It's been a little over a year since PS Audio's DirectStream Junior DAC landed in the Tune Saloon. I gave it a well-deserved two-thumbs up in my PF review, HERE. Since that time, DS Junior been the primary source for my digital audio system.
The beating heart of the DSJ (and big bro DirectStream), is its custom Field Programmable Gate Array. The architect of the FPGA and its operating system, is engineer, Ted Smith. He spent a year of his life sweating ones and zeros to provide DirectStream owners with this new code. And it's good. Really good. It only took a few minutes to realize the improvement of Huron is beyond anything I could have expected.
As has been PS Audio's convention, Huron is named for one of Colorado's 53 Fourteener's (mountains at least 14,ooo feet in elevation). Supplanting the high altitude excellence of Torreys, Huron's performance climbs even further into rarefied digital audio air.
A summary of the technical innovations per PS Audio's Press Release:
"...the new Huron OS...now upsamples all inputs to 20x DSD, up from the previous 10x, allowing more extensive signal processing than ever before. Ted is both modest and very literal and dismisses the term "revolutionary" as applied to his latest creation, Huron. But consider...
- reduces jitter to the point where it is almost unmeasurable;
- lowers in-band noise by 3dB;
- lowers ultrasonic noise by a staggering 18 dB, kept below the noise floor until 120kHz;
- improves the perceived frequency response of both extremely low bass and very high treble;
- includes redesigned upsampling filters to improve resolution and noise-floors on both PCM and DSD."
Read the full Press Release HERE.
The dusty proof that Huron has arrived!
So What's the Buzz?
There are some operational improvements to the display and volume control, but it's the sound of Huron that excited me. The first thing I noticed is the well-deep bass. Torreys had wonderful, musical bass, but the power and depth of the lowest notes are so improved that I had to reset the levels on my REL Strata II subwoofer to compensate for Huron's subterranean ability. Lowering noise has blackened the background considerably, and in turn, resolution has improved. String plucks, cymbal strikes, and hammers hitting piano strings explode with a new expressiveness that adds realism. Separation is wonderful, and individual instruments are easier to pick out of the inky blackness. Layering of instruments and voices—already a DSJ hallmark—are even better. Reproduction of all digital files, not just hi-rez or DSD, are more enjoyable than the best previously served up in the Tune Saloon. And that was the DSJ with Torreys OS.
Mo' is Better
Stage width and depth are noticeably better (they were already excellent). Detail retrieval is better too. Bass and treble performance? Ah, much, much better. Tonality is somehow even lovelier; and the timbre of a well-recorded piano note or guitar pluck frequently draws a silent "wow" from my lips. Attack and decay are better, in turn improving dynamic contrast to waaaay better.
Slathering so much better on the musical bread makes for delightfully delicious listening!
There is a minor downside: All this additional resolution and detail does show the warts on a few more recordings. But even as there are moments that remind not all recordings are created equal, the vast majority, including my large collection of old Redbook rock; sound better than ever with Huron.
The Difference Maker
To me, one of the defining attributes of a fabulous high-end audio system is its ability to expose the differences in every recording. I think the DirectStream Junior running Huron is just such a difference-making component, and while I enjoy listening to nearly every recording I own, every so often I'll have a special listening experience. One recording that found itself wrapped around me recently was James Taylor's October Road. Bass was solidly fantastic. Taylor's finger-picking stunningly real. Horns were punchy, brassy, and liquid. No longer in the background, the backup singers were a highly resolved part of the whole. But as always, it was JT's gold-tinged tenor that stole the show. I've never heard this album sound better.
Just the Beginning?
Even though Huron is technically superior to Torreys, it is somehow more than just numbers and lines of code: Huron has even more musical soul. I've spent hundreds of dollars on upgrades that don't even spit in the eye of the improvement this free Operating System upgrade provides. It is not just "like a new DAC", it is a new DAC.
In the near future, those of us that use the DSJ's built-in Bridge II network card, will enjoy yet another exciting new feature. PS Audio's Dennis Kerrisk, is currently working on a software update that will allow it to decode MQA when used with Huron OS.
My ball cap is off to the entire team at PS Audio for their continued development of the DirectStream and DirectStream Junior DAC's. I don't know how many more 14er's PSA will conquer, but if Mr. Smith played for the Rockies, he'd have just hit a 14,012 foot home run with Huron. It certainly makes my decision to have purchased the DSJ, a very smart move.
Keep on swingin' for the fence, Ted.
(7-8-17 Correction: Apparently, my source for the elevation of Mt. Huron was incorrect. It is actually fourteen thousand and three feet...That is still a very long home run! glb)