dCS Rossini Player & Rossini Clock MQA Playback

Jason Victor Serinus auditioned the MQA upgrade for the dCS Rossini in May 2018 (Vol.41 No.5):

Although it seemed that a permanent rapprochement between Democrats and Republicans might arrive sooner, dCS's day with MQA has finally dawned. The company's Rossini DAC, Rossini Player, and limited-edition Vivaldi One SACD/CD and network player can now "unfold" and render MQA files; by the time you read this, their Network Bridge should be equipped for MQA unfolding; and the Vivaldi DAC and Upsampler are being readied for MQA rendering.

While the reasons for dCS's delay in implementing MQA are many, a press release sent by dCS to the consumer-audio press underscored the challenges presented by dCS's "uniquely programmable . . . very advanced and high-performance RingDAC™," which uses a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) rather than a chip. The release notes that MQA Ltd. and dCS, both headquartered in the Cambridge area of Great Britain, "have aligned philosophies [and] strong mutual respect and trust," and have devoted well over a year to discussing, developing, and testing "a unique and exciting implementation" of MQA. It continues:

"MQA Decoders include a Renderer which is customised for each built-in digital-to-analogue converter. Generally, the converter includes an integrated DAC which is not wholly configurable and may have some performance limitations. For this reason, most MQA decoders include pre-compensation for the built-in converter.

"dCS Rossini does not use IC converters; instead the process of reconstructing analogue from the digital stream is entirely custom, using specific software and discrete hardware to make a DAC. However, unlike other non-integrated DACs, [the dCS DAC] is still modelled on reconstruction using oversampling, filtering and high-speed conversion.

"In the case of Rossini, the MQA and dCS teams were able to work together to develop code which accurately matched the MQA hierarchical ideal reconstruction to analogue."

The press release also asserts that the Rossini DAC with MQA represents "the first opportunity to bring to market a converter which, by providing exact rendering to 16x (768 kHz) and beyond, matches the desired temporal response with very low modulation noise."

Upgrading a Rossini DAC to unfold and render MQA is easy. When connected to the Internet via Ethernet, use the Rossini's iOS app to find the Update function, activate it, and leave things alone until the update is complete. When the Rossini is back up and running, check the software version (currently v.1.10 and 368) to ensure that everything has updated correctly. Listening will tell the rest of the tale.

While the Rossini's software currently offers up to six digital filters (depending on the file's sampling rate) for playback of non-MQA PCM, and four filters for DSD, it has only one filter, M1, for MQA, regardless of sample rate. The first time you play an MQA file, you may have to cycle through the filter choices until the M1 and MQA designations appear. After that, the Rossini remembers and implements your choice for all subsequent MQA tracks. At the time of writing, the dCS Rossini MQA software upgrade only enables full MQA core decoding and rendering through the Rossini's Network (Ethernet) or USB-A inputs, not S/PDIF or AES/EBU. Similarly, full playback of MQA-encoded CDs is only possible on the Rossini if one inserts the disc into an MQA-decoding player, like the Oppo UDP-205.

Thanks to the generosity of MQA Ltd.'s Bob Stuart and recording engineers John Atkinson, David Chesky, and Peter McGrath, I ended up with a treasure trove that included files from Reference Recordings' Keith O. Johnson, and Wilson Audio's Dave Wilson. Imagine having to select among rare live recordings by pianists Martha Argerich and Stephen Hough, baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (unaccompanied), and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas!

As I learned from Kal Rubinson, studies have shown that when listeners make an A/B comparisons, increased familiarity with the audition material inclines them to favor "B. To prevent such bias, I performed innumerable A/B/A/B/A comparisons. I also frequently played the MQA track first (A), then switched to the PCM file from which it was derived (B). Sometimes, when multiple selections were queued up, I lost track of which version had come first and simply trusted my ears. The system included Wilson Audio Specialties Alexia 2 loudspeakers driven by Pass Laboratories XA200.8 monoblocks and connected with Nordost Odin cabling.

After months listening to dCS's flagship combo of the Network Bridge and Vivaldi DAC, I thought a return to the Rossini DAC would prove disappointing. While the Rossini's soundstage was smaller and its images had less weight, when, for my very first MQA/non-MQA comparison, I chose JA's recording of Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque, from the male choir Cantus's While You Are Alive (24-bit/88.2kHz ALAC for the non-MQA, 24/44.1 MQA.FLAC for the MQA version; CD, Cantus CTS-1208), the non-MQA's spaciousness and profound silences between notes left me stunned. The sound was so beautiful—the voices so realistically arrayed and focused within a believably resonant acoustic—that I doubted MQA could make it better.

But with MQA, a slight haze lifted, and the men's voices had more realistic resonance and decay. Those die-offs into silence were convincing. Sustained high notes had greater focus and clarity, with less artificial softness around edges.

In an MQA/non-MQA comparison of another John Atkinson recording, this time of Ethan Sperry and the Portland State Chamber Choir performing Eriks Ešenvalds's Northern Lights (24/88.2 FLAC and 24/44.1 MQA.FLAC; CD, Into Unknown Worlds, CD Baby), the clarity with which MQA delivered the complex melding of glockenspiel and glass harmonica was remarkable. MQA's more involving three-dimensional layering and focus of voice and instrument, and the natural progression of attack to decay, sounded uncannily real.

With "Get Lucky," from Daft Punk's Random Access Memories (24/88.2 FLAC and 24/44.1k MQA.FLAC; CD, Columbia 88883716861), it wasn't just the highs that seemed more lifelike with MQA. Every voice and electronically hyped instrumental effect became more alive, more three-dimensional, more viscerally involving. With MQA, in a performance by Costantino Catena of Debussy's Clair de lune on a Fazioli F278 piano from The Sound of the Concert Grand (24/192 FLAC and 24/48 MQA.FLAC from BD, Camerata), piano textures in all ranges felt more realistic, and the way notes hung in space as they radiated through a convincing depiction of the concert-hall acoustic was mesmerizing.

One of many recordings on which MQA made all the difference was an excerpt from a performance by Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (24/176.4 FLAC and 24/44.1 MQA.FLAC from analog master tape; CD, Reference RR-70). High strings and triangle sounded noticeably less glassy with MQA, the thrilling conclusion was clearer, low-level detail and overtone harmonics were more discernible, and thunderous percussion was even more so.

I also invited over three audiophile buddies so that they could hear for themselves what all the MQA fuss was about.

"I felt like the MQA file had more shimmer, and the solo male voice seemed to come from deeper in the hall," Dr. Gary said of JA's recording of Ešenvalds's Northern Lights. "There was definitely more air around voices, and they seemed to flow more naturally."

"I also heard more distinct separation between voices," said Peter. John, in the somewhat disadvantaged back row, agreed.

When we compared versions of a track from The Raven, Rebecca Pidgeon's audiophile rave of old (24/44.1 ALAC and 24/44.1 MQA.FLAC; CD, Chesky JD 115), Gary declared, "I initially thought it was just greater sibilance, but I also heard more chest voice." Peter thought the piano sounded more natural and rounded with MQA, with greater overtones and a cleaner sound. I concurred. The original sounded considerably flatter, and Pidgeon's voice lacked color and life. With MQA, the highs of Joel Diamond's piano resonated beautifully in space and were far more compelling.

dCS's implementation of MQA in their Rossini D/A processor is 100% successful. The improved sound the Rossini drew from the MQA tracks was easily audible, and took recorded sound to another level, viscerally and emotionally,—Jason Victor Serinus

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?