dCS Rossini Player & Rossini Clock Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus compared the Rossini D/A processor with the Puccini SACD player in January 2017 (Vol.40 No.1):

For three years, until the dCS Rossini DAC came on the scene, my reference source for digital playback was its predecessor, a dCS Puccini SACD/CD player connected to a dCS Scarlatti clock. As soon as I connected the Rossini DAC ($23,999) to the rest of my reference system (footnote 1), I knew there was no turning back.

Other than not having a CD transport mechanism, the Rossini DAC is identical to the Rossini Player that John Atkinson reviewed in the December 2016 issue. At first, I thought that a systematic comparison, with and without the Rossini, would be a straightforward task. That John Atkinson was using the dCS Rossini Clock in his review didn't matter: my Scarlatti Clock would be in use no matter which dCS DAC was in my system. But as John reviewed the Rossini Player, I needed to compare the sounds of three component combos: Puccini SACD/CD transport with DAC vs Paganini SACD/CD transport with that Puccini DAC vs Paganini SACD/CD transport with Rossini DAC. Constants included the Scarlatti Clock and the same Nordost Odin 2 S/PDIF interconnect between the Paganini transport and the two DACs.

First up were "Baby I'm a Fool" and "Your Heart Is as Black as Night," from Melody Gardot's My One and Only Thrill (CD, Verve 1796781). The Puccini alone sounded more than a little gray in comparison to what I heard via the Puccini-Paganini combo. Through the Puccini alone, the bass seemed boomier, the orchestra canned, the voice dismayingly patched-in, the horns devoid of their natural edge, the details smudged.

When I added the Paganini transport to the Puccini, the orchestra sounded clearer, presumably because the noise floor was lower, violins had more body, and color and dynamics increased to a point where I wanted to lower the volume. Bass was fuller and better controlled, and brushes on cymbals and drums sounded so much clearer and better defined that my attention was drawn to them in a new way.

Then, I connected the Paganini transport to the Rossini DAC. Not only did the colors of the piano become richer and more distinct, but color contrasts between it other instruments and Gardot's voice were also heightened. The orchestra gained in natural weight and emphasis, and individual instruments within the orchestra—specifically the guitar—emerged with greater natural body and complexity. All trace of muddiness in complex passages was eliminated, save for some minimal, room-related bass boom.

Most important, when Gardot sang the words "If I let you hang around," I could hear, for the first time, her extra emphasis on let, and the emotional import that conveyed. The intimacy of Gardot's singing touched me as never before, and, for me, elevated her status as an artist.

I then repeated these tests in the opposite order—from Rossini-Paganini to Puccini solo—this time with very different music: Robert Honstein's heavily percussive Conduit, performed by new-music ensemble Eighth Blackbird on their fabulous Hand Eye (CD, Cedille 162).

With the Rossini-Paganini combo, I savored the marked color contrasts between the initial attack on woodblock and drum, and the wide dynamic contrasts between forceful hits and delicate taps. The sound of a single chime resonating and decaying was mesmerizing.

When I switched to the Puccini-Paganini pairing, that chime didn't seem to hover in space as long, and colors were less saturated. Nor did the woodblock sound as woody—the Puccini seemed to emphasize the initial impact over the resonant decay. The delicacy I'd heard with the Rossini was less noticeable, and dynamics were compressed. This degradation only increased through the solo Puccini, whose sound was less colorful and engaging.

What most surprised me about these comparisons was that adding the Paganini transport to the Puccini made a greater difference than switching between the Puccini and Rossini DACs. The realization that, for three years, I could have been enjoying significantly better sound had I used a Paganini transport with my Puccini wasn't just sobering: it was annoying as hell.

Of course, the Puccini can decode the DSD layer of SACDs; the Rossini Player can play only the CD layer. Even though the Rossini has a markedly superior DAC, and can upsample to DSD or DXD, there's no getting around the fact that SACDs' soundstages, depths, colors, etc., were pretty wondrous through the Puccini. Only a separate dCS transport, such as the discontinued Paganini or the current Vivaldi, will let you hear SACDs with the Rossini. In that case, of course, you'll derive more from SACDs than ever before.

Before I closed the Book of Comparisons, I conducted a test that transcended the issue of internal vs external transport: I played files through the Puccini vs the Rossini, using a Nordost Heimdall 2 USB cable connected to a MacBook Pro. At the time I did these comparions, I had yet to try Nordost's Tyr 2 and Valhalla 2 USB. I've tried other USB cables in my system, but they've only validated Nordost's claim that their cables sound best in a system wired exclusively with Nordost products.

Courtesy of recording engineer David Bowles, I auditioned 24-bit/192kHz files of Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorus performing Alessandro Scarlatti's long-lost serenata La Gloria di Primavera (CD or BD, Philharmonia Baroque 9). Beyond the differences I heard in the previous comparisons, the grace that is so central to Philharmonia Baroque's artistry came through the Rossini far more than it did through the Puccini. I've often heard the PBO in concert; it's difficult to describe how wonderful it felt to be once again immersed in such mellifluous playing.

Other hi-rez tracks auditioned included one from Mason Bates's Alternative Energy, shared by recording engineer and producer Jack Vad, that melds sounds from computer synthesizers and the Fermi particle accelerator with that of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (footnote 2). I also listened to songs by Suzanne Vega and Björk, passed along by music connoisseur Philip O'Hanlon, of audio distributor On a Higher Note. In all cases, the Rossini seemed to dive into the center of the music and bring it home in ways the Puccini could not. Both Bates's big wows and Vega's understated eloquence came through loud and clear. What happened between the notes was as involving as the notes themselves.

Last week, while using the Paganini-Rossini to compare interpretations of the Schumann lied "Schneeglöckchen," I heard for the first time tiny nuances in an anything-but-great CD transfer of a priceless, 85-year-old recording by the irreplaceable soprano Elisabeth Schumann: Elisabeth Schumann: Lieder Recordings 1930–1938 (Naxos Historical 8.111099). In an unamplified performance, such small changes of emphasis may not carry to the back of the hall, but they're nonetheless captured by the recording microphone(s), and are expressions of a singer's ultimate intention.

To be able to get closer to the heart of artistic inspiration and find myself filled with gratitude and wonder at the beauty of it all are, to me, the ultimate dividends of the audiophile experience. The Rossini has taken me closer than ever before. Bravo.—Jason Victor Serinus

Footnote 1: My reference system: dCS Paganini transport; dCS Scarlatti Clock; MacBook Pro laptop computer; Oppo BDP-93 NuForce Edition universal Blu-ray player; Pass Labs XA 200.8 monoblock power amplifiers; Wilson Audio Specialties Alexia loudspeakers; Nordost Odin 2 speaker cables, interconnects, and power cords; Nordost power treatment; Grand Prix Audio racks; Resolution Acoustics room treatment; miscellaneous ancillaries from Absolare, Bybee, Stein, Synergistic Research.

Footnote 2: See my review here.

dCS (Data Conversion Systems), Ltd.
US distributor: Data Conversion Systems Americas, Inc.
PO Box 541443
Waltham, MA 02454-1443
(617) 314-9296

Axiom05's picture

I have come across several 24-bit files that are identified as 32-bit in Soundirok, the iPad app that I use as a client for mpd. No idea why.

Panagiotis Karavitis's picture

Known issue, the first 8 bits are null, files are indeed 24bits

Joao1's picture

JA - thanks for the detailed review. Are the Shunyata Research Dark Field cable elevators part of your regular system, or are they being tested? Good results?