Why is There a Loss of Volume with DSD Files?

I’ve been downloading various DSD files and I notice that they will not play as loudly as PCM files. I’m curious why this is.

There isn’t - in fact DSD allows for more volume than PCM in that it can go above 0dBFS (0 dB full scale) and as we know PCM is unforgiving when music tries to go above full scale.

Some DSD material is mastered with less compression than the PCM releases. Comparing multiple SACDs which have a CD layer that matches the DSD layer is a way around this (tho not all SACDs with CD layers have the CD layer derived from the DSD layers.)

There also might be something like a volume setting somewhere in your chain that’s affecting PCM but not DSD. You might try running the Bit Perfect test to see if something is affecting the PCM’s levels. (See http://www.psaudio.com/ps_how/how-to-run-a-bit-perfect-test-with-directstream/ in the Support/How To’s part of the web site.)

You also might be accidentally converting DSD to PCM in your transport/player software - in order to deal with DSD that’s louder than 0dBFS often there is a setting for how much to lower the volume level to avoid clipping as it’s converted to PCM. Verify that when you play DSD that the display on the DS indicates DSD (or DoP.)

Thank you Ted. I’ve run the 'Bit Perfect Test" and everything is good. I can also see in my JRemote U/I that I am streaming 1 bit DSD. I have only downloaded a handful of DSD files, so perhaps it’s just a coincident that the few I have sound as if they are playing with less volume. Interestingly, I compared a PCM 24/96 file (song) from Blue Coast Records to the same song from Blue Coast in a DSD 64 file. The PCM is obviously louder. On the other hand, I can understand how the Japanese PCM remaster (16/44.1) of the old “Humble Pie - Smokin” master may have been compressed so it sounds louder than the DSD-64 file of the same work from “Acoustic Sounds.” Unfortunately, that album was never mastered very well to begin with, but I must say, the Japanese PCM remaster sounds better to me than the DSD-64 file

Just double checking here, but does the display of your DAC show DSD (or DoP)? There’s still a chance that there’s a conversion from DSD to PCM going on if not.

And yes, the differences in performance, recording, mastering, etc. and even our systems can all trump format differences.

timequest said I've been downloading various DSD files and I notice that they will not play as loudly as PCM files.
Even if you turn the volume up? The usual difference is 6dB.

I usually turn up the volume when playing DSD, compared to PCM files – sometimes by quite a lot, particularly with classical music like a symphony that has a large dynamic range.

DSD is generally 6dB quieter than the same recording in native PCM. This is to prevent overload in the sigma-delta modulator. Typically you can boost the playback (or DSD to PCM conversion) by 6dB, especially with classical recordings, but there are DSD recordings mastered without 6dB of headroom.

Ahh…That makes perfect sense then. Humble Pie’s “Smokin” is just one of those ‘albums’ that must be played loud enogh to literally feel Jerry Shirley’s bass drum in your chest. I can no longer get that with the DSD file, but the Japanese 16/44.1 PCM remaster does the trick (it’s a poor quality recording anyway - unfortunately). The other DSD files I’ve recently downloaded sound excellent…I’m just not sure I can discern any difference between DSD-64 and PCM 24/192.

Cheers on this excellent Sunday morning…be it orange juice, coffee, ‘bloodies’ or any other medicinally charged breakfast drink!


Its 2021 and I just began DL’ing online music with NativeDSD and Sampler from Blue Coast…and indeed the Level is very low, to the extent i really have to crank up my Tube Amp. I am sure it will be the same with solid state, too. In fact, the front-to-back dimension was not as pronounced (actually, there was none!) but left to right staging was normal. My first real test was last night using Apple laptop and J- River software. Then I tried the Wav file of the same song…from a sampler…and it was louder so I did not have to Drive my Amp so hard…going forward I will never purchase DSD, but will investigate other tracks/albums in both Flac & Wav formats. If you have any suggestions to get better sound using J-River, let me know. Thank you.

What DAC are you using? I’ve had volume issues with DSD on certain DACs and certain files, but never to the point that I would write off an excellent sounding format altogether.

There was apparently a lot of confusion with the DSD standard where many DACs would play DSD at -6db in order to avoid an inter sample peaks, though many avoid this problem. My old Pono actually played DSD 6db lower than PCM.

Additionally certain DSD masters were made under the impression that the mastering engineer also needed to leave 6db of headroom so you have a few albums like Norah Jones “Feels Like Home” or the Doors “LA Woman” that end up being quiet and with the wrong DAC combo you could have them peaking at -12db. That is no good. However, in my world this is now an uncommon occurrence specific to a few DSD titles.

Good morning, Ian. I use a Marantz SA8005 with Rogue Amp and preamp.

OK, I will not write off DSD64 or 128…yet. I will try purchasing more from another online vendor. Some of the Demo tracks from “Label 2L” are very exciting and will purchase something from their collection this weekend. I will post the review here later in the week.

But no doubt the horrible S/N ratio of the tracks I already have (DSD64) are not worth listening to again.

I’m not familiar enough with how Marantz handles DSD, but you might also check to see if JRiver is reducing the volume (adding “headroom”) before sending the signal to the DAC. Some players have this option, particularly for DSD upsampling to protect against clipping.