A Visit To PS Audio: Part III

Paul McGowan and I sat in his newish demonstration room last Wednesday and listened to a variety of high-resolution source material. I admit I was anxious to hear some of my favorite 96 kHz/24-bit PCM stereo files through his elaborate, high-end system. The DVD-R that I burned in his office contained about 20 tracks from my catalog. All were WAV files and were easily found by the PerfectWave Transport and output using to the DirectStream DAC via I2S through the HDMI output.

I must admit that I’m not up to speed on the I2S method of digitally connecting a source player and a DAC. In my studio, the high-resolution PCM digital signals are moved between my DAW and console and converters using MADI (the multichannel audio digital interface or AES 10 standard protocol). I have both physical and digital patch bays to route things among all of my devices…it’s very flexible AND sounds great (just ask the gentlemen that participated in yesterday’s listening session). I also use the S/P DIF and AES-EBU standards as well.

Using MADI, S/P DIF and AES-EBU certainly haven’t resulted in any sonic compromises, degradation, or compromised sound in my studio. Professional audio engineers and equipment designers make sure that the digital packets arrive in tact successfully at each stage of our production processes. The claims of “superior audio quality” and statements that using the established digital connection methods causes digital audio to “sound flat and harsh” are merely “audiophile marketing speak” and without substantiation. It all goes back to getting the digital bits from one place to another…that’s all there is to it…and MADI and the other existing standards do that with 100% accuracy. There cannot and is not a change in sound if you get the bits from one place to another without errors.

The AIX WAV data was then routed to the PS Audio DirectStream DAC on its way to the tube amplifiers and speakers. I’ve criticized the “my way (DSD) or the highway” approach of PS Audio in the their new DirectStream DAC in previous posts. It’s perfectly OK with me if someone wants to buy into the myth of DSD but what if you like the way things sound without the additional 10x up sampling and conversion to 2X DSD? Mandating that every incoming digital signal…DSD or PCM…run through upsampling and format conversion is way too restrictive IMHO and alienates those of us that like our music playback uncolored and representative of its original fidelity.

As I sat and listened to my AIX tracks through Paul’s system, I can say that I was very pleased with the sound. I was impressed and told Paul that things sounded great. However, the spatial imaging was somewhat narrow for my tastes…at least compared to the sound in my room, which has the left and right speakers much further apart. Instruments and voices are just less spatially vague using my B&Ws. But to their credit, the Infinity IRS V speakers sonically disappeared. These very large cabinets just weren’t there anymore. The music appeared to come from well behind the physical location of these beasts.

If I were pressed to describe the sound of my pristine 96 kHz/24-bit recordings, I wouldn’t say that they sounded more “analog” or were “warmer” than I’ve heard them in various systems. The sound was wonderfully present, well balanced from the deepest bass to the highest highs. But whatever the 10X up conversion and DSD 5.6 conversion does to the sound, it didn’t eclipse the sound that I get in my B&W 801 Matrix III, Bryston powered studio when I play my tracks through my Benchmark DAC2 HGC or even the multichannel DACs positioned on the backside of my console (using Crystal Semiconductor chips and made by Euphonix).

The exquisite shimmer of cymbals, the extreme clarity of percussion…especially metal percussion…(think the wind chimes in Laurence Juber’s award-winning “Mosaic” track, which you can get free by following the banner ad on the right) and the smoothness of the overall blend that I get in my studio was marginally lacking in Paul’s room. I can’t really complain about anything I heard but I can say that it wasn’t better in any aspect than what I’m used to. And the gear in his room costs a lot more than I spent.

We didn’t get a chance to listen to everything that I brought along…Paul’s time was pressed and I knew it. We finished off the session listening to a preview of some of the tracks planned for the collaborative high-resolution release from Gus Skinas, Immersive Studios and PS Audio.

I’ll share my thoughts on what I heard in tomorrow’s post.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

7 thoughts on “A Visit To PS Audio: Part III

  • But the mandatory upsampling and format conversion in the Benchmark DAC 2 is okay? I’m not an advocate for DSD, 1-bit systems, or PS Audio. I’m just trying to understand your position, as it seems I must be missing something.

  • While watching the video series on the construction of his listening room I was immediately struck by the fact that he was going to set up the the huge IRS Vs in a room only 15 feet wide? I can’t imagine when Arnie Nudell designed the speakers he thought of having them set up in a room that narrow? Listened to as they are set up in the nearfield position I would have expected them to sound just exactly as you described, disappearing to a deep sound stage behind but with a narrow squashed image. I would image the 15×22 foot space to be perfect for anything in a mid sized up to something like your 801s. That room is almost the exact same dimensions as my room was in Chicago and positioned identically, my Klipsch LaScalas put up a soundstage behind them that was dang near perfect. I believe he knows this and just didn’t have room for or want to build a larger room.
    I can only imagine what the IRS’s could do in a room nearer to 30×50, panels that size with the large wings would need room to breath
    I’m with you on the DirectStream, I don’t like the idea of my files going threw all those conversion steps and then being forced to DSD. I’ve always been a minimalist, anything you can accomplish with less manipulation the better it will most likely be in the end.

  • How big a bribe would it take to get in YOUR studio and crank David Gilmour playing Dark Side and Comfortably Numb on your JBL system? 🙂

  • Nik Razis

    FWIW I would bet anything that the differences in what you heard can be attributed 99.99% to the differences in speakers, speaker placement, room acoustics and personal taste. The rest is mostly insignificant.

    • Probably true….but there’s no way to do an A|B comparison. I have done that at the Snow Ghost studios in Whitefish Lake…DSD vs. PCM vs analog tape.

  • Erik Ivanenko

    I have a significant concern about the comparison of the two systems. There are simply no controls in place to actually make a sensible comment on the sound. Are the “differences” real or imagined? Human nature being what it is, it is very likely that what is being heard is being imagined.

    • I admit that there are issues with trying to compare the fidelity or sound of two systems far apart in time and space. However, I do know my recordings quite well AND the sound that I’m used to in my room. There is some reason to believe that I can comment on the differences.


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