Sound quality comparisons of PS Audio DACs

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the various DACs presently in production by PSAudio with regards to sound quality? Would love to hear from the PSAudio folks as well.
Here’s my reason for asking. At present I have the Stellar GCD and a Rega Dac. Sometime in the future would consider upgrading the DAC and thus my interest. I hear great things about the DS Dac and the DSJ Dac but am curious how they stack up against the Stellar GCD.

I would suggest trying one for 30 days, but not if you can’t afford to keep it, because you will want to.


Also curious to hear feedback on how these compare…

I think our DACs are Cleary delineated in their hierarchy, each sounding progressively better than the last. It’s easy to hear in a comparison. That said, each of our three share a respect for the music and none will ever be anything less than musical. DS, in my opinion, is head and shoulders better than any DAC we have ever produced.

The Jr worked out awesome for me but we all have different ears, systems, room etc. “The beef” above has the best idea, get one home that fits the budget and chances are it won’t move from your initial set up for quite a while.

The difficulty with the way you have framed the question is - what is YOUR definition of the 1-10 scale? Is the GCD a 7 to you? A 10? How about the Rega? Or have you now recalibrated, and you’re wondering if the Rega is more of a 3 if you include all the DACs in the world?

This is without actually saying “at a given price point”.

There are folks on here who own $50k and $100+k DACs that feel the DS is highly competitive with these uber DACs.

Ultimately, it’s up to your taste in your system. You can’t get around that. A lot of us here feel they are the best DACs we’ve ever heard, especially for the money. If you never plan on spending more than $10k for a DAC, that changes the 1-10 list pool.


The beef is on point with both of his comments, and any recommendations we can make our through our own personal lens.

In my system at home, I settled on the GCD, though same as you I know I’ll upgrade someday. When I do, it will be to the DSD.

Using your 1-10 scale, I’d set the baseline in reverse - the DSD is a 10. I’ve spent countless hours listening to it, and I’ve heard A LOT of digital front ends at dealers and audio shows. It’s as good or better than anything else I’ve heard.

Moving down the totem pole from there, the DSJ is somewhere around an 8 to my ears. The detail and musicality is there, as is the separation and soundstaging that I love from the DSD, but it’s all just dialed back a bit.

The GCD is an outlier. The active preamp stage is a big boon for it. I had the NWDSD before I picked up the GCD, and while the DAC stage between the two is pretty similar, the active output stage was a great benefit. The NWDSD had been around a 4 on this scale, while the GCD lands somewhere closer to a 6.

To reiterate, though, that’s my personal take on it. Don’t quote those numbers as gospel :stuck_out_tongue:

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@badbeef: That would be the plan when I upgrade someday. It is the DS Jr. that I am interested in and just wanted to know how it compares to the GCD and DS Sr. As @Schroedster pointed out if the DS Sr. is a 10, then where do the DS Jr. and GCD fall? By the way, I find the GCD and Rega to be similar to my ears (old ears), though the GCD is louder at the same volume level.

@Paul: I have had the GCD now for almost 3 months and enjoy listening to it every day. However, I can’t help wondering what the DS Jr. would sound like in my setup (which is modest).

Not sure this will help much but I can say that the Jr was the single most dramatic improvement I have made to my system or any system in recent memory. Not only does it sound great, but everything sounds great. Streaming, MP3 to Hi-Res. Hands down, the best decision I made in regards to overall satisfaction and sound quality.

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The Sr has the same qualities – sounds very good with all sources.

Agreed . I did not mean to exclude the Sr. They are very similar. I happen to like the simpler display on the Jr. but I believe there are output characteristics that are different etc. Not sure I would hear it, but many would.

I went through a dozen CD players from Rotel to Cambridge to Rega. All top, or near the top, of the lines. I never could get digital to sound right. I then bought a PerfectWave DAC MKII (PWD) with a Bridge I and my music life was changed dramatically. I owned it for a couple years when the DirectStream DAC was announced.

As usual, I wasn’t happy about the upgrade announcement (feel the same about the new Power Plants). I loved the PWD. I waited several months and then purchased the upgrade kit (had PSA install). A whole different level. Best money I’ve ever spent. I’ve basically stopped spinning LPs. Going to sell my entire analog system including the LPs soon (I’ll miss some LPs but I have more music than I can listen to in 10 lifetimes). There’s no looking back.

Pick a DAC within your budget (you can’t go wrong) but stretch a little if you can. Going up the line makes a difference that’s real.


I haven’t heard the GCD, so I can’t really rate it, but it’s based on an ESS Sabre or an ICE chip, right?

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As much as I hate to say it, after about a month of use on a new DS Junior DAC, I prefer the sound quality of my old PS Audio Digital Link III. Interestingly enough, looking at pictures of the internals for both units, it would appear that, despite the heavyweight case design of the DS Junior, the DLIII actually had ‘beefier’ circuitry including power supplies.

Sound: DLIII - 8.9, DS Junior - 7.8 - 9, depending on other factors.

I’ve actually got a MyTEK Brooklyn DAC+ on the way, and will be doing as close to an A/B/C/D comparison test as I can between the DS Junior, Brooklyn+, TEAC UD-503 and a Chinese made Sabre 9038PRO setup with high quality internals. The plan will be to compare the PS Audio and MyTEK using Tidal MQA/masters, and all of the DACs against each other using both the USB and optical inputs.

For the sake of completeness, the system I’ll be using will be:
DIY bootleg Hypex Class D NC-500 based power amp
JBL Project Array 1400 speakers and Tannoy Precision 6.2 speakers
AKG Quincy Jones “reference” headphones (both the TEAC and MyTEK have good headphone amps)
Canare XLR interconnects and speaker cables

ESS 9010, ICE are the class d modules in the S300/M700.

I have not heard a DS, only my SGCD. The SGCD does sound much better when performing DSD conversion in software via Audirvana.

Sounds much better in DSD conversion than - what?

My experience with around a half dozen owned ESS devices and one (beta tested) ICE, is that the DS’s are another deal entirely.


For the SGCD,

DSD->PCM compared to native PCM and native DSD as reference.

I upsample on the fly to 128 DSD using 120db low pass filter with linear phase. I keep the filter length to about 30,000.

With PCM, the imaging comes out a little flat and
Muddy while PCM->DSD has better separation and a the speakers disappear a bit more. Also better timbre on instruments in the midbass area, less conjestion.

I have compared a native DSD recording I have to Tidal PCM and Tidal PCM->DSD all via Audirvana and the DSD and the PCM->DSD have much more in common than PCM.

I have a dlink 3 on a second system – mostly for background music. If you think that the dlink 3 is better than a ds jr something is very wrong somewhere. There’s absolutely no comparison between my d3 and DS. I came from a Brooklyn dac and the DS is significantly better than that also.

Since I have not had the DS Jr. for long enough, I will let the sound continue to burn in. However, f what I can see inside the chassis, the Dlink is indeed more robustly constructed. That said, I was running the D-Link through a few preamps including an Adcom and a NuForce as well as into a Krell integrated that I no longer have, and the DSJ is going straight into the power amp. Could have something to do with that.

You are aware that the Brooklyn DAC is not the same as the Brooklyn DAC+, I assume, so I’d be interested in hearing your detailed take on how the DSJ surpasses each of the aforementioned models (and the DLink III). Isn’t the fundamental technology PSA is employing in the DLIII the same as in the DSJ?

During my ownerships I thought the DSJ sounded the best of all of them (I didn’t have GCD, only PWD2, DS, DSJ).

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