Life at 80 to 90 is great (click bait title)

I came across a random comment by Ted Smith @tedsmith on a thread last week that was another one of Ted’s gems of wisdom. He throws them out with such casualness that you’d be forgiven for passing over them. So there was a thread in which Ted made the comment (I paraphrase using my crappy memory), “try adjusting your Directstream DAC between 80 -90 on the volume and listen to how good it is”. Or something to that effect.
So last Monday I tried this. Now I have a DSJ first up but since the 2 are quite similar in architecture I thought the advice would be the same for both. I also use a BHK preamp so of course this advice doesn’t apply to anyone how has no preamp or who is running a power amp (as opposed to an integrated).
I had been struggling with a slight lack of bass solidity in my system. I set the volume to 85 on my DSJ and let me system get up to the correct heat (30-60 mins for Pass Labs XA25). Then I started up Roon and was transported to a world of aural delight. Lots of powerful, detailed bass. The midrange sounded a bit sweeter and the treble was just great. I think the best part of the improvement was definitely the bass, at least in my system but the image depth and width seemed to be a bit better too.
As a final “proof” I had a few people who came over during the week to have a listen to a few “demo” tracks. Without any prompting they both asked what I had done to my system. I asked them what they meant and they both commented that the bass was much more prominent.
So I’d heartily recommend anyone with a DS or DSJ giving this a try. Obviously it reduces the amount of gain in your system but this hopefully won’t be an issue for anyone with amps (or preamps) with decent gain up the chain. A free “upgrade” perhaps…



I would go further than that. One could argue that turning down the volume control on the DS DACs has far less penalty than any movement you make with your pre gain. AND, conversely, you have much more to gain sonically by turning up your pre, at least into its nominal gain area.

If you’re running your pre below 50 just to keep the DAC at 100, that is bass-ackward gain-staging-wise, IMO. The reason you have the Pre in there is the thing (hopefully) sounds sweet and awesome. Crank it up and turn the DAC down to…wherever.

It is also possible (easily with a twist of a knob or push of buttons) to tailor it to the type of music you’re listening to. If you have tubes and are cranking some rock, push your tube stage harder. If you want clean for whatever type of music, moderate that gain - but don’t discount that the pre could make even classical sound sweeter.

If you don’t want to noodle with two settings, find the sweet spot on your pre via experimentation, and use the DAC as your volume control rather than the other way around.


Thanks, after setting the DSD Sr to 100 and listening for a while (weeks), I turned it down to 80. Initially I had it at 80 when I first got the BHK Preamp. Then I read 100 is the preferred DSD fixed setting. I love the DSD at fixed 80. I also don’t like the auto volume on Roon, however, have gotten over it since it helps more than hurts.

Great post and thanks badbeef for the follow up insight.

One of the other bits of this (and a good argument for using a pre aside from sonics) is the extreme variability of the sources we seem to be dealing with these days. This assumes you use lots of different sources as opposed to being dedicated to one type of source.

Between the many sources of Streaming, vinyl, digital files and discs…seems like a bigger range of gain is needed nowadays than in the days of fixed-output DACs and single primary sources.

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Also, the first stage noise figure will always set up the overall noise floor in the chain. In addition, as badbeef points out, what is the better amplification, DSD or BHKPreamp. I am going to try this method, sure don’t like the DSD at 100 and keeping the BHKPreamp at 25.

Let me extend that argument to say that listening to discern the differences between DS volumes is focusing on the wrong aspect potentially. And if you end up raising the gain on the pre as a result - which move made the greater impact on the sound? If you have a BHK pre, I’d say it also has quite a broad range of gain that it can operate in without changing things significantly, compared with many pres. However - again, potentially more sonic “gain” to be gained with that Gain : )

Bear in mind that I come to this as a longtime, staunch “DS at 100” person. I just couldn’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to run the DAC at it’s “nominal” level. But a while back this had come up here with Ted, and he explained that it was just different math with the DS volume control - its not a “volume control” in the traditional sense.

Then Darren and I were doing a lot of listening to vinyl and tubes and when we switched back to digital sources, would go…“where’s the Beef?” so to speak ; ). I walked over, turned the DSJ WAY down and the pre up into its Happy Place, and Boom. Nuff said.

@badbeef - yeah just took the DSD off fixed and set the BHKPreamp to 65 for a start and then we can play in increments of 2 steps over a month to figure out the sweet spot. In addition this will be interesting as the source changes as you mentioned.

What value for BHPreamp sweet spot did you find with your streaming and the DMP?

I don’t have a BHK. I have an old VTL that I love and recently retubed with NOS RCAs - with the exception of leaving a pair of Teles in it. The BHK is much cleaner, but I don’t feel it is synergistic in my system or necessarily to my taste IMS.

I admire the rigor of your approach with the volume, but it may be possible to cut to the chase by much broader experimentation to start with - sort of like focusing a camera by swinging the focus too far one way and another. Then it will become apparent where the Middle is. But that’s if you have a need to have one component Set.

@badbeef - OK, gotcha… yes I believe as you… what is the value of absolute DSD volume. Other than locking down a chain variable. I never liked putting the DSD to 100 from the start and now it is a search for the BHKPreamp sweet spot. Thanks for the post follow up.

The only downside is needing to be cognizant of these two volumes adjustments when you are listening.

@badbeef - sorry, very methodical, good point. Laser versus flashlight, I get it… yes, there are multiple sources, I get it… besides, this is fun audiophile stuff to do… yes your approach is like finding the minima of a very wide parabola… x1 and x2 (upper and lower points) and divide by 2 gets you very close…

Oh crap. Another adjustment to adjust, analyze, readjust, reanalyze, and worst of all REMEMBER. :exploding_head:

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@Baldy - yeah was thinking the same and I’m forgetting simple $hit these days…

I’m sitting here just playing around with this concept; going up and down with the DSD Sr volume, trying to keep final volume constant with the preamp and I can’t say it makes much difference.
Right now, dac at 100, preamp 57 makes Ron a happy boy.

Ron - not about the DSD, about the BHKPreamp sweet spot using the DSD as volume control. Right now, the BHKPreamp set at 70 with DSD controlling sounds great using streamer input.

My DSD is around 70 as casual listening with wife shopping and 55 if she was home.

However, my system… speakers, streamer different…

I’d say that with my Pre, I ended up generally (without trying) at around 75 on the DSJ for most sources (YMMV)* in part because I already knew the Nominal setting for my Pre was around 11 O’clock on the Nice Big, Heavy Knob – mfg’s, please…don’t take all my Knobs away ; )

Above that and it starts driving into more audible distortion, which as I mentioned earlier, is not always a bad thing, source and music dependent. If I switch to my Server, I have to turn the DSJ back up to around 90 or so. I really no longer have to think about it much, as what I aim to do with a given source is to have the pre centered around 11 O’clock, and thank God the DSJ has a Knob, so two twists (or just one) and I’m there. Its an Analog process : )

So when Darren started coming over to test Snowmass for the DSJ, he insisted on running the DAC at 100. Fine, his Show. But the discussion over time then culminated in the knob-twisting exercise mentioned above. His thinking changed in two seconds.

  • What I’m saying here is that, as with the Cable Thing, etc. - this is entirely System-Dependent. There is NO “Best” setting we all can use.
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Rich–That’s an interesting concept; use the DSD as your final volume control, not the BHK.
I’ll have to roll that around in my foggy head for a while.

I love the BHKPreamp at 70 on my system and working the DSD as volume control. You don’t need a month to get the sweet spot, you are right. Also, the DSD as volume I like better cause I don’t get the gain change blip at 25 and 52 in the BKKPreamp and the DSD is so smooth as volume and seems less sensitive level/number (gain slope).

Ron - not my idea, Mark’s fantastic find… I love it and love the DSD 100X more for gain change… another thread we could work on the two gain blips in BHKPreamp… bugs the crap out of me… never liked the thought of DSD at 100 fixed, figured why would you do that for noise figure alone and any Preamp will have a sweet spot. Differential non linearity on any amplifier would spell that out…