PS Audio DirectStream DAC 2 USB DAC Page 2

For my listening sessions, I used the DAC with sources including an Apple MacBook running Roon via USB-B, and PS Audio's SACD Transport over I2S. With the former, I did occasionally note some 'pops and clicks' when switching between different file types (DSD64 to DSD128, for example). This is something that PS Audio says it is aware of and is working to fix via updates.

sqnote New Dimension
I've yet to hear a PS Audio component that didn't leave a lasting impression, the most recent being its mammoth BHK M600 monoblock [HFN Dec '22]. That amp combined a weighty presentation with rich tonality, and the DirectStream DAC MK2 ploughs a similar furrow. It's a superstar performer with a wonderfully balanced sound; treble is typically smooth and bass has depth and drama, but detail isn't obfuscated and soundstaging is clear and precise. It's all so achingly naturalistic that one track turns into two, turns into five, turns into an evening. No genre is off-limits, either, as the DAC works its magic to scrub up everything from rap to rock.

The dimensionality of the sound is what stunned me, though. Quite often I ended up with head cocked to one side and an inquisitive look. 'Lazarus', from David Bowie's Blackstar [Columbia/ISO/Sony Music, 96kHz/24-bit], showed a finely constructed image with exceptional depth, so that this electro-infused production arrived with layer and layer of sound behind Bowie's vocal. Similarly, Joe Walsh's 'Life's Been Good' [But Seriously, Folks…; Asylum Records, 44.1kHz/16-bit], while not as overtly mixed, still felt effortlessly three-dimensional.


Dual I2S on HDMI and USB-B (to 705.6kHz and DSD256) plus dual AES digital (to 352.8kHz and DSD) and optical/coax (to 96kHz and 192kHz) are joined by fixed/variable balanced/single-ended preamp outs on XLR/RCAs. Network is control only

True Grit
The portrayal of the instruments on these pieces was equally beguiling, sounding reverberant and distant on Bowie, focused and staccato on Walsh, until the dreamy ARP synth breakdown. Yet when there's snarling to be done, hard edges and grit to be found, the DirectStream DAC MK2 obliges. Billy F. Gibbons' 'My Lucky Card', from 2021's Hardware album [Concord Records, 96kHz/24-bit], came across as a stomping, dust-covered slab of southern-fried rock 'n' roll, the music surging forward atop a deep, cavernous backing of drums and electric bass, while the various tones used by Gibbons and co-guitarist Austin Hanks (fuzzy for the riffs, less biting for the bluesy solo) battled for my attention. Follow-up track 'She's On Fire' continues in the same vein (what else is to be expected from Gibbons, really?) only there's a bit more nuance to the production here, more presence to the bassline which the PS Audio DAC delivered.

By way of contrast, Kate Bush's 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes' [The Kick Inside; Rhino Records, 44.1kHz/24-bit] transformed the DirectStream DAC MK2 into smoothness personified, carrying her soprano voice high while unfurling the deeper, more resonant tones of the accompanying piano, cello and woodwind. It was all light and shade, delicate dynamics, gently decaying notes and a feeling of space.

This level of performance, which is easily commensurate with the DirectStream DAC MK2's price tag, clearly derives from very clever engineering and number-crunching, but I'd be lying if I said there was a hint of 'computer audio' to its sound. Even when it turned a CD-rip of Entombed's not-greatly-recorded Wolverine Blues [44.1kHz/16-bit] into something approaching beauty, with foot-tapping rhythms and a bass sound to die for, it managed to sound effortless and organic.

Golden Belt
That said, for a real performance trick, the DirectStream DAC MK2 merits some DSD material, where its sound appears to stretch further, extracting that final amount of air, detail and nuance. With Kim André Arnesen's 'Et Misericordia' from Magnificat [2L-106-SABD, DSD64], performed in Norway's Nidaros Cathedral by the Trondheim Soloists, the sweetness of the strings and vocals was matched by the way the music ebbed and flowed, before Arnesen's massed choir belts out the crescendo. As playback experiences go, it was singularly superb, run a close second by a fluid, dynamic portrayal of Britten's 'Variation On A Theme By Frank Bridge' by the same performers [Reflections; 2L-125-SABD, DSD256].


PS Audio's full system remote offers control over volume, mute, absolute phase and input selection for the DirectStream MK2

A word or two on bass. PS Audio's DAC absolute commands the low-end, and just as high-end detail doesn't journey into harshness, the low-end doesn't swamp the overall balance. There was subtlety in spades with the fretless bass on Antonio Forcione's 'Take Five' [Meet Me In London, Naim Label; 192kHz/24-bit], while Apashe's 'Lord And Master' [Renaissance; Kannibalen Records, 44.1kHz/16-bit], a bonkers mélange of orchestral and techno, segued from the fibrous analogue lows of its opening bars to bass effects and glitchy beats that jumped from the speakers.

A pick 'n' mix of perennial faves, including Budgie, Joni Mitchell, Public Enemy and Johnny Cash, reinforced the feeling that PS Audio's reimagined DirectStream is a DAC for all seasons, capturing the skill of the players, the time and place of the recordings, the timbre of the instruments. The coup de grâce, however, was a contemplative listen to Max Richter's 'On The Nature Of Daylight' [The Blue Notebooks; DG 483 5668]. This neoclassical piece has cropped up everywhere from Oscar-winning sci-fi film Arrival to HBO's The Last Of Us, and it's easy to see why, as this tug-at-the-heart-strings stuff is guaranteed to elicit an emotional response. Hearing it through PS Audio's DAC left me quivering. It really is that good.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Fans of PS Audio have long been asking about a successor to its DirectStream DAC, and this MK2 model was worth the wait. This builds on the custom code concept of its predecessor with across-the-board improvements, delivering – the sensitivity of some amps to its ultrasonic noise notwithstanding – a scintillating performance from whatever flavour of music and file you might choose to play.

PS Audio
Boulder, Colorado
Supplied by: Signature Audio Systems
07738 007776