Regular PCM vs Directstream DSD conversion

I’ve been comparing regular PCM using the ESS Saber Pro 9038 chip inside of my Mcintosh integrated amplifier to PCM converted to DSD by the Directstream dac. The biggest difference I notice is that PCM through the Direcstream is much quieter. Why does the Directstream make music sound quieter? Is that how DSD sounds?

When I play PCM through the Saber 9038, and other dacs I own, it sounds like the music is coming out of a bullhorn now that I’ve gotten used to the sound of the Directstream. Regular PCM sounds unnaturally loud, harsh, and glaring. I’ve never noticed this in all my years of listening to PCM.

PCM through the Directstream has a natural, soft, smooth, mellow sound. At first I thought it sounded like vinyl but then I compared my AC/DC Black record to my digital copy and the vinyl sounded very rough, grainy and bright compared to the sound of the Directstream. So in fact, the Directstream sounds more like high resolution vinyl, I suppose. A combination of the technical excellence of digital mixed with the tone of records.

I’ve also noticed that PCM through the Directstream sounds more detailed, has better imaging and is more holographically 3 dimensional. The regular PCM sounds more flat and bloated like a blob of sound. Odd thing is, before I got the Directstream I always thought that my PCM sounded holographic and imaged well. Yet it sounds different after getting used to the Directstream.

What are other people’s thoughts on regular non converted PCM vs Directstream DSD conversion? What differences do you hear? Do other people share my observation that non converted PCM now sounds different and much worse than what you were used to before you owned the Directstream? Give me your thoughts and if anyone knows, let me know why the Directstream makes my music so much quieter. I have to admit, though, that I like it quiet. The softer sound is more euphonic. It makes nasty recordings like heavy metal sound very pleasant and musical. To me regular PCM now sounds like a high school garage band wailing on their instruments as loud and fierce as they can yet lacking talent. Whereas the Directstream sounds like a band that played for decades, hitting every note with ease serving the sound like an English butler on a shiny silver platter to me in a smoking jacket sitting beside the fire.

There are multiple things that come to mind re quieter. The DS (and DS Jr) have an output level that’s 3dB lower than “standard” so if you aren’t explicitly level balancing the between listening to each DAC there is certainly a very noticeable difference.

The clearer music is (e.g. the less distortion) the lower the perceived power level. Since distorting adds harmonics, etc the ear assumes that if there isn’t distortion the sound is quieter. Or put the other way: you’ll often find that you turn the volume up when the music is clearer/less distorted. (I find that true even for Alice in Chains or Porcupine Tree, the better the system the more I turn them up without any apparent discomfort.)

It’s a mistake to think that you are comparing “Regular PCM” to “DSD conversion”, you are simply comparing different DACs which are implemented differently. With well implemented DACs PCM and DSD sound amazingly similar: the only difference I hear is how “real” everything is with higher sample rates, as you go down in sample rate things are just more “ghostly”, still there, still the same sound staging, etc. just less well defined, perhaps a little less involving.


Well stated, sir.

Anecdotally, I find that if I can (and often do) listen to music for 8+ hours straight and not become fatigued in anyway, it’s free of objectional noise. It doesn’t matter if it’s low bitrate MP3 or 24/192 PCM or one of the few DSD recordings I have, all randomly playing. Yes, I can usually pick out the MP3 but not always, and I don’t pay any attention if its enjoyable to my ear, brain, soul.

I am not level balancing between dacs. My amp is set to 37% for both dacs. The volume difference between the Directstream and my other dacs is around 15 or 20 dB. It’s a huge difference. The Directstream is much quieter than a 3 dB difference. All the other dacs play at equal volume to each other. So do you think that clarity is why I’m hearing this difference in volume? Would clarity make such a massive difference in volume? Is the Directstream THAT much clearer? Because I never thought that my other dacs sounded distorted or unclear. The more I compare dacs, I am wondering if the only difference I hear is volume. They are all starting to sound the same which worries me considering the Directstream was drastically more expensive. The reasons I thought the Directstream sounds better is starting to blur the more I compare. Why is that?

You may be tired from all the careful listening you are doing. It can be fatiguing.

Make sure you listen to the same volume when comparing DACs, louder always sounds better. In this case, you need to turn the volume up for the DS. Be certain the DS’ volume control is at 100 with the attennuator off.

Something definitely wrong with your DS, AC-DC is supposed to sound “loud, harsh and glaring” :grin:

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The 20dB attenuator attenuates by, well, about 20dB. On your remote the “DAC Level” button will toggle the 20dB attenuator on and off.