What DSD DAC/Device?

I’m curious to know what DSD devices Audirvana users are using to replay DSD files on their Macs or Windows machines. I’m so impressed with the quality of DSD even over PCM but feel I really should now get a DSD device and would welcome some user feedback here to help me know what to aim for. Thanks.

I’ve got three portable DAC/Amps that I use interchangeably with Audirvana 3.4.915 (beta 3.5) for Windows 10. FiiO Q1Mk2–plays 64, 128 and 256; nano iDSD Black Label–plays 64, 128, 256 and does MQA rendering with Tidal. Lastly, Topping NX4 DSD–plays 64, 128, 256 and 512. These are inexpensive machines but each seems reliable and has good sound.

Of all of them, the Topping has the most power out of the amp from single ended but the FiiO has a 2.5mm balanced output in addition to 3.5mm. The nano iDSD has a rare 3.5mm balanced headphone output and claims to retain some of the advantages of its balanced output even into a single ended 3.5mm headphone input. They will all do line out to a separate amplifier.

I would say that I probably use the nano more for desktop PC as it’s a little big for easy portable use and it has most of the DSD flavors and MQA. The Topping will do all of the DSD levels though so it would be good if you just want for DSD. However, DSD 512 is even crazier expensive (and not many titles-check nativedsd.com–they’re starting to stock 512 titles now) than the lower DSD sample rates and I cannot tell the difference between it and 256, at least on my equipment. Of course, it goes without saying that they will all do up to 24/192khz PCM. Sorry I can’t advise on larger desktop or sound system DSD-capable DACs or DAC/Amps.

I don’t find DSD that interesting, but now that the brand came up, the Topping D10 has served me very well as a DDC and sometimes as a DAC… Smart little thing, awesome bang-for-buck. Does DSD128 over PCM on my Mac (driverless) - on Windows, native should go to DSD256, haven’t tried it though. I mostly just use it’s S/PDIF output to feed my monitors’ AES/EBU inputs.

Aim for native DSD DAC if you’re serious about it. Don’t focus on sample rate, just about any DAC will do double rate DSD (DSD128). That’s plenty enough.

What’s your budget? Do you want to just dip your toes or you’re going all out?

Hi BobSmith 8901!
I would like to ask you some details about your use of the IFI nano. Do you experience any popping noises when playing to it or maybe when switching between DSD and PCM? Do you use upsampling to DSD or only native files? Which is the exact driver version you are using for it? I presume your Audirvana is on W10 and the device is connected via USB, right?
BR
BB

Hi BB,

I’ll answer your questions regarding the nano and Audirvana as you wrote them.

I have Win 10 Home and Audirvana for Windows 10 V 3.4.916 (RC 3.5). I have it installed on a fanless mini-PC running with an Apollo Lake Celeron 3450 w/8Gb RAM. Forgive the length but I wanted to try to be precise and complete.

  1. Do you experience any popping noises when playing to it or maybe when switching between DSD and PCM?

EDIT 1:

If you’re talking about that sort of popping when a playlist changes between types of encoding like between different types of PCM, I experience it on occasion, especially when transitioning from any sample rate of PCM or DSD to, in particular, the 24/88.2khz sample rate. In the case of Audirvana it’s more like a slight tick, not a pop and it’s less dramatic than the FiiO DAP transition-see below… (again, most notably between any given PCM and the 24/88.2 rate. I guess this rate change is a bit jarring for systems for some reason). All in all, I’ll get this sort of quiet tick when transitioning between rates on occasion but it’s not a big deal. I suppose if your amp was cranked up it could be kind of a shock but at normal listening levels it’s not anything really problematic. I think this would probably also happen on another DAC but I haven’t tried it yet. It’s probably not something I would have noticed unless I was really listening for it.

Your question made me think of my FiiO X5III. When a playlist transitions from a, say, 44.1khz CD quality song and goes to a Hi-Res at, say 88.2, I will hear a pop but from my research this is a common complaint and I have that happen on another FiiO DAP the same way. I don’t experience this behavior in my Win 10 installation of Audirvana in the same way, more like I said, a slight tick sometimes when transitioning.

However, sometimes with the nano streaming MQA, never local, I experience a sort of “clicking” sound (sort of like when you play an LP and it’s got some dust or dirt on it). It’s not really a popping thing it’s more like a micro-interruption in the flow as a song plays. I’m not sure what causes it and it doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes if I have the equalizer preamp too high (happens w/ local music in this case too) I get a similar sounding distortion but it goes away if I turn the preamp down. This isn’t the same as that. It’s like the nano isn’t getting enough voltage out of the USB connection during demanding Hi-Res MQA streaming and is hi-cupping the digital stream a bit as it struggles to keep up with the flow. This will happen with the Tidal desktop app too so it’s not an Audirvana thing exclusively. Given that I have slow DSL (5mbps), a relatively under powered PC and older-tech Wireless N 300, these are the likely culprits, i.e., higher demands on my system from a bitrate/network perspective and not a particular issue with the nano.

  1. Do you use upsampling to DSD or only native files?

DSD native files only, no upsampling.

  1. Which is the exact driver version you are using for it?

Device Info: Firmware is v5.3C

Driver Info: V 3.20.0 Release Build

(Both above are direct from the iFi control panel)

  1. I presume your Audirvana is on W10 and the device is connected via USB, right?

Yes, Windows 10 Home and USB connection.

No such thing as a “native DSD” USB DAC, it’s just a question of OS / drivers, DoP works without them, but with a significant bandwidth cost - double, which is why they can only do half rate over PCM compared to native mode. A 768 kHz DAC can do DSD256 DoP (and DSD512 native). Absolutely pointless, but they can.

Side note, the Topping D10 is silent when switching rates/formats.

Hi BobSmith8901!
Many thanks for your really comprehensive answer.
The clicking you describe I did experience it, too. Exactly how you wrote, like from vinyl. I first installed the IFI, later a Cambridge DACmagic plus. At some point later I noticed this ticking. In my case it helped to erase both from the system, including manipulation of the registry by foot i.g. hand. Then I installed the IFI and listened a while. It was okay, I added the Cambridge. Still everything okay. For a while I was very careful not to have connected both of them simultaneously. But of course, it happened someday. But ever since, clicking is gone. It’s some work, I can’t tell you, why it worked, maybe you’ll give it a try.
@Jannek: thanks for the info!
BR
BB

BB

Great to hear! and that DACMagic looks like an awesome piece of kit. I looked at my post this morning and thought…too much information!!.. but glad it might have been of some assistance.

When I say “native DSD” DAC, I mean a DAC that doesn’t internally convert the data to PCM just to be able to provide compatibility. There are many chipsets on the market that actually do that but advertise DSD capability.

Hi bitracer!
Interesting info. The Cambridge is an upsampling DAC, correct. It has no DSD capability. As I don’t see any sense in transfering DSD via PCM 1.0 or 1.1. I use it for other purposes.
For playing DSD, for the moment only upsampled by Audirvana, I wanted to use the IFI NANO iDSD. What it does internally I don’t care. It’s on the same driver and firmware revision as BobSmith8901s black label. And it once worked fine with Audirvana, then this was broken.

BR
BB

Cambridge DacMagic is a good DAC but I don’t think it even supports DSD. If it does, it’s done by converting it to PCM. Wolfson chips do that. Good examples for are older Astell&Kern DAPs. Those “support” DSD but it’s done through conversion to PCM.

Hi bitracer!
It’s as I wrote, no DSD capability in the DACmagic. That’s not the point. For any kind of DSD I use the IFI. This is where that unpleasant experience was made, it first worked fine, until 1.3.6, then the popping noises came.
BR
BB

I have an Audiolab 8300cd which has usb input and is compatible up to dsd 256.
I am currently on the Audirvana free trial but will definitely buying it when the 30 days is up.
However, what I have found is that when I play dsd files from my Windows 10 laptop, Audirvana converts it to 176 pcm instead of giving me native playback
Can’t seem to find anything in settings to change this
For dsd, do I use wasapi or asio?
Asio supports more dsd rates but I only get hissy distortion when in that mode
Any help much appreciated

With my Topping NX4DSD DAC I have to choose ASIO drivers to get it to play a DSD file as native DSD–the Topping control panel will indicate the proper sample rate when I’m streaming natively. If I choose WASAPI, no matter what I choose as far as Native DSD streaming method, I get the DSD file packaged into 176.4 PCM like you are. In ASIO I also have ALL of the DSD sample rates available (64-512) vs just DSD 64 in WASAPI (even though it reverts to packaging it to PCM 176).

Assuming the Audiolab ASIO drivers are installed correctly, would you need to adjust the volume level in its control panel to max possibly? I’ve had this problem sometimes with the Topping–I get the hashy distortion sound till I max the volume in Topping’s control panel then everything is normal.

Thanks for your reply. I’ll have a look at that.

Re installed the Audiolab usb drivers and dsd now playing natively on asio setting.
Looking forward to hearing my , albeit small collection, of dsd files in all their glory.
Hardest part is finding WHOLE albums of dsd that I would like to buy. At the moment, I cherry pick tracks or get free samplers and delete the stuff of no interest.