For various reasons (or excuses) I could never justify spending more than a few hundred bucks on a modern dac - modern meaning produced within the last 5 years. I believed this because I was swayed by reviews that described how great budget priced dacs performed like the Audioquest Dragonfly, and IFI IDSD, and so many others. When I decided to take a chance on one of those budget dacs with USB streaming, and compared it to my multi-buck, ancient 15+ years old cd transport and dac, I was stunned by how much better the budget dac sounded.
This revelation inspired me to explore the new dacs and dac chips, and ultimately forced me to invest a few more bucks into a higher priced category of products. After living with a few models I finally settled on an Oppo Sonica dac with an ESS 9038PRO Sabre chip and USB/ethernet streaming. The Oppo at $799 represented a big sonic improvement over my previous dac, which was almost twice the price.
However, I was still not satisfied. Listening to digital recordings has always bothered me. I originally thought I preferred digital over vinyl because I thought I was hearing a lot more detail (clarity), and I wasn’t hearing surface noise, clicks and pops, rumble, etc. But over time I found that the enjoyment I experienced when listening to music from vinyl was eroding when listening to cd. What used to be involving and relaxing grew increasingly annoying, and even painful. It was almost as if the nerve endings in my inner ear or brain were being irritated.
No matter how much I spent on upgrades to equipment, cables, and isolation periperals, I could never overcome that seemingly inherent flaw in digital music. So, I tried to console myself with the Oppo by rationalizing that digital sounded a lot better than it used to, and it was convenient, but it could never match the experience I got from vinyl. I did realize improvements in digital by upgrading things like power supplies, and to a great extent, streaming. But I was never completely satisfied, so I always relied on vinyl playback for my preferred listening pleasure.
Not too long after getting the Oppo I saw a great buy on a DSJ with Bridge II, but now we are talking about a product with a sticker price almost 4 times higher. I cursed myself for plunging even deeper, but I bought it anyway, thinking I would be able to sell it without taking much of a loss if I wasnt’ impressed.
Bad thinking, To my chagrin the DSJ was far superior to the Oppo. Even digital recordings from the mid 80’s that I could not tolerate for the most part sounded very good through the DSJ. I don’t know if its 1 bit comversion was the reason, but I did not like the realization that a multi thousand dollar component could bring about such improvement. In comparing the Oppo to the DSJ, there simply was no comparison.
I could have, and maybe should have stopped there, but I was so impressed by the DSJ, I couldn’t help but wonder how good the DS Sr might be. Unfortunately for my pocket book, the DS Sr, just took it all to another level. The Sr took away most of the hardness of digital, it put flesh back on the bones of instruments, voices sounded more natural and human, and the irritation to my nerve endings virtually went away (unless the quality of the digital recording itself was nasty). I wouldn’t say the Sr offered more detail or resolution, but I was able to hear more deeply into the performance and appreciate more nuance. I was just able to enjoy the music for music’s sake, and forget about hi-fi.
I was recently asked why I thought so much of the DirectStream on another forum, so I thought I would comment on it here as well. Too much time on my hands lately.