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PS Audio to ‘rescue’ PCM with DirectStream PerfectWave DAC

  • PerfectStorm. I recall one reviewer praising PS Audio’s MKII PerfectWave DAC with not only superlatives but by claiming that it contrasted the MKI as sounding ‘broken’. Hmmmm – not so sure I agree there. The MKII PWD is better than the original model, yes, but it doesn’t render the MKI redundant. If you own one, you should continue to enjoy it – it’s still a great DAC! Trashing an older model isn’t a way to win people over – it alienates them through fear of missing out.


    Audiophile anxiety is then amplified further by questions like, “What if PS Audio introduce a MKIII?”. Well, that moment has arrived.  Get ready for some serious FOMO.

    PS Audio this week have formally announced their soon-to-be-released PerfectWave DirectStream DAC. This new model is more radical overhaul than incremental revision.


    The DirectStream press release is subtitled: “PS Audio’s DirectStream DAC Exposes Major PCM Cover-up”. Dramatic stuff! The release also makes some fairly bold claims about this new model’s ability to set PCM free, to dig up hitherto unexposed details and (spatial) cues from your existing digital audio library. Whilst such claims remain unverifiable until I get my hands on a review unit – yes, Paul McGowan is sending me one – I heartily endorse this focus on existing PCM content, especially ye olde Redbook. Ironically, PS Audio are using DSD to do it.

    “DirectStream is the result of lead designer Ted Smith’s decade-long obsession with DSD, the first in a field of one: a DAC so radical that it will show how most other DACs on the market are…well, broken. How so?”

    Broken huh? Who says Americans don’t ‘get’ irony?  Of course they do.

    No mind, let’s continue.

    All inputs on the DirectStream DAC are first converted to 10 x DSD after which a field programmable gate array (FPGA) processes the signal to 1 bit DSD. Apparently, a FPGA was chosen for its ability to dissipate large amounts of heat whilst handling intensive levels of signal processing.

    PS Audio are also proud of the DirectStream’s simple signal path:


    DirectStream designer Ted Smith explains:

    “The choice of a FPGA over a DAC chip was easy. FPGA’s allow as much or little full width math to be used as we need. Unlike typical small DAC chips, we’re not limited by the heat needed for intensive upsampling and other processing duties. We use more power and physical area to dissipate heat without conflicting with other functions on the board, most of all the analog output.

    The Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA allows complete freedom of processing power and clock choices: our design runs the input processing at 170MHz, the oversampling at 56MHz, and the output at 5.6MHz.”

    With data then in bitstream format a discrete conversion is applied. No traditional DAC chips are used.

    You can see Ted Smith discussing Why Jitter Matters here:

    …and his DirectStream white paper can be found here.

    The PerfectWave DirectStream will sell for US$5995 and will ship in April 2014.  Australian pricing TBA.

    PS Audio will provide an upgrade program for all PerfectWave DAC owners to convert their existing units to the new DirectStream standard…so that they no longer sound ‘broken’. 😉

    Further information:  PS Audio

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Ok here we go, another DAC du jour! I have no problem with that concept, and I love the progress that has been made with digital, especially with transforming the way our lowly CD’s can perform. I’m enjoying the same with my $185 iFi iDSD. It ‘oversamples’ redbook to 32/384, or I can have JRiver upsample to DSD and play it native on the iDSD. The question becomes – is it worth $5000 to hear redbook oversampled to DSD, when there will probably be many more $200 DAC’s/$50 software down the pike that could possibly do it just as well. I have much respect for PS Audio, but I will probably never own one due to the high prices.

      • Nope – they’re just pitching to a different market segment occupied by AMR and the like.

    2. True – there will ALWAYS be those that will spend the coin on the the name, and the best of the best. Nothing wrong with that. Those kind of folks keeps us poor slobs alive with the trickle down! Wherever you have a $5-10K piece of kit out there that has gained a certain popularity and success, there will be those that will try to best it for much less. That’s not an easy thing to do without pure theft of ideas etc (China). Not saying thats a good thing. It does encourage innovation.

    3. Dear John,
      This approach by PSaudio matches somehow with an almost ‘mindblowing’ experiment which I did with my NAD C390DD last week…
      You might remember my earlier comments and search for THE holy grail in digital audio transfer.. Hoping for à smart I2s to I2s architecture etc.
      Well, it happened when I decided to audition my CD player via SPDIF for the first time.. but I connected it to my Canare step up transformer ( 75 Ohm unbalanced SPDIF to 110 Ohm balanced) in this way imam able to listen to CD .wave files 16/44 format via the transformer connected to the AES/EBU input of the NAD C390DD…
      When the first music tones flowed into my listening space, I was immediately aware that something in the performance was changed Fundamentally..! And withoute à doubt iT was an enourmous improvement!
      I have been following. Paul mcgowan’s (PS audio) post with great interest as well. And I have to admit that hè is à master in hiding his ‘easter eggs’ and I like the way hè is promotions his technology very much. But you are right, 6000,- USD is a different market segment.
      But coming back to my personal Discovery and finding an easter egg in my won chain, was like a dream come true…;-)
      I suppose that during the transforming proces, the jitter is neutralised massively which makes the upsampling to 35/180Mhz by the DDFA chip much easier. Annoteer positieve aspect of the Canare transformer is that galvanic isolation of the signal is archieven as Well. And las but not. least: The upgrade Coster me 25,- euro……;-))
      Please take time to reproduce this trick. I am sure you will be flabbergasted.
      All the best,
      – Peter –

    4. Is this the Canare BJC-XP-TRC? If you get a chance to try the Neutrik NADITBNC-MX I am sure you’ll find it even better. I own both and clearly prefer the Neutrik between CD player or Squeezebox Touch and AES/EBU input of my D-Premier.

      • Thanks for the advise Olav, I will try to get hold on the neutrik and will provide feedback. For me this trick to apply a S/PDIF to AES/EBU converter is a hugely underrated upgrade which enhances the performance of probabably all DAC’s and powerdacs. It surprises me why the many self acclaimed audio experts and journalists do not take a critical and objective look into this. I suspect there are commercially driven reasons not to disclose this… It might kill the USB driven cable market…or am I exagerating a bit here?

        • Peter – my hitherto reluctance to look into whatever it is you claim isn’t controlled by ghosts in the machine or commercial considerations, it’s purely lack of time. I offered to publish your findings as a guest contributor but your efforts stalled midway through our email discussion in June of last year. (Remember, you were going to subdivide it into three parts?) My offer still stands.

          In the meantime, I hope we can keep the discussion reasonably tight to PS Audio’s new DAC.

          • Hi John,
            My apologies, you are correct.
            I appreciate your feedback and respect your comment that you cannot test every new idea or findings your readers catch up.
            I will proceed with further tests and get back to you later by e-mail

    5. Interesting, I owned Version 1 of this DAC in the Streaming Bridge Version, was quite nice, but had to sold it finally as PS Audio really struggled with the software, one issue after other, I can remember the infinite forum discussions around “gapless playback”. Hopefully the FPGA firmware is not on the same “level”.

      • “Interesting, I owned Version 1 of this DAC in the Streaming Bridge Version, was quite nice, but had to sold it finally as PS Audio really struggled with the software, one issue after other, I can remember the infinite forum discussions around “gapless playback”. Hopefully the FPGA firmware is not on the same “level”.

        I have to agree with Adrian on this; as a current owner of a PWD MkI, I have to use third-party software on both the NAS and the iOS device to control the PWD.. For $5k-$6k this shouldn’t this be unacceptable? I hope PSA has found an inhouse software solution to the new streamer. thoughts?

    KIH #6: (Over)-loading the room

    #nowplaying Banco De Gaia – Maya (20th Anniversary Edition)