DSD vs PCM: can you hear the difference?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Denti, Mar 19, 2016.

  1. Denti

    Denti Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    PA
    Since it's so damn difficult to find an external DAC with an HDMI input that can handle pure DSD, I'm starting to think the best option might just be to go with a converter that will take the DSD from HDMI and convert it to 24/176.4 (or whatever it is) PCM and output that via SPDIF to an external DAC. I wonder if the difference would be noticeable? I can't really tell the difference between DVD-Audio (24/192) and SACD, when converted by my Denon player.
     
    john morris likes this.
  2. Paul Saldana

    Paul Saldana jazz vinyl addict

    Location:
    SE USA
    I find that 96k-192k PCM is more transparent sounding than SACD played on a DSD-to-analog decoding player,
    or one that converts to PCM before the analog stage, but your experience may differ.
     
    sunspot42 likes this.
  3. BayouTiger

    BayouTiger Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Orleans
    I've never compared directly, but from the titles I have on both, I'm betting I couldn't pick one from another.
     
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  4. GUTB

    GUTB Member

    Location:
    USA
    I can't answer this question, as my DAC does not support native DSD playback. The truth is, most people with SACD players won't be able to tell the difference, because almost all of them are made with D/A conversion chips that do not have the capability to native decode DSD, but rather have to convert DSD streams into PCM internally. The only external DAC with native DSD decoding capability with HDMI inputs that I know of is the Bryston BDA-3 (released just last year) -- but that costs $3,500. There are a few mega-dollar DACs that can native decode DSD from proprietary interconnects. Also released 1-2 years ago are the new Esoteric SACD players which have internal native DSD decoding.

    I am planning to build a high-quality native DSD playback system that can accept input from a SACD player for a somewhat reasonable price:

    Player:

    Oppo BDP-103 with Vanity HD add-on board. The Vanity HD board allows the Oppo to bitstream the DSD output from SACDs as DoP over digital coaxial. DoP is just an encoding mechanism and the native DSD stream is extracted fully with no loss at the other end. There IS a negative impact using DoP, because the DAC has to work to extract the DSD stream -- but there's really no way around this for now.

    PC Source:
    Pink Faun I2S bridge. This provides a I2S output from a PC that allows a DAC with an I2S input to accept native DSD (and PCM) streams in the DAC's native I2S data format. This will eliminate several intermediate conversion stages, and eases the workload on the DAC -- reviews of this product have been universally positive.

    DAC:
    Gustard X20. This is a fully balanced Sabre (ESS 9018) DAC, that gets rave reviews for its quality and value. It has a very strong output stage, which is essential for any DAC. The Sabre is NOT a true native decoding DSD chip, but close enough for this purpose. It converts DSD into a multibit format and performs some operations on the stream -- but it remains in the DSD sample rate domain. Also very important, being a fully balanced design it maintains a very high SNR -- I have heard it claimed that DSD needs 120 dB of dynamic range, which automatically puts it outside the performance of most SACD players....and DACs. Someone from China claimed that the X20 is 130 dB, which matches what ESS claims to be the performance of the Sabre in balanced mode (multiple chips for each channel). Has an I2S input, takes DoP over coaxial, the price is right....going to try it out.

    Amp:
    Benchmark AHB2. An incredible SNR of 130 dB, unheard of in any amp at remotely that price. Initially, this will be paired with a paired with my HE-6 (powered off the speaker taps). It's 100wpc which puts it right into the sweet spot for the HE-6. The X20 with its very low noise will act as the preamp for now. The amp will eventually graduate to speaker duty (probably), when I find some highly resolving units to pair them with; they can go mono to open more options. One review has claimed that power conditioning appears to do nothing due to excellent noise rejection. I will try it out with high-end power cables of course.
     
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  5. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    He was asking about DSD which is converted to PCM, not high-res PCM which starts as high-res PCM.

    But I agree with you that 24/192 PCM sounds at least as good as DSD, and possibly even a tad better.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2016
    sunspot42 likes this.
  6. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    In my experience the ambience does not seem to trail-off as quickly when DSD is transcoded to PCM. PCM sounds great transcoded to DSD, but the reverse is less true in my experience.
     
    Mr Bass likes this.
  7. Denti

    Denti Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    PA
    This is something I've never thought about. Very good to know. This means that for my purposes, getting a HDMI de-embedder and sending 24/176 to an external DAC would at the very least sound the same, if not better (depending on the DAC).
     
  8. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    No, you have this incorrect. He was referring to High Res PCM which was recorded as High Res PCM. DSD does not sound as good as High-Res PCM when it is transcoded into PCM. That is not to say that it sounds bad, but it definitely doesn't sound better.

    And I somehow made an accidental misstatement above: When DSD is transcoded to PCM some of the ambience gets sucked out of the music. In other words, the ambience dies-off faster when DSD is transcoded into PCM than it does when it is natively decoded as DSD.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2016
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  9. Denti

    Denti Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    PA
    So you have one of those Esoteric SACD players?
     
  10. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Nope. But I do have A PS-Audio direct stream DAC which I use in combination with my Oppo 103 with a Vanity HD (DoP version) installed to play SACDs. And this gives me a superb two-box SACD player which I can play genuine DSD through. I can also switch the Vanity card so that it will output high-res transcoded PCM if I want. But the unmolested DSD is (slightly) better.
     
  11. rodney sherman

    rodney sherman Forum Resident

    Location:
    de soto, kansas
    DSD at Double rate or quad rate is like opening the door to audio nirvana heaven. Analog Quality pours out of this format!
     
    dharmabumstead likes this.
  12. Michael Sutter

    Michael Sutter Forum Resident

    Location:
    Holbrook, NY
    No I can't... I can barely tell the difference between 16/44 and 24/96 PCM and even then I'm not convinced I really hear it
     
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  13. Denti

    Denti Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    PA
    But DoP isn't "genuine DSD," is it?
     
  14. DoP is genuine DSD. It's just DSD data packaged up in a way that allows it to be sent over a PCM data link. It gets encoded to DoP format by the media player on the computer, sent over PCM to a DAC, and the DAC decodes that DoP back to genuine DSD. It's just data packaging manipulations of the sort that computers do all the time. Once the DAC decodes the DoP data it gets the genuine DSD bits. There isn't a DSD to PCM to DSD conversion involved. It's just processing of a container that contains the genuine DSD data. The DSD data arrives at the DAC as the same DSD data that was in the DSD file.

    Here's two introductory articles about DoP
    The Well-Tempered Computer »
    The ABCs of DSD Downloads »
     
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  15. Archimago

    Archimago Forum Resident

    Yup. DoP is "genuine DSD". As Ham Sandwich says, just a different way to package the data so it looks like a PCM format allowing compatibility with lossless compression like FLAC and server hardware to pass the data along (eg. a DoP file can be passed along by the Squeezebox Touch to a DAC that recognizes the DoP format, extracts the data and plays it as DSD input).

    Based on my experience, using my TEAC UD-501 DAC, there is a subtle difference between playback as DSD64 or PCM with A/B switching. My suspicion is that this is due to the high frequency noise characteristics with DSD64... I can hear this difference when doing realtime conversion of 16/44 PCM --> DSD64 in JRiver for example. DSD playback "adds" a little bit of "depth" which sounds good even from a 16/44 source.

    The thing is, I find that the few DSD128 tracks I have heard sound very good, but in a way that sounds IMO more like high-res 24/88+ PCM. Cleaner than DSD64.

    After years of SACD playback, and in recent years ripping SACDs and checking out DSD downloads, I am inclined to say that I don't hear anything all that amazing about native DSD files. Conversion with excellent software like Saracon, JRiver, or even the free foobar plugin sounds great as 24/88 files. As a perfectionist we can insist on native DSD playback for DSD recordings and vice versa native PCM playback for PCM recordings. But from a practical perspective, I doubt anyone will fail to be able to enjoy good music with transcoding.

    (As an aside, remember that for years many SACDs originated from what looks like 44/48kHz PCM recordings. I compiled a list of SACDs here. If you look at places like sa-cd.net, you'll see many of these being reviewed well and said to sound better than the corresponding CD... When in fact, they probably were just CD "upsampled" to DSD64!)
     
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  16. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    DoP is 100% genuine DSD! DoP is simply a very clever way to trick chipsets which were only ever designed to know how to understand, parse, and pass PCM data-frames into passing DSD data as well. They do this by encoding DSD inside of what looks like a valid PCM frame, but the data itself NEVER, EVER becomes PCM! This means that the data never gets either decimated or downsampled. Therefore it remains 1 bit DSD through and through.

    If a DAC doesn't understand DoP, it will not decode it. The signal will be pure noise, because it has never been translated into PCM. With DoP the DSD has just been wrapped inside of a cloak which makes it look like PCM to the chipsets which are only designed to handle PCM data. This allows for the DSD data to reach its destination where it can finally be both recognized as DSD, and then properly decoded as DSD.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2016
  17. Khorn

    Khorn Forum Resident

    Although I don't particularly find DSD more revealing as far as detail or resolution goes (In fact it may be more so) I've found that 24bit/192khz or SACD sourced from same paints a warmer more musical experience. That's how it sounds to me and I really like that sound.
     
  18. Denti

    Denti Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    PA
    Thanks everyone! for this information.
     
  19. quicksrt

    quicksrt Senior Member

    Location:
    City of Angels
    You have this backwards in your statement, when DSD is converted to PCM rather than a straight decode, this is when you CAN hear a difference from say 24/96 PCM in the quality. When the DSD is not converted, one would expect the results of comparing DSD with 24/96 PCM to be more difficult to distinguish.

    I think you know this, and it is only the poor wording that could be confusing.
     
  20. cordobaman

    cordobaman Rich Corinthian Leather

    Location:
    Erie, PA USA
    To my ears, I find there is a presence/realism when listening to pure DSD vs. PCM.
     
  21. ls35a

    ls35a Forum Resident

    Location:
    Eagle, Idaho
    Wasn't it about two years ago Sony came out with the big 'hi-rez dsd is the future' bullsh*t?

    I have never seen in 35 years a more dishonest and reprehensible publicity stunt from the hi-fi industry.

    DSD is as dead as cassettes. Just because Sony has a ton of old DSD files they'd like to sell does not mean the industry is moving in that direction.
     
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  22. Vorlon

    Vorlon Forum Resident

    Location:
    Norway
    I think so too. Sony brags, but fails to follow up. I had the XA777ES CD player where they bragged about balanced output. Yes it was balanced all the way trough the DAC's, but then single ended, then cheaply "re-balanced" via an op-amp. Another stunt. But kudos to them for letting me get the the circuit drawings for a cheap penny. I was about to rebuild, but ended up selling it, replacing it with the funny looking Proceed PCD ( a sub-division of Mark Levinson if memory serves). Those people do balanced correctly.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2016
  23. Denti

    Denti Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    PA
    A bit hyperbolic, of course. There are dozens and dozens of labels releasing many hundreds of SACDs every year. Not just MOFI, AP, ORG, etc., but also almost all reputable classical labels.
     
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  24. Denti

    Denti Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    PA
    So it looks like the road to go is:

    1. Oppo 103

    2. Gustard X20

    3. Vanity HD card

    And to hold me over between 2 and 3 I could get a $30 HDMI de-embedder. I wonder how much of a difference I'd notice adding the Vanity card?
     
  25. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    DSD is not dead. But it definitely is a niche market. And it certainly is a PITA from the standpoint of recording, mastering, and distribution since it is so much more difficult to digitally process DSD natively than it is for PCM.

    Its almost unfortunate that DSD sounds so great, because I completely understand why studios would decide against using it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2016
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