DSD - The Next Big Thing?

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At the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest several manufacturers displayed new Digital Audio Converters (DACs) that had support for DSD. What is DSD and why should anyone care?

DSD stands for Direct Stream Digital, which is a recording methodology developed by Sony and used for SACD recordings. DSD is also used as a two-channel recording format. Both Tascam (the DV-RA1000) and Korg (the MR-100, MR-1000, and DMR-2000) make recorders that can record in DSD formats. For the last half-decade quite a few engineers have been using DSD recorders instead of high-speed tape recorders for their final mix-downs. The advantages of DSD for this application are two-fold. First DSD is a more neutral and less colored (no tape-scrape flutter) than analog tape. Secondly a DSD file can be easily transformed into a PCM file without any decimation correction required. That means the DSD master can generate 44.1k, 48k, 88.1k, 96k, 176.4k, or 192k PCM files with no complicated mathematical conversions or dithering, making the final stages of mastering easier and less problematic.

Some recording labels such as Blue Coast Records and 2L have been making DSD recordings for years, but recently Blue Coast has been making DSD versions of some of their work available for download.

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I suspect that some audiophiles might even think that these audiophile releases are driving manufacturers to release DACs that support the DSD format, but I suspect that is not the case. All the manufacturers who showed new DSD-capable DACs at RMAF are "prosumer" companies who make crossover products for both the pro-audio and audiophile markets. Given the size of the audiophile verses the pro market, and where these DACs are getting the most promotional push (pro audio rather than consumer publications) the audiophile world is an afterthought, not a primary market.

Obviously, anyone who makes their own recordings DSD recordings, which would be anyone who owns one of the Tascam or Korg recorders I mentioned earlier, has a need for a playback device other than the recorder itself. The new DACs from Benchmark, Lynx, and Mytek, all support 2.8 MHz or 64X DSD playback from computer music files, but none so far support the higher 5.6 MHz or 128x DSD format. Hopefully that will soon follow...

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