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PS Audio DirectStream DAC MK2

10-13-2023 | By Dave Clark | Issue 129

"As good as it gets?"

I dunno know anymore. Every time we get something here to listen to, and possibly review, we sit there and think just that. Which of course, we thought that the last time… that it was as good as it could get, but now, this time, it is better than that, so this time it is as good as it can get… till the next piece drops into the system. And it will be even better!

Case in point, the latest top of the line DAC from PS Audio—the DirectStream DAC MK2 ($7999). Not going into the bits and minutiae of the DAC, for all that you can go HERE, but it is all new. I mean like… ALL new. Out with the old and let's redo the WHOLE piece. Bigger, better… plus new software too. A Massive update. Literally.

But let me digress here and say that we have owned and used the previous incarnation of the DirectStream DAC ($6899 with Bridge), the MK1, though it is only the MK1 because there is now the MK2. One of the best DACs out there, highly rated, and positively reviewed by pretty much everyone who reviewed it. We got one, reviewed it (HERE), loved it, bought it, and it has been a staple in our system ever since. No desire to listen to anything else as it checked off all our boxes—looks, build, sound, quality, firmware-based, affordable, and so on.

And at this point in our career of reviewing whatever, and being publishers/partners of the magazine, we tend to not to review all that often. Just not all that driven to listen to anything and everything. Meh. Tired. We are, though, interested in "updates" to whatever we own simply because… well, our system is as good as it gets. For now. And so if there is a new version of something we own and is in our system, bring it on. All ears.

So here we are with the DirectStream DAC MK2. Visually there is a slight difference in the display and perhaps on the rear, but other than that, same family in terms of appearance. PS Audio has dumped the option of the DAC being seen or used as a network DAC, that being the absence of the Bridge for Ethernet connection. There is, though, an Ethernet port, but no mention what it does other than there is a port to connect to the network. Of which, once connected, the DAC does not appear on the network so not sure what gives here. Am thinking future options?

Either way, the DirectStream DAC MK2 offers the end user pretty much everything else in terms of inputs, outputs, sampling, being updateable via software/firmware, circuitry, design, build, etc.

But to beg the questions, is it better? Or is it just different? Or a better different? Than the older DirectStream DAC… which is all we can offer.

The answers are… Yes. Yes. And yes. If you loved the older DirectStream DAC, you are going to love the newer one even more.

The DirectStream DAC MK2 goes deeper with a way more solid feel to the bottom end. Great solidity and punch. Tight, but effortless. Massive in a way. Big. Bold. Which is important to us as much of what we listen to has a bottom end that is integral to the music. That is, if it is lacking in some way, then there goes the engagement.  

Not lacking here at all. We thought that with the last update to the older DirectStream DAC it couldn't get any better. Yeah no. The DirectStream DAC MK2 goes so much further, with so much more engagement—check that box off.

Detail and resolution? Soundstage? Separation? Years of being a reviewer and years of trying whatever to lower the noise floor have revealed that, other than boosting something—which only creates the sense of there being more of whatever—you must address noise in the signal to get more music.

Less crap obstructing the music simply gets you more detail, resolution, a greater defined and realized soundstage, greater separation of instruments or whatever, all the stuff that gets you more music. More realized music. You hear more of whatever your music should sound like. But without hyping whatever to make it seem that you are getting more of this and less of that. Too often we have sat and heard a system that was tilted in one way or another, where you heard more of this and less of that. One that people loved for its resolution and detail… or musicality. Well yeah, being colored and all, so what do you expect? But if that is what you are after or what works with your music, all good. You do you.

The DirectStream DAC MK2 does us. It does what we want without the crap getting in the way. PS Audio has gone to great measures to filter out or eliminate noise and contamination that can, and will, get in the way of the music. Clean, but not mean. No hype. Cold and analytical? Not in the least. All just very natural. Very musically balanced. Wonderful articulation and presence. Are we hearing our music differently? As if a different mix or remaster that is of actual benefit? Yeah. Perhaps not as much as was realized with the Ansuz PowerSwitch D2 (HERE), but yeah… like that. Kinda depends on where the noise is and how much resides there.

Lower the noise floor and you hear more of what is there. Lower the noise floor and you hear less of what you hear as glare, grit, hardness. You can listen longer. You are more engaged and will hear your music differently. It will sound differently than before. Simply because you hear more of what is there.

Of course, one can measure ten DACs and they all come out flat. Same with amplifiers, preamplifiers, etc., but they won't all sound the same. Some might sound bright or dull. Lean or full. Some might take on the personality of their designers... brash and forward, or soft and polite. 

All about what the designer is after? What they hear? Or how they hear? Their choice in music and the rest of the system they use to "voice" their products? For sure the DirectStream DAC MK2 reflects the people at PS Audio and especially Ted Smith, who writes the firmware/software that has a major role in how the DirectStream DAC MK2 sounds. Of which, sounds neither bright, dull, rolled off, hyped, lean... sounds like what we want our music to sound like. Wait... come to think of it, the DirectStream DAC MK2 sounds like Ted; humble, honest, and truthful, all the while being playful and fun. Full of color and joy.

And as I noted above, the newer version just builds on the sound and performance of the older version. It doesn't cast aside the older DAC for something different, no, the two have more in common sonically and musically than their differences.

Am thinking that there was only so far they could go with the firmware/software till a whole new design was needed. Did they reach a wall here? Maybe. Am thinking that "what or where" they wanted to go was limited by the basic design and components. Let's come up with a completely new DAC and then write the firmware/software to utilize or maximize all that.

Quibbles? We both preferred the older screen as it was easier to see what was what. The newer smaller screen requires one getting fairly close to see what is going on. Also we tend to get lost in the various actions required to move through the options. Pretty much, "How did we get here?" and "How do we go back there?" sort of thing. Wishing there was an interface via an app, but then... more money. But then there is the Ethernet connection...  maybe in the future. AURALiC has one for their streamers and that makes everything so much easier.

We did try the various choices offered, like lifting the ground and power for the USB set to off or on. Got nothing. If it changed anything, heck if we heard any improvement or whatever. Does that mean we are loosing it or that our system is rather immune to these things? Probably a bit of both. Obviously this will be system dependent. Having issues, here are some options to help. 

Not sure what else to say or add here… the DirectStream DAC MK2 is a major improvement over the older version. While it retains the basic sound or character of the older DAC, it goes further in all the areas that have an impact on one's music. One's engagement and enjoyment. Not hearing anything that is an issue or have we had any issues with the DAC. Been on 24/7 for the past two months with zero problems. Kudos to the PS Audio team! A clear winner. Our older DAC is going to our son and the DirectStream DAC MK2 is taking its place. Meaning we are putting our money down.

Oh, wait. Am thinking that I might have skipped some things. Like you are thinking… what did you listen to and perhaps how it sounds with Hi-Res music?

I played our files from a NAS via the AURALiC Aries G2 via USB to the DirectStream DAC MK2. The files are various 16/44.1 .flac, aiff, .wav, etc. Mainly punk, post rock, alternative, electronic, ambient, and noise stuff that we like. We have a PF playlist on Qobuz that pretty much covers the various genres and artists, go check that out. But not going to list them as it is just too many different artists—most you might not have ever heard of or care to listen to for that matter. No "traditional" jazz or classical, no female vocals, etc. We come from a different place musically than the vast majority of audiophiles, meaning literally zero "audiophile" titles or artists and no Hi-Res either, as none of the music we listen to is released other than 16/44.1. So, no idea how it will sound with DSD or 24/192. Don't have any to try, and even if we did, no idea what it sounds like.

Hey wait a minute… actually we have no idea how any of our music should sound like,  just how it sounds to us here. And with the DirectStream DAC MK2 it is sounding as good as it gets. And at our age and all, probably as good as it ever will get. Meaning that the DirectStream DAC MK2 is probably the end of the road for us. We had the older one for some eight years and being upgradeable via the firmware/software, am thinking that it will be another eight years with this version. At that point in our lives… yeah, we good.

Anyhow... highest recommendation.