I started a year ago with a laptop on my knees and a 5m USB cable to the DS DAC. I thought the sound was good. A year later I’m in a sonically different place - firmware upgrades to Yale (superb, and continuing to show its class the more I clean up around it), the laptop now an audio pc, stripped down Windows, Kernel Streaming, JPLAY/Qobuz/Foobar, PCM/DSD.
With DAC, amp and speakers down to manufacturer selection, the bit we get to play with is the source. The PC is potentially a good source - bit perfect on the one hand, but on the other the dirtiest imaginable. Things that have helped to clean up USB are:
- USB Hub - essentially re-clocks the USB signal. Replace the SMPS with a linear 5V power supply.
- USB Cable - cut the 5V Vbus wire on a standard $5 USB cable from the PC, and connect to the linear power supply instead. It works, in two ways – cuts out PC noise on the 5V Vbus wire, and eliminates noise crosstalk to the USB data wires.
These tweaks are low cost but, moving up a gear, what has transformed my system is the Audiobyte Hydra Z USB bridge. It does 3 things – converts USB to bit-perfect I2S/SPDIF, provides galvanic isolation, and re-clocks the output for low jitter. The result is a source that is clean, taut, rhythmical, detailed, delicate, dynamic. The sense is the Hydra Z itself sounds neutral, but extracts all of the music from the recording, leaving nothing behind (except the PC and it’s noise!). It’s well engineered, uses the same FPGA as the DS DAC, and handles all formats up to PCM 384kHz/DSD128. I use it in conjunction with the above tweaks.
- A few other points to note:
- Internal Jumper J24 needed to deliver bit-perfect operation
- A Jitterbug in the chain dis-improves the Audiobyte – smears/softens the sound
- I2S input on the DS DAC is better than USB
- I2S 1 is better than I2S 2 (small but detectable!)
Cost-wise it’s favourable compared to a PCIe USB card/cable/powersupply, or an Off Ramp say. Cables alone won’t deliver the improvements of the Hydra Z.
Simply superb imo, and showcases the Directstream DAC and what can be achieved with a PC/USB source.