Direct Stream Digital (DSD)
Let’s start with a look at Direct Stream Digital or DSD. DSD is an audio format developed by Sony and Philips in the late 1990s to archive analog tapes then owned by the music divisions of both of these companies (Philips later sold their music division to Universal Music) and to record new music in a very high quality, analog-like digital format (DSD).
The single rate version of DSD (also known as DSD 64) also was used as the music storage format on Super Audio CD (SACD) optical discs that featured music in Stereo and in some cases Multichannel DSD in the late 1990s. Later, equipment that allowed music to be recorded and released in higher DSD bit rates (double rate DSD or DSD 128 and quad rate DSD or DSD 256) became available. These later systems are what allows recording artists, producers and engineers to bring you music at these higher bit rates with DSD music downloads. (These DSD 128 and DSD 256 files are too large to fit on an SACD optical disc, so they remain a unique option for music downloads).
Provenance: The Origins of Music at NativeDSD
In 2013, we thoroughly explored the question of what types of recordings to offer at NativeDSD Music. It was decided to offer albums that were recorded in Analog, DSD and DXD, but not low bit rate PCM (24 bit, 192 kHz and below). This insures that the listener enjoys music recorded at the highest possible quality with today’s technology.
There is a lot of talk today about provenance or the origins of music downloads. At NativeDSD, we take this very seriously. Every album on the NativeDSD Music web site has a “Tech Specs” tab that lists the recording history of that album (Producer, Recording Engineer, Location, Sampling Frequency – Analog, DSD, DXD, Analog to Digital Converters used, DSD software used, etc.). The information is as detailed as we can give it to you based on the submittals from our over 70 record label partners.
What you will learn through this information is that there are several paths to a NativeDSD music download:
Analog to DSD – Analog recordings transferred to DSD, without intermediate conversion and editing in PCM, using DSD converters and software. Examples of these recordings on NativeDSD include labels like 2xHD, High Definition Tape Transfers, Wilson Audiophile, Magenetic Fidelity, FWRL and selected Analog to DSD releases from Yarlung and Fone.
Pure DSD – Recordings of small ensembles, mixed on Analog and DSD systems directly with no post-processing. Examples of these recordings would be the Just Listen releases 8 Ensembles in 1 Bit and Raizes which were mixed live via an Analog console and then recorded to DSD 256fs for release.
DSD Recording, DXD Edited – Recordings made in DSD that are edited in DXD. The editing can be simple edit points where portions of different musical takes are joined together (the conversion point involves a DXD conversion but the actual takes remain in DSD). In other cases, where rebalancing and post-production are needed (such as a full orchestral performance) the entire musical selection is converted to DXD for balancing, post-production and editing.
DXD Recordings – Recordings made and edited in DXD and then released in DSD and DXD.
What is DXD?
DXD or Digital eXtreme Definition is historically a post-production process developed by Philips and used by Merging Technologies to enable editing and post-production of DSD recordings. In the past several years it has also been implemented as a deliverable audio format.
DXD is very high bit rate PCM audio (352.8KHz 24 or 32 bit) that we believe is the best and least destructive format for post processing DSD originated digital recordings using the technology in workstations available today. Unless mixing and balancing are performed in analog prior to digitizing (as with an Analog to DSD or DSD Pure recording), post processing is a requirement of a multi-microphone recording session, particularly of large ensembles. Most new DSD recordings released today are made with multiple microphones that are digitally recorded, then level balanced and mixed in DXD during post production, yielding a DXD edited master. That’s then followed by converting back to DSD for consumer delivery.
Read more about DXD here.
Ultimately, You Decide!
The merits of DSD are great, regardless of bit rate. As technology moves forward, opportunities arise to advance the state of the recording and playback art, and that’s what the higher DSD bit rates (DSD 128fs and DSD 256fs) allow. It’s for each listener to say when they are satisfied with their sound quality results.
As a recording producer or engineer, we believe it’s always never good enough. That’s one of the reasons NativeDSD goes to the effort of offering all three DSD bit rates to listeners, as well as the original edited DXD masters for those projects of which we have these files.
It’s ultimately the listener’s decision to choose what’s best. The deciding factor is your playback system’s capabilities combined with the listening environment and your ears. It is our experience that listening to an album from NativeDSD at the highest DSD bit rate that your DAC supports is the best sounding. When you buy high bit rate DSD editions of albums on NativeDSD (DSD 256 or DSD 128), you can make use of the lower bit rate DSD editions when you have an active NativeDSD Plus subscription for your listening convenience (e.g. a portable/other DAC) and comparisons.
We invite you to experiment with the different versions of music (DSD 64fs, DSD 128fs, DSD 256fs, DXD) to understand why one may sound better on your audio system than the other.