What has struck me sonically about the DSJ and its fully balanced analog output is that regardless of what type I file I queue up I get an almost identical superior sound from my system. After listening to a variety of music while burning in the unit, I began to become aware that it did not seem to matter what I played; certain things that I had just accepted would be part of digital playback were no longer there. Edginess seemed to go away. Harshness was noticeably reduced. Intriguing. I began to seek out comparisons to see if I was actually hearing (or not hearing) what I thought I was.
One example was the ubiquitous audiophile album, Just a Little Lovin by Shelby Lynne [Lost Highway Records]. I listened first to the iTunes 16/44.1 download. Generally, when played on a DAC constructed using the ‘usual suspect’ chips there would be a noticeable edge that was present particularly on the drum kit. The shimmer of the high hat would have a harshness that reduced the sonics from the desired “off to forever” to a more mundane limited space. Shelby’s voice would not have that purity which makes female vocals so marvelous. Upon starting the iTunes file, I sat back and after a few seconds I was wondering if I had clicked on the DSD64 file. Indeed, it was the low res mp3 playing. Remarkable! I let the song finish and then played the DSD64 file. The files were nearly indistinguishable. For the first time I had actually enjoyed the lower-res version without accepting the previously inevitable sound quality compromises. At this point a real acid test was called for. I put the 200gm vinyl LP version on the turntable and sat back. The sonic signature was astonishingly close to the output from the DSJ! The differences I would call more variations of character rather than digital vs analogue – similar to changing phono cartridges rather than CD vs vinyl. How long have we been waiting for this? What had we paid for a DAC to come to this level prior to the DSJ? Truly a lower cost watershed moment for my library of digitised audio.
Looking through the library, I began to seek out a previous problem child. Men at Work’s Business as Usual was released in late 1981 and I bought the CD [CBS/Columbia] in 1983. ‘Who Can it be Now’ was a top hit that I still enjoy today. The CD version, however, was harsh at best. The tenor saxophone was very susceptible to excessive grain and even some ringing, not the wonderful bell-like reed-through-metal-rasp that so personifies that instrument. I first played the CD and was reintroduced to a favorite song presented in its remembered unfortunate guise. Then I played the CD rip via the DSJ. It was a noticeable improvement. I doubt short of the master tapes you could receive perfection, (something about lipstick on a pig?) However, it was the best quality of presentation I had ever heard of an old favourite. The sax was significantly smoother. Much less rasp and blat. Edging was appropriately reduced and the ring was moved much closer to the bell like tone of a live performance.