Directstream DAC sounding very harsh

My system consists of a 6 month old Directstream Dac (snomass) feeding a Rogue RP5 pre and then a pair of Stellar m700’s into a pair of Elac Adante’s. I’m using bluejeans interconnects.

I’ve got a little over a month on the Adante’s and they seem well broken in. The problem is digital sounds very harsh on some material while other material is fine. I feed the DAC from a Mac Mini (using Bitperfect) with a USB cable. Any material with complex high frequency material has a lot of glare, simple material (piano, guitar, or violin sounds fine. This started about 10 days ago

I put my old Bitfrost DAC in place of the DirectStream DAC and everything sounds great again, not as refined as the Directstream was initially but no hint of harsh glare with the Bitfrost. The cabling stayed the same.

Is there anything I can do I should I send the Directstream back for a look under the hood?

How many hours do you have on your DSD DAC. They require A LOT of burn-in time, like 500+ hours. It will most certainly improve over time and what you are describing sounds like what many have reported as being subsiding post burn-in.

Never used a mac mini, but I have found direct connection from a non audiophile PC tends to sound terrible (most likely due to the noise it injects into the system). There is no free solution to this issue.

You may be better off streaming to the DAC using something like a LANRover if you can get one, or simply adding a second hand Bridge II card for this purpose.

Another alternative might be to try one of the USB cleaning devices like this:

Ideally you would want an external audiophile streamer or server but that will obviously cost more.

Doing computer audio well is not cheap. You can easily spend more than an equivalent (performance wise) CD transport.

It’s been 7 months so I would estimate close to 400 hours on the PerfectWave DAC. Had the sound been like this all along I’d be inclined to think it needed more hours on it but up untill a couple of weeks ago the sound was getting better every week.

Also the BitFrost having no signs of glare when popped into position. I’ll run the PerfectWave in 24 hours a day on another conputer with no speakers attached and see if things improve.

Try restarting your DSD. I’ve encountered a similar experience when leaving my dac on for a week or longer.


The mac mini seems to be widely used and this is not just a tinge of glare, it’s a lot and it’s on material that sounded fine a few weeks back and sounds fine on the old BitFrost. I’ll run the PerfectWave in for another 300 hours on another setup (without speakers) and see if that makes a difference

1 Like

The mac mini seems to be widely used

Widely used is not the same as something being ideal but that is a side issue if the changes have just happened recently. I thought you meant that it wasn’t working well with your new DSD from the start.

Running in shouldn’t make such a massive difference and it is unusual it would make it sound more harsh - usually it is the other way around.

If you are 100% sure this “glare” wasn’t there before, then the only conclusion is that something has changed within your system.

What I find confusing is that you say some music still sounds fine - if this was due to some kind of change in the system then it should be present for everything. It should not be music dependent.

Is it possible that the “bad” sounding tracks are in a particular format? For example poorly recorded lossy audio which sounds good on less revealing systems can sound terrible on higher end equipment - simply because you can hear all the inadequacies in greater detail. Although it wouldn’t make sense that these sounded fine before and don’t now.

Otherwise that leaves a lot of variables. You have the mac mini, the DAC, the cables and also the power supply. For example your DAC and Mac Mini may be fine but it may be that one of your cables is picking up some radio transmissions that the DSDac is sensitive to.

It may also be that there is something running on your home power supply (or even your street supply) that is degrading your sound. Have you installed any new equipment that may be responsible?

Might be worth checking all your cables are properly connected and if you have alternatives try swapping them out.

Also if you have another computer to try (not necessarily a Mac Mini) it might be worth using that to with the same tracks to see if the character you describe is still there.

Finally it is also possible a fault with one of your amps is doing something which interferes with you DSDac but not your old DAC. I understand this is unlikely but do you have other amps you can try it with - obviously this will change the character of the sound, but presumably if it is some kind of fault with the DAC any decent amp should be able to reveal it.

Beyond that I’m not sure what you can do yourself.

Rebooting the DSD with the SD card inserted is a good idea to try. Does no harm and sometimes these OS do drift sonically and a reboot improves the sound. Beats me why. But an easy fix.

1 Like

I shut the entire system down after listening with a master switch. Everything is powered by a direct feed to a 2-3kw heavy isolation transformer (240v input, 120v output). 80 to 100 pounds of iron does a great job of swallowing powerline hash coming into the house.

Lonson…I think I read somewhere that Ted stated that one should not reboot the dac with the card inserted.Seems to mess with the firmware somehow.

Perhaps. Works for me now and then to fix an “off” sound.

At 400 hrs your DSD is not even half way through the burn-in process. It took 1000 hrs before my DSD fully settled in. And it’s not a linear process, more like a rollercoaster ride. Run a signal into it non-stop until you’ve reached 1000 hrs, it will improve.


If you haven’t, I recommend re-setting your computer and making sure your music player is optimized for sound quality. With a previous DAC I had an issue with lots of glare, but I was running out of RAM and the Audirvana wasn’t able to fully optimize. I still notice that the sound of the player changes over time if I don’t reset the program and computer. I’m assuming this happens when the RAM/buffer starts to get full.

The computer gets turned off daily as does the audio system. The Mac Mini has 16GB of ram and that does fill up over time (2.5-3 hours) but the harshness is apparent wit hing a short while if starting things up.

I also have a MODI 2 DAC and a ASGAARD headphone amp hooked up to the mini (Sennhieser HD600 phones) so I can listen on headphones (not at the same time) and those never have any signs of the distortion.

I currenrtly have a cd player looping a disk and it’s digital output is driving the Directtream DAC 24/7. I can listen to the system using the Schitt BitFrost while all this is going on.

The positive general message is: when the surrounding is right, it sounds as natural as you can imagine, so you will have it working, even if it takes a bit to find out :wink:

Just yesterday and today while listening I thought how natural and resolving the treble sounds and how artificial even expensive digital gear could sound before in comparison.

A few things you can try, hopefully all for free.

  1. Install the 3.0.6 version of Snowmass. It wasn’t intended to change the audio, but for me it resolved a gritty/harsh high frequency problem that I thought was the fault of my new speakers.
  2. Disconnect any inputs to the DAC other than your Mac mini, because they can influence the sound quality even when they’re not selected for playback.
  3. Try using the Toslink input on the DAC – this will give you 100% electric isolation on the inputs and help you figure out whether that’s what’s causing the harshness. Some Mac minis have built-in Toslink output that you can use. Newer ones would require a USB-to-Toslink converter of some kind.