Two years ago PS Audio made a bold statement in the DAC world with the release of the universally hailed and much awarded DirectStream DSD DAC. The DirectStream converts all inputs to one-bit DSD and then up converts to 10X DSD before finishing the conversion at Double DSD or DSD128. The DirectStream is the brainchild of engineer Ted Smith and utilizes the Spartan 6 FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) rather than commercial DAC chips. As is often the case in the world of audio, groundbreaking is both exciting and pricey.
Cost conscious consumers wondered if a more affordable unit would ever surface. The answer to that question is a resounding Yes! 2016 saw the introduction of the DirectStream Jr (DSJ) DSD DAC. The DSJ incorporates the same Spartan 6 FPGA approach as its more expensive big brother in a smaller, less costly package. Differences between units include the touchscreen being replaced by an OLED display with a haptic feedback volume control. The chassis itself is also a less expensive to produce. The DSJ has a single power transformer eschewing the additional audio output transformer. The DSJ remains a full featured Pre-amp like its big brother. The RCA and XLR outputs allow it to connect directly to an external amplifier for a two channel system. One final significant touch was the inclusion of the Ethernet bridge within the unit rather than offering the bridge as an extra cost add-on board as with the DirectStream. The end result is a striking industrial design with exceptional audio chops at a more than 40% discount to its fully loaded big brother.
Speaking of the Ethernet bridge, the DSJ allows you to source files from anywhere within your home local network or stream via TIDAL. This is especially useful when using Roon to curate your music. The DSJ is fully Roon capable now and with it, the transition between file types or resolutions is immediate and free from any noticeable delay or drama. Songs simply play from one to another regardless of whether they are local or online, FLAC or mp3, 16/44.1 or 24/192, DSD64 or DSD128. They all get treated to the same up-conversion and the results are terrific, pure double DSD in fully balanced analogue glory.
All this keeps getting better and better, but what most excites the more frugal high-end audiophile is the DSJ also allows for routine software updates that continue to refine the sonic signature via free downloads. Yes, you can reprogram the FPGA over time to stay current with the best programming available from PS Audio as well as to improve future functionality, such as the most recent addition of a Roon endpoint. Why is this my favorite aspect of the DSJ? Because of all the audio components we can choose from DAC’s are the single most likely to be outdated the fastest. Fancy cutting edge units are old school tech in a year or two. A solid amplifier or preamp can be spectacular for a decade or more, but DAC’s... not so much. With the DirectStream and now with the DSJ, I can invest with some fiscal confidence that my envy-inducing unit will not be a future low value for sale item. When the DSJ arrived at my home it did not have Roon. A week later I get an e-mail to upgrade the firmware. Voila! Roon as well as even better sound quality after a brief five-minute reprogram. Peace of mind along with great audio!