So What's the Big Deal About DSD? Listening Notes
I recently reviewed the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC and it has proven to be one of the most-viewed reviews so far. And one of the things that sets the Mytek DAC apart from other DACs is its ability to play back DSD natively. So what's the big deal about DSD playback? Its the sound, silly. Now that I have a second DSD-capable DAC here, the Sonore exD/DAC ($1,195), and some more native DSD recordings thanks to Channel Classics Records and MA Recordings, I'm hearing things I also heard with the Mytek which leads me to believe that some aspects of this wonderful sound is due to DSD. And that's a big deal.
I wrote about Todd Garfinkle's MA Recordings a while back but back then I did not have a way of playing the DSD tracks he includes on Será Una Noche's self titled release and Ravid Goldschmidt and Sílvia Pérez Cruz Llama. Now I do. And I can tell you that listening to native DSD files is not like listening to the CD or even the high definition PCM versions of these same recordings (24/96 and 24/88.2 respectively). And I know because I spent time listening and comparing.
The main and most immediately noticeable difference for me is a lack of strain in big dynamic swings. Music goes from quiet to loud in a natural and effortless way that takes some getting used to. I can actually feel myself preparing for some stress but it never comes. Instead, with DSD I'm greeting by a freedom from strain and stress, the absence of an unnatural sense of steps instead of swings that I hear in many CDs. And that feels really good.
Other differences include a more natural sense of attack and decay, especially the latter so that a recording's sense of place is better defined. Instrumental timbre and voices are also lovingly portrayed as if caressed by the recording. On something like Vivaldi - La Stravaganza /12 Violin Concertos performed by Rachel Podger and the Orchestra Arte dei Suonatori [Channel Classics 195031], there's a sweetness to her violin's tone that allows you to get a better feel for its unique voice as well as Ms. Podger's artful handling of it. This kind of presentation is more akin to analog tape than to CD and that's a big deal.
Of course we're talking about a limited number of recordings and if we cherry pick a few CDs or HD downloads we can certainly come up with some stunning-sounding recordings. But the point I'd like to make clear is that even with very well recorded 16/44.1, 24/96 or 24/192 sources, there's still a different feel to the overall sound with DSD playback and that difference strikes me as sounding more natural. In PCM-land, only 24-bit recordings have come close.
But lets keep things in perspective. DSD downloads currently number in the hundreds and many titles are classical so the appeal is limited. And there's nothing, no thing, that bugs me more about audiophiles than placing sound quality over music quality. But with file-based playback we can have our PCM and DSD too. And with DSD over PCM (DoP), which the Sonore exD/DAC employs, we'll be seeing native DSD capability added to more DACs in the future (like the Ayre QB-9 which may happen as early as later this year according to Charles Hansen of Ayre).
So if your wondering what all the fuss over DSD playback is about, the answer is—its about the music.
You can see a list of DSD-capable DACs, more info on software and DSD downloads right here.