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Article: PS Audio DirectStream DAC (Snowmass) Full Review

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Thanks a lot, that was a great review and a good read. 

 

I must also compliment you on actually picking a winner for each comparison. That really kills me when reviewers don't do that and call it a draw or say something like "you'll just have to listen for yourself and decide"...

 

I really wonder how an optimized DSD512 chain feeding a T+A DAC 8 DSD compares. The people who own them (like me) all praise its performance, but there aren't too many out there with matching chains that ever make it into a shootout. 

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Thanks.  We need more comparative reviews like this.

 

Have you thought about incorporating Electronic music into the comparisons?  Peter has been talking it up again - maybe he'd send you one of his DACs...


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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Nice review!

 

"Just like with USB and Ethernet, optimal sound quality with the I2S input in my system would require a high-quality USB to I2S DDC (digital to digital) converter, with low phase noise clocks and good power supplies. I did not have such a device on hand to try it, so I can’t comment on the I2S input of the DS DAC."

 

Hint: Maybe @Pink Faun can let you test/review a Ultra OCXO I2S Bridge card, so you don't use USB at all. 

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1 hour ago, Ben-M said:

Thanks a lot, that was a great review and a good read. 

 

I must also compliment you on actually picking a winner for each comparison. That really kills me when reviewers don't do that and call it a draw or say something like "you'll just have to listen for yourself and decide"...

 

I really wonder how an optimized DSD512 chain feeding a T+A DAC 8 DSD compares. The people who own them (like me) all praise its performance, but there aren't too many out there with matching chains that ever make it into a shootout. 

+1

Thanks for another exemplary effort: great review.

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I'm considering a PS Audio DirectStream DAC to replace my Auralic Vega and while I appreciate all of the work you put into this review, I find that it is not so much a review of the PS Audio DirectStream DAC as it is a review of the PS Audio DirectStream DAC PLUS your special sauce. That makes the results somewhat less valuable to me and I suspect, others, who won't be doing that kind of upstream setup. Sort of like when a reviewer reviews a set of stand top speakers but insists on adding in a subwoofer or room specific DSP as part of the evaluation. Again, I appreciate the work you put into this but would have preferred to know more of your impressions of the DAC by itself with perhaps adding in the differences that your upstream setup makes to the sound as a sidebar. My 2 cents.

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11 minutes ago, austinpop said:

 

It's a fair comment, but let me turn it around to you and ask - what would you have liked to have upstream of the DACs (both the DS DAC and the ones used for comparison)?

 

My rationale is simple: by optimizing the upstream, I am enabling the DACs under test to deliver the best SQ possible in my system.

 

I’m not sure how best to answer your question. In my various systems I feed the DACS with an opticalRendu, ultraRendu and microRendu. I certainly don’t expect every DAC reviewer to feed the review sample with one of those but I would suggest that my setup or similar is far more common than yours. 

 

“All I can say is that in my listening experience, this part of the chain makes a profound impact on sound quality, and I have invested accordingly.”

 

I don’t follow your “massively improve” thread closely but have skimmed it enough to know that the belief is that various tweaks and modifications affect different components in different ways. That is to say, with the three DACS you compared, your finely tuned upstream might have lifted two veils with one DAC, four veils with the second one and no veils with the third one. For me at least, that removes some of the value of the comparison. 

 

You did some listening with the DirectStream the way most people would, didn’t care for it and finished the rest of your review with your modifications. I personally would have preferred a different methodology but that certainly doesn’t negate the validity of your conclusions. Thanks for taking the time. 

 

 

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4 minutes ago, daverich4 said:

 

I’m not sure how best to answer your question. In my various systems I feed the DACS with an opticalRendu, ultraRendu and microRendu. I certainly don’t expect every DAC reviewer to feed the review sample with one of those but I would suggest that my setup or similar is far more common than yours. 

 

“All I can say is that in my listening experience, this part of the chain makes a profound impact on sound quality, and I have invested accordingly.”

 

I don’t follow your “massively improve” thread closely but have skimmed it enough to know that the belief is that various tweaks and modifications affect different components in different ways. That is to say, with the three DACS you compared, your finely tuned upstream might have lifted two veils with one DAC, four veils with the second one and no veils with the third one. For me at least, that removes some of the value of the comparison. 

 

You did some listening with the DirectStream the way most people would, didn’t care for it and finished the rest of your review with your modifications. I personally would have preferred a different methodology but that certainly doesn’t negate the validity of your conclusions. Thanks for taking the time. 

 

 

 

Fair enough. Thanks for your comments.

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Great review! Goes to show that high-end audio really isn't a binary proposition: there's variations on a theme and what makes one DAC sound good on one cut, another improves upon it elsewhere. While I think that direct comparisons are a nice value add, they don't necessarily add any sort of "gotcha" moments. Heck, the same DAC sounds different to different ears anyway... reviews - my own included - are just that: momentary captures of sonic attributes at a very specific time and place; nothing more, nothing less. Ultimately, you have to - ought to - hear it for yourself. 

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Great review. Thank you so much!

I was particularly interested in your findings regarding the sound quality  from the optimized USB chain vs the optimized Ethernet chain.

Using my OPPO 205 as dac I find that the sound from an uRendu feeding the USB input is better than using Ethernet with a Cisco switch with fiber.

I am curious about the results from the upcoming etherregen! 

Cheers Jorge   


AMP: Electrocompaniet ECI-6D; DAC: Chord Qutest, iFi iDSD BL, Oppo 205, ECI-6D; Streamer/endpoint: Sonic transporter i5 + uRendu

Speakers: Proac Tablette Reference 8 Signature; CD/SACD: Oppo 205

Cables: Speakers (Acoustic Revive) + RCA (au24sx) + RJ45 (Vodka Audioquest) + USB (Diamond Audioquest) + Power (Pangea's + Actinote's)  

Filters: Jensen VRD- iFF + Pink Faun Isolator + Acoustic revive ground isolator RGC-24

Switch: Cisco Catalyst 2960 8 Port

Others: Sboosters MKII + HDplex 200  

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Bravo on posting your playlist. I think that the music used to make judgments can influence the results. Not a negative - it influences the results to match YOUR preferred music.

 

A long time ago, I moved to Singapore for a bit and left my audio gear in the US so I needed to buy a whole system. They had a wonderful mall that was four floors of high end audio gear. Most of the shops small, four or five brands. I had a handful of CDs that were my playlist. I had a written guide - this disk, these two tracks, that disk, this one track. I always let the shop use their playlist initially, but once I heard how different my playlist made the gear sound, I realized that the shops' playlists were selected to show off their gear best. After a half dozen shops, my rule was, my playlist only.

 

Interesting results. A few shops, the owner went downcast seeing my CDs. In one case, he said "you won't like anything here, I know this". In a couple of shops, the owners broke into huge grins. In a couple of cases, they whipped out disks of music I love, that could well have been on my playlist. Guess what? Everything I bought came from those shops.

 

Since then, I've kept track of what reviewers say they listened to. Funny... those who did rave reviews of gear I owned called out music that I enjoyed. Most reviews you get piecemeal info. Posting the playlist ROCKS because it simplifies things.

Unfortunately, I think I'm going to love your playlist, and a new DAC at this price range is not likely in my immediate future...

Edited by ednaz
fat finger screwups

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4 hours ago, daverich4 said:

I'm considering a PS Audio DirectStream DAC to replace my Auralic Vega and while I appreciate all of the work you put into this review, I find that it is not so much a review of the PS Audio DirectStream DAC as it is a review of the PS Audio DirectStream DAC PLUS your special sauce. That makes the results somewhat less valuable to me and I suspect, others, who won't be doing that kind of upstream setup. Sort of like when a reviewer reviews a set of stand top speakers but insists on adding in a subwoofer or room specific DSP as part of the evaluation. Again, I appreciate the work you put into this but would have preferred to know more of your impressions of the DAC by itself with perhaps adding in the differences that your upstream setup makes to the sound as a sidebar. My 2 cents.

 

Another way to look at this is that optimizing whatever is practical in the upstream chain can possibly obviate the need to spend more on a higher end DAC. It may be possible to get the sound of a much more expensive DAC with some judicious upstream enhancements. It may also be that no matter how good the DAC, it will never be a great DAC without an enhanced front end. I would love to see this explored at some point. Put a great DAC behind a good front end and then put a good DAC behind a great front end and compare. It would be interesting.

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1 hour ago, bobflood said:

Put a great DAC behind a good front end and then put a good DAC behind a great front end and compare. It would be interesting.

 

That made me recall - didn't I report on something like that at some point? Turns out, I did! Have a look at this post from Jan 2018. Look at "Finding 4."

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I very much enjoyed reading the review, but it's always disappointing to me when a DAC is tested via a headphone system only. A speaker based system has so much more to offer, vis-a-vis soundstage and tactile impact. I also find that speakers highlight PRaT much more than headphones.

 

Also, I am constantly interested in how well a DAC like this functions as a preamp, i.e. driving a power amp, which IME is far more demanding than feeding a preamp or headphone amp.

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I have a PS Audio NuWave DSD (remarkable DAC) and will eventually procure a DirectStream.

 

Where are you sourcing DXD (24/352.8) music? That seems so niche I can't even fathom it.

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11 hours ago, bobflood said:

Thanks for another well written, very informative and useful review. I just recently purchased a Holo Spring 2 KTE DAC so I am no longer actively looking but I enjoy reading your reviews. Using HQPlayer and the Spring, I can get part of the way to the performance level of these DACs at a price I could afford. I may look at one of these later when I re-do my entire system.

 

Thanks again

I'd put the DAC you already have ahead of the Directstream.

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