Reporting about the Rossini Apex upgrade

After several months of waiting — due mostly to the electronic parts shortage, I gather — I finally got to enjoy my Rossini Player upgraded with the Apex circuitry. My dealer-friend delivered it last Sunday. I’m sharing my first impressions… and delights. (FWIW, Rossini Player is assisted by a Rossini Clock.)

In the following lines, I will use the term “feel” several times, in addition to “hear”. What I am pointing to with this expression is that it is a further degree in perception: there is “hearing and recognizing the sound of a flute” and there is “feeling the material” of the flute, the wood or metal it is made of. This is quite different. One could say that “recognizing the flute” or the trumpet or the oboe… is a cortical (mental) operation, while “feeling the material” of the instrument is much more direct.

Here’s what a short week (6 days for someone who otherwise has a full time job) of listening revealed so far. The Apex upgrade brings:

  • Timbres. It is absolutely true that it is even easier to distinguish the timbre of the viola in a string quartet. But also the group of violas in a symphonic orchestra. Similarly, the cor anglais sounds even more different from the oboe. If you listen to the beginning of Peer Gynt (Grieg) by Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker, you will recognize without difficulty the so peculiar tone of James Galway’s flute!
  • Substance :
    • It is particularly spectacular with cymbals or with brushes hissing on a drum. But also the skin of all kinds of drums, etc.
      • All the percussion instruments sound shockingly realistics (pun intended).
  • The bass: more present, more beautiful, more controlled. This is possibly in the same chapter as “more substance”.
    • I can confirm what I have read in a review: one has the impression to hear an octave more in the low register. It’s not exactly a matter of quantity, more a question of quality. It’s like this lower octave is more inhabited than before. The double basses can be heard like never before in my system. More than ever do they contribute to the foundation of symphonic music. But Yo Yo Ma’s cello also is more “full bodied” and sounding with richer harmonics.
  • An incredible amount of micro-informations:
    • The strings in a string orchestra vibrate differently. Not only do you hear the notes, but you quite literally “see” the strings moving across millimeters in space. You feel the strings and the resonance box of the instruments vibrate.
    • The grand piano has even more body. One feels the material of the body of the instrument. You can feel that these are felt hammers hitting solid, strongly straightened strings. The sound is more solid than ever.
    • On some recordings, you can actually “feel” the stage on which the musicians are playing, because you can hear it sounding, resonating like an instrument.
  • The strings of string instruments — in the orchestra, in a quartet, in a chamber trio — acquire a real silkiness. If a violin “squeaks”, it is either that the violinist is not good, or that the recording is not up to standard.
  • Spatialization. I would rather talk about the layering of the instruments.
    • It is as if each instrument had its own amplifier, its own hi-fi system.
    • The balance between the instruments, whether in small groups or in large ones, is truly lifelike. It is easier than ever to follow each instrumental part of a Mozart concerto, for example.
    • A big surprise, for example, is the three-dimensional aspect of Jean-Michel Jarre’s album Oxygen. There are sound effects that materialize in space, that are floating in the air, spatially localized, that move from the left to the right, very clearly outside the space between the loudspeakers.
  • The micro-dynamics. This is what strikes me the most and what brings me the utmost joy. One can feel the slightest inflections of the performers’ play. You can feel the tonal accents, you can feel the difference between pp and ppp (pianissimo and pianississimo). One feels the character and the state of mind of a pianist. You can feel if he is gentle and honest or if he just plays the notes, even if he plays them well. In all honesty, you could already feel it with the original Rossini. But with Apex, you can feel it even better, like there’s no doubt. I would say that before, I suspected that such and such an interpreter was delicate, whereas with the Apex, I am certain of it! Even more kindness and delicacy in the music: it is totally unexpected and brings so much joy!
  • The music sings even more, the phrasing is more appearent, more beautiful — when the performers are delivering, of course! The musical intentions of the performers are revealed even more clearly.
  • The overall feeling is that everything is at the same time clearer — as in more easily discernable — and calmer, i.e. relaxed in a very positive way. The cliché “blacks being blacker” applies more than ever.
  • The voices. After all that I have just enumerated, it will come as no surprise if I say that voices are even more realistic. They were already realistic with the “original” Rossini, of course, but they are now even more so. In particular: it is as if the voice emission comes from an even more precise point in space (good sound recording, of course). And in addition, one perceives the body of the singer: his or her neck, his or her rib cage, which vibrate with the singing.
    • A very big surprise, linked to the spatialization, is that the singers of an ensemble are much more separated than with the original Rossini. Whether it’s the chorus in The Pink Panther (Mancini’s score to the Blake Edwards film) or the larger chorus at the beginning of Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi, the voices — I mean the singers — are separated in a way I had never heard before.
    • A truly acid test is the “S” sounds in Liza Minnelli’s singing of You brought a new kind of love to me. There are absolutely no sibillances, everything comes from Liza’s mouth, nothing from the walls or from the ceiling.

All of this without “full burning in”, of course. While not actually listening — i.e. during the night and while at work —, I have simply left playing on repeat a dedicated “rodage” track .

I have to say that I have been totally and positively blown away by the extent of the improvement. Mostly, I must say, because I have a system that costs a fraction of the stratospheric costs of systems you hear at fairs or that reviewers in hifi magazines use to test gears of this caliber or that many members of this forum enjoy daily. My Rossini Player feeds directly — without a preamp — a Jeff Rowland 625.2. The speakers are Duevel Bella Luna Diamante. Everything is wired with Cardas Clear and powered via an Isol8 Integra. All excellent equipment, but nothing fancy or esoteric. So I was expecting an improvement, of course, but I was also wondering wether I would hear a “good improvement” " or just a “small difference” noticable only with trained ears. It was actually quite a pleasant surprise to hear such a large improvement. I’m not afraid to say that, musically — not technically, of course — the jump “Rossini orginal” → “Rossini Apex” is percieved by myself (and my wife) as being in the same order of magnitude as the jump from Bartók to Rossini (both with Rossini Clock).

I’ve never had the chance to hear a Vivaldi, let alone a complete Vivaldi stack. I didn’t even really wanted to, for fear of not being able anymore to enjoy as much my Rossini Player , which stands at the very end of what I could afford (I was helped by a once in a lifetime heritage). I was in total delight and I was telling myself that for 5 or 6 times the price of a Rossini (taking the cables into account), it should certainly be possible to go further, technically and musically, than what I was hearing at home. I have to admit it: I didn’t think that the difference could be so important. I have read in several places that the Rossini Apex upgrade brings many of the qualities of the original Vivaldi. I like the thought that it may be the case… and I can’t imagine what a Vivaldi Apex must sound like ! But one has to realise that to fully appreciate it, it takes equipment that costs some 10 to the power of 5 pounds/euros/dollars/Swiss francs.

In the end, I am extremely grateful and admirative towards the engineers and craftsmen — that’s a noble term to me — at dCS who researched and worked stubbornly to improve products that already seemed an achievement of some sort in the quest for musical realism. I am also grateful to the commercial people who are providing us with this upgrade at a very reasonable price — in the category of products in question. Buying an entirely new device at this price point would be totally out of reach for my purse, not even talking of the “post-Covid crisis” price increases.

Olivier :-{)

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Thank you Oliver for your great and musical review. I cannot wait for my Rossini DAC Apex upgrade!

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Very nice review! I Think I’ll have my Rossini Player Apexed too :slight_smile:

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Very interesting and helpful review thanks.

I wonder if anyone is able to comment on how the Rossini Apex upgrade compares with adding a Rossini clock. So if you have the choice, would you buy a clock or an Apex upgrade?

For me the Apex upgrade was a way, way bigger improvement than the clock.

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I ordered the Apex update :sweat_smile:

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I did some testing with switching off the clock. I would definitely begin with the Apex upgrade. I have only my memory to compare Apex to “original + clock”, but I’m rather positive that Apex is better on the majority of the parameters. So, go for the Apex… and then look forward to the clock ! What surprised me — with Apex, you go from surprise to surprise ! — is that the difference between “with” and “without” clock seems larger, to my ears, than it previously did with the “original” Rossini. It’s as if Apex is pushing the “good” even further.

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I currently have a Rossini player without the clock. In contemplating an upgrade, I went in to my dealer and listened to the original Rossini with and without the clock, and the Rossini Apex with and without the clock. Unquestionably to my ears, the Apex was as big of an improvement as Olivier reports in the OP. The clock added a bit, but honestly I found the improvement very subtle, to the point where I couldn’t swear there was any improvement after the few minutes it took to insert it into the audio chain. Given that the Apex upgrade actually costs a bit less than the clock I’m targeting my upgrade funds for the Apex. I honestly don’t know that I’ll ever get the clock as (again, for me and my ears) the improvement isn’t commensurate with the cost.

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I really didn’t think digital could sound much better than the Rossini and clock, but Apex is next level, and makes me want to upgrade to Vivaldi Apex.

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Very helpful comments thank you gentlemen.

I did a demo of original Rossini and clock at the dealer and noticed a small difference. However, when I got it home and switched the clock in and out using Mosaic, I could notice no difference. I’ve pondered if it’s the rest of my gear being unable to resolve the difference, or maybe my particular Rossini Player having a better than typical internal clock. Whatever the cause, I saved the cash. Maybe time to audition Apex.

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Your system is probably well set up and doesn’t need a clock. This is a good sign.

I have my Apex upgrade now for 6 weeks and had some extensive listening sessions. I recognise all of the improvements as described by @Olivier_S
For me it sums up as more accurate in all those important aspects in music reproduction: timbre, spatial dimensions and detail. And not in an insignificant way. It feels like a substantial upgrade.

I also experience two small negatives in my system. And this is due to the slightly (and only slightly) changed tonal balance. A bit more present bass and less coloured midrange. While in many cases (in particular classical music) this is often an improvement in its own right, in my case it sometimes throws the tonal balance off.
With a few recordings the amount of bass in my system was on the edge in the past. This is now more often the case, and sometimes it is over the edge.
I love a little presence of female vocals in various recordings, like they are standing a little forward in the image. It gives a lifelike character to the music. The Apex upgrade makes this slightly more recessed.

Now these are all things that can easily be finetuned with speaker positioning (bass) and cables. And the increased quality in all other respects is so significant. Overall I would definitely do the upgrade again.
I just wanted to share how some aspects of the upgrade might be positive for one setup but negative for another.

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Stereophile’s Products of 2022: Digital Component of the Year

dCS Rossini Apex DAC

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