Spotify Connect
Roon Certified
Optional down-sampling to match legacy DAC
Accepts data from UPnP, asynchronous USB-on-the- Go and Apple Airplay
Auto-clocking system improves ease of use and minimizes jitter
Multi-stage power regulation isolates digital and sensitive clock circuitry
Firmware-upgradeable from the internet for future functionality and performance upgrades
Black or Silver – weighs in at just 10.2 lbs.

NBR Digital Inputs:

Network via wired RJ45 Ethernet (WIFI support will be added in the future)
USB 2.0 input to stream music from an external storage drive
NBR Digital Outputs:

SPDIF on 1 RCA phono connect – supporting: 24bit / 192ks/s or DSD/64 in DoP
SPDIF-2 on 2x BNC connectors – supporting: 24bit / 192ks/s or SPIDIF-2 DSD/64
AES – supporting: 24bit / 192ks/s or DSD/64 in DoP
DUAL AES – supporting: 24bit / 384ks/s or DSD/64 and DSD/128 in DoP

Ease of Use and Setting Up

Installing the dCS NBR is an easy task, for a basic system all you need is a power cable, a network connection and one AES digital cable connected between the NBR and your DAC, It is that simple. Once all wired in you can then open the dCS App on your smartphone or iPad and configure the unit for optimal performance for your particular system. The App itself is very intuitive and straightforward that anyone could set it up. If you have a Tidal or Spotify account you just input your username and password for both and once done they are stored for that relevant streaming service. UPnP and USB can also be selected as your sources with the UPnP accessing your NAS on the network which is what I have installed. The dCS NBR is Roon Ready and to use the NBR to its full potential it is one of the best bits of software to manage your music files, as in my case I have a huge library of material in standard Red Book and in High-Resolution formats. Up until now, I have been using the Aurender N100H streamer with its associated Conductor App, I thought the Conductor App was good but once you start using Roon it quickly becomes apparent how accomplished Roon is at controlling and streaming your music. I am using my Alienware PC running the Core Roon software and my iPad with the Roon Remote Essentials App. It is a very slick and easily managed system and way of streaming music from my main NAS HDD over the network.

Performance and Sound Quality

For this review, I have had the privilege of using a couple of different speaker brands, which in part has been fun but at times hard work. Listening sessions were completed using my older ProAc K6 speakers which have subsequently now been replaced by the new Wilson Audio Yvette's. Powering both sets of speakers has been the magnificent McIntosh Labs MA8000 amplifier and my DAC is the Mytek Brooklyn DAC. I have also been listening to the Aurender N100H and comparing the sound quality to the dCS NBR as it would be used instead of this unit if purchased separately. It has been an eye-opener as I always thought that the Aurender performed really well and was potentially one of the best ways of listening to my music files but the dCS has made me take a second look at what in my system is the weakest link, at least from the perspective of streaming music. All cables being used are from Transparent Cables with the exception of Network cables which are all standard cabling back to a 16 port TP-Link switch which connects to my network and BT Infinity HUB for broadband.

Listening to some of my favourite albums in high-resolution first off is the Ultimate Mancini album in 24bit 88.2khz format which has some of my favourite scores to movies and TV shows that I loved watching when I was a kid, from the genius that was Henry Mancini. This album has the extended version of The Pink Panther theme tune and it is an absolute delight to hear as I had always thought it sounded fantastic but with the dCS Network Bridge it is taken to the next level with a musicality that I have not experienced in my system until now, I had even questioned my DAC as not being up to the task compared to my other components but it is like my music has taken on a new lease of life with the NBR installed. The noise floor has been lowered and each instrument being played has a new depth of clarity that I am now hearing. Track 2 Charade has improved dynamics and in comparison, the same track through the Aurender N100H sounded flat with less life and body to the music. Now what you are getting is toe-tapping music which is thoroughly enjoyable with a much sweeter top end and overall a better tonal balance across the range. It all sounds much tighter and more together than before.

Moving on to another artist and one that I listen to a lot of in high-resolution and that is Patricia Barber and the beautiful album Cafe Blue in DSD64 format. Track 1 - What a Shame is a seductive and inviting listen on any system but I am treated to what seems like a private rendition with all the ambience and nuances that were missing from previous sessions and an even more realistic live performance that the dCS manages to capture perfectly. Track 2 - Mourning Grace is my favourite and does not disappoint, the higher fidelity of this track is flawless with stunning dynamics from the percussion and even more weight and attack on the bass.

On to the fantastic album by Daft Punk - Random Access Memories in high-res 24bit 88.2Khz. I have heard this album on many systems and in many HiFi demos/shows where the superb dynamics and intense transients are shown off to convey what a good system is capable of,  but I have never heard it sound quite so good as it does now in my system. Through the dCS NBR the dynamics are better than ever and it has breathed new life into this epic piece of digital music. Track 8 - Get Lucky has to be one of the best tracks on the album although all of them are excellent, this one gets you moving and really draws you into the music with the brilliant lyrics being sung by Pharrell Williams and thumping bass lines, I even had my wife come in and say that this sounded really good and that hardly ever happens.

To be honest I am in absolute awe at how much of a difference that the dCS NBR has made slotted into my system, it really does wonders for my digital music collection and when paired up with Roon it makes for some serious competition for all other high-end audio streamers. I suppose the only caveat now is the DAC that you pair it with, if only I could get hold of a dCS Rossini, now there's a thought.

Conclusions and Final Thoughts

The dCS Network Bridge (NBR) has made such a difference to the way I listen to my music files, that I am seriously considering replacing my Aurender N100H with one as it just sounds so good that I do not think I can revert back. It is some clever electronics which really does make your files bit perfect and it gives you a slice of the dCS magic for a fraction of the cost of one of their DAC's. I cannot recommend this product more highly than this, I want it to stay in my system that is how good it is. If you want to improve the way you listen to your digital music then I ask you to demo one and I promise you will not want to let it go, enough said I think.

The Speaker Shack awards the dCS Network Bridge with an Outstanding Product award and thoroughly deserved too.

Price at time of review approx £3,250

dCS website

dCS UK Distributor Absolute Sounds

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