Directstream DAC compared to EMM Labs technology


So, EMM Labs has a proprietary DSP that is unique in its ability to preserve the phase, frequency and dynamic integrity of the waveform.

How does the DS with Huron compare? An EMM Labs dealer told me this is why EMM labs so effortless and analog like. It doesn’t have any “pre or post” ringing. I’m not an engineer but, was curious how the DS design is different and or comparable.


I own a EMM DAC6e and indeed it does sound good, as did their earlier BiDat technology. It was the device that allowed me to hear that PCM wasn’t “evil” compared to my favorite technology DSD. In the hands of the DAC6e PCM did have a flow that was lacking in most other DACs at the time IMO. As I was working on the DS prototype I’d often compare it’s sound to the sound of the DAC6e. When people would ask me what the DS sounded like my canned answer was that it’s like an EMM or Playback Designs DAC.

Both the EMM gear and the DS use FPGAs to do custom filters rather than relying on pre cooked algos in DAC chips, etc. In the FPGA we can use much more accurate math or more involved algos than DAC chips, etc. We don’t need to economize how many multiplies we use or pick magic coefficients that happen to have a lot of 0’s in them to save work, etc.

Still I think most would agree that (starting at some release) the DS does sounds better with CDs and other PCM. It’s not possible to not have any pre OR post ringing, it is possible to trade off, say, preringing to post ringing or lower preringing by compromising the frequency response. Post ringing is much more benign to our ears, we are used to things ringing after they are struck, not just before they are struck :slight_smile:

The DS’s approach has always been to try to get to what the masterer was hearing when the disc was mastered and preserve as correctly as possible the wave shape of the input signal. When I first started to add PCM to my DS prototype I first thought I’d have to do something like the EMM, but discovered that the simpler more mathematically pure approach I took sounds better to my ears.

I have had the EMM Labs XDS1 (not the v2 which added USB) and the Playback Designs MPS-5 (SACD transport with USB-X interface) for a while now - they were being used in my main and study room systems respectively. I think the XDS1 was superior to the MPS-5 in absolute detail retrieval - but the MPS-5 had a richer more involving sound that I really enjoyed.

I initially got the DirectStream DAC for its USB interface so I could get computer audio on the main system (with the XDS1 used for SACD playback) and IMHO the first few gens of the firmware updates for the DirectStream DAC were good and close to the XDS1 but I preferred the XDS1.

This all changed after I updated the DS DAC to 1.2.1 I think - when I realised the XDS1 was lagging behind - I was hearing more into the music, more layers, more complexity being discerned and resolved on the DS DAC. I was now using the XDS1 as a transport to the DS DAC - and was able to switch between the two for CD playback.

My friend with the TSD-X/DAC2X combo said it took him till Yale for the DirectStream to beat the two box EMM in his system.

I still had the XDS1 till a couple of months ago when I finally got the DS Transport. The XDS1 has been unplugged and sitting in a corner for the last two months.

I think EMM may now have a new flagship DAC which I have not personally experienced. But for my money, with Ted’s amazing work in refining his code and optimising the DS DAC, I would rather keep the money aside for when Ted eventually creates a DirectStream DAC Mk 2, as unlikely as it may be for now.