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PS Audio Huron OS climbs higher: to better sound, MQA, Tidal

  • Pikes Peak. Torreys Peak. Mount Yale. Colorado mountain summits that lend their name to successive firmware evolutions for PS Audio’s DirectStream DAC (reviewed here and here) and DirectStream Junior DAC (reviewed here) DAC, each designed and manufactured in Boulder.

    To recap briefly: the DirectStream and DSJ do it differently: digital input reception, data marshalling and – crucially – decoding are handled not by an off-the-shelf chip from the likes of ESS, AKM or TI but an FPGA loaded with code written by Hawaiian shirt enthusiast Ted Smith. And this code is field upgradable.

    Improvements made by Smith to his digital filters and data handling algorithms are rolled into updates and released to DirectStream/DSJ owners via a web download for installation via SD card or, in the case of DSJ, USB stick. Thus far we’ve seen Pikes Peak, Yale and Torreys. Summit names borrowed to connote PS Audio’s aim at peak performance levels.

    Today comes news of a fresh OS update: Huron is named after yet another Colorado mountain peak. This time out however PS Audio are talking revolution, not evolution, with the Boulder-based company claiming significant improvements to sonic and measured performance. Smith reportedly took a full year to recode the FPGA from scratch.

    From the Huron press release: “[Huron] now up-samples all inputs to 20x DSD, up from the previous 10x, allowing more extensive signal processing than ever before….”

    …which in turn…

    • “reduces jitter to the point where it is almost unmeasurable”
    • “lowers in-band noise by 3 dB”
    • “lowers ultrasonic noise by a staggering 18 dB, kept below the noise floor until 120 kHz”
    • “improves the perceived frequency response of both extremely low bass and very high treble”
    • “includes redesigned up-sampling filters to improve resolution and noise-floors on both PCM and DSD”

    What does this mean for the DirectStream/DSJ listener?

    The same press release claims blacker backgrounds, more precise instrument positioning, an uptick in perceived dynamic range, better spatial information, lower bass and (most welcome of all) extended treble reach. Download the update here. At time of writing, it’s DirectStream only. The DSJ update will go live “soon”.

    In the unlikely event that you don’t dig Huron’s sound, or you have a tendency to prefer ‘good old original’ over ‘new and improved’, you can roll the OS back to a previous version with ease. Pikes Peak, Torreys and Yale are archived here. Click the ‘Product Update Archives’ tab.

    However, before doing so, be advised that Huron lays the groundwork for a forthcoming software update to the Network Bridge II that will add support for MQA and Tidal.

    PS Audio’s Network Bridge II, built into the DSJ and a slide-in module for the DirectStream, will execute MQA decoding (full unfolding) and MQA rendering (DAC optimisation) – not the DAC itself. MQA’s digital signal optimisation is based upon Huron’s ‘fingerprint’ (to use Bob Stuart’s parlance) and is reportedly good for future filter updates introduced by Ted Smith and PS Audio CEO Paul McGowan.

    As it was with Roon Readiness, MQA support is a two-part deal: Network Bridge II and FPGA DAC. Let’s not twist our collective, audio-obsessed-selves into a knot over this just yet. You now know everything that I know. Further details will spill as soon as the Network Bridge II software update lands in a few weeks. The comments section below is therefore reserved for those who wish to comment on Huron’s sound quality.

    Further information: PS Audio

    [Feature photo credit: Robert Shepherd]

    John Darko

    Written by John 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. Huron on the Directstream is amazing. It’s superior to Torreys in every way, which was already fantastic. Better bass, incredible instrument separation, extended highs, PRaT and all that. And that’s just with Redbook files! It’s truly an amazing upgrade. And that’s not having listened to MQA yet on the Bridge! That will be interesting. I’m not sure how it’s going to be better than it is currently. Highly recommended.

    2. Cool! I’m hanging out for the Junior update now. As well as the sound improvements it’s fixing a few pesky bugs and adding some new features for the display and attenuator which will be very useful. Viva software updates!

    3. I spent 4 hours last night savoring the sonic beauty:

      • Improved treble management vs. Torrys
      • Better control of bass vs. Yale
      • Greater smoothness across the frequency spectrum
      • Less fatiguing than either Yale or Torrys
      • Good perception of air (despite the treble management)
      • Somewhat lower noise floor

      This is an important step forward for the product and for the company. The DS should have even broader appeal to the community, and should be more competitive with the most expensive DACs (e.g., $10,000 plus).

    4. Boy. Super tempting. Jr and appropriate amp ( Parasound a21, Bryston cubed? ) with LS50’s


      the actives?….

      Disregarding $$$, just on SQ? any experiences, besides John’s original post on actives vs full PS Audio stack?

      As a software guy, I love and “get” the free upgrades via better code. Both options support that, moreso the PS Audio i.e. not just the interface/streaming but SQ of the dac itself.

      I guess my thought is – once you go Kef Actives, you’re pretty much locked in – because you’d have to go buy a full rack of gear to try another transducer. That is some serious inertia to overcome… of course that might not be a bad thing!

    5. I cannot agree totally on that I do find detail is a bit better but not that much better and
      For the record Toriesis more analog sounding .this added detail comes at a cost in a neutral system
      It can be a bit too extended our audioget together we tried both new Huron ,and Torries
      To say it is better all system dependent out of 12 it was actually split only 2 direct stream owners .
      Which I think is fair to all.. Take it for what its worth pick 10 songs and try it on bothways.

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