A couple weeks ago dCS brought my audio playback system from disappointing and uninviting to stellar and addictive. How did this happen? First, a little back story.
As some Audiophile Style readers know, I moved my listening room from the basement of our house to the old attic (link) located above our main living area. The new listening room has dimensions I like much better for both an office and listening space, including a 9' ceiling. There was no reasonable way to increase the 6'7" ceiling in my basement listening room, so moving rooms was the best option to improve the conditions.
Late last year the construction project to ready the new space in the attic was completed. I moved all my audio gear upstairs, connected it and pressed play. What a disappointment. I didn't expect perfection, but the system sounded so uninviting that I didn't listen to music unless I had to. Keeping the volume low and sitting close to the speakers was the only way to reduce the effect of the room in the short-term.
I had Vicoustic conduct an analysis of my room and recommend acoustic treatments to reign in the liveliness of the room. After I received the proposal, balls were dropped and holidays got in the way, delaying my receipt of the acoustics package. Fortunately I'm set to receive most of the Vicoustic products in the next week.
How does dCS play into all of this? dCS Americas General Manager John Quick hadn't visited me in Minneapolis to deliver and setup a product in roughly 8 years. John visits all writers in North America who use or write about dCS components. It's good for both dCS and the person using the component because setting up a dCS system for optimal playback is a bit different from a more commodity DAC due to all the setup options and personal preference options.
dCS sent me a Rossini DAC straight from the AXPONA show. John followed this up by flying out to Minneapolis a couple weeks later. Before his trip I expressed my frustration with the current sound quality in my room via a phone conversation. Being an all around great person, audiophile, and experienced HiFi industry veteran, John added an extra day to his visit so he could help me squeeze every ounce of sound quality out of this untreated room.
Readers likely don't know that prior to working for dCS, John worked in several different capacities in the industry including for loudspeaker manufacturers and Goodwin's High End in Boston. He was also an audiophile long before getting into the HiFi industry. Thus, John has many years of experience setting up systems and a good understanding of the science behind good sound.
On day one of John's visit to the Audiophile Style headquarters here in Minneapolis, "we" got right to work. By "we" I mean him. I was only an accessory providing paper, a pencil, and an electronic measuring device. We placed the Rossini DAC in my system and hit play to get a baseline sound upon which we hoped to improve. John didn't say much after this first bit of listening, but he said something to the effect of, "I didn't know it was this bad. You should have let me know earlier."
With the worst behind us, John opened his MacBook Pro running a Windows XP virtual machine. Yes, Windows XP. I hadn't seen the XP boot screen in many years. It was nostalgic for all of 5 seconds before I had flashbacks of less than stellar experiences. The Windows XP operating system was required in order to run a room setup program from RPG called Room Optimizer. This utility only works with Windows 95/98/2000/NT/XP! Room Sizer accepts inputs related to room dimensions and possible speaker and listening positions. Once these are entered the app runs simulations between 20Hz and 300Hz and displays the room's frequency response. Running the simulation a few times, we received a couple different options for speaker and listening chair placement.
Note: I should also mention that John and I first found a rough location for the speakers and listening position using a bit of the Wilson Audio voicing method. One person sits in the listening position while the other talks in roughly the location of the speakers. This gave us a general area in which to place the speakers and location to feed the RPG program.
John jotted down a few different possible "best" locations for the speakers and listening chair. We used the option that was closest to our current speaker placement as a starting point. Using a Bosch electronic measurement device and some furniture sliders under the speakers, we nudged the speakers into position. Fortunately my TAD CR1s are only about 100 Lbs. After eye-balling the toe-in we decided to see where we were at sonically. As soon as I pressed play I was shocked. I didn't think playback this good was possible in an untreated room. I had used the Cardas method (link) to position my speakers initially and thought there wasn't anything else I could do without an acoustics package. I was very wrong.
After about 30 minutes of just listening, there was zero chance I was going to try any of the other possible RPG recommended speaker locations. Why fix what isn't broken and is already working better than ever. But, John knew we could squeeze more out of the system by working on the toe-in a bit more and running some listening tests with mono recordings and flipping the phase of one speaker (only for testing). We tried a couple different toe-in positions before settling on what I consider a bit more toed-in than I previously had the speakers and a bit more than what I'lll call standard (whatever that means). John then asked me to put on a good mono recording while he placed the right channel out of phase. I queued up Nat King Cole's The Very Thought of You as John evaluated the sound from the listening position and I almost lost my balance. Yes the sound was totally off because of the flipped phase, but this enabled John to fine-tune the speakers with micro adjustments. Once this was complete, we settled in for a lengthy listening session.
I felt like I'd just received a completely new HiFi system. I had to hear all my favorite tracks to "see" how they sounded. Hopefully we've all been through this after bringing home new speakers or a DAC. It's seriously so fun to hear worn-out favorites again for the first time. As a HiFi test I played Marcus Miller's Intro-duction. This bass heavy track will work out a system and give the listeners an idea about certain bass humps in the room. Playing this track enabled us to listen for sonic differences between the doors behind my speakers being open and closed. It was a great exercise to identify the differences and pros/cons to each door configuration. I settled on leaving there doors open for my listening sessions because this enabled some of the bass to escape the main listening room and disappear while still maintaining the powerful and appropriate bass heavy sound that's on the track.
John and I spent the rest of the day and into the evening listening to music as we pass my iPad Pro back and forth. We commented to each other a couple times saying this is what HiFi was all about, enjoying our favorite music.
The following day John came back over and we focused on the dCS Rossini DAC. Given this DAC was recently used at the AXPONA trade show, it was up to date with the Rossini 2.0 software. But, I was interested in hearing the differences between version 1 and 2. dCS major version software updates can deliver was other manufacturers deliver with hardware updates, with the notable difference being the dCS updates are free of charge and done at home without the need to send in the component.
After a little work, John downgraded the Rossini to version 1.10, the last update of the initial version 1 software release. While not nearly as big of a difference as repositioning my speakers and listening chair, the downgrade was just that, a downgrade. We'd been listening to the latest and greatest from the dCS digital wizards of Cambridge, then we took a few steps backward. The difference was expected and was easy to hear in my freshly setup listening room.
Version 2 of the Rossini software was released in January of this year and is based heavily on updates already in the dCS flagship Vivaldi series. The biggest improvement to version 2 of this software for the Rossini is the updated RingDAC mapping algorithm. Rossini users can now select which mapping algorithm to use during playback in order to tailor the sound to their preferences. In addition some DSD upgrades are included in v2 such as a DSDx2 upsampling option and a filter called DSD 5.
Rather than talk about the downgrade from v2 to v1, let's talk about the sonic upgrade to v2. Above all the biggest sonic difference I heard, and I heard it as soon as the DAC rebooted and I pressed play after the v2 upgrade, was a much more focused center image. Again, this isn't a room change / speaker replacement size of difference, but after spending several days listening to Rossini v1 software before upgrading to v2, the differences were readily apparent.
I didn't hear any differences such as a bigger bottom end or more airy top end, but every thing I heard seemed more about a focused presentation. In addition to the center image, each instrument in the soundstage, whether centered or not, was also more focused. This enabled me to hear more nuance within the harmonics of each instrument. Even listening to a pop track such as Xanny from Billie Eilish, I was able to hear the complete bass notes being played by a bass guitar, not some one-note synthesized bass line that many listeners likely think is being played. It was very evident that the bassist was plucking, the sliding his top hand down the neck of the bass to produce this nuanced and deep effect. After listening to this album through the Rossini with version 2 software, I just had to listen to more of my pop favorites. With a good enough system, there are more details to pull out of even the most unlikely music.
I must have played through most of my AXPONA 2019 Qobuz playlist several times in the days since I upgraded the Rossini to version 2. It's a completely new DAC that's sonically much closer to the Vivaldi than the new Bartok. Given all of the time and resources that go into something such as this Rossini 2.0 upgrade, it's very surprising the upgrade is free of charge for all Rossini owners. Those familiar with dCS development and testing rigor prior to releasing anything will also be as impressed as I am by the fact that these updates are free. I've visited the Cambridge factory multiple times and I'm always impressed with the testing, both automated and manual, that goes into dCS software updates. Major updates aren't released often, but when they are they are done right and bring done to bring the level of performance of a dCS product to new heights. To that I can attest.