Buy a high-end DAC and chances are it will be built around an off-the-shelf DAC chip from ESS, Wolfson, AKM or Cirrus Logic. Some DAC box manufacturers give us access to on-chip digital filters (or their own) that fine-tune the sound in the same way that a sprinkling of pepper seasons a meal. But the DAC’s sound (the meal itself!) will be fixed for its lifetime. When the upgrade itch strikes, we must look to another DAC.
Not so with PS Audio and their DirectStream DAC where an FPGA running operating system code, written by Chef Ted Smith, serves as a precursor to the unit’s DSD-decoding output stage and is field updatable. This DAC meal recipe – improved ingredients and preparation processes – is this week being re-written by Smith’s Windom update, coming to the PS Audio download page later today (October 2nd). So no, I’ve not heard it.
Existing DirectStream owners can decide for themselves on Windom’s audible improvements. Windom installation is executed by the end-user by writing the downloaded update to an SD card, inserting it into the rear of the DirectStream and rebooting.
The press release’s promises are as follows:
“Windom reveals richness and natural detail within the music at levels formerly unattainable in any digital to analog converter we have auditioned. With its improved retrieval of reverb and ambience, Windom communicates with a glorious sense of openness and effortlessness, adding a sense of immediacy and ‘rightness’ without sacrificing honesty or transparency.”
“While developing the architecture of his ultimate DAC, the Ted Smith Signature DAC (TSS), Ted learned ways of moving functions from noisier FPGA resources to quieter ones, and restructuring memory allocations. The result is an even lower digital noise-floor with these benefits:
- Playback at high volume levels is clearer and cleaner than ever before;
- Soundstage is even better-defined due to increased channel separation and lower noise, providing a clearer, deeper image of hall acoustics and decay times;
- Overall “sound picture” is more 3-D, more realistic;
- Bass is significantly more impactful and better-defined than with any previous OS.”
That’s the news but what’s the story?
I have previously stated that the Direct Stream’s richer – and sometimes softer – sound echoes that of native DSD files decoded by other hardware. That makes it the goto decoder for someone taking their first leap from a high-end vinyl rig to digital.
Further, Windom is the eleventh firmware update for the DirectStream since its launch five years ago. And all arrive free of charge. That makes it the goto decoder for those who like to tinker; or those whose upgrade itch strikes hard and often.
For many of us, upgrades are as much about hearing something different as they are about hearing something better. Previous DirectStream firmware ‘recipes’ are archived on that same download page for those who wish to spend their weekend going back and forth.
And it sounds like PS Audio and Chef Smith aren’t done yet. The final word goes to the Windom press release “As always, PS Audio and Ted Smith will continue to develop even better “mountaintops” for these DACs, ensuring that they will be better than when they were new—and never become obsolete.”
Further information: PS Audio