Bridging the Gulf between Music and System: Designed to Form the Link between Your Network-Stored Music and a Hi-Fi System, This dCS Unit Is Part of a New Generation of Audio Components

Gramophone, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Bridging the Gulf between Music and System: Designed to Form the Link between Your Network-Stored Music and a Hi-Fi System, This dCS Unit Is Part of a New Generation of Audio Components


The dCS Network Bridge is a relatively small and plain-looking little box--at least when compared with the British manufacturer's other products--designed to sit between music stored on a home network and the digital inputs of a hi-fi system, providing a means of accessing and playing a library. It's principally intended for use with other dCS products, including current and past digital-to-analogue converters, but the way in which the product has been engineered means it has more wide-ranging appeal, especially for those who want to keep their set-ups clean and simple.

The 3250 [pounds sterling] Network Bridge is part of a strong digital line-up from Cambridgeshire-based dCS (Data Conversion Systems). dCS is a strong believer in optimising every part of the digital chain, which is why it makes separate transports, converters and master clock generators for its flagship systems. There's a marked lack of 'off-the-shelf solutions, too: the company tends to write and programme its own systems. Not only does this allow dCS to design the product to its requirements but it also opens up the possibility of future online firmware updates, bringing both performance upgrades and the chance to add extra functionality.

The Network Bridge is some 32cm wide and stands just over 6.5cm tall, the only notable feature when set up being the little stub antenna for wireless connectivity. There's no display and a marked lack of controls, the units being 'driven' over a network connection using a smartphone or tablet app: dCS has its own Network Bridge App for set-up and playback, or the unit can be controlled by any one of a number of UPnP-compatible apps. Networking is via either Wi-Fi or a wired connection; I'd suggest sticking to the latter for the smoothest listening experience, especially with higher-resolution music files. As well as network streaming, for example from a Network Attached Storage device or a computer running suitable UPnP software to make music available on the network, the Network Bridge can also accept data streamed via Apple AirPlay from iOS devices and can be used to access Spotify Connect or Tidal streaming services.

It's also Roon ready and can play music from other devices running Roon; like the Spotify and Tidal integration, this is dependant on the appropriate licence having been purchased. You can also connect USB storage devices--either thumb-drives or hard disks--to the dCS's rear-panel input and play content directly from them.

There's power and detail to the sound, making anything played an involving, satisfying listen

Output to a suitable DAC is via what looks like a baffling array of connections, but then the Network Bridge is designed for compatibility with a wide range of the company's DACs. There are two AES/ EBU digital outs, BNC sockets allowing the separate output of left and right channels in digital form, and inputs for an external digital clock, enabling all the devices in a chain to be synchronised to the same master device. For those of us without dCS digital partners, the unit also offers a standard SPDIF digital output, able to output content at up to 192kHz/24 bit and DSD64 (using the DSD over PCM frames, or DoP, standard). …

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