DAC's DSD conversions (on the fly)

A question from a listener inspired this article

Brian Moura avatar
Written by Brian Moura
Updated over a week ago

Question from a listener

I read an article recently that quoted Charles Hansen (if I remember correctly) of Ayre as saying (and I paraphrase him):

"I (Hansen) don't like DSD conversion in DACs because in 99% of DACS the DSD file gets, first, converted to PCM and, then, converted to analog audio. I think that the conversion from DSD to PCM should be done on the host computer, not the DAC."

So, is it true that most DACs do NOT directly convert DSD files, but first do an intermediate conversion to PCM? If some do and some don't, which DACs have separate direct conversion for PCM and DSD?

If this is a significant issue, perhaps you could post a list on your website. I have a Mytek DSD DAC, which I hope has separate conversion. :)

Thank you, Michael Graber

Answer from Native DSD's Technical Advisor: Brian Moura

I’ve heard comments like that from some in the audio industry that are very active in the PCM DAC market. There are some DACs that do a DSD to PCM conversion – in some cases very much on purpose. But the number of such DACs that operate like that today is far less than “99%”. 

It’s also worth noting that more and more DAC models and audio companies are offering or moving towards separate conversion sections for DSD and PCM. And in some cases, not offering PCM conversion at all (like Lampizator’s new DSD DAC) ! 

As to doing the conversions on the PC, some music fans talk about that so they can use specific music download player software – like HQ Player – which offers a large number of conversion options not present on a DAC. In other instances, like the Sony HAP-Z1ES Music Server, the server + DAC has hardware PCM to DSD conversion built in – so there is no need to buy software to play the music downloads at all. I’ve tried both ways and don’t have a strong recommendation in that area. Both approaches have their pros and cons. 

The Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC is highly regarded – both in the audio world and in the recording studio setting. It is a very good value for what you get. You’ll have good results using it with DSD music downloads. 


Returned answer from Michael:

After I read the reference to the Lampizator DSD DAC, I looked up reviews of this DAC. The passive DSD stage sounds really interesting. It is the first time I have seen any reference to this type of DAC. I hope that it can be developed into something more user-friendly. The reviews said that you had to go to Mute between DSD selections, to avoid loud pops. Also, the DAC would not run on Foobar and was difficult to set up on JRiver. (I have both.)

DSD seems to be the way to go. :)

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