OK, I hate being verbose, but!!!!!!!!
Lately we have a distraction in the audio technology desert. It seems there is much buzz on a new a new “hot topic” - DSD! Here is another technological development (or should we refer to it a modification of prior technology) which in a given set of circumstances causes extraordinary listener reverie and pleasure. If you have a DSD decoder, it's great. But to take advantage of it all, you must have a DSD encoded recording, of which there may be a few, few dozen or few hundred available.
Great! Let's be an early adopter! We could be like one of those early nineties toaster sized and temperature cell phone users that had 10 minutes battery time. That technology at least stuck because all of the hardware makers and telecom infrastructure guys were all on the page. They were lucky. Anybody have a Palm Pilot? Original Microsoft Tablet? Anybody still have My Space accounts? HD-DVD player?
Well, for the thirty five years or so I have been in the audio reproduction biz, there has been very little in the way of new technology. At least technology of any relevance. When I started, we had vinyl records, which are still around today. Compact Discs reared their head in the early 80s. This was software as we acquired it in the pre-downloading era. I had yards and yards of LPs and feet and feet of CDs. Oh, I forgot about reel to reel tape, two different forms of quadrophonic records, DAT (digital audio tape – It had 48KHz instead of 44.1KHz sampling rate! Huge improvement!), and HDCD! SACD still kinda hangs on, and it smells really bad; it seems nobody has bothered to tell it that it is dead. What do all of the dead or dying formats (tape, quadrophonic, DAT, SACD, HDCD) have in common?? Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of recordings NOT available. Funny how most people want to buy equipment to listen to lots of popular music, not necessarily the Flat Tire Wyoming String Quartet plays Alban Berg on original Appalachian handcrafted instruments.
Fast forward to the current era: iTunes, thousands of recordings living on anything from a palm sized case to a lap or desktop. Everybody now either steals or buys way more recordings than I ever had in my yards of lps or feet of cds. Cool! Decades of music mastered or remastered from or in analog, PCM 192/24, 44.1/16, mp3, aiff, flac, etc. etc. etc. Now we have DSD! If I read much of the press, I will be in audio paradise as soon as I get it! How about some Stones, Dire Straights, or Stan Getz........Oh, well – What about the iTunes store? Also no. Geez, I could go to some specialty guys to buy DSD converted mainstream stuff, but then I lose my DSD native recording advantage. There are a few specialty DSD guys offering a few special recordings. I hope no one who buys DSD hardware thinks the major musical content providers are all chanting and holding hands in their board meetings wondering how to provide nothing but the highest quality DSD recordings for the listening pleasure of their customers.
What's the point? D/A converters are part of system involved in the reproduction of music. If I am going to build them, that is ALL I have any control over. If there is to be a variety of software available, I have to adhere to existing standards of software and hardware connectivity, so to speak. Even if God appeared to me to tell me how to build the best sounding D/A converter ever, if it required all of the major content providers to gear up to my protocols and standards, the venture is doomed. A fairy tale.
So what is my experience? I have built a lot of D/A converters since 1985, not just for myself or my companies, but as a hired gun for other companies. I have no DSD axe to grind. It does have advantages and disadvantages compared to PCM, in my opinion. (See below) It is just that I believe the best of all possible worlds for current musical content results from new D/A converter technology combined with that which has not been offered in over a decade; this technology accepts content which is commonly available. Years ago I was labeled a heretic because I refused to incorporate HDCD technology into my DACs. I would (and will) do so when either HDCD or DSD content is made available for major releases. I don't build stuff anymore support the guy with tens of thousands worth of cans and amps and four recordings, all of which he hates. I do this because it is fun.
So for the record, and not to branded as an anti-DSD bigot, below are some brief technological comments re DSD vs. PCM.
DSD Advantages: jitter less relevant, anti-imaging, anti-aliasing filter artifact shifts to noise shaping filter artifacts. Far cheaper.
Disadvantages: Non closed form math solution noise shaping makes no missing code encode/decode theoretical at best, read nearly impossible. Also makes time domain optimization difficult/impossible. Couldn't reliably guide a missile with this technology, for example, without killing non-targets or innocents. It would seem this would not bode well for accurately encoding/decoding music. Recordings converted to DSD lose claimed DSD advantages when decoded on DSD machines.
Believe it or not, I hope that I am wrong. I would love to build a DSD converter and promise to do so when a significant amount of DSD natively encoded mainstream recordings are available. We shall see if I am still waiting when the next super whiz-bang notion hits the press......................................................MM