PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player

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PS Audio DirectStream

Two other noteworthy features are DirectStream Memory Player’s Ethernet interface, which lets the player seek out and display album cover art and metadata information for the disc in play, plus an all-new user interface that is simpler and more straightforward than the original Perfect Wave Transport UI. The DirectStream Memory Player also comes with PS Audio’s next generation remote, which not only can control the DirectStream Memory Player, but also the firm’s DirectStream-family DACs, BHK preamplifier, and NuWave phono preamplifier. The Memory Player uses the same beefy yet elegant die-cast metal chassis design common to all DirectStream components, whose layout allows PS components to ‘nest’ atop one another, provided users remove the feet of the top component in the stack.

For my tests I used the DirectStream Memory Player in my reference system, which includes a recently updated DirectStream DAC, an AURALiC ARIES wireless bridge with 2TB music library drive, and a variety of loudspeakers, including the GoldenEar Triton References, Totem Signature One monitors, and Dynaudio Special Forty monitors. This system allowed back-and-forth comparisons between the sounds of streamed content (from the ARIES) vs. the sounds of the same content played from discs. The results proved eye opening.

Let me begin by saying that sonic presentations of the ARIES and DirectStream Memory Player were competitive with one another and similar enough in broad strokes that casual listeners might have declared them to ‘sound the same’. But more careful and critical listening reveals that in fact the two sources don’t sound the same, with the DirectStream Memory offering a number of individually small and subtle but cumulatively significant and worthwhile sonic benefits. Let me expand on this point.

First, I found the Memory Player offered consistently superior low-frequency pitch definition and clarity. For example, when I listened closely to the pitch-bending tympani statements heard in the third (Adagio) movement of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta [Reiner/Chicago, RCA Living Stereo, SACD], I found the Memory Player capture the attack, sustain, pitch shifts, and decay of the drums with greater clarity and more textural detail (such as the ‘skins sounds’ of the drum heads), significantly enhancing the overall sense of realism.

Second, the Memory Player enjoyed a notable edge in terms of capturing transient sounds of all kinds, such as the sounds of Chris Thile’s delicately but precisely plucked mandolin notes as heard on ‘Speak’ from Nickelcreek’s This Side [Sugarhill, SACD]. In particular, the Memory Player unlocked the mandolin’s at once incisive but also sweet-tempered voice in a highly believable way. I observed similar benefits when listening to the Joe Wilder – Marshal Royal Quintet’s rendition of ‘Mood Indigo’ from Mostly Ellington [BluePort Jazz/NuForce Media, DVD – 96/24]. On the expressive horn solos in ‘Mood Indigo’ the Memory Player let me hear small transient sounds such as the soft click of saxophone valves opening or closing, or tiny shifts in embouchure, that—in subtle ways—made the track feel much more vivid and alive (and less like mere ‘hi-fi’).

Third, the Memory Player did a better job of delivering both harmonic and reverberant information in the music, as in the percussion track ‘Stank’ from Jamey Haddad, Lenny White, and Mark Sherman’s Explorations in Space and Time [Chesky, 16/44.1]. Small, filigreed details and harmonics from percussion instruments large and small were rendered with greater delicacy and a suave, self-assured sense of ‘feel’. What is more, instrument harmonics remained wonderfully consistent with their underlying fundamentals, rather than being presented in a clinical, disembodied manner. Finally, the Memory Player let me hear small, low-level echoes and reverberant details that helped place the trio within a large and naturally reverberant recording space. This ability to render not only the musical performance but also the context in which it unfolds is one of the Memory Player’s greatest strengths.

You might infer from the comments above that the Memory Player is all about harvesting and presenting more musical information, which it does well, but the Memory Player can also have the effect of smoothing and—in a subtle way—enriching presentations that can might otherwise sound bit edgy or raw. A good example would be the wonderful Hadden Sayers’ track ‘Back to the Blues’ as performed by Ruthie Foster and Hadden Sayers on Foster’s Live At Antone’s [Blue Corn Music, 48/24]. When heard in a streamed context, Foster and Sayers’ voices can sound somewhat rough-edged and raw, while Sayers’ Fender Stratocaster can sometimes exude an overly ragged and almost ‘zingy’ quality. But, when the album DVD is played through the Memory Player Foster and Sayers’ voices smooth out noticeably and sound richer, while the sound of the Stratocaster reverts back to its usual, soulful sonic character.

Finally, the Memory Player helps unlock the emotion in good recordings in ways that streaming sources can’t always duplicate. A fine example would be Steve Strauss’ ‘Dead Man’s Handle’ from Strauss’ Just Like Love [Stockfisch, SACD]. Günther Pauler of Pauler Acoustics produced this album and one of his techniques is to apply, selectively, varying degrees of echo and reverb to give extra emphasis to certain lines of phrases. Streaming sources can capture these details to a certain extent, but not with the laser-sharp focus and precision that the Memory Player affords. One such reverb-soaked line is Strauss crooning, “Lord, take me home/to my baby”, where the Memory Player lets you hear and feel the comingled weariness, longing, and desire in the singer’s voice. For just that moment, Strauss’ voice seems to expand, surrounding the listener, and filling the entire room. It is just this sort of musical moment that makes the Memory Player seem so worthwhile.

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