Quit DAC-ing around

Can a DAC make a big difference?

All the way back in the photo area of The Music Room, my coworker Jeff tells me that yes, a new DAC at my desk did make a big difference.

When I say big difference, I mean BIG. We’re not talking about trying to hear the change in sound when you move an amp onto a set of isolation feet, or the difference between two PCOCC cables.

No, the addition of this DAC to my test rig simply and honestly makes it a completely new-sounding system.

There is bass now that didn’t exist before. Good, musical bass - not resonances or EQ. It fits so well with the music, clearly what we’re hearing was in the track all along.

It’s one of those things that makes me stop for a moment here. There are so many audio products in the industry that are fairly good, or at least have all of their ducks in order and don’t mess up the music too much.

But here and there will come along a piece of equipment that boldly stands out above the crowd. It wakes me up from my midday haze with a clarity of sound and a musicality that I cannot help but be attracted to. And this little DAC did that for me today.

The little DAC in question is the PS Audio DirectStream Junior, and the track I was using is Joe Ford’s new single “Where Is The Sun” which is a juicy electronic piece with wide bandwidth and wonderful transients and tones.

I own a DirectStream Junior at my home, but I listen more to a lower budget DAC from the same manufacturer in my test rig here at work. I’m very familiar with the DirectStream sound, but not necessarily in contrast to other popular DACs.

I’d heard “Where Is The Sun” maybe 100 times before I plugged in the DAC — it’s a favorite of mine to test the bass/treble integration of speakers. Jeff in the photo department was the one who clued us into Joe Ford’s new album so he’s heard the thing a million times too.

That we both said “I’ve never heard that so good before” right after the song ended was enough validation for me that this DAC is pulling serious weight.

So… what is it that makes such a big difference? What is PS Audio doing in this little guy that other companies aren’t?

Well to tell the truth this DAC did not always sound this way. The DirectStream runs off of code from a reprogrammable chip rather than a standard set-in-stone style DAC chip like the common offerings from AKM, ESS, Burr-Brown, Texas Instruments and more.

PS launched with a product that was pretty good, and over time they’ve made it truly great. I think I’ve seen 5 or so iterations of new DAC firmware since I bought my DirectStream Junior, and each new code has made the thing sound better. I think if I compared the DS Junior to another DAC with an ESS chip like the one I use for testing way back when the DirectStream came out, I might not be writing this blog piece.

But I am writing this piece. You guys, this DAC is unbelievably killer, and ridiculous when you consider the price. I mean, that’s why I bought one for myself. Still, it’s good to have a reminder from time to time of why the thing kicks so much butt. One happy owner right here.