DSD vs PCM Hi Rez - your opinion?

You know? I am finding that my PCM Hi Rez files sound a bit better than my DSD files. You? What do you think about this?

It may be that the DSD files were mastered many years ago and these PCM files were remastered again and are done better… in other words it is not the format but the mastering.

What do you think?

I am playing these files from a NAS to a PC (foobar) to my Direct Stream DAC via USB. This system passes the PSAudio’s bit test using their files.

Bruce in Philly

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excellent SQ of PCMs vastly outnumber excellent SQ of DSDs

the ideal test would be master tape/mixing console to PCM vs master tape/mixing console to DSD for the same performance/microphones/engineer/etc

(my tests of 256 DSDs from Octave Records vs Vinyl from Octave records always favor the vinyl version; my tests of hi-res PCM/DSD files from Octave Records are difficult to test convincingly since the DSD files require about twice the volume (would need similar average decibel levels for satisfactory comparison)…though my present Streamer/DAC/cables ‘only’ cost about $5,000; perhaps spending 10+ times more would produce different results)


I should have added, the DSD files, in general, sound a bit more relaxed and less dynamic. Not veiled or anything like that, but have less life in them. I think this is generally consistent with the files I have.

Bruce in Philly


Recording quality > recording format

“Musicality” > recording quality

Garbage in → garbage out

In other words, its not PCM vs. DSD in general (or the resolution of the recording) that matters, per se. There are many factors that define an excellent recording and playback experience and I have been unable to definitively say I prefer one format over another.

My answer is always, “it depends”.



It is my judgement this is a function of the quality of the recording engineering and mastering, rather than the format. For example, I own every Octave Records release issued so far on SACDs. To my ears, the quality of the recordings ranges from O.K., to good, to excellent. However, they are all Octave/PS Audio .dsf/DSD efforts.


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To me it’s all about the DAC. With the right one all formats sound great.


Care to share which DAC (or DACs) you’re referring to?

Playback Designs MPD-8

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I have no preference between the two. Most of my Audio Gurus pan DSD. They are only interested in PCM. Blah Blah Blah.

There are so many variables and complications in the path from analog to digital to analog again that it’s really hard to find useful generalisations.

The main one you can rely on is this: most of what people don’t like about the sound of digital is the compromises involved in low-pass filtering. The lower the filter, the steeper the drop-off, and the less computation you have available to do the work, the worse the impact on the sound. That’s the main reason that high-res PCM can sound better than CD: the audio might not have been subjected to a less-than-excellent sub-22kHz LPF. These filters are needed during both recording and playback, unless you’re somebody who enjoys the particular sound of unfiltered “NOS” PCM playback.

DSD has an advantage in terms of filtering. Because the sample rate is so high, the LPF cut-off can be set way above the limit of human hearing and the roll-off can be very gentle. That’s most of why good DSD doesn’t sound “digital”. DSD playback is also vastly simpler in principle than PCM is, and the playback filtering is purely analog.

But DSD has a disadvantage in that it requires complex computation during production (sigma-delta modulation or SDM) to make a 1-bit sample depth give you more than 6dB of SNR in the audio band.

All this computation for low-pass filtering and sigma-delta modulation is a primary reason why new firmware for the Directstream DAC models sounds different. These DACS take in PCM or DSD and then perform LPF and SDM to create new DSD bits which flow through the output stage. Changes to the LPF and SDM algorithms and/or parameters change the sound.

That said, I agree with everybody else who said that the distribution format is one of the least significant things in determining how enjoyable that recording is to listen to. The contest is usually won or lost well before anybody decided whether to output as PCM versus DSD.


We have had forum members express a clear preference for PCM in the past, describing it as more energetic while DSD is too soft.

I enjoy that they are different.

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Very well put, using only so much tech talk as necessary!

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The thing to keep in mind is that many early sacd were sourced from pcm so there’s that extra step. Also 2xdsd is really the sweet spot as far as a DSD quality.

I have some Patricia barber DXD pcm that’s phenomenal.

I have played the same purchased download files stored in my SSD through Lumin U2. The PCM file is up-sampling to 192/24, and DSD file is up-sampling to DSD256.

In my system I much preferred DSD, the sound is fuller and more analog sounding than PCM through MK2. It is not that close either.

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I should say I have an extensive DSD library and I personally am very pleased with this.