Publisher Profile APPEARANCE - Editor - Theme Header Google Adsense Top Banner

PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player and DirectStream DAC Review

By: |

DirectStream Memory Player

PS Audio’s DirectStream Memory Player is a “universal transport,” which means it will play Redbook CD, SACD, Blu-Ray, HRx and other optical disc formats. It may be more universal than some others as it will also play standard audio file formats (FLAC, WAV, MP3, etc.) from a disc or from its front-panel USB input. This machine is extraordinarily capable, no doubt about it. The Memory Player is a transport only, outputting digital in any of a number of protocol options, so you need to use a DAC with it. And for SACD, PS Audio developed a proprietary handshake protocol via the I2S interface on the Memory Player and the company’s DirectStream DACs to allow the combination of products to play back DSD from SACD.

PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player (internal)

A key PS Audio technology in the Memory Player is the latest iteration of the Digital Lens, a technology originally co-developed by PS Audio’s Founder & CEO Paul McGowan in association with Genesis in the mid-nineties. The technology is claimed to “focus digital data into a perfect stream, unaffected by the transport’s mechanical and electrical properties.”  Yes indeed, that was my hoped-for benefit from computer audio! The Genesis Digital Lens, a standalone product used between a transport and DAC, was a product I had read about but never had a chance to hear. Digital Lens technology, now substantially improved and advanced and built using Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA), is built into the Memory Player. Firmware upgrades are made available for the Memory Player, when warranted.

The Memory Player shares the handsome industrial design common to PS Audio’s DirectStream and BHK product families, with the rounded vertical chassis edges. It has a disc drawer in front but no buttons for controlling the transport. It is a somewhat different experience, therefore, compared to familiar CD and DVD players in that, unless you are using the remote, you engage with it via a 4.4” (diagonal) touchscreen display, about which I have more to say later. The unit also has an Ethernet connection on the back, which allows for downloading cover art and song titles, which are user-editable and will store on PS Audio cloud servers as well as on the SD card that comes with the unit and is used for firmware upgrades. I did not explore this feature.

The Digital Lens imposes a small penalty on user experience. The interface to the Memory Player is the same symbols and functions we are accustomed to for CD and DVD playback – and for tape before that – except you engage with it via the touchscreen in place of physical buttons. But because the Digital Lens needs to accumulate the data before sending it along, the Memory Player is overall less responsive than CD and DVD players. Not agonizingly so, and certainly not a deal breaker for me, but having lived with CD players for decades, it’s something you notice and may find frustrating. We’re used to ever-increasing speed with our technology (among other things); it’s hard to go back.

PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player (internal)

 

Listening

Just to be clear, the focus of my evaluation for this review was comparing the Memory Player as a digital disc transport to my existing computer-based file transport. I did not compare the Memory Player to other disc transports, one-box players or the like. My computer-based system is a headless mid-2011 Mac Mini running Roon Server and feeding, via Ethernet, a Sonore microRendu with Uptone Audio’s LPS-1 power supply and then out via USB to the DAC. Alternatively, I ran Ethernet from the Mac (via the home network, not a direct connection) to the Ethernet input on the Bridge II module of the PS Audio DirectStream DAC (more about that later in the DAC discussion). For this review, I made a minor upgrade by purchasing an Audioquest Cinnamon HDMI cable for the I2S connection. I also tested the Memory Player’s AES/EBU output using my Benchmark AES/EBU cable.

I spent plenty of time just playing discs with the Memory Player, which is the way I prefer to evaluate components: living with them rather than judging them in “shootouts.” To evaluate the Memory Player in comparison to server playback, I selected a number of recordings that I could play back through both transports, thus silver discs that had been ripped to the Mac and could also be played as physical media. I used the PS Audio DSD DAC to listen to SACDs from the Memory Player and to compare AES/EBU with I2S, but I also used the Memory Player with my Schiit Yggdrasil DAC (not upgraded) using AES/EBU only, so comparing PCM files only (the Yggdrasil won’t play DSD). With the Yggdrasil, the server comparison was to the Yggdrasil’s USB input from the Sonore microRendu.

In all configurations I tried, playback from the Memory Player was clearly better than playback from the Mac Mini+Roon. This is an instance where I feel the differences were not a matter of preference. I am sure there are some out there who would prefer the sound of the server, but they would be wrong. To my mind, the superiority of the Memory Player was not a mater of preference or taste but of being better and more correct in absolute terms. I consistently heard a lower noise floor from the Memory Player and, from that, more air, better definition, and less smearing, which I became aware of only when confronted with its absence. I also heard better bass from the Memory Player; not more ample bass (or not just that) but truly better in being more foundational and center-of-the-earth, which is musically important even with smaller speakers.

A recording I’ve been listening to frequently the past couple years, both in my home system and in the car, is Trilogy, the Chick Corea Trio’s live recording featuring Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade on drums. On Corea’s old chestnut “Spain,” I heard more color across the board from the Memory Player than from the Mac+Roon. Also, via the Memory Player the music sounded more composed, by which I mean it made more sense musically such that it was easier to follow the musical line and grasp what each contributor was intending.

These are obvious and meaningful improvements and I heard them using the Memory Player to feed either the PS Audio DirectStream or the Schiit Yggdrasil.

I compared the AES/EBU connection to I2S, both feeding the DirectStream DAC. PS Audio feels I2S is the way to go but, honestly, I couldn’t hear much of a difference when playing back CDs. However, since you need I2S to play SACD, it’s a clear choice.

And you will want to play SACD with the Memory Player, assuming you have a PS Audio DirectStream or DirectStream Junior DAC. I purchased a Sony SCD-777ES SACD player when it first came out and I bought some SACDs, then I bought some more and some more still, waiting and hoping to be blown away but it never much happened. A few were excellent, but most were a letdown. I suppose I was expecting something like the experience of first seeing DVD playback, or my first HD TV. Those were ‘I must have this . . . here, take my credit card’ moments. I never got that from SACD and, come to think of it, while I recall some audio products that triggered that response from me, I don’t recall any new audio technology or format that did. The CD did for many consumers, though. I never felt the SACD/DSD experience was enough of an improvement to justify building a system and media collection around, though I know others who did. But it’s a different story with the Memory Player and DSD DAC from PS Audio, which serve up a better DSD than I have previously heard. Much of the credit may lie with the DAC since the couple of DSD downloads I have sounded outstanding fed to the DAC from the Mac server.

So where does this leave me? This exercise demonstrated that, in my current system, physical media, at least as played back on the very fine PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player, delivers better sound than file playback via my server. That was the point of the exercise. Was it better enough that I am going to switch back to discs? Had I tried the Memory Player when I was first playing with computer audio, I think I’d probably have held off on embracing the new thing. But despite its sonic superiority, my months spent with the Memory Player did not incline me to return to playing silver discs again in even a semi-regular fashion. I could do it as I still have most of my CDs and SACDs and I still buy discs, though these days downloads and Tidal streaming are more common methods for adding music to my collection. But from the beginning of my time with the PS Audio Memory Player, when I began to see jewel boxes accumulate on the floor in front of the audio rack, it knew it was not to be. I can’t see myself going back there.

But for those who prefer physical media, or are disinclined to invest the effort in a server solution, the DirectStream Memory Player is a home run. If those music lovers also have a robust collection of SACDs and can also get the PS Audio DAC, there is no question about it, this is a great way to go.

As for me, the Mac Mini setup has served me well – it has been mostly trouble free – and I’ve used it all these years because I wanted to leave my options open, which I perceived would be less the case with a dedicated solution, such as an Aurender, Antipodes, or one of the many others out there, including those that are dedicated to running Roon. (I should say that I’m not convinced Roon will be my final resting place.) I’ve tended to chase DACs (I’ve owned a lot of DACs) but I now know that the transport side of digital audio playback can deliver important fundamental improvements, as opposed to mainly ones of preference, and therefore merits more attention in my system. Going forward, I will explore how to get those improvements from file playback.

8 Responses to PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player and DirectStream DAC Review


  1. Alan says:

    For a guy who enjoys streaming Tidal, you seemed to miss the great function of the Bridge on both units. I am using my iPad to control the bridge using mConnect app for both Tidal MQA and also vTuner internet radio. With the vTuner, you have thousands of radio stations at your disposal for streaming through the DAC. My Harbeth speakers are doing a great job along with my Bryston integrated amp., all bought through Andy Singer at Singer Sounds in NYC. It is a very balanced synergistic system! I hardly ever bother with CDs anymore myself!

    • Dan Rubin says:

      Thanks for your comment, Alan. I’m not sure I understand your point, though. I use Tidal integrated with Roon, so they both originate from the Mac Mini and I control them with the Roon app on an iPad. Are you suggesting I should instead access Tidal directly via the Bridge on the DS DAC? Not sure I see an advantage, especially since Roon-Tidal integration is a “killer app” as it is, but let me know what you are thinking. Also, when you say, “the great function of the Bridge on both units,” what are your referring to with respect to the Memory Player?

      Regards,
      Dan

  2. Shahram Baradaran says:

    Thanks for the great review. Were you able to compare the Bridge II ethernet playback from your mac mini compared to the MicroRendu and power supply?

    • Dan Rubin says:

      Hi Shahram and thanks for your comment. I did compare the two and found it to be fairly close, but I am taking a second listen to that comparison this week. I didn’t want to complicate the main review by addressing it, but it is a worthwhile topic. Given the added expense of the microRendu plus power supply (~$1K), it would need to clearly better the Bridge to be justified, assuming you already have the Bridge.

      I’ll add that over the many years I’ve been playing with computer audio, I feel the microRendu is the most significant sonic improvement of any I’ve tried, including DACs, cables, the Berkeley USB converter, and many different playback software products. Then, adding the LPS-1 power supply was almost as great an improvement on top of it.

      Dan

  3. Hoyt says:

    Nice review, Dan.
    I’m confused by this, in reference to the DS DAC: “Instead of rendering Ethernet from my Mac Mini via the Sonore microRendu, I can go Ethernet straight into the Bridge II in the DSD DAC and remove those extra components (microRendu and power supply). So, I don’t need my ultraRendu/LPS with the DS DAC? That, if I connect it via Ethernet to my file sources, the DS DAC becomes the renderer/player? If true, then IMHO, this is not made clear/explicit in the PSAudio literature. “This is huge, Jerry … HUGE!”
    Thanks

    • Dan Rubin says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Hoyt. Also, bonus points for the Seinfeld reference, which always scores big with me.

      What you are saying is true, but see my reply to the comment above. I agree that PS Audio may benefit from underscoring this benefit more explicitly in marketing materials. I also sympathize with all players in this field (including and especially consumers) as they struggle to talk about this stuff. File playback and streaming services have ushered in a level of complexity and confusing terminology that’s hugely more challenging than anything we have seen in audio ever. Or maybe it’s just me.

      Dan

  4. Rick says:

    Dan,
    It is not just you. Your observation is spot on. I am being driven crazy by the terminology and layer upon layer of details and caveats/stipulations/debates amongst those supposedly “in-the-know” about computer audio and how it should be or needs to be done. One audiophile will profess with authority how a usb connection is total garbage for a server/streamer, while the next guy says “nope” it isn’t. And debates like that are the least of my concerns at this point. After following this stuff for a while, I’ve learned a thing or two. I disagree with the “USB is always crap” crowd. But most frustrating is that I’ve found no one so far that speaks about CA in terms that are plain-spoken instead of computer-ease. I’m beginning to tease it out for myself, but it should not take so much effort and time. It’s a shame that among those with a great command of the topic, so few are willing or able to explain it in terms any audiophile could grasp. Messaging with a fellow audiophile on the topic, he said to me with a straight face: ” The issue with Roon is that unless it is being run with HQ Player, the native Roon renderer isn’t as good as the Aurender renderer/hardware combo.” That sounds like audio talk. Not. It almost seems like intentional subterfuge. Lol. It’s not like we are an unmotivated bunch. Many of us very much want to learn the topic so we can make informed buying decisions in pursuit of better and better audio experiences in our rooms. And despite being highly motivated the learning is difficult because the teaching is, IMO, quite poor. Or, alternatively, to quote a wise man, “maybe it’s just me.”

  5. Dan Rubin says:

    Rick,

    Excellent comments, very well said. I’m giving thought to trying to come up with a simplified, plainspoken overview of the category myself, not because I’m the right person for the job but because somebody has to do it.

    Dan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By : XYZScripts.com