I finished watching the 18-minute rollout video of PS Audio’s DirectStream DAC hosted by Paul McGowan yesterday. It was well produced. There were multiple cameras, the lighting was reasonable and the audio good easy to hear. But the message was nothing but spin.
My favorite part was when they played a DVD of an interview with Gus Skinas from the Boulder Super Audio Center. Gus has been a very strong advocate for the DSD format and for the SONY Sonoma recording system since the beginning when SONY gave him an entire studio and set him up to handle DSD work. I know Gus and have a great deal of respect for his work. It was Gus that recommended iTrax be included in the SONY HRA rollout last fall.
Figure 1 – Gus Skinas raving about the sound of PCM and the PS Audio “subtitle”.
During the interview Gus keeps praising the amazing sound of some recordings that were produced using high-resolution PCM. And the good folks at PS Audio cleverly put subtitles over the top of him stating, “he was actually listening to DSD”. Every time Gus said anything positive about PCM, the subtitles would show up again to make sure that you follow the company line. Gus is a very smart guy…I don’t think he would have a problem knowing when to say DSD rather than PCM. And if they really wanted Gus to give a testimonial…they should have shot it again. After all they live and work in the same city.
In watching Paul talk about the merits of their new DirectStream DAC, it seems pretty obvious that his unbridled enthusiasm support for the DSD format comes from his unfounded and incorrect belief that it is really “high resolution analog”. It’s not one of those evil old digital formats. He called it “high-resolution analog”. I’d never heard this wording before…I wrote it down and decided to think about what it means.
I guess we need to go back and think about analog for a minute. I’m not talking about analog recording but just the contrast between analog and digital. I usually define analog as a “continuously variable” representation of something. Analog signals are “non-quantized variations in frequency and amplitude” according to Wikipedia. It could be the motion of pendulum, the movement of an old school speedometer or the changing pressure in air molecules that we perceive as sound. In its electronic form, analog audio is the alternating current (the moving electrons) traversing back and forth in our cables and through our circuits.
If you look up resolution on Wikipedia the first line states that it is a “measure of digital audio quality”. In the digital world, resolution is the amount of discrete pieces of information after a continuous signal has been sampled or “quantized”.
So how can something exist in both worlds at the same time? It can’t. Saying something is “high-resolution analog” means nothing. It’s just another marketing phrase meant to get audiophiles to buy into their spin machine. The messaging on the DirectStream DAC is full of similar hokum. Just because they say CDs sounded “less musical than analog”, doesn’t make it true. It’s a matter of personal taste and nothing more.
Music is analog, microphones are analog and if you send the outputs of professional mikes through a mixing console to a set of amplifiers and speakers, the output will be analog. If at any stage you slice the analog signal into 44,100 or 2,8224,000 slices (CD sample rate or DSD 64), calling it “analog” is just incorrect. Paul and people at PS Audio know better and they should quit trying to elevate a format that the inventors of that very format called “a mistake” into the next big thing in high-end audio.
I have no problem with people enjoying the music they love in whatever format works for them. You can purchase all of the analog tapes, SACDs, DSD downloads, CDs, HD-Audio in PCM or vinyl LPs you want…but subjecting every input type to DSD is pretty restrictive.
Other companies building high-end DACs are doing BOTH high-resolution PCM and DSD conversion in their native formats (like my Benchmark DAC2). That seems to me to be a much better approach. I would have no interest at all in an over expensive “my-way-or-the-highway” piece of equipment.
Contrary to PS Audio and Paul’s insistence, DSD is NOT a better format in any way. It’s NOT going to deliver “hidden musical details” from your CDs or high-resolution downloads. And DSD and the DirectStream DAC are not the “answer”.
The last paragraph from the product’s webpage is very telling:
“There are millions of PCM based recordings that will be in our libraries for years to come, but with the introduction of DirectStream, you no longer need listen to them with a PCM based processor.”
Of course, they will sound as they possibly can if you listen to them the way they were intended…in PCM. For those that love the sound of analog tape, you could take the output of your CD player and record it on a piece of analog tape and immediately play it back from the repro head…thus getting that “special” analog tape sound. Come on!
I don’t need or want the PS Audio “DSD police” forcing me to “hear it their way”. I’ll pass on the DirectStream DAC and stick with equipment that gives me a choice. And I’ll save a bunch of money, too.