PS Audio DirectStream DAC Update

Digital-to-analog converters
PS Audio DirectStream
PS Audio DirectStream DAC Update

On February 10, PS Audio released a noteworthy update to its DirectStream DAC. Unlike previous updates, which were labeled firmware upgrades, this new version—known as the Pikes Peak OS—delivers many improvements to the operating system.

I upgraded from firmware version 1.2.1, the last released version. Was it worth it? Were the changes subtle and hard to hear? Let me share my first impressions.

The first song I listened to with the updated DAC was from Shelby Lynne’s album Just a Little Lovin’ (DSD64/DSF, Acoustic Sounds). The eponymously named first track quickly revealed several changes. There was more detail to Shelby’s voice, so I could hear her pronunciation of the lyrics more clearly. And the detail enhancement wasn’t just limited to the midrange; it extended from the lowest bass to the highest treble. There was also more air around her voice, so it sounded like she was singing in a more open space, not just in a studio. Speaking of bass, it also went noticeably deeper, with more detail and a flatter response, and sounded more powerful overall. Also, a mid-bass emphasis I had not realized existed before was gone. Not a bad start.

Next, I queued up “Folia Rodrigo Martinez” from La Folia 1490-1701 (ripped to 44.1/16 AIF file from CD Alia Vox AFA 9805). The music from Jordi Savall and his band offered a wider soundstage than I’d heard, with more precise placement of instruments, particularly the percussion. The improved treble detail revealed more about the sonic character of those instruments, so they sounded harmonically fleshed out. The bass drum extended deeper than I’d previously heard it, and sounded flatter with the mid-bass hump no longer present.

I also developed a deeper appreciation for my JL Audio fathom f110 subwoofer—clearly what I had thought were its limitations were really problems in the DirectStream DAC. Sometimes you don’t realize a problem exists until it’s gone.

Anytime I get a new component that sounds better, I have to try it with lots of familiar music. On Jennifer Warnes’ The Well, (44.1/16 AIF ripped from CD SDR, Ltd SD8960), the first track revealed that dynamics had improved, with the drum whacks sounding more powerful than I ever recall hearing. I could go on, but these are just first impressions, not a full review.

These initial impressions represented such an improvement that I wanted to document them right away.

So to return to the questions I posed earlier: Was it worth it? Absolutely. Were the changes subtle and hard to hear? Neither the slightest bit subtle, nor hard to hear. Should you update your PS Audio DirectStream DAC to the Pikes Peak OS? Well, would you like a noticeably better DAC? For free? It’s a no-brainer. What was originally an excellent DAC has become way better. And there’s no reason to think there’s not still more magic yet to come from designer Ted Smith’s brain.

Here’s how to update your DAC:

The process is just the same as before.

  1. Download the ZIP file from PS Audio’s website.
  2. Copy the files inside the ZIP file onto an SD camera memory card.
  3. Insert the SD card (contacts up) into the slot on the back of the DirectStream DAC.
  4. Turn on the DirectStream DAC, and the update process begins.

While it’s in progress, the blue power button on the front of the DAC blinks on and off. When the update is complete, the button stops blinking. You can remove the SD card and listen to the new and improved DAC. Enjoy!