Tag Archives: DirectStream

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.

Not my feelings at all, but I guess not all folks think alike when it comes to high end audio.


I sometimes get the craziest comments. Following the recent upgrades to DirectStream a flood of people smelling a conspiratorial cover-up have emerged.

Weird, right?

The general line goes something like this: “If you know how to improve the DAC’s performance why didn’t you just release it like that in the beginning? You’re purposefully holding back on the product so you can charge us more money.”

Of course, this is absurd. Since DirectStream’s introduction in 2014, there has been a tremendous amount of progress and learning going on. We’ve shared these improvements with the thousands of DirectStream owners for free.

But, that’s not the point of this post. I don’t feel the need to defend what we’ve done or where we’re going.

No, this post wants to riff on conspiracy theories. How the little voices in our heads can sometimes take a sharp turn towards evil plots to explain what we cannot.

I think we all can be guilty of crafting conspiracies to explain the world around us—at least at one time or another. Did you ever think your grade school teacher must have been an alien creature with eyes in the back of her head? How else to explain how she knew you were the one talking? Or how did mom know it was you that ate the cookies? Did you believe she was a mind reader?

It is natural for us to want to build explanations of how the world works. That’s how we make sense of the complexities around us.

But when your explanation starts to suspect conspiracies either on your own or buying into the imaginations of others, I would caution restraint and encourage questioning.

Conspiracies might make for good novels but they are extremely rare in real life.

The truth is, most of us are working without a master plan. We move through daily life dealing with what’s presented to us as it comes our way.

Doesn’t that describe you pretty well?

Don’t for a moment think you’re unusual in that regard.

I’ll bet we’re all pretty much the same.


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.

Uncovering gems

“There’s buried treasure in them thar speakers! I feels it in me bones.”

Sometimes I do feel like a pirate in search of buried treasure when I go to listen.

Working on new technologies, new firmware, new audio or video components is really exciting—not just for the discovery of underlying new sonic delights, but because it is a chance to push the envelope further, to find out what might be possible as we march down the progress highway.

I don’t suppose there’s anything more stimulating to us than a chance to uncover new gems that have seemingly been lying dormant in our hardware—hiding, actually. Most DirectStream owners, for example, have been enjoying their same hardware for years now and the chance to extract better is really enticing—which is the beauty of a new mountaintop whenever something like that might arrive.

What magic is lurking in your equipment?

Now, where’s that bottle of rum?

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.

With over 2100 CD’s ripped to my music library in WAV format, I have no use for high resolution music streaming, although I do stream for background music for my house music system.

However, there are differences between the two major players in the hi-rez streaming business and it looks like one company from Europe will take over that business.

Streaming wars

Sometimes wars are won without much of a battle. Such is the case with the Streaming Wars.

As I have reported more than a few times I am not a big fan of Tidal. It’s a nice service with a decent library but sound quality always was an issue. Compared to my reference of CDs played on DMP there was not even a contest. In fact, the difference is so stark that I do my best to keep Tidal unavailable in Music Room One because it does not properly represent the system’s capabilities. Instead, we limit the options to my Mac Mini server or the best option, discs played back on DMP: still the gold standard for digital audio playback.

But now there’s Qobuz, the French company with their 40 million track library and quality streaming soon to be available in the States. Team members at PS Audio have been given accounts so that we might learn about this service and I must tell you, I am impressed. Blown away, in fact. While not quite as good as DMP it’s within spittin’ distance.

Qobuz allows you to not only stream but to download onto your local hard drive (they are encrypted so don’t get too excited about copying them onto discs) and sound better played back from the drive than streamed over the internet.

DirectStream and DS Junior owners can stream Qobuz through the Bridge in resolutions up to 192kHz 24 bits when available. Or, simply stream or download to your computer and connect via USB.

Finally, a streaming service that works like you’d want it to. No more fussing with MQA in the hopes it’ll be “better” than the original. Now you can enjoy a library that’s multiple lifetimes big and much of it at 192kHz 24 bits. You can bet Qobuz will be central to our upcoming Octave system.

The battle lasted about 10 seconds, but that’s good.

The war’s over.

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.

This is kind of a funny post, although more technical than most would want to read about.

I use PS Audio’s DSD DAC and it is a fantastic sounding digital player, made even better by the occasional updates to it that PS Audio offers for free.

Simply, the player takes our digital music, say music that we have copied onto a hard drive of some sort (computer, phone, iPod, etc) and then makes real music out of it that we can listen to.  At some point, the digital file is turned into music we can listen to and that is called a digital to analog conversion, or DAC.

Is no DAC the best DAC?

I’ve been answering a lot of great customer questions on Ask Paul. One of them was a simple misunderstanding, but it sparks good dialog.

On the DIY forums, a poster suggested he was converting digital audio to analog without the benefit of a DAC and the question posed to me was, “Is that possible?” The answer should be a simple “no” but then it’s never quite that simple.

Let me first explain what the poster on the DIY site was doing: converting DSD to analog with little more than an output transformer. Thus, he didn’t need a “DAC” to make music, he needed only a single part.

DSD is very different than traditional PCM. If you were to try the same technique of decoding PCM with a simple capacitor, you’d get nothing but noise (if you got anything at all). This is because PCM isn’t anything close to analog, while DSD is as close to analog as any digital format can be. Look at PCM on a scope and you see nothing recognizable as music (it’s a code, after all). Try the same thing with DSD and you can actually see the music.

This difference is one reason why our digital guru, Ted Smith, converts everything to DSD in our DirectStream and DirectStream Junior. Their output stages are essentially simple low-pass filters (like the transformer I mentioned earlier). DSD is already close to analog and requires very little post-processing.

In direct answer to the reader’s question whether it’s possible to play digital music without benefit of a DAC, I would answer, no. Anything used to convert digital to analog is, by definition, a 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.

Format wars

Whatever happened to the format wars? We lost sleep over FLAC , WAV, DSD vs. PCM, MQA in competition with everything else.

Did our playback equipment suddenly get so good that these various formats now perform with varying degrees of excellence rather than acceptability?

I can tell you that playback of 44.1kHz through DirectStream is so close to higher resolution formats that one has to question the need to purchase higher resolution media. But that’s just us in a sea of other DACs.

Have we, as an industry, elevated playback quality to such a degree that the wars are over? Is there a white flag flying that I missed?

It’s hard to know if the most vocal among us got tired of the battle, or found peace in the improved performance.

I do appreciate a lull in the battles.

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.

This is a great example of what a  hobbyist driven company, that  makes great sounding  audio products, wants to make some money and employ a lot of people, does.

This is the latest free upgrade from PS Audio for their Bridge II network adapters. This allows to stream from TIDAL and use MQA “unfolding” processing. MQA is the latest compression scheme to give us better sound, but taking us less storage when it isn’t being actually played. The new firmware update also allows uses to use Roon, an information rich, computer, playback system

Thanks again, PS Audio.

Early Christmas

The process of getting MQA and Tidal onto the Bridge took so long I turned another year older. More gray hair. Fewer brain cells.

Patience has never been one of my virtues.

But, here we are. All Bridge II owners can now update to the latest Bridge OS for free and get full MQA unfolding (up to 192kHz 24 bit) and access to Tidal. Couple of things to note.

Bridge updates are via the front panel of either the DirectStream, DirectStream Junior or PWD. Go here for a How To if you’re not familiar with the process. It’s really quite simple.

To use Tidal you’ll need a subscription as well as the paid MConnect app ($6) installed on your mobile device from the iTunes store or Google Play.

Bridge II works with DirectStream, DirectStream Junior (built in), and The PerfectWave DAC. If you have either DirectStream DACs, Huron OS is required. This is a free update and if you’ve not yet made the change, you’re missing out on some great sound in addition to the feature updates available for Bridge II owners. If you’re unfamiliar with the DAC upgrade process it’s explained in this How To.

If you have a PWD you’ll need to install 3.03 which can be downloaded for free here. If you’re not familiar with the PWD upgrade process, you can review this How To.

Bottom line, Bridge II owners are now Roon, MQA, and Tidal ready.

All free, from your friends at PS Audio.



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.

Audiophiles are seemingly always looking for better sound quality. It’s one of those reasons audio companies seem to do well. It’s certainly understandable to want better sound, but at what cost to “upgrade”?

Sometimes upgrades don’t make things better, but just different.  I know many audiophiles on the equipment merry go round and many of them just don’t have the experience to know how to put together a great sounding stereo system. There are a few websites just for selling mostly used high end audio equipment and there are always loads of equipment for sale.

What if I told you there is a company that makes their products in Boulder, Colorado, which offers free upgrades? You get the equivalent of an improved piece of great sounding high end audio gear, in this case their DSD DAC, for the cost of a Sim card and 5 minutes of our time.  The company is PS Audio and I happily use many pieces of their gear in my stereo, foremost of which are ther BHK preamp and DSD DAC.

Now, that’s a bargain!!

Get ready for the weekend

Huron, the revolutionary new upgrade for DirectStream is finished and ready for release. Here’s some background.

DirectStream and DirectStream Junior are FPGA based DACs. This means that instead of an off-the-shelf DAC chip as most DACs are, DS products are completely handled in code through a complex arrangement internal to the device. This means the designer, Ted Smith, can pretty much design and redesign the DAC at will. Which is exactly what he’s done.

Huron is startlingly better than Torres (the last OS in DS). For one thing, Ted was able to wrestle a whopping 21dB of noise out of DS—3dB lower noise in the audible band and 18dB of ultrasonic noise. That’s extraordinary on any number of levels.

When you hear Huron for the first time you’re immediately aware of a blacker background. Instantly obvious. Instruments and voices appear out of the seeming blackness of space. What you’re hearing is that 3dB of lowered noise. But, more than the blackness, is a cleanliness and lack of hash I never anticipated—and the reason for it is obvious. Lowered ultrasonics.

High bandwidth power amplifiers and preamplifiers like BHK are capable of passing ultrasonics. “But wait!” You say. “So what? We can’t hear ultrasonics and speakers aren’t affected by them.” You’d be correct except for one thing. Amps and preamps are impacted by ultrasonics. The fewer ultrasonics they deal with, the sweeter they sound.

And Huron sounds sweet—perhaps because Ted has increased the DAC’s ten times upsampling-to-DSD to twice that: twenty times. Extraordinary.

And Huron has top-end extension I’ve never known the IRS capable of. On Daft Punk’s Within you can hear what sounds like another octave of extension to the cymbals. And horn blats are now as real as if they were live. On the San Francisco Symphony Mahler collection, the opening blasts of the horns have just the right amount of blare without harshness.

And Huron has depth and a correctness to instrumental placement that renders everything else wrong.

And Huron has bass. OMG, the bass thump of the kick drum sends shudders through your chest.

Huron also is MQA and Tidal ready for Bridge II owners. Once Huron’s installed and we release new Bridge II code later this month, DS owners will be treated to a full unfold of MQA (up to 192kHz) and access to Tidal.

We’ll do an official Huron for DS release on Friday, June 9, just in time for the weekend.

Less than one week later, we’ll release Huron for DirectStream Junior.

Huron, MQA, and access to Tidal are free. Indeed, a year of Ted Smith’s life has gone into this miracle of programming and lucky DS owners get it for free.

We all owe Ted Smith a big thank you.

Thank you, Ted. Job well done.


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.

For all intents and purposes, I, along with thousands of others, will have a new DAC soon, thanks to PS Audio’s free firmware upgrade of our PS Audio DAC’S. This time it’s called Huron.

Now, whether I like it better than what I have now, which is named Torryes, remains to be seen, but the great thing is I can always go back!!

Added sweeteners

Every audio company has a design philosophy they ascribe to: ruler flat, textbook perfect, back of the napkin, high feedback, low feedback, no feedback, tubes, solid state, hybrids, rich with harmonic distortion, squeaky clean and lean.

PS Audio has always focused on honest engineering offering musical truth.

Our digital wizard, Ted Smith, is one hell of an advocate for our design philosophy. His latest creation, a new operating system for DirectStream and DirectStream Junior—officially named Huron—will be released in a few weeks. Huron (a free upgrade to all owners) will soar to new levels of sonic truth and musical honesty. But Ted didn’t resort to tricks, or artificial sweeteners to achieve his design objectives.

Here are two scope images showing some of the benefits of Ted’s work on Huron. Note the lower noise floor of Huron relative to Torrey’s (the latest firmware). The first image is Torreys, the second Huron. (the spikes are measurement artifacts are should be ignored).

On the subject of design philosophy, Ted writes:

“There certainly won’t be any artificial sweetening of the sound in any release, all of my experience still indicates that the closer to theoretical/mathematical perfection we get the more life-like and involving the sound is.  Those that wish for some other character of the sound are probably better off with warmer cables, a tube amp or preamp that purposely adds a little THD, etc.  It’s all too easy to assume that any one part of a system inherently exaggerates or modifies the character of the sound, but most of the time those modifications are a result of system specific interactions and therefore shouldn’t be “fixed” in the design of any particular component.  I want the DS to be as faithful and neutral as possible.”

Thanks, Ted. Couldn’t have said it better myself.


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.

While always interesting, the great thing about this article is the news that there are going to be new firmware updates for PS Audio’s Direct Stream and Direct Stream Jr. DAC’s and that the DAC will eventually be able to play MQA, as long as customers have the bridge installed, which allows streaming directly to the DAC.

MQA is a new compression format that is supposed to sound like lossless files when streaming audio. It’s main calling card is there is less to stream when playing MQA files, so streaming works better. Meridian Audio, long an innovator in high end digital audio, is behind this and it has gained a lot of traction with the high quality audio streaming services like Tidal.

We will see about MQA, but most firmware updates PS Audio has made available for their DAC’S  have improved its sound.  It’s like getting a new toy, but these updates are free, as long as you can do the work yourself. I’m not a computer expert, but I manage, so most will not have a problem with this. The lower cost DSD Jr. is updated the same way and is a real bargain in the DAC world.

Bending with the crowd

Sometimes we set the pace, other times we try and keep up.

Take MQA for example. As my readers know I’ve not been as big an advocate as others have. I have heard impressive demonstrations, but none that would make me run home and stop other engineering projects in its favor. Yet, it’s important to enough people that it finally made it onto the engineering schedule.

We’ll be launching both MQA and Tidal in a new, free, release of the Bridge II firmware in April. Owners of PWD, DirectStream, DirectStream Juniors (with Bridge II installed) will now be able to stream Tidal and decode MQA.

There will also be a new update for both Ted Smith designed DACs—DirectStream and DirectStream Junior. Ted’s done some rather wonderful work on improving sound quality, yet again, and this is very exciting. A new mountaintop to name!

What truly excites me is the fact that with both products, our DACs and Network Bridge, we can transform both their functions as well as sound quality to thousands of owners through a free download.

Perhaps bending to the crowd is ok sometimes.

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.

From Paul and Home Theater stuff and video are the same thing, right?

Chickens and eggs

First, a quick note

DirectStream Memory Player beta units have shipped and you can begin reading what they find on our forums starting later this week. Limited numbers of finished production units begin shipping in December.

This means that this morning, November 1, we are taking preorders on a first come, first served basis, in the United States. You can go here to place your preorder. Outside the US, please get in touch with your dealer, or our staff here, should you need assistance.

Today’s post

You can’t have a chicken without and egg, and you can’t have an egg without a chicken—so which came first? It’s an age old riddle, one first recorded in 320 BC by Aristotle, but likely’s been asked for as long as people have been asking.

The question isn’t answerable because the logic is circular.

Circular logic questions are like magic tricks presenting impossible situations as fact: ladies being cut in two, people floating in the air. You can’t reason out the answer of how the magician did something, without first understanding he didn’t. It was, of course, a trick. The lady wasn’t cut in half, and people don’t float without the aid of invisible wires.

When we ask ourselves which is more important, the source or the output, we have created another circular logic question. It’s fun to ponder because it cannot be answered.

Like the magic we understand to be a trick, the source vs. output answer is equally obvious.

It all matters.

The real question comes down to one of efficiency, and that is something we’ll tackle tomorrow.