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T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2013 and DSD

The most hotly-debated topic in computer audio presently must surely be DSD. It’ll come as no surprise that the guys from Mytek are 101% behind it. They  were the first manufacturer to bring DSD playback into homes for under $2k. (Director of Marketing) Chebon Littlefield’s enthusiasm for DSD fires machine-gun style between cigarette breaks. He talks of the Brooklyn-based company being pivotal in DSD uptake in the professional recording studio space. Littlefield also urged me to convert a PCM file to DSD and compare it to the original – he’s convinced I’ll hear a difference. Perhaps I will.

T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2013 and DSD mytek 580x386

Like the best of America, the Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC is packed with options: would you like analogue or digital volume attenuation? RCA output or headphone output? Would you like to attenuate those independently of one another? Would you like sharp or slow filters? USB 1.1 (driverless), USB 2.0 or Firewire connection? Do you want to connect an analogue device as well? Flip the lid: what gain level would you like? The check for all this rings up to a very reasonable US$1595.  Review to follow in due course.

Mytek Digital

T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2013 and DSD ejsarmento clinthartman 580x440

EJ Sarmento (left) and Clint Hartman (right)

The grinning young fellas from Wyred4Sound have two rooms bursting with gear. Chief designer EJ Sarmento is the quieter, more unassuming of the two. He keeps his cards close to his chest and rarely let’s his abundant technical know-how spill. Sarmento tells me that (on average) five DAC-2 are arriving each day for SE upgrades.  It would seem interest in DSD with existing DAC-2 owners is robust.

T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2013 and DSD wyred4sound 580x386

Right hand man Clint Hartman is the more vocal of the two. He demos the the DAC2 DSDse (US$2500) will flair and friendliness: a run through the same piece of music first as 24/192 PCM and then as DSD. I noted superior spatial information and more tonal mass from the latter. Others in the room concluded similarly.  Does this mean DSD is the superior format or does it mean that the new Wyred4Sound DAC is simply better at decoding DSD than PCM? I can’t answer either way. I’d need to repeat this A/B comparison with a selection of DACs before bringing down the hammer.

Wyred4Sound | DeepHz Audio

T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2013 and DSD THEShow truck 580x372

It’s also a shame that the music involved with such comparisons isn’t to my taste. And there’s the rub with DSD as it currently stands: there’s bugger-all content out there. I already own more titles on vinyl than can be acquired by fair means (Blue Coast, 2L, Channel Classics etc.) or foul (SACD rips) on DSD. Even assuming the validity of it sonic superiority, it’s hard to get behind a format when the software just isn’t there. Isn’t it more critical that a DAC first sounds great with PCM (99.9% of most digital audio libraries) before you even think about DSD? Some might argue that the software will eventually flow but that will only give rise to forum flame wars about provenance (“Did they use PCM in the studio?”).

HDTracks have made great inroads with hi-res PCM content in the past couple of years, expanding their catalogue beyond the niche of ‘audiophile’ music. They now sell albums from Suede, Daft Punk and R.E.M. but as anyone who’s heard the new album from The National can attest, not everything sounds amazing in 24/192. It’s another compression casualty. GIGO.

T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2013 and DSD hilton 580x430

Someone said to me at Newport Beach (I forget who) that we should be putting more pressure on artists to take care of their records all the way down the chain. We should be persuading them not to walk away once the recording is in the can and to ensure that their record company (presumably focused on radio-play) doesn’t foul the mastering.

Several manufacturers I spoke to claim that their current lack of DSD support is starting to hurt sales. That consumer demand is forcing their hand. People are asking: “Does it do DSD?” I’m curious as to what exactly is driving this demand? Is it audiophile nervosa? Is it obsessive compulsion? It’s as if someone has lit a match inside an airport hangar and a bunch of people are now screaming “FIRE!”. You don’t need me to piss on this parade when far more knowledgeable voices from Linn and Ayre Acoustics are playing fire brigade.

I suspect computer audiophiles have heard LOUD NOISES about DSD from various quarters and its (alleged) sonic superiority and they are just plain curious.

T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2013 and DSD jasonstoddard mikemoffat 580x399

Jason Stoddard (left) and Mike Moffat (right)

I arrive at the Schiit Audio stand to ask Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat how sales of Bifrost Uber are going. “Superbly”, apparently. “Uber” refers to a revamped analogue board, US$70, but there’s also a second generation USB input that will run you an additional US$100. That brings the total cost of a fully tricked-out Bifrost to US$520. Schiit have joined the (growing) number of manufacturers taking budget USB solutions super-seriously. End users rightfully expect direct USB to sound as good as when diverting USB via S/PDIF using an off-board convertor. This isn’t as common as you might expect so it’ll be interesting to see how close Schiit have got; a review unit is coming my way.

How the heck did I miss the Asgard 2? I’m told this new version has seen some trickle-down from Mjolnir. US$250.

I ask about the statement units but Stoddard doesn’t seem too worried about when they’ll see the light of day. Maybe Q4 this year. Maybe Q1 next. He wants to talk about DSD too. He thinks it will remain a niche market of its own. Moffat snorts something about “Remember how HDCD was gonna change the world?!”. A Schiit-eating grin then lands on Stoddard’s face and he begins to whisper…

T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2013 and DSD schiit eating grin 580x421

…Schiit’s got something DSD-related coming. I can’t give you details yet, sorry. Stoddard and Moffat have me sworn to secrecy. (Yup, I’m the guy who’s got a secret and he’s not going to tell you). I wanted to make this product ‘Best in Show’. Imagine that: ‘Best in Show’ to a product that doesn’t even exist yet! Actually, it does exist – the prototype board was tucked under the table. Some of you will wet yourselves when you learn for how very little cash Schiit will let you scratch that DSD itch…and then drift back to PCM because that’s where all the music is. Ach, I’ve said too much already.

In Tom Gibbs’ review of HRT’s Music Streamer HD for Positive Feedback (published just last week) he opines that DSD playback hardware probably won’t dip below the $500 mark “anytime in the foreseeable future, if ever.”  Just wait a month or two, Tom, just wait a month or two.

Schiit Audio | Addicted To Audio


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Comments
  1. Miguel

    Hope to see some reviews about Wyred4Sound DAC2 SE vs its
    original and BMC PureDac also, some of us are in the hunt of these new upgraded DACs…

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I’m very keen to review the BMC. I’ll also see if W4S can send me new and old units….but I’m gonna need a week off after writing up all this show coverage. An initial 2000 words has blown out to over 5000.

  2. Rob D.

    It’s all good that the manufacturers of audio equipment are so excited about DSD. But where the hell is any decent kind of music that could be listened to in this high resolution? All I can find is some obscure “run-of-the-mill” or downright abominable “audiophile” pulp. I’d rather listen to MP3s of a really exciting music.

    So, yes, I agree that Artists need to be pushed and dragged toward better sounding recordings. And I mean Artists (not artists)… ;)

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Hey Rob. That was kind of my point: 1) there just isn’t enough DSD music out there and 2) not all manufacturers are excited about DSD. Many are adding compatibility so that they don’t lose sales. The guys from Schiit are the least DSD-excited manufacturer I talked to.

  3. Junker

    I’ve been impressed with how fast you started the show wrap-up. Fight the power yo.

    Please review any DAC with a volume control… ; )

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Got a Mytek to play with. It’s got a volume control which can be controlled via any Apple remote…and it sounds really nice.

  4. Miguel

    I think there are some folks like me that are in the market of a new DAC and from my point of view it does nor harm to get one with already DSD function, and i agree there is not enough GOOD DSD material yet, but places like Qbuz are planning to introduce this feature and i think it will grow day by day as the people and DACs are demanding it, hopefully Rock Pop and other as popular will be in DSD, i mean they did it with SACD why not include those list for DSD downloads.

    W4S DAC2 SE or BMC PureDac seems are very appealing.

    Hey, You are doing a great job and deserve your time off!

    Regards

    Miguel

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Hey Miguel – Personally, I would never buy hardware on the promise/hope of *future* software.

  5. DavidH

    Personally I couldn’t give a rats arse that the audio manufacturers are excited about DSD, they were equally excited about SACD players back in the day and that proved to be a winner. As John has said many times it’s about the music. Also, if hi-res dowloads are anything to go by, I’d rather pay £5 for the CD than pay 2-3 times that amount for the hi-res or DSD version – with a few exceptions. While the vast majority of the general public still accept mp3s I dont see this changing. IMO a better approach is to get the masses to see that buying mp3s is plain dumb – especially since Spotify etc. gets you unlimited mp3 downloads for £10 a month – surely getting them to see the musical benefits of higher quality FLAC/PCM downloads is better for the audio industry. A more interesting observation to me – I wish it was a trend – is the increased number of indie and mainstream vinyl releases that just come with a CD unadvertised. Of the 10 vinyl releases I’ve bought in the last month, 3 came with CD’s ( unadvertised) and one came with a hi-res download. Personally I’d rather pay £15 for vinyl plus a CD or FLAC download, than the same for a 192KHz or DSD.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Amen to pretty much all that you have written, David. I don’t object to the excitement surrounding (new) formats per se. I just don’t like seeing the tail wag the dog.

      And yes, getting a CD with vinyl should be standard practice. Or at the very least a coupon for a LOSSLESS download.

  6. Danny

    I’ve had the Mytek 192 DSD DAC for about a year. It’s a very good sounding product in both PCM and DSD. The feature set is also very useful, at least for me. The built in analogue preamp is high quality, you’d have to spend quite a bit on a separate pre to get a better one.

    As far as DSD, you guys are right that there isn’t a lot of material, unless:

    a)you are into Classical – there are few labels recording in DSD and releasing material, so you can build a decent Classical collecton in DSD.

    b) you have an SACD collection you’d like to rip for computer audio. There’s a lot of good material and good remasters in SACD – classic jazz and rock (as well as classical) that can be ripped. The Stones, the Who, Miles Davis, etc. It can be done if you are willing to hunt down and hack the proper model PS3 on the net. For SACD collectors this is very worthwhile. IMO, the DSD rips sound noticeably better than the respective SACDs.

    I have a few native DSD recordings (classical) that are breathtaking and probably the best sounding recordings I own. Also, there are a lot of very good analogue to DSD (SACD) transfers out there of catalogue material that was originally on tape. Many of these also sound fantastic, more “analog like” – in a good way – than any other version.

    If you aren’t into classical, you can probably easily build a 50-100 disc collection of rock, jazz etc of first line material. Some of this is the best sounding versions of the respective albums that exists. For instance, the ABKCO Stones material (sounds a little better than the hi-res PCM downloads made from the DSD masters), the Allman Brothers, the Who (the 2012 remaster SACDs from Japan, Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, etc. Some of this is also available as hi-res PCM downloads, which is very close in quality to the DSD.

    I enjoy the DSD – it has a sound that I like. But other than catalogue transcriptions (from analogue) and Classical, I don’t think it has much of a future. I’m hoping that there will be more properly done 24/192 recordings/releases of more mainstream material in the future, as I think that sounds as good as DSD.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I’m not necessarily questioning the sonic benefits of DSD…but you’ve expanded on my point about the dearth of DSD material. Is ripping SACDs a breach of copyright? I suspect it might be. Plus, you need a PS3 and patience.

    • Chris

      You are so on point. Unless a person likes classical music finding your favorite artist in DSD is like searching for the bucket of gold at the end of a rainbow, it ain’t there.

      PS: I have heard good things about the new W4S dac2 SE which also does DSD does even a better job at PCM with the new upgrades than the old dac..

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