Ask AudioStream: DSD or PCM?
Reader "ironsienna" asked an interesting question in the PCM v DSD Comparison: 16/44.1, 24/96, 24/192, 64x DSD, 128x DSD comments:
...I have a question. It seems that you compare PCM and DSD played from the same DAC. But what about PCM playback from really expensive DACs? Is the difference of sound between 192 PCM played from an ultra high-end DAC, to the DSD played from a mid priced DAC that great? I am asking because I recently acquired a Weiss MEDEA+ DAC. The quality of playing high rez PCM from this DAC is stunning and I really cant think of what more can be done for digital sound to sound better than that, so real and analogue like...But it does not play DSD and personally haven't heard DSD played from a native DSD DAC. So is it worth buying a cheaper DAC to play DSD files natively on it, or my DAC plays PCM so fine that there is not noticeable difference.. Can you please comment on that?My short answer is—Kierkegaard.
My longer answer begins by pointing out that DSD is not a PCM replacement and it never will be. Rather DSD is another format that at present offers a limited number of titles from a limited number of suppliers. So while DSD sounds really good and unlike PCM imo, comparing DSD playback to PCM playback is pretty much a moot point since DSD will never completely replace PCM. Ever.
So I like to think of DSD as a nice additional feature for music playback. Another arrow in the quiver just like HD downloads as compared to CD-quality as compared to MP3s. The only true either/or comes about when a given title is available in HD PCM and DSD and while these are currently few and far between, the choice is a no brainer for me as I'd pick DSD over PCM any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I am hopeful that we'll have this choice more often with more titles in the near future at which time the decision to upgrade to a DSD-capable DAC will be even more enticing. Not to muddy my simple either/or scenario but some people with DSD DACs even find that they prefer upsampling all PCM data to DSD in their media player as you can with Signalyst's HQPlayer.
The other comment I've seen on some forums is the notion that if you're buying a DSD DAC, you're somehow neglecting PCM performance and this cannot be farther from the rational. Some well-regarded PCM-only DACs today can be turned into DSD-capable DACs tomorrow with the flip of a firmware upgrade. The Resonnessence Labs Invicta is one example. In general, DSD playback is part and parcel of PCM playback.
But DSD is no panacea and is subject to the same laws of mastering as PCM, namely garbage in garbage out especially if its been compacted first. It just so happens that the majority of DSD downloads available today also happen to be very well recorded (here are some sources).
So don't throw away your beloved PCM-only DACs just yet because PCM is here to stay (It will never die/It was meant to be that way/Though I don't know why). We can only hope that DSD is here to stay as well and the only sign that that's going to be the case is the availability of more DSD music.
Here's to more!