Direct Stream Digital Audio

Which is better? DSD256 download? SACD? Vinyl?

Which is better? DSD256 download? SACD? Vinyl?

Recently, a subscriber wrote to us and asked this question. Everyone is going to have a different opinion and to a certain extent, if you're happy with how you listen, that's the only opinion that matters. But, if you're asking which sounds closest to the final mixed or mastered version of a music track and from an audio engineering point of view, there are a few critical processes to consider.

There are six places where the potential for the original sound to get corrupted or enhanced.
Production or distribution
Reseller or DSP delivery
Home listening

The Artist, Producer and Sound Engineer are in control up to the first three, but Mastering is where critical audible changes are made to accommodate the format the consumer will buy or stream. Downloads, SACDs and vinyl are all mastered very differently to accommodate the quirks of each medium. Not all producers handle these formats the same way. Some producers try not to alter the audio for each format and others will maximize the differences of each format. For instance, many CDs were intentionally mastered "louder" by adding more compression (and less dynamic range) while on the SACD, the DSD playback was not compressed and had more dynamics. This puts the playback volume in the hands (literally) of the listener.... but also makes it impossible to truly compare whether one format was 'better' than the other.

That means to you, the listener, unless you know how the producer felt about this touchy subject, you can't really compare your vinyl to the CD, SACD or DSD256 download except to decide which media sounds better to you. But to say that this one or that format sounds better is difficult. So, before you make a judgement, find the mastering engineers and ask them what happened at the session.

Vinyl is nearly impossible to compare to a download or SACD. This is because of the limitations of mastering to vinyl. Don't get me wrong, limitations are often a GOOD thing. The boundaries set for vinyl in mastering often result in a beautiful sounding album when played back in an analog system. But these days, it's hard to know how the vinyl is being made... is it coming from a 44.1 16 bit CD master? Many times it is. How can you tell? You can't without talking to the mastering engineer.

It's our opinion that if you can find a trusted DSD store ... like Blue Coast Music ( https://bluecoastmusic.com/ ) or Native DSD ( https://www.nativedsd.com/ )... you have the best chance of getting a DSD256 download that was recorded to DSD and went into the store directly from mastering. Most engineers working in DSD know that the format has the greatest depth of dynamics and frequency response. These engineers try to preserve that quality.

It's really up to you, the listener, to determine what you've optimized your playback format for and what experience to you enjoy the most when listening.

Buy what sounds best to you!

DSD-Guide Crew