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Thread: DCB1 unity gain pre-amp and spotfire interconnects - ongoing review

  1. #1
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: Staffordshire, England

    Posts: 26,357
    I'm Martin.

    Default DCB1 unity gain pre-amp and spotfire interconnects - ongoing review

    The DCB1 pre-amp is a powered, unity gain Pre-amp available as a kit you make up yourself or get someone to make for you.

    I bought mine from Steve (STD305M) of this parish as he has decided to build a hot-rodded version ( more here https://theartofsound.net/forum/show...highlight=dcb1)

    Steve was generous enough to let me have it for the cost of the parts so this was not an expensive punt. Oliver (Bigman80) had already brought his over so I could have a listen to it and I was intrigued enough to obtain one for long-term evaluation.

    Here's a picture of it. The case is generic Chinese but is of acceptable quality:




    At the same time as bringing over the Pre-amp Oli also brought over his Spotifire interconnects. Again I was intrigued by what they were doing so I bought a set so I could have a proper listen over time.


    Due to its input sensitivity the Krell power amp I am using at the moment is not an ideal match for a passive pre-amp so I thought I'd try an alternative. Added to that although I was getting a pretty good sound I have, on a few occasions, heard systems that are another level above so I thought I would see if I could get there too. (On the cheap, obviously )


    So this is an ongoing review of the combination of the Spotfire interconnects and the DCB1 pre-amp. Ongoing because I have not had enough of a listen yet to come to any sort of absolute opinion.


    For the record the system is

    Sony SCD-XB790QS cd player (I have better but they are all out of commission at the moment for one reason or another).
    DCB1 pre amp
    Krell KSA50 Power Amp (50 wpc 'baby' Krell from 1993)
    JM Lab Electra 926 Loudspeakers (4 driver 3-way floorstanders)


    Interconnects are Spotfire from cd player to pre and from pre to power. Speaker cables are some unbranded multi-strand copper cables I bought from Geoff (Walpurgis).

    Since doing blind testing I have become something of an agnostic with regards to interconnects. Not to say they all sound the same but the differences tend to be small and results have as much to do with how well they get on with the boxes they connect as anything intrinsic to the cable itself. So I'm not going to concentrate on the interconnects on their own here, you can get a set on loan and see how they work out for you in your system.


    The DCB1 has been compared to pre-amps costing around 3K so its reputation precedes it. I'm not much for active pre-amps on the whole as most of them are not very good. Barry of this parish owns a Mark Levinson that I would have in a second, but try finding one, and besides you would be talking 3K second hand which is too rich for my blood. So I was hoping the DCB1would be similar.


    Compared to using a passive the presentation of the DCB1 is quite different. In broad terms the sound is darker but with more sparkle, the metallic nature of cymbals comes across much more vividly. Rim shots and other quick percussive sounds are more defined and hit harder. Bass is subjectively deeper, has more power and is more 'solid'. Stereo imaging is good, despite my room being a major factor here (too narrow). It's possible to sit to one side at 90 degrees from the speakers and the stereo image is still in the centre. That's unusual and a good sign.


    Downsides: I have noticed only two so far. The sound is less open and subjectively 'effortless' than the passive, also when a mix gets busy the separation of instruments is not as clear cut. It's still pretty good mind, but not as good.


    These traits were not so apparent on some of the recordings I played. I've found it's always a good idea to listen to a wide variety of recordings when making an assessment not just some showcase audiophile recording like you often get at shows. How a system handles a busy mix in a murky analogue recording is the real test, not how 'realistic' it sounds when playing a recording of a bloke hitting a block of wood with a stick.


    Here's what I've listened to so far:


    Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms - first record I ever played on my first proper separates system so I always wheel this one out for testing. Couldn't find fault. Test passed 10/10

    Jethro Tull - A Little Light Music - live semi acoustic set from about 1991, and my test to see if the set up can deliver the 'beauty' of the sound. In particular the instrumental 'Under Wraps' should be an entrancing aural experience. Test passed. 8/10


    Boston - Third Stage - I demand that a system should be able to show up the differences in recording and production and not make everything sound like it was made in the same studio at around the same time with the same engineers. The more coloured the system, the less of a difference. This one should stand out as no other recording sounds like this (you can even hear the tape wow at some points). Test passed. 9/10


    The Cult - Love: Heavy rock at high levels should remain clean and non-fatiguing regardless. If a system can't do that it's no use to me. Subjectively I thought that this seemed slightly more limited dynamically than I am used to. Not by much and I could just be recalling it from playing it through my Technics SLP1200 which is better than the Sony in this regard. But no issues with any grain or distortion. Test Passed 7/10


    The Doors - LA Woman - One of the best things ever done by anyone even if it is a slightly dodgy analogue recording from 1971 - trick here is to get the rainstorm in 'Riders On The Storm' correct. Have to say I have never heard this album sounding better, the view into the studio was amazing. Passed, 10/10


    Steely Dan: greatest hits 1972-78 - covers a variety of eras and productions so serves the same purpose as the Boston album. Sparkle on this that I did not have before, I was sucked into the performance even though I know every word and note of these songs and could play the whole album in my head. At this point I was starting to realise that the DCB1/Spotfire combo was pretty good. 9/10

    Steely Dan - Two Against Nature - Criticised at the time (2000) for being mastered too loud have to say I have never found that. A highly polished recording that was given a highly polished presentation. Pretty much flawless 10/10.

    The Blues Brothers - Original Soundtrack - good production values but this can sound too much on a system that has something dodgy going on. I've heard people talk about the sound of strings 'caressing their ears' before but never experienced that myself. But on 'Minnie The Moocher' they did just that. 10/10 again


    And finally


    Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - this was a bit of an eye-opener as it really showed up what the DCB1 and Spotfire were doing differently. It isn't a showcase recording by any means and when the mix was busy this was when I noticed that instrumental separation was not all it could be. Nor did it quite bop along like I am used to. The Spotfires do let through an unusual amount of bass power and weight and I don't know if this was the reason. I still enjoyed it mind, but this was a bit of a chink in the armour. 6/10


    So that is where I am up to at the moment. I would say the gains outnumber the losses by a significant margin but I have more listening to do yet. Not perfection, but on the whole, it's getting closer.
    Last edited by Macca; 18-11-2018 at 16:13.
    Current Lash Up:

    *Sony SCD XB790QS* Nelson Pass DCB1 / Krell KSA100 mkII * JM Lab Electra 926 *


    'You fool! To think that your ape-brain could contain the full knowledge of the Krell!'

  2. #2
    Join Date: Nov 2015

    Location: Wolverhampton

    Posts: 9,762
    I'm Oliver.

    Default

    Hi Macca,

    Good writeup so far. I'm surprised by the Daft punk track's comments. Organisation and clarity seems to be a particular strength of the DCB1 and certainly has been my experience here. I will be interested to hear your thoughts when you get that track via the Technics CDP, not that I'm placing any blame on the Sony as they are capable players, just to eradicate the chance of remembering the Techy doing it better.

    I've heard your rig and if you've made any level of improvement via the changes, it must now be very good. Personally, if I reeled off 10/10's for the songs you have, I'd be very pleased.

    Well done for having the balls to give something new a try. Looking forward to the rest of the review.
    Analogue: Technics SP10 MK2 > Phonomac AT-1010 MK6 tonearm > Ortofon Kontrapunkt b > Bigbottle Jfet MC Valve Phonostage
    Digital: Orchard Audio PecanPi with JRiver
    Preamplifier: DCB1 with Khozmo 48 Step Series Attenuator or Neurochrome Differential Preamp
    Amplification: Neurochrome Modulus 686
    Cables: SPOTFIRE Speaker Cable & SPOTFIRE IC Cables & SPOTFIRE Tonearm cable
    Speakers: Mordaunt Short Performance 880

    Price List For SPOTFIRE Cables here:https://bit.ly/2Uxiv3j

    Alternative reading: http://www.audioaddictsforum.com

  3. #3
    Join Date: Nov 2018

    Location: Grimsby

    Posts: 228
    I'm David.

    Default

    Looking forward to more of your findings Macca. Keep up the good work.

  4. #4
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: Staffordshire, England

    Posts: 26,357
    I'm Martin.

    Default

    Thanks, I'm trying my best.

    Still need to listen to a lot of stuff. Haven't done Sinatra Live At the Sands yet. That's always a make or break for me. No use having a hi-f system if it can't play a bit of Frank.
    Current Lash Up:

    *Sony SCD XB790QS* Nelson Pass DCB1 / Krell KSA100 mkII * JM Lab Electra 926 *


    'You fool! To think that your ape-brain could contain the full knowledge of the Krell!'

  5. #5
    Join Date: May 2017

    Location: West Sussex, UK

    Posts: 776
    I'm Steve.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Macca View Post
    The DCB1 pre-amp is a powered, unity gain Pre-amp available as a kit you make up yourself or get someone to make for you.

    I bought mine from Steve (STD305M) of this parish as he has decided to build a hot-rodded version ( more here https://theartofsound.net/forum/show...highlight=dcb1)

    Steve was generous enough to let me have it for the cost of the parts so this was not an expensive punt. Oliver (Bigman80) had already brought his over so I could have a listen to it and I was intrigued enough to obtain one for long-term evaluation.

    Here's a picture of it. The case is generic Chinese but is of acceptable quality:




    At the same time as bringing over the Pre-amp Oli also brought over his Spotifire interconnects. Again I was intrigued by what they were doing so I bought a set so I could have a proper listen over time.


    Due to its input sensitivity the Krell power amp I am using at the moment is not an ideal match for a passive pre-amp so I thought I'd try an alternative. Added to that although I was getting a pretty good sound I have, on a few occasions, heard systems that are another level above so I thought I would see if I could get there too. (On the cheap, obviously )


    So this is an ongoing review of the combination of the Spotfire interconnects and the DCB1 pre-amp. Ongoing because I have not had enough of a listen yet to come to any sort of absolute opinion.


    For the record the system is

    Sony SCD-XB790QS cd player (I have better but they are all out of commission at the moment for one reason or another).
    DCB1 pre amp
    Krell KSA50 Power Amp (50 wpc 'baby' Krell from 1993)
    JM Lab Electra 926 Loudspeakers (4 driver 3-way floorstanders)


    Interconnects are Spotfire from cd player to pre and from pre to power. Speaker cables are some unbranded multi-strand copper cables I bought from Geoff (Walpurgis).

    Since doing blind testing I have become something of an agnostic with regards to interconnects. Not to say they all sound the same but the differences tend to be small and results have as much to do with how well they get on with the boxes they connect as anything intrinsic to the cable itself. So I'm not going to concentrate on the interconnects on their own here, you can get a set on loan and see how they work out for you in your system.


    The DCB1 has been compared to pre-amps costing around 3K so its reputation precedes it. I'm not much for active pre-amps on the whole as most of them are not very good. Barry of this parish owns a Mark Levinson that I would have in a second, but try finding one, and besides you would be talking 3K second hand which is too rich for my blood. So I was hoping the DCB1would be similar.


    Compared to using a passive the presentation of the DCB1 is quite different. In broad terms the sound is darker but with more sparkle, the metallic nature of cymbals comes across much more vividly. Rim shots and other quick percussive sounds are more defined and hit harder. Bass is subjectively deeper, has more power and is more 'solid'. Stereo imaging is good, despite my room being a major factor here (too narrow). It's possible to sit to one side at 90 degrees from the speakers and the stereo image is still in the centre. That's unusual and a good sign.


    Downsides: I have noticed only two so far. The sound is less open and subjectively 'effortless' than the passive, also when a mix gets busy the separation of instruments is not as clear cut. It's still pretty good mind, but not as good.


    These traits were not so apparent on some of the recordings I played. I've found it's always a good idea to listen to a wide variety of recordings when making an assessment not just some showcase audiophile recording like you often get at shows. How a system handles a busy mix in a murky analogue recording is the real test, not how 'realistic' it sounds when playing a recording of a bloke hitting a block of wood with a stick.


    Here's what I've listened to so far:


    Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms - first record I ever played on my first proper separates system so I always wheel this one out for testing. Couldn't find fault. Test passed 10/10

    Jethro Tull - A Little Light Music - live semi acoustic set from about 1991, and my test to see if the set up can deliver the 'beauty' of the sound. In particular the instrumental 'Under Wraps' should be an entrancing aural experience. Test passed. 8/10


    Boston - Third Stage - I demand that a system should be able to show up the differences in recording and production and not make everything sound like it was made in the same studio at around the same time with the same engineers. The more coloured the system, the less of a difference. This one should stand out as no other recording sounds like this (you can even hear the tape wow at some points). Test passed. 9/10


    The Cult - Love: Heavy rock at high levels should remain clean and non-fatiguing regardless. If a system can't do that it's no use to me. Subjectively I thought that this seemed slightly more limited dynamically than I am used to. Not by much and I could just be recalling it from playing it through my Technics SLP1200 which is better than the Sony in this regard. But no issues with any grain or distortion. Test Passed 7/10


    The Doors - LA Woman - One of the best things ever done by anyone even if it is a slightly dodgy analogue recording from 1971 - trick here is to get the rainstorm in 'Riders On The Storm' correct. Have to say I have never heard this album sounding better, the view into the studio was amazing. Passed, 10/10


    Steely Dan: greatest hits 1972-78 - covers a variety of eras and productions so serves the same purpose as the Boston album. Sparkle on this that I did not have before, I was sucked into the performance even though I know every word and note of these songs and could play the whole album in my head. At this point I was starting to realise that the DCB1/Spotfire combo was pretty good. 9/10

    Steely Dan - Two Against Nature - Criticised at the time (2000) for being mastered too loud have to say I have never found that. A highly polished recording that was given a highly polished presentation. Pretty much flawless 10/10.

    The Blues Brothers - Original Soundtrack - good production values but this can sound too much on a system that has something dodgy going on. I've heard people talk about the sound of strings 'caressing their ears' before but never experienced that myself. But on 'Minnie The Moocher' they did just that. 10/10 again


    And finally


    Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - this was a bit of an eye-opener as it really showed up what the DCB1 and Spotfire were doing differently. It isn't a showcase recording by any means and when the mix was busy this was when I noticed that instrumental separation was not all it could be. Nor did it quite bop along like I am used to. The Spotfires do let through an unusual amount of bass power and weight and I don't know if this was the reason. I still enjoyed it mind, but this was a bit of a chink in the armour. 6/10


    So that is where I am up to at the moment. I would say the gains outnumber the losses by a significant margin but I have more listening to do yet. Not perfection, but on the whole, it's getting closer.
    Hi Macca

    Great review, considering the build cost I'm more than happy with your findings.
    There are a few little tweeks to make improvement on the presentation and give a little more resolution.
    I have almost completed the next level up dcb1.
    Improvements will be posted in my build post

    I think its great that a sub 400 quid pre to perform as well as it does.

    Regards Steve...
    Technics SP10 tt. Cart: At33ptg
    Project 2xperience sb dc
    Nelson Pass DCB1 pre
    Audio Research 75hd
    Aragon 4004 dual mono
    Monarchy Audio SM70
    CD Player: Cyrus cd8se
    Spotfire Speaker Cable
    Rogers Ls3/5a 15ohm
    Tannoy Eaton

  6. #6
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: Staffordshire, England

    Posts: 26,357
    I'm Martin.

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by STD305M View Post
    Hi Macca

    Great review, considering the build cost I'm more than happy with your findings.
    There are a few little tweeks to make improvement on the presentation and give a little more resolution.
    I have almost completed the next level up dcb1.
    Improvements will be posted in my build post

    I think its great that a sub 400 quid pre to perform as well as it does.

    Regards Steve...
    Very true but if it were a commercial product you'd need to add manufacturer overheads and profit margin, distributor margin, dealer margin, shipping and VAT. So probably end up about two grand. Three grand if it was in a blingy case.

    You've done a superb job on it, especially as it was the first one you'd built.

    I'm keen to hear the hot-rod version at some point.
    Current Lash Up:

    *Sony SCD XB790QS* Nelson Pass DCB1 / Krell KSA100 mkII * JM Lab Electra 926 *


    'You fool! To think that your ape-brain could contain the full knowledge of the Krell!'

  7. #7
    Join Date: Feb 2013

    Location: W Lothian

    Posts: 59,176
    I'm Grant.

    Default

    so, it it a keeper?
    Regards,
    Grant .... ؠ

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply-doesn't-work
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  8. #8
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: Staffordshire, England

    Posts: 26,357
    I'm Martin.

    Default

    I tend to keep everything whether I'm using it or not...

    Don't know yet. I can own kit for months before I finally decide there's something it does that I can't get on with. Hence the review being ongoing.
    Current Lash Up:

    *Sony SCD XB790QS* Nelson Pass DCB1 / Krell KSA100 mkII * JM Lab Electra 926 *


    'You fool! To think that your ape-brain could contain the full knowledge of the Krell!'

  9. #9
    Join Date: May 2017

    Location: West Sussex, UK

    Posts: 776
    I'm Steve.

    Default

    Might be a really good reason for a day out

    This was never ment to be a commercial venture just an exersise to keep me busy. Also having limited funds gave me the chance to see if i could get better than mainstream products for less outlay, i think it was a reasonable success

    S
    Technics SP10 tt. Cart: At33ptg
    Project 2xperience sb dc
    Nelson Pass DCB1 pre
    Audio Research 75hd
    Aragon 4004 dual mono
    Monarchy Audio SM70
    CD Player: Cyrus cd8se
    Spotfire Speaker Cable
    Rogers Ls3/5a 15ohm
    Tannoy Eaton

  10. #10
    Join Date: Jan 2013

    Location: Bristol

    Posts: 5,818
    I'm Justin.

    Default

    Martin I seriously thought about buying this and running such a thread.

    Great read so far. Nuances and differences are important personally when you're trying to get the best out of the shit you actually own.

    I bet I would have found it equally as interesting.

    Personally I dump shit pretty quick if it doesn't beat what I already have. My system remainins relatively static because of it.

    Apart from valves, that is. Always messing with those. Best fine tuning instruments ever invented audio wise I think. If you can afford a substantial quality itinerary.

    What I don't like is a sound that is consistently the same. I swap valves to effect changes digital filters can't achieve.

    Constant change stops a boredom factor creeping in.

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