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Best DSD DAC(s) - Recommendations


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I don't really have time to follow the DAC game closely anymore. I've had DACs that play DSD natively in the past before (Mytek) and am interested in getting a DSD DAC with the best sound quality possible. The only requirement is that it play DSD64 and DSD128 over USB from a Mac (I use HQPlayer now).

 

I find that often DSD recordings (I have a number of DSD downloads as well as DSD128 vinyl rips) sound better than most hi-res PCM material *even when converted to 24/176 by HQPlayer* and played on my Octave II! This is rather surprising to me, but the DSD character - smoothness & natural ease - seems to remain largely intact even after conversion to PCM.

 

So, it's time to try a DAC that plays DSD natively again. I would like to be able to stay under $3K used.

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I meant to mention that I am only interested in DACs that play DSD natively, with no conversion to PCM on a chip. In fact discrete solutions (Lampizator, Playback) are most desirable to me - but I probably just named the only two such products in existence, didn't I?!

 

Maybe there's something I'm not aware of.

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I'm abviously going to recommend the Lampizator DSD only DAC.

Analog: Koetsu Rosewood > VPI Aries 3 w/SDS > EAR 834P > EAR 834L: Audiodesk cleaner

Digital Fun: DAS > CAPS v3 w/LPS (JRMC) SOtM USB > Lynx Hilo > EAR 834L

Digital Serious: DAS > CAPS v3 w/LPS (HQPlayer) Ethernet > SMS-100 NAA > Lampi DSD L4 G5 > EAR 834L

Digital Disc: Oppo BDP 95 > EAR 834L

Output: EAR 834L > Xilica XP4080 DSP > Odessey Stratos Mono Extreme > Legacy Aeris

Phones: EAR 834L > Little Dot Mk ii > Senheiser HD 800

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Lampi DSD only would be my first choice. Haven't heard the Exasound though, which aslo seem to get many fans.

Adam

 

PC: Hot rodded CAPS v4 Pipeline: Teradak ATX linear PSU, MojoAudio super regulator, Pink Faun Ultra OCXO USB card

Digital: Lampizator Pacific DAC

Amp: Dan D'Agostino Momentum Stereo

Speakers: Magcio M3

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I just missed a Lamp DSD for sale.

 

What about the PS Audio DirecStream DSD?? I notice that Hoffman loves it!

 

Doesn't actually play DSD natively, though, if I understand how it works

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Path: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Cayin iDAC6 MKII (tube mode) (XLR)>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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Doesn't actually play DSD natively, though, if I understand how it works

 

I'll get my popcorn and would love to hear your explanation for singling out the DS as "not native". :) Cuz it uses FPGA and upsamples to 30 bit then 30Mhz then eventually DSD128? How about all SABRE dacs and their multibit DSD? Or any of the Burr Brown implementations short of 1793? Or Chord and it's own FPGA, or blah-blah blah. If you truly define native DSD is staying one bit then choose EMM/Meitner or Playback Designs (although purists could argue in those chips too, I guess) or stay with analog filtering (Lampi or VAD). Or maybe the DSD1793 chip is the right way to go, but is it native? Even some chipless Lampis do not do native for some people's definition, which is ASIO or ALSA only (as that definition of "native" does not include DoP, which Lampi uses due to the Amanero USB card).

 

My point is that all these different DSD DACs skin the cat quite differently, either due to innovation, dual use (i.e PCM needs), or subsystem compatibilities, so I have set my "DSD-capable" bar as this: does the DAC accept unconverted DFF or DSF? Does the DAC produce musical results at its analog outputs? It's a low bar, maybe, but this is still the early stage of consumer DSD DAC development, and I think innovation will come in many forms. I am privvy to a couple new unreleased ideas (but under non-disclosure) and the future is bright.

 

By the way, I'm sure the winners (the ones who produce the most musical output, not the biggest sellers) will most likely be the ones who treat the digital side and the analog side with the same kid glove care. Theoretically pure 1 bit digital into cheap analog transistors and noisy power supplies is not the answer.

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I have set my "DSD-capable" bar as this: does the DAC accept unconverted DFF or DSF? Does the DAC produce musical results at its analog outputs? It's a low bar, maybe

 

It's a low bar indeed, as this sort of definition glosses over how the DSD signal is actually handled by the DAC, is it in any way more straightforward than when processing PCM? Has conversion to PCM been avoided?

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Or any of the Burr Brown implementations short of 1793?

...

Or maybe the DSD1793 chip is the right way to go, but is it native?

 

All the BB/TI chips with DSD support handle it the same way. They've been doing some fine tuning over the time, but basic approach has been the same. Looking at performance, PCM1795 has improved things over the old DSD1793. Even more so for PCM inputs...

 

 

For listing stuff, couple of DAC chips from Cirrus Logic and Wolfson (now part of Cirrus Logic) support Direct DSD mode where DSD is passed straight, untouched, to the conversion section. Since this is a configuration option, it is hard to know how a particular entire DAC product uses the chip.

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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All the BB/TI chips with DSD support handle it the same way. They've been doing some fine tuning over the time, but basic approach has been the same. Looking at performance, PCM1795 has improved things over the old DSD1793. Even more so for PCM inputs...

 

 

For listing stuff, couple of DAC chips from Cirrus Logic and Wolfson (now part of Cirrus Logic) support Direct DSD mode where DSD is passed straight, untouched, to the conversion section. Since this is a configuration option, it is hard to know how a particular entire DAC product uses the chip.

 

New AKM chips like AK4490EQ can bypass PCM decimation filters too.

 

ak4490block.png

 

So we already have DACs from Burr Brown/TI, Cirrus, Wolfson, AKM that can do native DSD. And then DACs like Playback Designs, EMM Labs, T+A, Lampizators, your DSC1 ;)

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AFAIK, Chord Hugo does not play natively DSD.

 

Matt

 

Please define "natively". As I said in the other identical thread, as soon as you define it, someone else will question it. Is native one bit? Multibit? ASIO only (i.e not DoP)? Is upsampling to DSD128 considered native? Is native a pure DSF file that came from an SACD or edit master DFF that was sourced PCM way back when (i.e many rock and pop SACDs not from analog tapes)?? What is the point of the question? Is it to ask whether DSD sounds good?

 

Many DSD aficionados consider the SABRE 901x chipset to be native DSD, but I wouldn't hit a dog in the ass with the sound of most SABRE-based DACs (exaSound, Mytek and Auralic notwithstanding), and would listen all day to the bastardized DSD coming out of a Directstream or Hugo..in comparison. So something else is more important, maybe.

 

I'm being only slightly facetious. The best DSD dacs will do no harm to the signal, either digitally or via analog stage. It's a heuristic thing, IMHO. Lampi seems to have the lead, currently. I just wish it would play on my system (the DC that is inherently part of DSD would shut down my amps on three early Lampis. I need to revisit).

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Please define "natively". As I said in the other identical thread, as soon as you define it, someone else will question it. Is native one bit? Multibit? ASIO only (i.e not DoP)? Is upsampling to DSD128 considered native? Is native a pure DSF file that came from an SACD or edit master DFF that was sourced PCM way back when (i.e many rock and pop SACDs not from analog tapes)?? What is the point of the question? Is it to ask whether DSD sounds good?

 

DSD natively means without conversion to PCM on its way to analog.

 

Matt

"I want to know why the musicians are on stage, not where". (John Farlowe)

 

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DSD natively means without conversion to PCM on its way to analog.

 

Matt

 

Can I ask for "native" definition from Ted_b & Miska?

 

I had being a lot of year on DSD and there is no yet a clear definition for this question, but I know what "DSD native recording" means (or I believe I know :))

 

Thanks,

 

Roch

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Roch, the only "native" I care about is the source of the music, aka the recording. As you know I am one of the team members that run NativeDSD.com. We do not accept DSD files that have been sourced from PCM, just DSD recordings (and yes, some of them were spliced using DXD cuz that was all that used to be available). We will also accept native DXD (unchanged), or DSD/DXD sourced directly from true analog masters. That's it. Native recordings. That's my definition. Why? Well, first I am not technical enough to follow the PCM, PDM, SDM, wide DSD, narrow DSD distinctions that occur within these innovative chipsets and FPGA implementations, not to mention chipless filters...and I tend to believe we are putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. It seems that the proof is the analog output, period. Likely the purest, most native (Matt's definition) get the best results, but not always. And then what do those DACs sound like when offered PCM? It's another set of tradeoffs.

 

I love DSD cuz it brings us a treasure trove of music (that was unobtainable as file-based as late as 2011) that was recorded and/or mastered with kid gloves. Same reason I love all music that is well-done. But I am only concerned with "native" when I accept music for our website, not when I accept music for my system. I am more tolerant, usually cuz I can do my own homework and find the provenance of a favorite recording, then go find it's "most native" version. In many cases it's still redbook. So be it.

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Roch, the only "native" I care about is the source of the music, aka the recording. As you know I am one of the team members that run NativeDSD.com. We do not accept DSD files that have been sourced from PCM, just DSD recordings (and yes, some of them were spliced using DXD cuz that was all that used to be available). We will also accept native DXD (unchanged), or DSD/DXD sourced directly from true analog masters. That's it. Native recordings. That's my definition. Why? Well, first I am not technical enough to follow the PCM, PDM, SDM, wide DSD, narrow DSD distinctions that occur within these innovative chipsets and FPGA implementations, not to mention chipless filters...and I tend to believe we are putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. It seems that the proof is the analog output, period. Likely the purest, most native (Matt's definition) get the best results, but not always. And then what do those DACs sound like when offered PCM? It's another set of tradeoffs.

 

I love DSD cuz it brings us a treasure trove of music (that was unobtainable as file-based as late as 2011) that was recorded and/or mastered with kid gloves. Same reason I love all music that is well-done. But I am only concerned with "native" when I accept music for our website, not when I accept music for my system. I am more tolerant, usually cuz I can do my own homework and find the provenance of a favorite recording, then go find it's "most native" version. In many cases it's still redbook. So be it.

 

Ted, why do you accept pure DSD at the start and allow DSD to be converted to PCM at a later stage?

 

Matt

"I want to know why the musicians are on stage, not where". (John Farlowe)

 

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I find Ted's assessment and definition of "native" DSD the best here. FWIW.

 

Does streaming DSD as DoP make it non-native?! That's "DSD over PCM", folks!

 

I think what matters is not conversion to PCM, because, unless I'm mistaken (please tell me if I am) DSD can be transported/carried as PCM *and converted back to single-bit DSD in a completely lossless manner*. I think what matters is the D to A stage - does THAT take DSD?

 

PS Audio's does, and I just bought DirecStream. I am intrigued by their tech (and despite conversions, since they clearly believe in DSD as a format, that's what they convert to analog) and impressed by the reviews. Most audio reviews are worth about as much as a steaming pile of doo-doo, but when several are complete raves - and say things not ever said before about a category of products - usually there is something special.

 

(Ted's review of this DAC, however, was NOT really a rave. Ted, could you go back and edit the review so that I feel completely confident in this purchase?)

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Ted, why do you accept pure DSD at the start and allow DSD to be converted to PCM at a later stage?

 

Matt

 

Matt. first off I own seven DACs, each of which do DSD in a most startlingly different way (actually 3 are the Mytek stack so that's not technically true :) ). I "accept" good analog sound. I only "accept" native DSD in my work, not in my everyday listening life (I thought I made that clear). My point is that I don't tend to worry about conversions throughout the signal path, assuming the sound is glorious when it appears at my ears. I have yet to correlate it consistently (i.e yet to always/every time find that those that are "native" are also glorious). But I find it odd that some folks worry incessantly about internal DAC conversion but could care less about what happened from microphone to DAC input, or what happens after the chip.

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Does streaming DSD as DoP make it non-native?! That's "DSD over PCM", folks!

 

I think what matters is not conversion to PCM, because, unless I'm mistaken (please tell me if I am) DSD can be transported/carried as PCM *and converted back to single-bit DSD in a completely lossless manner*.

 

DoP is native DSD without conversion to PCM and the conversion from PCM to DSD is NOT lossless.

 

Matt

"I want to know why the musicians are on stage, not where". (John Farlowe)

 

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(Ted's review of this DAC, however, was NOT really a rave. Ted, could you go back and edit the review so that I feel completely confident in this purchase?)

 

LOL. The DS review was as honest as I could be; I did not like the DAC until I used it with the Rendu and I2S. Then I freakingly loved it. Since then the latest Pikes Peak OS upgrade has made USB a close (but not tied) second and worthy of loving praise too. And it's DSD presentation (via both I2S and USB) has gotten much more alive (DSD playback was too polite before PP) for me. It's really quite amazing.

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Matt. first off I own seven DACs, each of which do DSD in a most startlingly different way (actually 3 are the Mytek stack so that's not technically true :) ). I "accept" good analog sound. I only "accept" native DSD in my work, not in my everyday listening life (I thought I made that clear). My point is that I don't tend to worry about conversions throughout the signal path, assuming the sound is glorious when it appears at my ears. I have yet to correlate it consistently (i.e yet to always/every time find that those that are "native" are also glorious). But I find it odd that some folks worry incessantly about internal DAC conversion but could care less about what happened from microphone to DAC input, or what happens after the chip.

 

Do you think that a pure PCM recording can be glorious or not?

 

Matt

"I want to know why the musicians are on stage, not where". (John Farlowe)

 

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