Tag Archives: DAC

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

A good primer for folks that are into “digital” music.

I use a Melco server which has about 2500 CD’s ripped to WAV files, which I find to be superior sounding to others, including FLAC, onto it and the internal drive has an internal  backup drive, in case the one that is used for playback, fails.

Perhaps, besides the Altec 604 based loudspeakers I had built for me, which are the stars of my stereo system (thanks to Bryan Rohr for turning me on to the 604’s and the Urei EQ’s I use with them) the second brightest star of my system is probably the T+A MP2500R. This device is a CD/SACD player, streamer and DAC in one pretty large and heavy box. T+A is not what we Americans might think as T+A stands for Theory and Application and they hail from Germany. It’s a great sounding digital source and I’ve owned a lot of different digital sources, including PS Audio digital gear they really don’t come close to this component, although I’m sure PS Audio’s new DAC sounds great too. They have a new streamer too, but mine device is three digital players in one convenient and integrated box, which is great.

3 essential elements

My friend and former TAS writer, AGB, suggested it might be time to refresh our knowledge of how streaming audio works.

There are tons of misconceptions and even a few audio myths growing around the subject, so I think he’s right.

Today we will start with a simple overview, then dig in a bit deeper in the days to follow.

Creating a seamless streaming music experience requires a well-designed system comprising three essential source components: server, controller, and renderer.

  • Server: The server is the backbone of any streaming music system. It’s responsible for storing and organizing music files, making them available for streaming on demand. It is where the music library resides. It can be a local server, such as a computer or a network-attached storage (NAS) device, or a remote server, such as a cloud-based music service like Spotify, Apple Music, Qobuz, Tidal, or Amazon.
  • Controller: The controller is the user interface for your streaming music system. It’s the device or software that you use to select and play music from your server. The controller can be a dedicated device, such as a smartphone app or a touchscreen remote. The controller communicates with the server to browse your music library and make selections. It also controls playback, allowing you to play, pause, skip, and adjust the volume. Some controllers also offer advanced features, such as creating playlists, searching for music, and accessing streaming services. The controller also manages your music collection, leveraging metadata such as album, artist, genre, and track information. Think of Roon or Audirvana. They are controllers.
  • Renderer: The renderer is the device that plays the music from your server. It can be a standalone device, such as a wireless speaker or a headphone amplifier, or integrated into another device, like a DAC. The renderer receives the audio data from the server and converts it into an appropriate audio format to convert the signal to analog. In a high-end renderer like PS Audio’s Bridge, that format is I2S.

To sum it up, the server stores and organizes your music library, the controller selects and controls playback, and the renderer prepares the digital audio files in a format acceptable to your DAC. Each component is crucial to creating a seamless, high-quality streaming music experience that brings your favorite music to life.

Tomorrow we’ll dig a little deeper.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

We’re not even close

Part of the joy and privilege of being involved in both the recording and playback chains is the chance to grow and learn: new methods in recordings of miking and capturing sound and, in the reproduction chain, new circuit topologies and silicon.

Recently a fellow recording engineer working with the same basic DSD chain suggested to me that using an external microphone preamplifier before going into the A/D converter is probably a bad idea. Why? Because it is thought that the particular A/D converters we both use (from Pyramix) are better served skipping a step and going directly in. That made one heck of a lot of sense to me, and so, on a recent recording session of Octave’s beautiful Steinway piano by composer and pianist, Gustaf Hoyer, I recorded it both ways: directly in and with the addition of an external microphone preamplifier.

Oh my. The difference between those two methods is stark.

Using the identical microphones and setup for both:

  1. Going directly into the A/D converter’s built in microphone stage left me cold. Unmoved. Mechanical. Clear and crisp, yes. But without life or feeling.
  2. Inserting in the same path the Manley vacuum tube microphone preamplifiers between the microphones and A/D direct inputs. Holy sh*t! Life! Musicality. Openness. You are there. Still clear and crisp.

And here’s the crazy thing. When in Pyramix you switch between microphone and line level inputs, the electronic chain remains identical. In other words all that changes is the impedance and gain of the input stage. Same circuitry with only a 20dB pad inserted.

This is absolutely bizarre and makes no sense to me. It reminds me of when I used to be an advocate of the shorter path of DAC->power amplifier. Inserting the BHK preamp (DAC->BHK preamp->power amp) made magic.

Other than just reporting this observation, my only thought is that my friend must not have used the same microphone preamplifiers.

The good news is twofold: first, all recent Octave recordings (and many earlier ones) have used the Manley’s for preamplification. Second, while we always take suggestions and are anxious to experiment, in the end, our ears tell us what works and what does not.

As my hero, Mr. Spock might say, fascinating.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

My answer to Paul’s question would be probably yes.

Is accuracy overrated?

In response to yesterday’s post, Steven responded:

“If you take a recording and transfer it (a) bit perfect digitally or (b) by cutting a groove in a bit of plastic, running a small rock through the groove and amplifying the resulting signal hundreds of times, then it is a small miracle that they actually sound fairly similar.”


You can see an extension of what Steven is suggesting in this graph of a Sure phono cartridge.

Compared to the ruler-flat output of a DAC, this looks more like what a loudspeaker might do.

I maintain that the single biggest sonic difference between LP’s and digital is the inaccuracies found in the mechanical transducers: first the mechanical cutting head of the vinyl lathe and the further modifiication by the playback cartridge.

What’s still fascinating to me is just how great vinyl sounds despite being inaccurate.

Perhaps accuracy is overrated?

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek Audio and Paul McGowan of PS Audio, Intl.

Staying home

It wasn’t that long ago that my purchasing decisions were made mostly in stores. I would figure out what I wanted, search for a retail outlet that carried it, hopped in the car, and hoped for the best.

Today it is different. Other than food and clothing, I want to try everything I buy at home. In my own space and at my own pace.

Especially HiFi gear.

It’s nice to read the reviews and get the lowdown of what others think via the forums, but none of that compares to trying it at home.

To be sure, this new means of evaluating products is different. And, it can be just a little bit scary.

But living with a new piece of stereo kit for a few weeks is, in my opinion, the only true way to know how well it fits into the home and suits your tastes. Does it make you smile to play music? For me, that new DAC or those new loudspeakers are what get me revved up when I turn on the system. Time to explore and enjoy!

I am envious of what awaits all our Beta Testers for the DSMK2 they are receiving at home. And for those that grab a pair of FR30s and get excited as they are white glove delivered just where you want them to live.

As they say, there’s no place like home!

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

I’ve owed the PS Audio PW DAC back when I was a dealer for them and it was a very good sounding DAC. It had a couple of interesting things on the digital side that Paul gets into here, especilly as relates to the original DAC’s soon to be released replacement, but one of the most interesting things about that DAC to me was its analog output stage, which primarily consisted of just transformer coupled outputs. I dont know anyone else doing this and now with the PWDAC Mk2, they seem to have carried this part over from the original. Very simple and elegant, by its simplicity!

It’s about time

It’s been 8 years since we introduced the groundbreaking DirectStream DAC.

8+ years since designer Ted Smith blew me away with the sound of his prototype and we began the process of turning it into a product.

It’s been an amazing journey and now we’re about to release the MK2 version of this stunning product.

As we enter the beta phase of its release (click here if you’re interested), I wanted to bring to your attention one of the coolest and most sought-after features of this new DAC.

The ability to add multiple mountaintop firmware versions.

As most of you know, DirectStream has always been unique in many respects. One of the most popular of its many features was our free mountaintop upgrades. Every so often Ted Smith would emerge from his lair announcing he had come up with a significantly new rewrite of this FPGA-based DAC. This was exciting as all get out as each new upgrade he produced was like getting a brand new DAC.

And these upgrades were all free to our HiFi Family members.

Once the upgrade was loaded, DirectStream was all new. But how to do A/B comparisons? We began getting requests to have the ability to load multiple mountaintop versions. A great idea, indeed, but because DirectStream was maxed out in terms of hardware, processing power, and memory we couldn’t accommodate those requests.

With the introduction of MK2, that’s all changed.

MK2 is overbuilt and future-proofed with respect to its FPGA and memory space. This allows us enough room to load as many as 10 mountaintop versions (when they become available) into memory. Without bothering with SD cards or USB sticks, now at the push of a button you can load in new (or old) mountaintops and hear the difference.

There are tons more to talk about when it comes to learning about this groundbreaking new DAC.

Stay tuned.


Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

I smell a new DAC coming from PS Audio!

Keeping time

We’re all aware that jitter in the digital audio stream is to be avoided.

Jitter is all about timing deviations where the audio data isn’t exactly where it is supposed to be in time. You can think of it like someone being early or late for their scheduled arrival time.

For jitter to be audible it has to be unpredictably late or early. (If we know the data is always late or early by the same measure then it’s easy to compensate).

The reference for our digital audio data is called a clock. With every clock cycle, the digital audio system looks to see if there is any incoming data that arrived on time. If there is, life’s good. If that data is slightly late or early, we get a “jerky” output of digits fed into our DACs.

To make certain this doesn’t happen we often add queues (buffers) where we collect all the on time, late, and early data together before passing them on to their final destination.

This digital queue describes perfectly PS Audio’s Digital Lens technology.

Here’s the thing. Data stored on a hard drive, streaming over the internet, or your home network don’t have too much of a schedule to worry about. Think of them as travelers told to show up at a certain time and place where they are then expected to join a queue before being assigned to a time schedule.

In other words, stored and streamed data don’t have clocks that are important to their final arrival time. Thus, they cannot have jitter to worry about.

Only when we enter the world of master clocks as dictated by (for example) CD/SACD transports do we need to worry about jitter. (In these cases the transport supplies the master clock to the DAC)

Data entering a DAC must at some point fall in line to be properly queued up and marched in time so as to avoid jitter.

Where that happens is all important.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

PS Audio will be replacing their DirectStream DAC, which is a good, but no longer a great DAC, with its relacement. I’ll bet its pretty good!!

Delivering the goods

When you download onto your local hard drive an Octave Records release the copy you store is bit-for-bit identical to the one sitting on the master hard drive at Octave Records.

It doesn’t matter that data traveled through millions of switches, miles of cable, fiber, satellite, coaxial, WiFi, and so on. Once downloaded what sits on your hard drive is absolutely identical to what sits on the master hard drive.

Yet, when I playback that file in Octave’s state-of-the-art mix room it will not sound the same as when you play it back on your system.

It couldn’t.

The files are identical but the systems are not.

But now imagine how close the two could sound if your system were the same as Octave’s mixroom: FR30 loudspeakers, BHK300 monoblocks, BHK preamp, DirectStream MK1 DAC.

If we imagine this setup then the biggest factors determining sound quality are narrowed down to room, setup, cables, and how the data gets into the DAC.

In my experience, it’s that last one that really matters. Most of us can adjust to differences in the room and set up to hear what’s on the recording. Getting data into the DAC turns out to be a very big differentiator—something one of our newest products will soon solve.

The AirLens.

Like the Digital Lens, its ground-breaking predecessor, the soon-to-be-released AirLens gathers all the digital data sent to it by our computers either via Ethernet or WiFi, stores that data in a buffer, then outputs it in perfect order via a fixed low jitter clock.

This is exactly what the original Digital Lens did but the AirLens adds the finishing touch: galvanic isolation between the AirLens and the receiving DAC. This separation of grounds, power supplies, or any physical/electrical connection between the noisy incoming digital data and the sensitive DAC is the key to perfecting the magic wrought by the Digital Lens.

Once connected via the AirLens, your DAC will think it is in noise-free heaven.

We’ll have more information about this exciting new product in late October to early November.

Stay tuned.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Apparently PS Audio’s newest DAC is perfect. Imagine that, as perfect doesn not exist.

So, yes computers for music are noisy and one way to get around a noisy computer is to use an audio only server, specifically made with an eye towards noise. That’s what I do with a Melco server and a T+A MP2500R DAC/SCAD player/Streamer, with galvanic isolation.

Works great and the streamer inside the T+A is wonderful sounding and as good as the WAV files I have ripped onto the Melco!

Know your enemy

I get a lot of flack for my dislike of USB as a medium between the computer and DAC.

Truth is, it’s not USB I don’t like. It’s what USB connects with that bothers me.

Noisy computers.

Here’s the deal. We all know computers are vile, noisy affairs that hopefully are as far away from our pristine high-end audio systems as possible.

When we want to extract music from these noise-ridden contraptions what’s the best arm’s-length, noise-free way to do it?

Ethernet—an isolated one-way communication medium.

What’s the worst way to connect?

USB—a two-way connected open-gate flood of data and noise.

Our goal should be to get the data out of our computers with as little noise and connection as possible, which is why Ethernet (or long-ago fiber optics before Toshiba’s TOSLINK format screwed up our chances for high sample rates) or WiFi are the best choices.

I get it. It’s a heck of a lot easier just to fire up a USB cable and be done with it. Ethernet and WiFi are pains in the keester.

But better.

One possible solution is to use a USB reclocker device like the Matrix.

It helps, but it isn’t perfect.

Perfect is a new DirectStream MK2 DAC with 100% galvanic isolation.

With an MK2 in the system, you can use USB and stop worrying about it.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Boy, this is too bad, especially for people like Paul and his family. Most likely out lots of $ and lots of time and effort and lose an important opportunity for them with the introduction of their new louspeakers and their newest flagship amps. Such is life.


Today was going to be the start of the UK HiFi Show and Terri, Scott, Travis, and I are here in London in all our finery…..

….but then the sad news of the death of her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.

Our condolences to her family.

We were going to be playing the new aspen FR30 speakers, a pair of BHK600 monoblocks, and we have an almost working DirectStream MK2 DAC to fondle (I wish it were ready to listen to).

The show has been canceled. Sorry. It’s a tough situation for us all.

Hopefully, it will be rescheduled and we will try once again.

*Quick update on the DirectStream MK2. It’s finished and will be making its appearance shortly. The prototype sounds amazing. The beta units are getting tantalizingly close to launch. Stay tuned.

I suppose it’s off the the pub.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Ethernet vs. USB

If you’re looking for the best sonic solution for streaming music it matters how that music gets delivered.

For example, if you’re connecting with USB then the computer matters: faster, quieter, better built will sound better. And the USB cable matters. And then there’s the requirement of an interface buffer to maximize sonics (the Matrix works great).


If you connect via ethernet or WIFI then everything’s in reverse. The computer doesn’t matter any more than does the cable.

The problem with USB is pretty simple. It is a hard-wired two-way communication link between a noisy computer and a quiet-demanding DAC.

Ethernet, on the other hand, doesn’t care. You could have the noisest of ancient computers spitting out the data and you can send that signal through multiple switches and routers and miles of cable. It all comes out the same—often regenerated over and over again along the journey.

Take for example Octave Studios. Everything in that studio is connected via ethernet. There’s absolutely zero sonic difference between long or short ethernet runs or the many switches in its path or the type of NAS it is stored in, or whether or not we use POE (power over ethernet – and yes, we do).

None of that matters.