PS AUDIO DirectStream DAC MK2


Digital sources

This PS Audio DAC is not a completely new product – it is an upgraded version of the model that had been in the market for about a decade already. However, the MK2 version has been recently marketed with all the superlatives and it also has some interesting features that have made me listen to it.

Funkce a forma


Let me start with what PS Audio says about their DirectStream DAC MK2. Through the mouth of Paul McGowan, the mastermind behind PS Audio, “the new revolutionary upgrade brings a new life into an already impressive [previous version]. It is the single biggest upgrade I have ever heard in the 50 years that I have done this. It’s huge… It’s really, really big”. Building on that, the PS Audio website continues raving about “the next generation of this technological wonder”, “audio magic”, and “dramatic improvements to sound”. So, what’s happening here?

Technically, the ideas backing the DirectStream DAC MK2 development are smart and innovative. The DAC starts with fighting incoming noise and jitter by galvanically isolating every input, output, ground, and power source.  The DAC handles 16 and 24bit PCM sources via optical Toslink (up to 96kHz), coaxial S/PDIF (up to 192kHz), a pair of AES EBU XLRs (up to 352.8kHz), USB (up to 705.6kHz) and via I2S (up to 705.6kHz). On top of that it also accepts DSD signals up to DSD256 (USB and I2S).

On the input, all digital signals – no matter which input is used - are automatically converted into DSD, which is where the things get interesting.

Nízké frekvence


Ted Smith, who designed the DAC, notes in the PS Audio forum that the DirectStream DAC upsamples everything to 20 bits at 56.448MHz, then it is converted to 30 bits at 11.289MHz, then the volume is applied which results in 50 bits at 11.2896MHz, which is then converted by the SDM to 1 bit at 11.2896MHz. This process always applies – there is no benefit to employ upsampling to the signal before it enters the DirectStream DAC. As many other DACs out there, the DirectStream MK2 uses FPGAs instead of D/A chips to convert the digital to analog, which is available on both RCA and XLR outputs. Unlike the previous MK1 version o the DirectStream DAC, the MK2 has no streaming options, but it is ready to accept PS Audio’s streamer.

Čistota rozlišení


The build and ergonomics of the DirectStream DAC MK2 cannot not be compared to high-end devices; the PS Audio believes that the money you pay should be heard, rather than seen. It does not mean their devices are not well-made, you feel the savings, however. The unit comes in silver or black and is a combination of aluminium (the case), plastic (buttons), and MDF (the lid). Although the look is neat and clean, it is in the vein of, let’s say, Marantz devices. The cheap display is blue (as is the backlit master operating button), with the characters that are quite small to be read from distance. The navigating in the manus and submenus is not very intuitive either and it is easy to lose track about where you are. That happened quite before I got the DirectStream DAC MK2 up and running, since the unit offers a huge amount of customization, not unlike your personal computer. If need be, PS Audio provides a universal remote controller, unfortunately no smartphone app.

One nice extra feature is that the DirectStream DAC MK2 provides digital volume control (that can also substitute phase and balance control) which I found quite well designed.

Tonální věrnost


For me personally, one of the fantastic options would be to interconnect the DirectStream MK2 with PS Audio’s PerfectWave SACD transport through the HDMI cable (I2S). Sony of course prohibits the digital output in native DSD from digital transports, but a handshake communication between copyright controlled devices, such as these PS Audios, would be the ultimate option for the best sound ever. Unfortunately, with the advent of SACD players, the I2S DSD protocols have no more use as there is a lack of compatible transports, although some DACs, like Mola Mola Tambaqui, have the I2S input.  I expect that the PS Audio’s own dedicated device, the PerfectWave SACD transport, will extinct soon too. Also, I borrowed it around 3 years ago and it was far from perfect. Not because the technical solution as such, but because the poor and unreliable operation due to the lack of craftmanship. Bad thing is that – because it is not possible to send DSD over Toslink or S/PDIF - there is always a DoP conversion. Most softwares, such as Roon, Audirvana, JRiver Media Center and Foobar, will automatically convert DSD files to the DoP standards on the fly. The theory says that the raw DSD data are not affected by the conversion and most high-end SACD players take benefit from it. Yet, it is a conversion, isn’t it? So the ability of the PerfectWave SACD transport to play DSD layer from hybrid SACD discs and send it directly to the DirectStream MK2 would be an unbeatable feature. And it sort of is, but not at the level of performance that you’d expect.


Šířka scény
Hloubka scény

You may have noticed that I didn’t talk about the how the DirectStream MK2 sounded. And to be completely honest, there is not much to talk about. It is a fine sounding DAC that provides plenty of insights into recorded material that slightly emphasizes the beauty of music. It has good soundstaging, liveliness, detail, tuneful bass, and tonal colours; none if it is exceptional though. Of course, one should not expect the textures, transient accuracy, and dynamics of more accomplished (and more expensive) DACs. Today, there are interesting budget options that provide better performance at much lower costs, like Topping or Schiit. Digital technology is cheap nowadays and therefore – as my Audiodrom colleague MJ says – it is the implementation that matters. Here, the potential remained unused.

Cena v době recenze:139 000,- Kč

Doporučení prodejci

Soundstyle s.r.o., Praha, +420 739 402 253

Připojené komponenty

  • Sources: C.E.C. TL-51XR, Windows 11 Acer + JRiver Media Center
  • Amplifiers: Mark Levinson No. 432, Mark Levinson No.326S,
  • Interconnects and speaker cables: Kubala-Sosna Emotion XLR a USB, Elation! AES/EBU
  • Loudspeakers: Revel Ultima Studio2
  • Power conditioning: IsoTek Titan, Shunyata Research Sigma HC



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