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Article: PS Audio DirectStream DAC Review


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Thanks for the review. The I2S entry of this DAC sounds very good, I understand this, but at $6000 for the DAC and $3000 for the Signature Rendu, the total price tag is quite high. This takes me to my question: how does this combo compare to DACs in the $10000 space ?

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Howdy Ted

 

You asked "I welcome Ted Smith to please tell us why this last chapter (or more appropriately the first several bad ones) of listening happened, and why I am getting such different sonic experiences with different inputs."

 

It was surprising to me that no mention was made about which versions of the DirectStream firmware were used for various listening sessions. I suspect that the final listening with the Signature Rendu was done with release 1.2.1 of the DS firmware and the earlier, less fulfilling sessions were done with earlier versions of the firmware. If so, ...

 

The more controlled experiment of testing multiple inputs with the same source hooked up simultaneously (so that the goundloops and other system specific RFI, EMI problems remain constant when switching inputs) will reveal that the sound quality of the I2S, AES/EBU, S/PDIF and TOSLink inputs are much closer on the DirectStream than they are on most DACs. The USB and Bridge inputs almost certainly have different electrical interferences with the rest of the system than I2S, AES/EBU, S/PDIF and TOSLink. At most one can hope that a component doesn't add significantly to the electrical interferences in a system. No component can undo the effects of external interference(s) on other components in a system.

 

-(another) Ted

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The other (much smarter) Ted, thanks! Yes, I showed the firmware version in my photo...I used 1.21 for everything (yes, I heard earlier ones and commented that this final one was better, but used the final one for all a/bing going forward).

 

Boris75, I agree that the list price of my final combo is not chicken feed but it is a kind-of all-in solution (less NAS); you'd need to add up your upstream source setup for other comparisons. I am not privvy to $10k DACs, so anyone who has demo'd them against the DS feel free to compare. Also, I am anxious to find out what other I2S sources sound like (especially the less expensive non-Sognature Rendu), and conversely other I2S DACs, of course.

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ted_b,

 

Any chance that the big cause for the change in sound was not the use of the I2s input on the DS but the fact that you put the Rendu onto the PSA P300 and cleaned up the power? Sounds like your house power has some issues (don't we all), could it be that the other sources you used (PC, Aries, Aurender) were all on lower quality power that limited the quality of the input sources and not the DS?

 

Thanks for the the follow-up. Like many others, I have the Aries via AES to the DS, mostly based on things I've read on your site and I'm loving the combo.

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Allan,

I fixed the typo thanks.

 

Ksaino, good question; once I discovered the I2S combo I moved the Rendu off the P300 for testing (the only reason it went on there was an issue with staying connected to the LAN). The magic remained, bu the Rendu connection didn't. :) I have significant power conditioning, both at the mains level (Ep 2000 ground filters and surge protection for the whole house) then Uber buss or Audience AR12 for the sources. Moreover, I have yet to try ALL the other sources but gave a couple the benefit of the P300 and nothing huge happened either way. I will continue that process, however, and if you've followed my reviews in the past, I will update as I find out more.

 

Distinctive, I had the Hydra + here and liked it, but didn't have the DS at the time. Nice to see the Hydra Z, and the fact that it now has adjustable pin outs for the I2S (knew there were incompatibilities early on). How do you like it compared to coming in USB (or whatever) from the Aries direct?

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What sets the Directstream DAC apart from other DACs is its anti-jitter performance.

 

The superior performance of the Rendu via I2S wrt jitter should not, therefore make all that difference with this DAC so Ted's findings are puzzling.

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Alcarp,

I agree. I am still puzzled, and want to get to the bottom of this...except I am enjoying my music too much, so maybe later :) LOL

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Glad to see your review, Ted. I was one of the people here who mentioned this DAC (IME) needed at least 500 hours to come into its own. While I do not have the Signature Rendu, I do use the I2S input with my PWT. I've spent quite a lot of time listening to this, and the SPDIF and Ethernet (PS Audio's Bridge) inputs. After lengthy burn in I can say that I also believe the I2S input is better (if forced to pick one), but the differences between it and the other inputs I use are very very slight. For all intents and purposes not large enough to change my feeling about how great this DAC sounds regardless of input. While you clearly rated the DS highly using I2S, other than ordering the inputs against I2S, the review leaves it a bit unclear (to me) how you rate the goodness of the DAC for the likely majority of listeners who will not be using I2S. Your thoughts appreciated.

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I am using this USB converter with the DS: Hydra Z | Audiobyte

Auralic Aries USB to AudioByte Hydra-Z to PS Audio DirectStream I2s.

 

Please fill us in on your impressions of the Hydra-Z. I've been watching Audiobyte's Hydra products for a while, but I could never commit to one because of some bumps in their road. Like battery charging, dropping signals, or certain outputs not functioning while other did. However, with this update things may be different and I'd love to hear about your real world experiences.

 

Also, have you used/compared any other converters? Even ones using other output styles.

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Ted, et al -

 

I am familiar with the benefits of the I2S connection as I have been using it as my preferred interface between an Off Ramp 5 and a Wired 4 Sound DAC2 DSD se in my den system. I am fascinated by your wonderful review of the Direct Stream, and wonder if I could just plug my HDMI cable directly into a Direct Stream, if it would work, and how it might compare?

 

Thanks for your many posts/reviews I have enjoyed over the years!

 

Randy

The world is but one country, and mankind its citizens.

 

Living Room: Caps2/JRiver 19/Fidelizer > Wireworld Platinum USB > Calyx DAC/KingRex PSU > Kimber Heroes > Bryston BP-26/4B-SST > Kimber 8TC > B&W 802D.

Den: CAPS3 Carbon/SOtM USB/JRiver 20/Fidelizer/Uptone JS-2 power supply>Totaldac USB > Off Ramp5/Dynamo PS/Short Block via I2S > PS Audio Silver HDMI > W4S Dac2DSDse/femto upgrade > Triode Wire Labs IC > Bryston B100-SST > Kimber 8VS > B&W SCMS. (Triode Wire Labs power cables).

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Ted, et al -

 

I am familiar with the benefits of the I2S connection as I have been using it as my preferred interface between an Off Ramp 5 and a Wired 4 Sound DAC2 DSD se in my den system. I am fascinated by your wonderful review of the Direct Stream, and wonder if I could just plug my HDMI cable directly into a Direct Stream, if it would work, and how it might compare?

 

Thanks for your many posts/reviews I have enjoyed over the years!

 

Randy

Since the W4s is compatible with the DS, the OffRamp 5 will work with the DS.

I think they are all PS Audio standard compatible.

The Rockna/AudioByte products can even reverse the LVDS polarity to suit even more renderer brands.

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Please fill us in on your impressions of the Hydra-Z. I've been watching Audiobyte's Hydra products for a while, but I could never commit to one because of some bumps in their road. Like battery charging, dropping signals, or certain outputs not functioning while other did. However, with this update things may be different and I'd love to hear about your real world experiences.

 

Also, have you used/compared any other converters? Even ones using other output styles.

Will do.

Here are some pix at least: http://www.psaudio.com/forum/directstream-all-about-it/aries-streamer-tips-and-tricks/#p34599

 

I have also recently updated the Hydra-Z firmware to 1.03 just by playing a 2 minute wav file throught it.

Pretty cool feature.....

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What sets the Directstream DAC apart from other DACs is its anti-jitter performance.

 

The superior performance of the Rendu via I2S wrt jitter should not, therefore make all that difference with this DAC so Ted's findings are puzzling.

 

I have some experience with the DirectStream DAC that may help shed light on this debate.

 

i initially used the DS with a W4S ms2 server via I2S connection. Very nice. The server was powered by a Sonore linear power supply, fed from a PS Audio P10 via Shunyata alpha digital power cord.

 

The sound quality was somewhat improved when I started using a JCAT USB cable in place of my wireworld HDMI (I2S).

 

However, the biggest difference in sound quality was when the DS was fed via USB from a server with unique attention to eliminating power supply noise, EMI and RF interferences... Not dissimilar to what I read about the Sonore Rendu Signature's attention to detail in this area.

 

In short, from my experiences, I would add weight to the argument that although I2S is a good input for the DirectStream; the source (in particular it's internal attention to eliminating RF/EMI) is the factor most at play in here.

 

for those interested the server I now use is the Antipodes DX.

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Ted, et al -

 

I am familiar with the benefits of the I2S connection as I have been using it as my preferred interface between an Off Ramp 5 and a Wired 4 Sound DAC2 DSD se in my den system. I am fascinated by your wonderful review of the Direct Stream, and wonder if I could just plug my HDMI cable directly into a Direct Stream, if it would work, and how it might compare?

 

Randy

 

Randy, I have this same setup for one of my desktop systems. As you probably already know since you are using the OR5 with the W4S DAC2 DSD, the OR5 does not pass DSD or anything above 24/192. So if you plan to use any higher rez files, you will need to down convert them using JRiver or similar. The OR5 is excellent with PCM files, a big improvement for me vs. going USB from my PC to the W4S DAC2 but the lack of DSD capability is the one downside.

 

Karl

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I have some experience with the DirectStream DAC that may help shed light on this debate.

 

i initially used the DS with a W4S ms2 server via I2S connection. Very nice. The server was powered by a Sonore linear power supply, fed from a PS Audio P10 via Shunyata alpha digital power cord.

 

The sound quality was somewhat improved when I started using a JCAT USB cable in place of my wireworld HDMI (I2S).

 

However, the biggest difference in sound quality was when the DS was fed via USB from a server with unique attention to eliminating power supply noise, EMI and RF interferences... Not dissimilar to what I read about the Sonore Rendu Signature's attention to detail in this area.

 

In short, from my experiences, I would add weight to the argument that although I2S is a good input for the DirectStream; the source (in particular it's internal attention to eliminating RF/EMI) is the factor most at play in here.

 

for those interested the server I now use is the Antipodes DX.

 

So basically with just USB the DAC is actually bad?

 

There you have it, no. And I've read in other places that USB on the DS is fine. Though I'm a proponent of I2s and am very happy my PWD Mkii has it, I think Ted's(ted_b) answer comes down to "in my system, with ALLLLL of my gear, in my room, with my ears".

 

I'm not discounting his opinion, I'm always happy to read it and pretty much side with it, but I can't have you just write off the DS on USB when 2 posts above another user has just said he prefers his USB based solution to the I2s one he used to have.

 

And of course, I don't have a DS at all and have no real idea :-P

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Will do.

Here are some pix at least: Aries Streamer: Tips and Tricks | DirectStream DAC | Forums | PS Audio

 

I have also recently updated the Hydra-Z firmware to 1.03 just by playing a 2 minute wav file throught it.

Pretty cool feature.....

 

So, what's powering the Hydra-Z in those pictures... :-P

 

Thanks for pointing me to them, though. I love looking at other people's audio gear and seeing how they've got it all set up. You can always find some little tweak or new piece that might make a good addition to your own system. Eve if it's only layout or stands or room treatments, it's always fun.

 

And with yours, though wires were everywhere like you said, it's a nice looking setup. I'd really love the chance to try the Aries, it's a neat looking package and of course I wonder how it'd sound compared to my own one.

 

Another unit along those lines that I really want to try is the SOtM SMS-100 mini-server. It's gotten amazing reviews and lots of people saying that it's as good as their purpose built audio PCs or even better AND it costs half as much and is push-button...

 

I don't have the means or time to jump on the burn-'em-and-turn-'em review train right now, but I'm thinking about it for some time down the road.

 

And I'm lkooking forward to your impressions as they come. I've heard that some DACs and stuff can be updated by playing a .wav file, but I've never owned one like it. It's cool sounding, but spooky somehow too...

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