PS Audio launch DirectStream Junior FPGA DAC w/ streamer

ps_audio_directstream_junior_1a

FPGA. Field programmable gate array. Without code, it’s nothing. With Ted Smith code it’s a D/A converter for PS Audio. The (DAR-KO Awarded) DirectStream’s talents in unearthing music’s inner-spaciousness but with nary a sign of transient etch or glare made it the go to DAC for those migrating from vinyl to digital for the first time or those who prefer their digital served with a dollop of cream. It took the LOL out of those who would refer to Redbook as LOwLy.

Inexpensive however the DirectStream was not: US$5999. Filling its rear-panel slot with a Network Bridge II for a fully-networked solution meant another US$899.

How about a pared-back version of the DirectStream with in-built Network Bridge II for US$3999? That’s the question being asked by Colorado’s PS Audio as they introduce the all-new DirectStream Junior (DSJ) DAC that saw first light of day at CES 2016 last month after two year’s behind-the-scenes development.

DSJ remains an FPGA-centric decoder, complete with Ted Smith code, but its circuitry has been unified onto a single board and the transformer-based output stage has been swapped out for a “balanced solid state output”. The master clock descriptor moves from “ultra” to “super”.

Talking Junior’s FPGA code, designer Ted Smiths says, “The code is essentially Yale – it has a few changes to talk to the new host processor code and to support some clock related signals for the Bridge, but it’s the same operationally and does the same bit munching.  With one exception – the new AUTO input select.  When AUTO is chosen, the FPGA monitors all inputs for a valid and changing signal.  Then the system selects for input the input that last became valid.”

Inputs? A single I2S HDMI socket plus one each of AES/EBU, coaxial, asynchronous USB and Toslink. Just like DirectStream, Junior up-samples all inputs to DSD before processing.

On the output stage, Smith takes us deeper: “The [original] DirectStream has a dual-differential/balanced output: four balanced digital switches per channel, two going up every time two go down.  Though the Junior uses the same digital switches and hence the whole analog path from the FPGA to the outputs is balanced, its output stages are not dual or differential (we had to save some money somewhere:)  The transformer is ‘replaced’ with a very fast line-driving output op-amp; once again balanced to keep the common mode rejection that the transformer confers on the DirectStream.”

Outputs? Junior sports a pair of balanced XLR and a pair of single-ended RCA.

ps_audio_directstream_junior_3a

The on board Network Bridge II serves as a DLNA/UPnP renderer; JRiver users should have no issues streaming to Junior directly and gaplessly. Roon compatibility is in the works.

Junior inherits its forerunner’s firmware upgradeability. Here though updates will be applied via USB stick instead of SD card. No doubt some users will prefer that. Also preferable (to this commentator at least) is the Junior’s volume pot, which stands in for the DirectStream’s touchscreen – which I always found a little too fiddly for its own good – and allows one to get hands on with volume attenuation in the more traditional sense. The endless pot’s feel is rather nice and the adjacent OLED display handles visual reporting of volume level and active input.

On sound quality, PS Audio reckon DSJ delivers 85% of the DirectStream’s performance for two thirds the price of Big Daddy (but with a Network Bridge II lobbed into the bargain).

ps_audio_directstream_junior_2a

Lifted from the company’s dealer marketing materials (which mistakenly made it onto the web and were scraped by Google):

“The two instruments have near identical character of sound. Full, rich, warm, never electronic. Both units share the remarkable ability of helping RedBook CDs sound close to high resolution audio, and uncover a wealth of music long buried in home libraries.”

“Where the two noticeably deviate is in terms of spatial accuracy, transparency, separation of instruments, soundstage width and treble accuracy. The best measure of these differences can be expressed in percentage. DSJ provides 85% of DirectStream’s performance in the aforementioned areas.”

“…at $3,999 MSRP this product kills the competition”. 

PS Audio’s marketing department are well known for their bold proclamations – that’s the language of business. Moreover, US$4K remains ‘up there’.

Returning this news coverage to terra firma, I spoke with PS Audio’s mainman Paul McGowan about DirectStream Junior at its unofficial unveiling at CES last month. See/hear here:

And yes, there’s a review unit at DAR HQ already. Expect further coverage to spill once the internal Network Bridge II has been made Roon Ready via firmware update; it will be ready when it’s ready. Just like my review! In the meantime, we get a chance to hear more from Señor Smith on any design or code differences, hopefully in the comments section below.

Until then, a cool head is recommended.

Early adopters are advised that the DirectStream Junior begins shipping later this month and will be available in PS Audio’s standard silver and black finishes.

Further information: PS Audio

Yes, you're reading that right: DirectStream JUNIOR from @psaudio1. Details hitting DAR momentarily.

A photo posted by DAR__KO (@dar__ko) on

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Written by John H. Darko

John lives in Sydney, Australia where he derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: dar__ko
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24 Comments

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  1. I’ve never bought any of their products, but you have to hand it to PS Audio – always coming out with new stuff, and they regularly try to come out with “more affordable” stuff than their top of the line units.

  2. It’s as if an FPGA is a new thing. It’s not original at all, they’ve been around for years, and other manufacturers use them.

    Let’s see how many versions of firmware they go through. The Perfect Wave went through quite a few, and every version sounded different. Can’t they get it right the first time? Consumers deserve better than being treated like guinea pigs.

    McGowan is a salesman, not a designer. Nice enough guy, but all he does is talk instead of letting the product speak for itself.

    If the fact that $6000 Perfect Wave DACs are being advertised online for $1700 because people figure out they shouldn’t have bought the hype is any indication, we’ll see another glut of Juniors for sale at ridiculous prices, too. Don’t be afraid to buy based on what you hear from auditioning, folks!

    • FPGAs. “Other manufacturers use them”. Yup. Chord Electronics. And who else codes an FPGA to handle D/A conversion?

      And the firmware update thing depends on one’s perspective: pointless to lock down the DS with a factory flavour when PS don’t have to. And it’s not as if end users can’t re-install older versions if they prefer ’em. Everyone has a different take on “right”. Besides, I don’t see how choice like this can be a bad thing, especially if successive updates bring improvements to the majority of users.

      As CEO of PSA I’m sure McGowan wears many different hats. One of those will be salesman. After all, talking his own stuff up is what he’s *supposed* to do, no?

      You’re referring to PWD 1 and 2 at US$1700 on the used market, I assume? No way you’d pick up a DS for that cash. If so, point me at it and I’ll hit BIN.

      More than anything though Josh, you come across as annoyed by this – or do I misunderstand?

      • > You sound so annoyed by this, Josh.
        Perhaps, but amused for sure, as if it’s a big deal.

        Yes on the used prices. Check Agon, for instance. There are two right now at that price.

        • Who’s saying it’s a big deal? This is a just a news post announcing its presence. That I was able to interview Paul about it and shoot pics at CES means I didn’t have to rely on stock. Besides, if this seems like a big deal, why not have a pop at the Chord Mojo piece I put up yesterday? It too uses an FPGA and John Franks and Rob Watts are juts effusive about its performance as Paul McGowan is about his new baby. In fact, why not have a pop at all news posts on this site?

          Which reminds me – given that your previous message dismissed FPGA use as commonplace, I’m still keen to learn which manufacturers apart from Chord and PS Audio use them for D/A conversion.

        • Not at all – nearly every DS owner I know changes their firmware. Those that don’t know how can leave as is (or phone a friend).

  3. “McGowan is a salesman, not a designer”.
    That’s simply not true. He may be more visible as a salesman, but he is a gifted designer, and highly influential in the audio industry.
    Look at the patents on our walls–they’re Paul’s work, and he’s been a leader in digital design for over 30 years with PS and with Genesis. The Digital Lens was a major landmark in making digital audio listenable, and its design is still influential today.
    The DirectStream’s concept was wholly that of Ted Smith, and the design,electronics and board layout of both DS and DSJ were his, with input on the power
    supply, display, UI, Bridge, and productionizing from Bob Stadtherr, Dave Paananen and Dennis Kerrisk in our engineering department, with industrial design by Bill Abplanalp.
    Paul guides all product designs and makes the major decisions, including voicing of each and every product (often with the input of Arnie Nudell).
    The fact that Paul works with wizards like Ted, Arnie and Bascom King indicates how secure he is with his own abilities and those of the company–he realizes that in order to achieve at the highest levels, sometimes you gotta bring in THAT GUY, and he isn’t afraid to cast the spotlight on others.
    And oh: he’s also CEO of a successful 43-year-old company with over 30 employees. And yes, he is a salesman–and thank God for that. Having worked with and for dozens of engineers who can barely communicate their ideas to their co-workers, much less the public, it’s a joy to work with someone who can enthusiastically express himself.
    If your idea of an engineer is an inarticulate solitary guy who sits at a drafting table with a slipstick, wake up and join the 21st century.
    Regarding the other objections:
    No, we’ve never claimed that we’re the only users of FPGAs in DACs, though there still aren’t many. The way in which we use the Xylinx, and the way it is used to process signals, are both unique. And the extent to which ours can be upgraded in the field is unique.
    One of the harsh realities of manufacturing is that after building a product for a while, you understand better how to make it, and utilize it. The harsh aspect is that such usually means the customer who bought unit #12 can’t benefit from the knowledge that you’ve gained by the time you build #4,012. He’s stuck with a unit that COULD be better, but isn’t.
    We prefer to take the approach of designing products that can be improved as our knowledge and understanding increase. Obviously, this works best with software-driven products, and so we can’t go that route with, say, our BHK amps. One does what one can.
    This is a company that has brought leading-edge technology and design to reasonably-priced products for over 40 years. I don’t get the hate.

  4. Thanks John for the excellent report on the new DirectStream Junior. Now what I’d like to know is – what are the 2 stacked units on the table behind in the video? Bill? They seem to have the same design cues as the DSJ and Paul did mention a new transport in the works. They don’t look like a transport to me though and I didn’t think they are the new preamp.

    • The units in the background are proof of concept of models in a new economy line, presently called “Stellar”. The same configurations will be used for a variety of units, including standalone preamp and amps, and other devices to be determined.

      Don’t expect to see anything in the line before next year. We’ve got plenty of other new products in the queue for this year as it is! ;->

      • I was really close to buying PS, but gave up after I realized I could get M12 & M22 and this is my current choice.
        Plus M12 is much more than DAC and it can be upgraded with new MCDs.

        Producing an amp based on nCore shouldn’t be too expensive and matching it with your DSD DAC would be a dream if priced reasonably.

  5. Why release a cheaper model? Most likely because the original Directstream did not sell well from the start. PS Audio is a private company and does not have any responsibility to disclose sales figures. One possible reason for low sales is the constant hiss (search for “Directstream” and “hiss”). PS Audio admits to this defect on their own forum.

    Shortly after release of the original Directstream, dealers such as Underwood were offering a discount of $1500 (see http://www.audiogon.com/listings/da-converters-ps-audio-direct-stream-dac-let-us-buy-your-dac-for-2000-00-2014-09-13-digital-80020-broomfield-co). The dealer still makes money because dealer cost is about half the retail price.

    As Darko said, “a cool head is recommended”.

  6. Interesting comment from Paul on ethernet’s benefits – wondering why this is not a more common approach and if it would in fact be superior than an USB input with a Regen and Curious cable, for example.

    John – by the way, have you received the DAC for the LIO ?Looking forward to part 3!

  7. Received my JR last week. I am upgrading from a NAD M51. No question that the JR presents a lot more information than the M51. A really engaging presentation at that. The music seems to have become much fuller. Notes are thicker, better defined. No harshness in the playback. I have been playing through my digital collection as well as Tidal and Spotify and the JR is an upgrade for every source and every resolution. I have not tested the Bridge yet. Very happy with the opportunity to demo this unit in my own home on my own equipment. Looks like a keeper!