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DSD vs PCM [Myth Debunking, Read Definitive Guide 2019]

Audio Basis - educational articles

DSD (DSF, DFF files, SACD) competition with PCM (FLAC, WAV, AIFF, mp3, others) generate many disputes around. But DSD and PCM formats have common features and principles. Read about sound quality comparison, myths and its technical explanation.

• DSF, DFF, ISO (1-bit audio) is supported in maximal PROduce-RD and configurable Modula-R
• For ISO tracks, DSF, DFF with length more 3 minutes FREE demo mute 2 second silence in the output middle
• DVD ISO is NOT supported


Watch and share: DSD versus FLAC [Format Comparison]


When we think about new DAC, we asks: Is DSD worth it? What is better: DSD or PCM? What about dsd vs vinyl? Or DSD 2.8 versus 192 24 PCM?

DSD is implemented in SACD optical disk, SACD ISO, DSF, DFF files, that are calles as DSD files.

PCM implemented in WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, mp3, etc. (PCM files)

Vinyl, as analog mechanical source, cause more distortions, than digital DSD. But some audio distortions can be considered as sound advantages. So this matter is complex enough.

About PCM versus DSD. Both are pure digital formats. If resume some widespread myths:

  1. DSD can considered as format superior in audio quality than PCM.
  2. DSD can be "native" edited without intermediate conversion to PCM.
  3. Point 2 give significant quality losses due decimation.

Below we will consider technical explanation and debunk these myths.

Watch and share: What is DSD audio?


Read also: DSD vs FLAC >



What is sound quality of digital format


First we can define: what is "sound quality" that will discussed below.

Digital audio format quality is identity degree of restored (from digital form) and original analog waveforms.

There are no any mystery. It fine detected via spectral-time analysis in different forms.

Sometimes try detect identity degree via measuring of simple difference of original and restored signal.

Spectral method is more informative and sensitive to possible distortions.



DSD and PCM physics


Differences PCM and DSD (sigma delta modulation) not so strong , as seems.

Both kinds of modulation contain carried (musical) signal in most low part of spectrum.

DSD and PCM physical principles comparison

There are difference in quantization noise distribution and behavior.

For PCM quantization noise evenly distributed across range 0 … [sample rate]/2.

For DSD noise pushed to inaudible (high) part of spectrum. For pushing (noise shaping) significant energy of noise out of audible range need reserve of band. I.e. higher sample rate, than for PCM, need.

PCM quantization noise correlate with useful signal: no signal is no noise.

DSD noise don’t depend on signal and present during silence too. DSD DAC eliminate this noise.





DXD is high resolution PCM that extracted from DSD with keeping "legacy" ultrasound noise. DXD compatible hardware must filter the noise. Otherwise ultrasound noise can cause audible products due non-linear distortions in playback audio system.

DXD is designed for DSD editing. However some processing have non-linear distortions and the ultrasound noise can cause audible products.


Nyquist theorem (PCM vs DSD)


Nyquist theorem is the same for both DSD and PCM. In both cases upper half of spectrum like to mirrored lower one. I.e. useful spectrum consume lower half of the spectrum. Upper half should be filtered to restore analog signal.

But for DSD high part of spectrum into lower half, should be filtered too. Because it contains modulated high frequency noise.





Each audio application begin from analog digital converter (ADC).

There are many types of ADC.

ADC must provide suppression all stuff over [sample rate/2] before analog signal digitizing.

DAC input

Otherwise the stuff will shifted/mirrored into range of low half of sample rate. Read more here >

Practically it is recommended to suppress all above transmitted audio band 0 … 20 kHz (may be slightly more). For avoiding transmitting excess energy, what consume resources of dynamical range.

For PCM and DSD ADC suppression provided via analog low frequency filter only. Filter have slope suppression characteristic by frequency (suppression about 20 … 48 dB per octave).

Octave is a difference of frequencies in 2 times.

More recorded sample rate - more suppression - more quality of captured sound.

DSD ADC have significantly higher sample rate than PCM DAC. It provide better suppression in forbidden frequency range.

There all excess stuff can be further filtered in digital form.

Using resistor matrix in DAC demand very high precision of components and voltage.

Simpler decision is using of fast-growing saw voltage for measuring input analog value.

This principle is principle of DSD. I.e. DSD is simpler/cheaper format for capturing sound than PCM.





Applying DSD DAC allow maximally simplify scheme and adjusting of DAC.

DSD DAC is simple low frequency filter (that pass low frequency - music stuff - only).

Higher sample rate than for PCM, simplify using of analog filter. No need so steep transient to suppression area as for PCM.

No need so many precise components.

Almost all modern DAC use internal PCM to DSD conversion on fly for digital analog conversion.

If use DSD as end-user format need 1 precise reference voltage and simple analog filtering only.

I.e. same result with less efforts than "native" PCM.


Read more about PCM and DSD DAC comparison >



Restoring issues of some signals


Not once was compared digitizing/restoring to analog of square wave for PCM and DSD.

There more steep front and less ringing in front/end sides of square impulse showed as DSD advantage.

Let consider how ideally digitize/restore the square wave.

Square wave have infinite spectrum. I.e. for ideal digitizing/restoring need infinite sample rate.

Sample rate DSD significantly higher sample rate of PCM. It is reason of steeper front/end of the square impulse.

Square wave DSD vs. PCM

Lower ringing for DSD is result less steep filter than used for PCM, that have lower sample rate.

Other side, using wider (more 20…24 kHz) bands for DSD give more noise energy that fast growth upper 24 kHz.

I.e. price of better form of square is higher noise level.

Lesser ringing due lesser steepness of DSD DAC filter (less ringing) lead to worse filtration. Thus lead to higher noise level.

With increasing PCM sample rate possibly achieve steeper front/end of the square impulse too.

I.e. no difference between DSD and PCM for restoring square. There are values of sample rate and filter steepness only.

Now let me ask: why us need restore ideal square for audio applications?

While exists only one solid practically proven theory: humans listen up to 20 kHz.

Sometimes refers to the article.

However the article consider brain analysis audio environment via principle dissimilar by Furie.
That allow discriminate short time quants of audio content.
However there no word about new in mechanical capabilities of human ears: to listen up to 20 kHz.

Therefore, why us need ideally re-create form of square impulse?

In audio applications we listen via ears, don’t watch via eyes.

So need provide maximal fidelity in 0 … 20 kHz range.

It lead to visible (by eyes!) lesser steepness of fronts.

Inside our head we have same less steepness of front level for ideally played back on speakers anyway.

It is feature of our ears.

So, why need restore square form better than can receive our ears?

Upper range after restoring can be shifted to audible range due non-linear distortions.

And will analyzed via "principle dissimilar by Furie" :)




PCM vs DSD editing


Almost everybody know what impossibly "native" edit DSD.

Here «native» is editing without intermediate converting to PCM. That «very-very» bad!

Need consider two things:

1. What is PCM?

2. What bad in intermediate converting to PCM?

PCM is format where each sample is multi bit value. Adding bits to DSD change nothing.

Possibly, you often listened "scary" word "decimation".

Decimation is simplest removing excess samples for decreasing sample rate.

Before decimation need filter all frequencies upper half output sample rate due avoiding distortions in audible range.

This filtering can cause ringing artifacts.

However qualitative filtration have significantly lesser artifacts, than mixing and effect processing in music production.

Why need conversion to PCM? PCM have no noise in upper part of spectrum. It allow successfully apply non-linear processing (as example, overdrive/distortion effects) to musical stuff.

As alternative suggested for using multibit DSD. However "multibitness" allow solve only mixing and simplest multiply volume changing.

Elementary changing level to 1 dB becomes trouble.

Multibit DSD have noise in upper part of spectrum too. Thus for apply non-linear processing need converting DSD to "PCM".

Also need remember that computer can apply multibit math processing only.

End-user of editing system no need worry about intermediate conversion(s). It is engineer's troubles how to find "hidden" possibilities and what "tricks" need apply.

Need consider editing system as ready decision with certain features at input and output.

Read more about DSD editing >



How to compare DSD and PCM sound quality


Main issue is, that DSD and PCM technically impossibly (including blind test) to compare as digital formats.

Possibly compare only systems that use either PCM or DSD or both.

The systems must considered as "black boxes" with input and output analog signal. These signals can be compared via spectral methods.

Final result depend on used recording, components, adjusting, technical decisions.





Digital audio format quality is identity degree of restored (from digital form) and original analog waveforms.

  1. Technically impossibly compare DSD and PCM as pure digital formats. Need compare released systems, that use these formats.
  2. Editing of DSD files with qualitative intermediate conversion (decimation) to PCM give less distortions than mixing and effects. So bottle neck is not there.
    For minimizing loss recommended use pro-quality algorithms and "hidden" technical possibilities (field for inventors).
  3. "Native» DSD processing can be performed via precise multibit-DSD format. However, possible elementary operations only.
  4. DSD is perfect as recording and end-user format due simpler (cheaper) apparatus than «native» (voltage matrix) PCM ADC/DAC.
  5. It is recommended to save master in music production project format (precise PCM). After it is possibly to convert the master in any format: lossless PCM, DSD, lossy.

DSD PCM in music life cycle


Practical superiority of quality for each system is subject of engineer art, but not used format.

Need use strong sides of each format in music eco system.



Yuri Korzunov,
Audiophile Inventory's founder



Read more about DSD
  1. What is DSD audio >
  2. DSD Decoder Audio >
  3. How work sigma delta modulation in audio >
  4. DSD Converter of Audio Files: What Inside? >
  5. What is Audio Formats DSD 2.8 DSD64 DSD5.6 DSD128 DSD256 DSD512 DSD1024 >
  6. DSD vs DSF vs DFF Files Audio. What is difference >
  7. DSF vs PCM. What is common base? >
  8. DSD versus FLAC (look to infographics) >



Read also

Why We Can't Compare Different Audio Formats >

DSD and PCM. Real competitors?



Read the articles

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