DCS Scarlatti CD/SACD Playback System

Last month, I profiled the Puccini CD/SACD player from British dCS, an all-in-one package and the company's least-expensive audio-disc spinner at a mere $18,000. At the other end of the scale is the Scarlatti, a 3-box system that costs—well, a lot more.

The Scarlatti starts with the transport, which spins CDs and SACDs and reads the data thereon. The data can be sent to the outboard DAC (digital-to-analog converter) via S/PDIF coax, optical, or BNC as well as AES/EBU or FireWire (IEEE 1394), depending on the sample rate and type of data.

As its name implies, the Scarlatti DAC converts digital data from the transport to analog using the company's well-regarded Ring DAC. Both balanced and unbalanced analog outputs are available, and the DAC also provides volume and balance controls in the digital domain, allowing it to drive a power amplifier directly.

The transport and DAC form a complete system, but for the ultimate in performance, the Scarlatti outboard clock reduces jitter and improves the sound even further.

To get the most out of digital-audio files on a computer or media server, the Scarlatti Upsampler provides a USB port and the ability to increase the sample rate and bit depth all the way up to 192kHz/24-bit PCM or 2.822MHz/1-bit DSD. It can also work its magic on data from the transport if desired, improving fine detail, soundstage depth, and imaging.

As I mentioned at the top, the Scarlatti is much more expensive than the Puccini—the transport is $33,000 and the DAC goes for $24,000, or $57,000 for the pair. Add the outboard clock for another $10,000 and the upsampler for an extra $13,000, and you've spent a total of $80,000 out the door.

Before you scoff too loudly at spending such a sum to play CDs and SACDs, check out what Michael Fremer had to say in his review for Stereophile: "The dCS Scarlatti is the best-sounding, most satisfying digital playback system I've heard...For me, the Scarlatti profoundly narrows the gap between analog and high-resolution digital, and for many it will surely close that gap altogether. Those with big SACD collections—and big bank balances—need to hear its effortlessly transparent, tonally neutral, airy performance as it decodes their favorite SACDs...The Scarlatti is also an exceptional CD player...the best CDs sounded more vibrant, dimensional, transparent, and effortless than I'd ever heard them...The price is steep, but it's the best digital I've heard."