Greetings bass head and Welcome aboard! Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music, all over again soo…
What is DSD in Audio?
That’s a great question and it can be answered for the low low price of JUST KIDDING!
DSD (Direct Stream Digital) is a file format like PCM is a file format. To know what DSD is, it helps to be familiar with PCM.
What is PCM?
PCM stands for Pulse Code Modulation, a raw or uncompressed Analog to Digital Conversion. Related:What is a USB DAC?
A PCM file is simply the digital representation of that analog sound, much like any other audio file.
In a digital to analog conversion (DAC), the 1’s and 0’s that your PC understands get converted into the language your brain can understand. It’s basically what happens when you press play in Tidal or Spotify and hear music. Related:Tidal vs. Spotify [Definitive Guide]
When you’re recording into a microphone, the opposite happens. Your voice (analog) gets converted to the digital 1’s and 0’s so your computer can understand. You’re then able to make modifications via EQ and so forth.
PCM files generally take 16-bits, 24-bits, or 32-bits of information and sample them thousands of times per second. When you see a DAC that supports PCM 24-bit/384kHz, or 32-bit/768, this is what it’s referring to.
There’s much debate on the subject, but bit depth is infinitely more important than sample rate for obvious reasons. The more information being sampled, the better. This means more details and subtleties in the music for your listening enjoyment.
For example, a 16-bit file only contains 65,536 bits of information, whereas a 24-bit file contains 16,777,216. That’s a whole heck of a lot more to work with, and thus why I do value higher bit depth files when I’m listening to music.
I generally go for 24/44, 24/48, or 24/96. Anything more than that doesn’t really matter. 32-bit files are great, but they are definitely harder to come by.
This is where things get dicey though, and dare I say scammy:
The rate at which that information is sampled doesn’t matter nearly as much due to a couple of important concepts:
The limitations of human hearing. You cannot hear at a rate of over 20kHz no matter what some snob on the internet tells you. There is a reason the frequency range goes from 20Hz to 20,000Hz. Go ahead, try and mix a track beyond that. You can’t! It’s asinine to claim otherwise. Most people can’t hear 15kHz, let alone 20.
The Nyquist Shannon Sampling Theorem, which states that the upper magnitude of a piece of digital audio will only top out at HALF the sample rate. This means that even a standard 44kHz file (FLAC) will only top out at 22kHz (which just so happens to be right above the threshold of human hearing). A 48kHz file is only 24, 96 is only 48, and so on. You get the idea.
This is why I’m constantly trying to tell people not to get caught up in all of it. Imagine someone buying a DAC based on the fact that it supports 768k. It happens every day. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are actually people out there who will argue with you about this!
We call those people “Audiophiles.” They’re the ones who claim they can hear the grass growing.
But wait, there’s more!
The famous “Audio File” gag, used in my videos for quite a while. Updated file to come!
What is DSD?
DSD stands for Direct Stream Digital, a supposed high-resolution format that takes 1 single bit of information and samples it millions of times per second (2.8 million, 5.6 million, etc.)
WOAAH NELLY. STOP THE PRESSES!
In theory, this is supposed to result in better sound quality, but it’s a bit of a misnomer.
There are some important details worth knowing when making a comparison between DSD and a FLAC file, for example. The first is that DSD is not magically better than its rivals. A ‘standard’ DSD file- often referred to as DSD64 is roughly equivalent to a sample rate of 24/88.2kHz. ‘Double DSD’ or DSD128 samples that single bit of information 5.6 million times a second to give you a signal equivalent to 24/176.2kHz. Again, this is a sample rate that can be reproduced by formats that are not DSD. Higher rates exist but they are very, very rare. If anyone says that DSD is ‘better’ than other formats, the numbers don’t necessarily support that. Cambridge Audio
There you have it. Cambridge Audio put it more nicely and reader-friendly than I’m about to.
DSD is as close to a scam as it gets. F**k it, it is a scam. There, I said it.
The disgusting part about it is that seemingly every company and their brother now advertises their DAC kits with these ridiculous numbers that don’t mean jack sh**.
Trying to explain this to hard-headed people is really no different than trying to explain that JFK was shot from multiple angles, not by just one patsy in a window.
It’s common sense, which sadly, a lot of people lack.
If all those fancy numbers on the back of the box make you feel good, then, by all means, buy the DAC. That’s your prerogative.
I personally recommend Amps & DACS based on a few important things, and my readers and followers have always appreciated me for it. What people need to understand is that pretty much all Amps & DACS sound good. That isn’t the issue. “The chinaman isn’t the issue here dude.”
Your problem of which to choose can be solved by considering the following:
Features. What do you need the DAC to do? What do you need it to connect to? Do you plan on using it for console gaming? With your T.V.? With your phone? Desktop? Do you want a bass boost? Gain? All of these are important considerations to make.
Power Output. It’s useless to buy a DAC/Amp that won’t drive your headphones properly. Consider which headphones you already have, and which ones you may plan on purchasing down the road. Then check the power output specs of the product in question. There’s nothing worse than having a glorified paperweight sitting on your desk.
Output Impedance. The output impedance of an Amp specifically will determine mostly how it sounds. The DAC chip also plays a part, but I find that it’s a bit less of a determining factor. Higher output impedance means a warmer, more tube-like sound. Lower output impedance results in a neutral, true to the source representation of how your music will sound. Determine which is more suitable for YOU. Related:What is Output Impedance?
If you’re a newcomer to the hobby:
Stick to 24/44, 24/48, or 24/96 if you’re really feeling bold. Anything more than that is essentially useless from a scientific standpoint.
Don’t try and convince yourself that it’s better, because it’s not. It’s a placebo and nothing more.
It’s a way for your brain to try and justify spending more money or arriving at a conclusion that is supported by emotions rather than data. Sure, listening to music should always be an experience. I’ve been harping on the importance of it for what seems like an eternity now.
But in passing off opinion as fact, we delve into dangerous territory by making bold and extravagant claims that aren’t backed up by anything.
In my opinion, this is precisely what gave rise to the audiophile. A true audiophile should be passionate about music. That was the original intent. But it’s morphed into something totally different nowadays.
I will leave it at that for now.
If you are interested in a do-all, the G6 or K5 Pro are my 1-2 punch right now. For the shootout:
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.