Maximizing Performance from DS

Rather than continue spending money (as much fun as it is) I am trying to focus on extracting max performance from my current system instead of buying new gear. At least big stuff. My system is below.

I’m focusing these days on room acoustics, speaker position, and listener position as I know these are the highest-order impacts; and I’m lucky to have full autonomy with respect to the room and treatments.

Getting simpler, and I think better:
standard PC running Roon > bog-standard CAT7 networking to a wall jack > $80 AudioQuest ethernet cable > PS Audio DS w Bridge II (Windom, latest fw) > Acoustic Zen Matrix Ref II 1M > PS Audio BHK preamp (Tungsram tubes w dampers) > Mogami 2549 XLR Splitter >
> Acoustic Zen Matrix Ref II 2M XLR > Focal SM9 powered monitor (active 3-way 600 watts)
> Gotham Audio 2M XLR > JL Audio F112v2

Power for DS and BHK from PS Audio P5 via AC12s
Power is for SM9s from PS Audio P5 via VdH MainsStreams
Power is a 20-amp dedicated run with Oyaide R1 Beryllium Copper outlet. Running the factory cable into the P5 until I get another AC12. (max output I have seen on the P5 is ~350 watts)

– I still don’t have the sub perfectly dialled in, so when I’m doing really critical listening I remove the splitters and sub.
– I have recently added the P5. It made a lovely difference, and I found a good deal. Given that I’m already running a dedicated 20-amp line it was not the highest-order magnitude change that I could have made, but you might be surprised to hear that decisions around my audio system are not always rational.

As above, I am trying to extract all the in-room performance I can from the current gear, via acoustics. I’m also interested in extracting all the performance I can from the DS in particular. What are people’s stories / setups around making the DS a credible alternative to a top-dollar DAC along the lines of dCS, et al)

SOFTWARE: I’m using Windom, heard generally similar sonics to what was reported,I have no reason to believe I have a ‘bad load’

POWER: Currently using AC12 (is there better out there?) plugged into a P5. The P5 is also running my BHK preamp and 2 powered speakers. I realize I could use more overhead; the highest power output I’ve seen under relatively spirited listening is ~350 watts as per the P5 screen.

… I know people have seen results with audiophile fuses, I guess I can try this.

PREAMP: I know this has been a hot topic in past: @Paul has shared his whole history on no-preamp vs preamp. My observation is that the better the DS gets (now with Windom), the less I miss the BHK when I pull it out. This is lazy by audiophile standards, but I hate to have to turn it on and wait for it to sound its best. I am reserving final judgement on whether I sell it (I have no other inputs so I don’t “need” it) until I have really solved first-order acoustics problems.
Have others permanently embraced or opted out of the BHK in their DS front end? (I have the top-spec Tungsrams, AC12, haventhaven’t done footers / isolation yet)

SOURCE: I have seen this make enormous differences in other systems. I know the DS (and every other DAC which has a marketing department) is designed to be ‘totally indifferent’ to incoming jitter, source noise, etc., but it still seems to make a difference. As such I want to think about it here.

Q: how much performance improvement can be gained by using low-noise switches, ethernet cables into the Bridge II?
Q: does a top-flight server / streamer (let’s say an Innuos Zenith Mk III plus the Phoenix USB reclocker?) sound better than a ’normal’ Bridge II or a Bridge II with low-noise switches, etc? I know PSA is releasing Bridge III / Octave; I’ll wait and see but my bias is toward Roon.
Q: Assuming you’re using USB input to DS, does the DS sound better if you take the Bridge II out? I’m assuming there must be some relatively noisy circuitry on there. Getting digital circuitry away from analogs circuitry seems to be aligned with Ted’s design direction for the TSS.

VIBRATION : Any best practices / audible impacts for vibration isolation? My stuff is (as of March) sitting on a big hardwood rack from Massif Audio. I have various footers, and will likely try the IsoAcoustics OREA Bronze because their price/performance is more to my liking. (I use IsoAcoustics studio puck thingies under my mains)

For instance, upscaling everything to DSD256 in a server? Using a Chord M Scaler? (heresy!)

Thanks, all.

Start here: “Get Better Sound”, by Jim Smith. It is a foundational, reference resource IMO.

Have fun.


Under the heading of “room acoustics” I would suggest starting with as much bass trapping as is practical. GiK makes a product called a tri-trap that is placed in corners which can be vertical and horizontal. They offer many options if you want to combine diffusion and even selective reflection (range limiting) with their products. In general it’s difficult to overdo the bass trapping aspect of a listening space.

I found that the OREAs made a significant improvement when placed under my DS Jr. Less so when I added a few more under my integrated amp. The GAIAs for my speakers resulted in a massive improvement – remarkable really.

I find the most fun in the details at the level you’ve now reached.

None of these are free but are mentally stimulating enough for me to enjoy the tuning and quite modestly priced I think.

Keep the BHK for nothing other than the ability to try different sets of early 50s-early 60s NOS <$50 per pair 12AU7AW/6189/5814WA tubes. 1955 GE triple mica black plates are my current source of je ne sais quoi.

Convolution filters in Roon can be quite interesting. The effect/experience with different genres/albums/tracks. Highly recommend HAF

Oh, and the DS. Beyond different fuses and power cords, 3M makes the AB5000, AB6000 and AB7000 series RF absorbing lines of non-conducting stick on material. Stack, leave the backing on, a few 1"x4" sheets on either side and between the RAM modules in your server and to the locations in the DS that Ted refers to in this post from a couple years ago.

The material is expensive but odd packs of qty 100 or 250 1.3" x 4.25" will appear on Amazon for like $17 instead of the more standard $287 for the same sq. in. It’s fun to experiment with and safe.

In general with DACs in a system you should be more worried about RF coming out than going in. The case certainly shields quite well but what about the RF soup inside the box? Selectively absorb it to change it’s effect on other components that oscillate at a different frequency.

Isolation and damping help/change the BHK quite a bit. I think of it as tuning the harmonics produced by the tube filaments.

I prefer a combination of spring isolation, a decent mass bamboo or plywood plinth and then damping footers under the component. None of these need be expensive. Different types of wood blocks as footers change things too.

I don’t find upsampling helps or hinders the DS in anyway. I don’t bother with it at all since Snowmass let alone Windom. HQPe made slightly different flavors of great sound but nothing as significant as some of the other tweaks above.

Thank you. I have ordered the book, and his onsite service is actually exactly what I’m looking for. I will take a stab at the first order improvements as I’ve described and then maybe see what it costs to get him to where I am.

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I’m looking at a variety of products including GIK as well as Vicoustic and maybe some DIY Corning-based panels for the simple stuff (which is how I would characterize broadband absorption from maybe 500 hz up). I have a large and reverberant space (something like 30’ x 30’ x 11.5’) so while I definitely don’t have small-room bass problems I do have boundary reinforcement and modes like anyone, and more to the point I have a lot of reduction of RT60 etc., to do.

I hope it’s productive. Keep us informed of progress and setbacks, if you don’t mind.

Have fun.

Yes, I’m already a fan of the IsoAcouctics line (I’m using them under my SM9s), and their pricing is such that you just pull the trigger without wondering if $1500 worth of isolation is ‘worth it’ like some of the more exotic products. I’ve met Dave Morrison at shows, he is the real deal (i.e. an engineer who has worked in studios doing isolation design) and a great guy.

Thanks for your wide-ranging and thoughtful comments.

– I have played with measuring my system output, creating REW curves and applying convolution filters in Roon. Undeniably effective, although I always sensed a veiled sound with them engaged. More to the point I am trying to correct frequency response problems acoustically wherever possible. Perhaps once I’ve addressed to a certain extent I will try convolution again (I will certainly be measuring the impacts of acoustic treatments with respect to FR).

– I have maybe read and forgotten that thread about EMI absorption inside the DS. Certainly my (engineer, DIY-minded) audio buddy and I have had a drunk conversation or two about it. I will look for that material.

*** Further on that, if I’m willing to add boxes, doesn’t it follow that the best SQ available is a specialist server (with USB or I2S input to the DS, and the requisite expensive power supplies and cables) and removing* the Bridge II? It must be a source of some internal noise.

– I already own a couple different (reasonably priced / used) isolation products and will experiment with them (expecting higher-order changes with the BHK of course but will also try under the DS) once I receive this new rack. I have (back in the day) experimented with spikes, rubbery footers, slabs of granite, etc., under my old pair of Reference 3A de Capos (weren’t those fun…) and definitely appreciate the differences. I have quite a bit of vertical clearance on the new rack so will try stacking and combining as you suggest.

– I have also played with upsampling (24/192, DSD, 2x DSD) in Roon… Always sounds ‘different’ but never definitively ‘better’.

I am more of a musician than an audiophile, so I’m only interested in ‘better’. : )

***Yes. My ears tell me so.

I have a Pink Faun 2.16 that I’ve tuned and tweaked for 2 years now. It’s spendy depending on the exchange rate but I only plan to live once and it was a gift to myself for working hard for many yearI. :wink: Plus I like supporting small ventures.

I’ve been running I2S to DS ever since. I started with Roon ROCK on a couple different PCs both over USB and Ethernet via Bridge II. Bridge makes noise and I prefer it out of the DS.

3 toroids, a rail for every internal component, star grounded, 3 oven controlled clocks and AudioLinux tuned to my tastes. 80lbs of server.

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I love “80 lbs”. I am capable of tweaking and overspending with the best of them, but I get busy too (somebody has to pay for this stuff). Have you ever entertained the question of whether your time and money would have yielded similar results buying a (let’s just say it was available) dCS Bartok and using and off-the-shelf midrange server box? (I realize this is a fairly impossible hypothetical but why not ask)

I’ve just read this review of the 2.16. What a beast indeed.

One unhappy take-away for me is that matching USB / I2S / coax cables still makes a system-tuning sort of a difference even at this very high level. Sigh. I will do some experimenting. For some reason I feel like the next logical step (and very cost-effective compared to the rarefied gear in that review) is an EtherRegen.

Anyway, I’m back to Beethoven Violin Sonatas.

I wasn’t aware of dCS when I purchased the PF. I’m at the point in life where I work 3 days a week, make my own hours and choose what I do and when. I have no direct reports, no children, a loving tolerant wife. The frugal hard working man my Mom and Dad raised values value despite earning enough I could spend with the best of them if I so chose.

However, if you have access to a Bartok for a few weeks in-house, for sure give it a shot. If nothing else you’ll learn how it sounds in your system. dCS certainly appears to the have talent and equipment to make some find pieces.

Often, I feel too many choices can be impossibly paralyzing meanwhile I’m losing precious time that could be spent listening to music. Sometimes I go weeks without changing anything just letting it play 8-12 hours a day.

A new set of tubes can easily keep me happy for months but it’s fun to change them. Sometimes I keep the set in for a few weeks and have yet to go back and other times I keep a set in for 800 hours before wanting a change.

Although the EtherRegen found it’s way into my system in Jan and I feel it’s a worthwhile addition. I already had fiber, MM for a good while but recently replaced SFPs and patch with SM with 12dB attenuators. More je ne sais quoi.

I would encourage you to try Galen Garis’s Belden Iconoclast cables for exceedingly high performance and value cables.

The speaker cables in particular, interconnects too but to a lesser extend for my setup. Definitely a synergy to both though but this is diverging a good bit from ‘maximizing performance from DS’.

The Matrix USB>IS2 is worthwhile too if you’re not using I2S already, of course.

Sounds to me like you’re running on the hamster wheel. Just enjoy what you have the way you have it.


OP. Sometimes replies go whacky and what you’re replying to isn’t notated in the reply.

The intention is not to endlessly try cables and combinations of things. I am actually not much of a tweaker. But tuning that results in getting me closer to the performance venue is worthwhile (time mostly, and modest outlays for stuff like the Matrix I guess) for me. This is mostly low-cost stuff at the margins; the big spend this year is bringing acoustics up to snuff.

Getting the Matrix is not that expensive. It is the other things that go with it that is expensive. The Audience FrontRow USB cable I bought cost me $1300. The HDMI cable another $1000. The additional external power supply cost another $700 total including a good power cord for it for a grand total of about $3379. You can just get the Matrix with cheap generic cables, but you’ll probably be not satisfied and end up maximizing the performance of this unit like the rest of us and end up spending a bundle. But you will be very happy because the sound is out of this world with this upgrade.


Very well said and very true. I spent about 600 less. But well worth the journey if you have the speakers and electronics it is a small investment.

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