Native DSD – Is It The Future? Is It Worth It?

One of the questions in terms of deciding whether or not to go down the native DSD-road is—where does one get DSD music? While you can rip SACDs, that’s the subject of an entire article on its own but suffice it to say it is not a simple procedure (you can start here). In terms of downloads, I’m only aware of one source at present www.downloadsnow.net and their DSD offerings are $40/album and the selection is limited to under 20 titles.

One of the threads at this year’s RMAF tying the three pieces of the computer audio puzzle together— hardware, software and music— was Direct Stream Digital (DSD). If I heard any buzz most audibly it was who was playing native DSD. The rooms I heard or heard about included Playback Designs, Channel D and while not a room the Mytek table. In terms of DSD-capable hardware and software, the Playback Designs Music Playback System 3 ($8,500) was running their own custom software, the Channel D room featured the dCS Debussy USB DAC with DSD Streaming Support ($11,000) running Pure Music 1.8 which supports Native DSD Streaming and the Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC ($1,695) also ran Pure Music 1.8.

Here’s what Dr. Rob Robinson of Channel D had to say on this subject in his response to the "The Future of Computer Audio" article:

Some think the next big frontier in computer audio involves recording, distribution and playback of native 1-bit DSD. However, the DSD standard was frozen several years ago, before further improvements in PCM arrived, namely multi-bit delta-sigma modulators. The PCM vs. DSD argument that raged in the days when the DSD format was created was based on early 1-bit DSD modulators. Unfortunately, there is no widely used distribution format for multi-bit DSD audio, so today's PCM has advanced past DSD by comparison. But one cannot ignore the rich, existing catalog of DSD recordings (or the new recordings being produced today).

An important point is that unless there is good reason to do otherwise, and provided the hardware is available, play DSD and PCM formats natively. Don't convert DSD to PCM unless there is no alternative for playback. And please, please, don't convert PCM to DSD just for the sake of having music released in DSD format! I love the new DACs that allow me to play DSD recordings in their native format. If at all possible, distribute (and play) 1 bit DSD as native DSD, and PCM as PCM.

What are your feelings regarding DSD? Is it worth investing in the hardware and software to play back native DSD? Or has DSD’s future already passed?

COMMENTS
daneinspain's picture

First a thousand thanks to Michael for bringing the DSD-topic up. Personally, the new Mytek-converter will be the game-changer if it delivers SQ as promised, because its pricing is more reasonable (i.e. affordable to me) than Playback Designs and DCS-stuff. Of course you wouldn't want to play back files in any other than their native format(s), whether PCM or DSD.

So, where is the DSD-music? Well, there would be three sources, I guess. First, using the PlayStation-ripping method any SACD can now be put on a music server. Second, the easiest thing would be if HDtracks and others began to offer SACDs' DSD-layer as downloads (whenever originally recorded in DSD). The third, and slightly overlooked source, are vinyl enthusiasts' own needledrops. I have digitized +300 lps using a Korg DSD-recorder and AudioGate-software. I experimented with loan-samples of different high-end ADC's before settling on the Korg unit, as the latter makes completely indestinguishable transcriptions (to my ears). The PCM-converters either messed up the air surrounding instruments, their timbre or other important musical cues. As I can live with a bit of hiss, pops and clicks I don't need to edit the files beyond the capabilities of the AudioGate software.

Rasmussen's picture

I was wondering whether there is any business that converts LPs into DSD on KOrg just like mentioned by daneinspain. I have an LP I would like to have converted....anybody heard about such a service or perhaps I could ask you daneinspain whether you might be pursuaded to help me out?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Great point re: vinyl daneinspain.

I had the opportunity to see a demo of Pure Vinyl at RMAF and one of the things that Rob Robinson of Channel D stresses is the benefits of handling RIAA in the digital domain. See Michael Fremer's review of Pure Vinyl where he extols the virtues of same (http://www.audiostream.com/content/pure-vinyl-lp-recording-amp-editing-software).

You also offer an interesting what-if scenario - if sites like HD Tracks offer DSD downloads it will significantly change/broaden the DSD playing field and companies like Mytek will be positioned very nicely to service the increased demand for DSD-ready DACs.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I just had an email exchange with David Chesky and there are no plans for HD Tracks to offer DSD downloads in the near future.

deckeda's picture

Sure, but Chesky can only sell what they (the labels) provide him. Like brickwalled reissues. Ouch! Who said that outrageous thing?

Regarding DSD, I sorta forgot about it to the point of forgetting how the tech works. Discussions I've seen often center on what PCM resolution to convert it to for folks who ripped SACDs but don't have something like PM for playing DSD.

So ... what would an effective resolution be compared to PCM?

daneinspain's picture

File sizes are similar to 96/24, which doesn't mean you shouldn't produce a higher sample-rate PCM if transcoding, though. Usually you will find explanations that 176.4 is the best-sounding PCM-rate for this as it's an integer of the 2.8Mhz DSD-rate. Actually DCS's new DSD-over-USB solution carries the DSD-signal embedded in a 176.4/24-bit signal fed to compatible DACs from the computer.

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