PS AUDIO - PERFECTWAVE DIRECTSTREAM DSD DAC
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Brand: PS AUDIO
Category: Audio Equipment, D/A Converters, Computer Audio, USB DACS, DSD DACs.
* All specified ship dates are estimates
PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream DSD DAC
PS Audio's Brand-New American-Made DirectStream DAC Changes the High-End DSD DAC Landscape
The DirectStream DAC Just Won the 2014 Golden Ear Award from The Absolute Sound Magazine
NOTE: Call Us To Trade-in or Upgrade Your Original PerfectWave DAC to DirectStream Status
After seven years of dedicated research and development, PS Audio's groundbreaking PerfectWave DirectStream DAC uncovers everything previously hidden in your digital music files. This award-winning DAC up-converts all digital music files to 10-times DSD, producing perfectly linear, edge-free sound that is guaranteed to reveal missing details in all of your music. Providing an entirely new approach to making music from any digital signal, the Boulder, Colorado-made DirectStream DAC will breathe new life into countless digital files and all high-resolution downloads. Whether it's MP3 or 24bit/192k or DSD files, we guarantee that you have never heard your digital music sound this analog-like!“This is a brilliant design, with exceptional execution, and paradigm-setting sound. I can tell you, this bloody DAC, DSD to the fore, is a real killer. Flat-out, stone-cold, and damn-straight.”
—David Robinson, Positive Feedback, July/August 2014
No off the shelf DACs inside this award-winner:
DirectStream features hand-written, discrete, perfection-based digital-to-analog conversion technology that uncovers all the information hidden in your music and brings it to the forefront. CDs, downloads, high-resolution PCM or DSD based media are expertly up-sampled in the DirectStream DAC to ten times DSD rate and then output as the most pure analog signal through its singled-ended or balanced outputs into your preamplifier or use its preamp circuitry to output directly into your amplifier. However you use the DirectStream DAC, you will hear instruments and voices reproduced with an unheard level of realism!
“Whether you’re a rabid DSD fan, or have strong convictions that PCM is the only way to go, PS Audio’s goal for the DirectStream DAC was to make both types of recordings sound as good as possible. My personal take is that it substantially realizes that goal….It’s easily the best DAC I’ve heard in my system, making digitally recorded music sound better than I’ve ever heard it.”
—The Absolute Sound, September 2014
Read More About the Technology Inside the DirectStream DAC Below:
DirectStream converts any digital input format, such as PCM or DSD to a pure DSD stream and outputs near-perfect analog signal. Whatever the format or sample rate, DirectStream is a pure DSD based solution that fulfills the promise of a high-resolution performance standard - one that was promised by the originators of the Compact Disc over 30 years ago. Hear what you've been been missing in your music for all these years!
“…I was already impressed by the DirectStream's ability to play music more compellingly than most D/A converters of my experience; here was the refinement that put its sonic presentation in the first rank, as well…Today, for those who've waited for a computer-friendly DAC that offers, with every type of music file, the best musicality of which DSD is capable, the PerfectWave DirectStream may be in a class by itself!”
—Art Dudley, Stereophile, August 2014
Pure DSD Done Right
Classic PCM based DACS, including many of today's DACS that can also process DSD, tend to cover up some of the subtle musical details buried deep within digital audio music; a problem inherent in their architecture. DirectStream solves this problem by employing a pure DSD single-bit approach for both PCM as well as DSD media.
This means that your entire library of music can finally reveal all the music and subtle low level details buried deep within its core. Imagine going to a recording studio and listening to a master tape of any recording made. This is the experience DirectStream provides its owners who enjoy a renewed sense of enjoyment and discovery when listening to everything in their library: CD's, downloads, DSD.
It is likely that whatever DAC you are currently using to decode your music may be covering up some of the finer details such as room reflections, upper harmonics, inner details and proper tonality. Removing the barriers inherent in PCM based processors can reveal more in your library than you might have thought possible.
The Back Story
No wonder that when, in 1982, Sony and Philips announced they had achieved “Perfect Sound Forever”, music lovers around the world waited in eager anticipation of analog's promise finally fulfilled. Unfortunately those early CD's sounded less musical than analog. In some cases, much worse.
The launch of the PCM-based Compact Disc would set in motion a 30-year war amongst Audiophiles, decimate the analog format, cover up subtle musical details for decades and turn the music and audio industries upside down –and not necessarily in a good way. There had to be a better way to fulfill the promise of analog's century of dominance for sounding like music and PCM would not be it. That answer is DSD.
Fortunately music's details have been more faithfully recorded than anyone ever suspected, but the cover-up of those recorded details has been with us for more than 30 years. Happily, the missing musical information is still buried deep within our audio libraries - waiting to be revealed. In order to extract everything hidden in PCM recordings, a completely new processing method is needed.
Pure DSD is the Answer
There's a notion floating around high-end audio circles that DSD may be nothing more than a passing fad. In fact, the opposite may be true. PCM based music decoders are nearing the end of their lifecycle in favor of a significantly more musical sounding format, DSD.
A Better Format
DSD is a far more analog-like encoding and decoding process than classic PCM. In fact, most modern A/D converters (used to make the recordings) are DSD based already and that movement is growing. 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.
The Secret is in its Simplicity
Unlike other processors available today, DirectStream unifies all inputs (PCM or DSD) at 10 x DSD, then uses a true single-bit double-rate DSD core engine. True DSD core engines (compared to the standard multibit Sigma-Delta converters followed by random lower quality multibit converters) offer advantages in simplicity, linearity, and in analog-like overload characteristics that avoid PCM's “hard clipping” potential and a PCM processor's propensity to mask subtle details.
No Off-the-Shelf DAC IC's
Most DACS are designed around off-the-shelf DAC IC's. DACs designed around dedicated IC (integrated circuit) chips are limited in the amount of signal-processing and math they can perform, due to their restricted ability to dissipate heat. Their limited “real estate” also forces digital circuitry to be located directly adjacent to analog circuitry, which can introduce noise and jitter into the signal output.
Instead of being based upon a packaged PCM-based DAC chip, with all of its inherent compromises and limitations, DirectStream utilizes an FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array). An FPGA is capable of dissipating large amounts of heat, enabling intensive levels of signal-processing that are impossible to achieve with an off-the-shelf chip.
DSD is inherently linear: it's nearly impossible to build a PCM DAC that always takes the same sized step in the output for any possible unit increment of the PCM value because of component matching challenges. DSD doesn't need this level of component matching and this means linear performance for all frequencies.
Like magnetic tape, DSD soft clips when overdriven: signals which exceed the nominal full scale value (by less than 3-4dB) only get slightly compressed if at all. With PCM the consequences are flat tops which induce extra energy at the squared off edges, or worse, wrap around which is very audible: the results can be an audible glare not present with DSD.
Ironically most reasonably priced PCM players actually use DAC chips that utilize a sigma-delta modulator to get a DSD-like signal anyway. Similarly most A/Ds are sigma-delta based. Matching the recording process to the playback process offers sonic advantages.
DirectStream handles the PCM conversion from all inputs without recovering a clock, by simply watching for the edges and making decisions about what they mean in context. The result is that any jitter present on the input clocks is lost entirely in DirectStream. There is little audible difference between TOSLINK and, for example, I2S because the output clock's rate only depends on the long term average rate of the inputs. This means even poor quality sources sound musical.
Separating the digital and analog stages from each other, operating from a single master clock, 10x DSD processing and a purely passive output stage reveal musical details formerly buried within the digital audio media and masked by classic PCM processing and decoding techniques.
The DSD Engine
No rounding. The internal volume control keeps complete precision: every bit in the input affects the output of the DAC for any volume level. Except for the sigma-delta modulation process itself there is no rounding, dither or other trimming. This means that perhaps for the first time, the DACS volume control has no degradation or data loss at any volume setting, eliminating the need for a preamplifier if the user wishes.
30 bit frames. The design utilizes a minimum width of 24 bits and achieves at least 144dB S/N in all of the upsampling filters. Use of full precision in the upsampling filters and significant number of “guard bits” in the IIR filters and the sigma-delta modulator help maintain the goal of perfecting the audio output. Music has never been this clean and high-resolution analog-like.
Headroom. Depending on the source material some designs may run out of headroom or approach saturation levels. The DirectStream design opts for at least one extra top bit everywhere in the digital path, coupled with an extra 6 dB of head room in the analog path above and beyond the 6 dB of headroom that SACD needs. This means no PCM or DSD program material will ever have dynamic restriction from the DAC itself.
Transformer coupled output. The output of the DSD engine is fed directly into the output stage which is based on high speed video amplifiers, passive filtering, including a carefully crafted high bandwidth audio transformer at the output. Unlike conventional DACS that depend on active analog output circuitry and the problems associated with them, DirectStream is purely passive. This approach is one of the critical success stories of DirectStream. Because the output DSD stream is running at double DSD rate (5.6mHz) the ability of active analog electronics to handle these tremendously fast frequencies without adding any sonic artifacts is a serious challenge, one handled without incident when passive means are employed as found in DirectStream.
Critical Design Choices
10X sample rate. All input sample rates supported are synchronously upsampled to 10x the standard DSD sample rate and then back down to double rate DSD. There's no need for other clocks to interpret the inputs, regardless of their sample rate, because of the instrument's single clock input sampling architecture. This means music played through DirectStream is open and full of details formerly masked by other methods of decoding.
Low noise transfer. Connections between sections of the design have large impedances to slow down the edges and lessen any noise transfer, in addition to significant power supply isolation. This technique improves musicality and reduces, if not eliminates, the audible glare associated with traditional DACs.
Low interference. Control signals run as slowly as they can possibly go, plus control of their transition times limits the amount of induced noise (and hence possible jitter) into the main digital processing area. By slowing these control signals, music remains pure and unaffected by internal commands necessary for the DirectStream's operation.
Balanced architecture. Balanced signals are used throughout reducing radiation and noise in the ground and power rails. A balanced architecture is largely responsible for cleaning up the background and lowering noise floors to black levels.
Every Decision for Sound
Careful terminations. High rate signals (and/or signals with fast edges) are isolated from control signals and especially each other. If they have to be fast they are terminated appropriately to help keep jitter low. Audible glare and harsh artifacts riding on musical signals are reduced by these careful steps at every juncture of the design.
Low temperature coefficient parts. 0.1% precision thin film low temperature coefficient 1/8W or 1/4W resistors are incorporated everywhere in the audio path, lowering the temperature coefficient of the components below standard practices. This enables each and every DirectStream to be hand built and nearly identical in sound.
Resonance matching. Low noise techniques are employed, such as the liberal use of low inductance capacitor bypassing, each of which has a self resonance frequency at the main clock rate to keep as much noise from ever getting into the voltage rails. Consistency throughout the instrument is a critical feature found in the perfection of DirectStream.
Hand routing. Every trace on the PC board is hand routed: even for the digital sections. No autorouting is employed, so that each trace, each critical path, is calculated and designed for lowest noise, jitter and isolation. Every unit is delivered by the production team with pride because of the extraordinary attention to detail in the design itself.
Go Direct into Your Amp or Preamp
Some CD players and sources themselves invert polarity so that a disc you believe is inverted actually is correct played on a specific device and incorrect on yet another. To fix this problem you can assign each input on the DirectStream to switch to the proper polarity when you activate that input. Touching this control is the same thing as reversing the loudspeaker connections of both loudspeakers (+ to -) at either the amplifier or speakers. All live acoustic music is in absolute polarity but some recordings may accidentally be made inverted and should sound more realistic and pleasant when you correct their polarity with the switch.
Inputs and Outputs
Built in Boulder
White Paper (PDF, 341 KB)
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