Tag Archives: DSD

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.

This was a good one for me, as a good explantion of DoP by Paul and this makes sense.


The three-letter acronym, DoP has a number of meanings depending on what you’re interested in.

To the Italians, D.O.P. stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin): the name used to indicate a product that owes its characteristics to its place of origin, and its production, modification and processing occur within that geographical area. Bubbly Champagne from Champagne France, and tasty Moderna vinegar from Moderna Italy.

For Audiophiles, DoP stands for DSD over PCM. Playback Design’s chief digital guru, Andreas Koch, invented DoP as a means to allow DSD to be compatible with computers not possessing the means to deal with it.

A good (short) video on the subject is one our own Gus Skinas and I put together in my older series called Lunch with Paul.

DoP has a marketing problem. The mention of it has many purists running for the hills. Why? Because it is assumed DoP converts DSD to PCM, thus changing forever the characteristics of DSD we all love.

Two things are wrong with this. First, DSD is not being converted to PCM. Second, even if it were, there’s no sonic penalty when done correctly (though in their defense it rarely is).

Today’s computers don’t know what to make of DSD. Without a special driver and program installed, a Windows or Mac computer sees DSD as unrecognizable noise. This is because DSD is very much like analog: a continuous unbroken stream of moving data that can be directly listened to as music. PCM, on the other hand, is made of discrete chunks of data each with its own ID that serves as a routing map.

What Andreas did was really clever and simple. Instead of trying to fit a square peg (DSD) in a round hole (the computer), he simply broke the continuous DSD stream up into discrete chunks and added an identifier bit that serves as a routing map. To the computer, DoP looks like PCM and it merrily passes it along to your DAC.

When your DAC gets this “PCM-like” stream of data, it knows to remove those added identifier bits and reassemble the unmolested virgin DSD bits back together so we get that analog-like continuous data stream called music.

The DSD data is identical to its beginning. It was never converted to another form.

Hope that helps.


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.

Terminology building blocks

One of the easier ways to get on the wrong path is to build an understanding based on piecing together little-understood terms.

A good example of this problem might be explained in my earlier post about dynamic range. Relying only on the measured numbers to achieve a more dynamic recording can easily lead to the opposite.

Or, making a purchasing decision on an amplifier simply because it has better measurements. The THD might be low but what about IM and AM distortions? Step response?

And if you get those right what about the sonic differences between JFETS, MOSFETS, and BJTs?

Or, if DSD is closest to analog wouldn’t it make perfect sense to then return to analog when mixing? Is that the best sounding course or is it simply the most logical?

None of us are going to be able to have a deep enough understanding of the complex technological world we have to navigate to make good decisions based solely on knowledge depth.

Instead, we need to rely upon our senses.

We need to listen. Use our ears as the ultimate arbiter.

Our senses don’t get tangled up in terminology.

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.

Hearing inside

Using only words, one of the more difficult concepts to explain is the idea of hearing into the music.

It is easy to hear but hard to convey.

When in Octave’s studio I can stand in front of the drum kit and hear every last nuance of detail in the cymbals as the musician strokes its metal with brushes. If I close my eyes I notice even more inner details.

I set the microphone at the same point I am sitting and go back into the control room to listen. If I’ve used the right microphone setup remarkably I hear even more detail in those brushed cymbals though now it is without feeling as if I am in the room. (to remedy that I must then add in a touch of the far away room microphones but that’s a different discussion).

Still, I can hear inside those brush strokes. If I then record what I am hearing through those microphones and play it back through the same monitoring system, there are no discernable differences as long as the recording medium is DSD256. If, instead, I set the system up to record in 192kHz PCM something is lost on playback.

That something is inner detail: the individual brushes hitting the cymbal. Live or as recorded with DSD there is no difference. Switching to PCM capture and all the sharp details remain but no longer can I hear into those brush strokes. I want to write that the information is blurred but that would be incorrect. Blurred is softened and the sound is definitely not softened.

Perhaps a better word is muddled or Chaotic as in trying to hear into a conversation in a crowded room where there is no loss of focus. Instead, there’s a loss of intelligibility.

It’s a hard one to describe.

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.

Paul’s confused.

One way street

If you freeze bread and then toast it, the results are marvelous. Crunchy on the outside and soft and pliable on the inside. Try reversing the process and the results are more than disappointing.

I wish I understood more about one-way streets. Why some things work best in one direction but not in another.

Make a side-by-side recording using a digital recorder and a vinyl LP cutting lathe.  It doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear the digital audio capture sounds nothing like the vinyl.

Yet, we can make near-perfect digital captures of vinyl records.

I have long suspected that this one-way effect is due to digital audio’s greater resolution and dynamic range capabilities than those of vinyl. It’s easy enough to put a pint of water into a gallon bucket, but the opposite doesn’t work.

What’s troubling to me is that as we move Octave Record releases into the realm of vinyl, we find that the one-way street argument falls a bit short. Direct vinyl masters from the DSD masters seem to sound more dynamic and musical than the original DSD files.

This has me scratching my head.

The sound of vinyl may remain an unsolved mystery that in my lifetime never gets resolved.

It’s a one way street to confusion.

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.

Very different vs. right or wrong

Octave Recording artist and trumpeter extraordinaire, Gabriel Mervine, notes near the end of this video that “vinyl sounds different. Very different.”

In fact, identical master recordings sound very different depending on the recorded medium.

Which one is right?

One could easily suggest that because the recording was captured on DSD that playback would be right only when reproduced using the same technology.

Yet to many, the music sounds more “real” and “right” through the lens of LP’s.

As audiophiles, we’re always in search of sonic truth.

Though truth, as I mentioned in an earlier post, isn’t always the same for everyone.

Very different can be just as right as very right.

It’s all in your perception.

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 whole new experience

Octave Record’s first release, pianist Don Grusin’s Out Of Thin Air, was a huge success and much loved by those who bought it on SACD or download. We’re nearly sold out of the final edition of the SACD.

The recording is one I am very familiar with, having heard it any number of times on the big system. It’s one of the best piano recordings I have ever heard.

And now we’re getting closer to releasing Out Of Thin Air on vinyl. We will press a limited edition of 500 LP’s on 180-gram virgin vinyl, mastered at 45 rpm and released on 4-discs.

But here’s the crazy thing. Having been personally involved in the process from day one, as Gus worked with the cutting engineer, I am flabbergasted by the sound. It is Soooo different (in a magical sort of way) than the master DSD from which it was cut.

How can this be?

These discs were cut directly from the DSD master, something almost never done (as we’ve learned). To facilitate the transfer our chief engineer, Bob Stadtherr, designed a DSD delay splitter that made certain the real-time cutting head feed (that sets the groove width in accordance with the signal amplitude) is identical to the delayed musical signal. Every step of the way we made certain the purity of the original master DSD tracks were perfectly preserved.

It should sound pretty darned close to the master.

It does not. There’s a vinyl magic that sets it apart from its source.

This drives me frickin’ bonkers. I know we’ve been many times down this road, but still…

It’ll likely be a few months before we have the finished discs so you can hear for yourself.

I think I am going to go run some cold water over my head.

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

Too many “weeds” here from Paul, but interesting to some.

Sample rates

There sure is a lot of confusion over sample rates. We hear about CD-quality sample rates at 44.1kHz (and its multiples), or another common sample rate, 48kHz (and its multiples), and then there are multiple higher sample rates (176kHz, 192kHz as examples) and of course DSD.

Lots of numbers. All very confusing.

Perhaps a short primer would help.

First, what is a sample rate? Simply put, it’s a snapshot of the audio signal. A slice of time where we capture the voltage level of the music signal. The number of times per second we take that snapshot determines the sample rate. (Bit depth determines the loudness range we can capture within each sample)

First, what’s the difference between 44.1kHz and 48kHz and why do the two exist? The former is what Sony/Philips set as a standard for the Compact disc. When we do higher sample rate versions of this standard we get 88.2kHz, 176kHz and so forth. The latter, 48kHz, is the standard the “pros” use (because, well, they can’t use something as conventional as consumers, now can they?). 48kHz gives us multiples we’re familiar with like 96kHz, and 192kHz.

What’s painful about the above two standards is the difficulty moving between them. When recording studios record at “pro” sample rates of 48kHz they then have to interpolate down a few Hz to 44.1kHz to make something we poor consumers can listen to.


When we nerds talk about sample rates we use different terminology. We base our discussion on how many multiples of the base frequency (44.1kHz) are in play. So, for instance, the CD sample rate is referred to as 1fs. Its multiples are 2fs, 3fs, etc.

The sampling frequency or sampling rate, fs, is the average number of samples obtained in one second (samples per second). Think of 1fs as the minimum baseline to capture 20Hz to 20kHz.

While we might be familiar with all the differing PCM sample rates, DSD brings in a whole other dimension with its far higher sample rates. For example, standard DSD is 64fs while double rate DSD is twice that at 128fs. So what’s that mean? Well, 1fs is running at 44,000 times per second, while 64fs is running at 64 times that frequency, or 2,822,400 times per second! That’s fast, man.

And, while DSD is so much higher of a sample rate as to raise a few eyebrows, it’s instructive to remember it’s a 1-bit system compared to a basic 16-bit system like PCM (remember that the number of bits is needed to measure amplitude). This boils down to something less hair raising if we do a bit of math. 64fs (1xDSD) runs at a very high clock rate of 2,822,400 Hz (2.8mHz). Now, simply divide that by 16 (the number of bits in a PCM word) and guess what you get? A sample rate of 176kHz. Sound familiar? 176kHz is the same as 4fs PCM. So, while PCM requires 16 bits to adequately measure amplitude, and DSD needs 16 single bits to do the same, it all kind of works out in the end. (Don’t take what I just wrote about DSD and 16 bits as literal. I use it only as a means of helping form a picture. DSD is far more complicated, using a Sigma-Delta Modulator, noise shaping, etc.)

Without getting too much more in the weeds, that’ll give you a brief simplistic overview of sampling rates.

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 got great DSD recordings, as well as great PCM recordings. Which format doesn’t tell the story on how good a recording sounds. Lots of other reasons why things sound the way they do.

Is higher better?

Working with DSD and PCM has been a real learning experience. The two formats sound different from each other though it is unclear why. Is it the analog to digital conversion processor? The DACs? That DSD is closer to analog? They are all different technologies.

On the one hand, DSD runs at a much higher sample rate than any PCM. Single rate DSD is 64 times higher sample rate than CD quality PCM. Yet, there’s not much more audio bandwidth available because of that higher sample rate.

And then there’s PCM. Few today would argue that 44.1kHz is the bare minimum required for decent reproduction. Anything less and we lose the audible frequency range. But double that, and now we can capture twice what we are capable of hearing. And 4 times that (176kHz) and we’re able to capture 80kHz. Much more than we can hear and more than sufficient for phase linearity.

Yet more seems better: 2X, 4X, 64X, 128X, and so on.

We don’t know if the “better” we are hearing is due to the change in architecture or sample rate or both.

But, in a way, what does it matter?

I have heard CDs trounce 192kHz versions just as I have heard DSD smash anything PCM.

In the end, I don’t think higher is necessarily better any more than I think lower is always better when it comes to distortion.

Gotta listen.

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.

No guarantees

“Flummoxed.” Now there’s a word you don’t hear that often, but it perfectly describes the problem so many people struggle with when it comes to sample rates and bit depths.

How can a high sample rate and full bit depth master sound significantly worse than a lower sample/bit rate track?

The answer is somewhat the same as how great ingredients don’t always taste as good as poor ones: why the best artist paints don’t always make a better painting, lower distortion doesn’t guarantee a great amp, or a big engine the fastest car.

It isn’t the ingredients or technology that matter as much as the skill of the creator.

In the same way a talented photographer can use an iPhone to produce a better picture than an amateur with the planet’s fanciest camera gear, the quality of ingredients matters most as a final touch rather than the starting point.

Just because a record is mastered at a famous label, a release is in quad rate DSD, or the track was little more than a mere CD, does not in itself help us determine its sonic merits.

We need to listen.

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.

Blind squirrels

There’s an old saying that even a blind squirrel on occasion finds a nut. A humorous aphorism about stumbling into success.

The more we get involved in the recording industry the more convinced I become that the paucity of great recordings comes from the same set of circumstances dictating the quality of the average home stereo. Most people wouldn’t know what we audiophiles consider truly great sound if their lives depended on it. Run-of-the-mill recording engineers included. The majority of their work is by audiophile standards mediocre. Once in a while, they stumble upon a great recording.

At Octave Records, we record exclusively in DSD because it sounds better than PCM and analog tape. But it’s a pain in the butt to edit which is why few engineers take the time and effort to use it. And, if what you’re working with sounds great to you, why would you bother?

Audiophiles know what remarkable sound is.

We’re a rare breed of sighted squirrels.