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What is DSD: Crash Course on Audio Signals

What is DSD Crash Course on Audio Signals_TECH TIPS

If you’re an up-and-coming audiophile in the world is music, you may have heard about DSD AUDIO FILES.

You’ve heard DSD fans claim that it’s the best audio file type out of all the PCM alternatives because of the sound quality that it ensures to its listeners.

So let’s go through what is DSD for and why it is so well sought after by so many audiophiles.

Table of Contents

So What is DSD Audio?

DSD is a file type usually used to archive analog audio into digital audio.


It’s similar to what PCM is made to do, so we’ll look into that file system as well.

What is PCM?


Like DSD files, PCM files are digital representations of the analog audio signal. The difference is how PCM files record them.

Pulse Code Modulation files describe the original analog music waveform in two parts:

  • Amplitude (size)
  • Wavelength (length)

The original waveform needs to be measured in regular intervals to represent the sound accurately. This measurement is done 44,100 times a second which may seem too much to newbies.

However, it’s done so that it can capture the FULL RANGE OF HUMAN HEARING (20Hz to 20kHz) is captured.

How Does DSD Work?

How Does DSD Work-

The DSD utilizes a single bit of information that tells us if the current analog waveform is higher or lower than the former waveform.

So unlike the 16-bit PCM, the DSD only needs TWO VALUES which may cause the DSD to look limited.

The DSD was designed to be a simpler and more space-efficient way of recording audio files.

  • It was made to convert into PCM without trouble since its sampling rate is based on multiples of 44.1 kHz.
  • The DSD has a higher sampler rate of over 2.8 million times a second which is 64 times the speed of a CD.
  • That’s the reason why the STANDARD DSD is sometimes called the DSD64. It is roughly equivalent to a sample rate of 24-bit/88.2 kHz.

A Standard DSD file is rarer to find than a PCM recording due to how laborious it can get to process it.

The Cons of Using DSD

Like any other file type, the Direct Stream Digital format has its DOWNSIDES, even if it sounds like a remarkable audio file type to use.

So let’s list down what DSD is not optimal use for.


The thing with DSDs is that it’s not easy to manipulate tracks using this format.

If you need to edit your DSD recording tracks with equalization, dynamic range control, adding reverb, and other edits, you’ll usually have to convert the original DSD signal into PCM and then convert it back.

It’s not the best way to do things, but even most studio recordings using DSD files will go through that tedious process.

Of course, this is only due to the lack of suitable equipment and processing software.

Noise Levels

There are also issues concerning the DSD format’s noise compared to PCM audio files.

The noise levels in DSD encoding formats are HIGH, especially if it’s replicating ultrasonic frequencies.

To get rid of it, sound engineers will use clever editing tricks such as NOISE SHAPING to shift the noise above our hearing range and bring the performance and dynamic range to our audible region.

Noise shaping is a cool solution to the noise problem, but just because we can’t hear the noise in the music doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist anymore.

If you use noise shaping to move the noise above the frequency range and play the track on your speakers, you may damage them over time.


Most audio comes in PCM formats since it’s so hard to use DSD due to its heavy editing requirements.

While the audio quality of a DSD signal might be superior to the PCM signal, finding 1-bit sound files are rare compared to the other file type.

That’s because storage space was treated as a premium back in the day, and the DSD only came to fruition in 1995 while the PCM had been around since 1937.

Due to that, they focused on the PCM and developed new formats around it.

However, since it’s easier to access storage with even up to 1 TB of space, you can easily get the digital equipment to enjoy listening to DSD recording tracks.

How Important is DSD?

How Important is DSD-

What is DSD so important for?

With a DSD format, audiophiles can listen to high-resolution audio format music that sounds as NATURAL as analog sound signals can offer.

It is also cheaper to implement than other formats can offer. There’s also nothing tricky about converting it into a Pulse Code Modulation file if you ever need to edit the audio in it.

Since it only requires a single bit of information to determine the waveform’s high or low, it also significantly takes up less space than PCM.

What is DSD Used For?

Due to how NATURAL DSD files can sound, many instrument-based musicians use DSD to capture jazz and classical music.

You may find many small boutique companies using DSD to record artists’ instrumental music this way.

This is possible with a proper audio interface.

Where Can I Download DSD Music?

Where Can I Download DSD Music-

Finding high-resolution audio sites can be troublesome since they’re FAR and FEW.

However, the ones that are around can offer DSD tracks to sell.

You can browse through these sites:

  • Highredaudio
  • HDtracks
  • Native DSD
  • DSD File

You have to remember that coming across 1-bit recordings is rare, so if you’re looking for a specific album to listen to in high-resolution, you may come out EMPTY-HANDED.

How Can I Play DSD Sound Files?

If you want to play DSD downloads on your gadget, you’ll have to get SPECIAL PLAYERS that can play native DSD audio.


First, you’ll probably want to get a DAC for your DSD audio file. DACs can handle the high sample rates that native DSD audio formats contain.

DACs come in DIFFERENT SIZES, so they can cater to you if you want a stationary setup that will only stay in your house or a small, portable one that can be brought anywhere.

DSD Players

Next, you’ll need software that can play the file on your device.

  • For WINDOWS users, you can use Audirvana, Foobar2000, or Teac HR Audio Player for your DSD decoding needs.
  • If you use a MAC, you can download Pine Player, Vox, or Colibri for the same reason.

So what if you want to listen on the go? Luckily for us, there are music players that you can use.

  • For ANDROID users, you can download Onkyo HF Player, USB Audio Player PRO, or HibyMusic.
  • IOS users can download Hi-Res music player-NePLAYER, HYSOLID, or Neutron Music Player.

DSD Files

Once you have your DAC and software to play your DSD audio, you’re going to need the proper containers to get them to play on the software first.

Don’t expect to find DSDs as they are when you try to find them in your file directory.

You’ll be looking for DSF and DFF files.

The only difference between the two is that DSF files contain metadata such as the artist, album name, track titles, album art, and other data on its file.

DFF files do not.

With that, DSF files are more suited for MUSIC LIBRARY MANAGEMENT since it contains metadata that will be retained even if you transfer it to a different device.

Is DSD Audio That Great?

Is DSD Audio That Great-

Now that you know what 1-bit files are used for is, there are some limitations you can come across when you play DSD recordings.

The Limitations of Human Hearing

According to Neuroscience 2nd Edition, humans only have an audible frequency range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

So, just because the sampling rate of DSD audio files is faster than PCM audio files doesn’t mean that we’ll even be able to hear it with our ears.

Yes, it’s possible that some humans can hear lower or higher than that, but on average, everyone can’t hear more than that.

The Nyquist Shannon Sampling Theorem

The Nyquist theorem states that the upper magnitude of a digital piece will only top out at HALF of the sample rate.

To put that more simply, if you’re listening to a FLAC file with 44kHz, it will only be able to express itself at 22kHz, which is just a bit above the audible frequency range.

So, in reality, a 44 kHz file is only 22 kHz, a 96 kHz file is only 48 kHz, and so on.

PCM Can Hit The Numbers As Well

If you’re looking for the same DSD sample rate and bit depth, then the PCM can hit the same numbers.

DSD fans claim that the 1-bit formatting is better than other formats aren’t necessarily right.

You can’t just look at the file format used to record and store the audio and claim that the music in it is superior.

The overall production methods and techniques used to matter when determining the quality of the music.

Should I Use DSD or PCM to Record?

That depends on the equipment you have.

If you have STANDARD RECORDING EQUIPMENT, you should stick to PCM recording.

However, if you want to record in DSD, you’ll need many HIGH-QUALITY MICROPHONES to process the music the musicians create.

You may also need to get a special DSD recorder, especially if you want to get that FLUID and 3D effect from your tracks.

If you plan on editing the track after recording, you might want to consider just recording in PCM unless you have access to software that can edit DSDs.

Hearing the Difference Between DSD and PCM

Hearing the Difference Between DSD and PCM

What is DSD really good for when the PCM already exists?

Now that you know all the technical differences between DSD and PCM, there must be a difference, right?

Fans of DSDs say that the DSD sounds more natural than the PCM, but there’s NO REAL PROOF of that.

The numbers and data don’t necessarily support their claims since several experiments have people saying that they hear no difference between the DSD and PCM.

Still, those studies are not considered conclusive, so you’ll have to listen to the 1-bit recordings and 24-bit ones to determine it yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have some lingering questions on what 1-bit files are for and other related questions, we’ve compiled a bunch of them for you.

Do Pure DSDs Exist?

Tracks that post-production edits have never touched are considered pure DSDs.

They exist, but they are extremely RARE.

Since DSDs couldn’t be edited until recently with new and rare software, most DSDs available for consumers are converted from PCM.

What is DXD?

DXD is another type of audio type file that is NOT related to 1-bit recording (DSD) in any way.

It is a very high-resolution PCM format with a 24-bit/352.8 kHz sample rate.

What is Double DSD Audio?

Double DSD is a type of DSD that has a significantly higher sample rate with a signal equivalent of 24-bit/176.2 kHz.

It can also be referred to as DSD128 since its sample rate is 128 times faster than a CD.

Is Bit Rate and Bit Depth Important in Sound Quality?

If you’re looking for high-quality audio, you’ve probably heard about bit rate and maybe, bit depth affecting that.

BITRATE refers to the amount of data the file contains in a single second. The higher the number of kBs, the more data there is.

That means the data isn’t as compressed, letting more details stay intact.

On the other hand, BIT DEPTH is all about the resolution of your music. The more bits you get in the bit depth of your track, the more accurate the sounds are.

If the bit depth is TOO LOW, you can lose a lot of important details in the recording.

Is DSD Editing Possible?

Native DSD editing isn’t possible at large.

If you want to do the required post-recording for your tracks using DSD, your best option is to convert DSD files to DXD, edit it, then convert it back.

However, you can cut the tracks and discard data in between if you have the appropriate software for it.

You can also add crossfades between two takes if you want, but that’s the extent to which you can manipulate DSD files.

Only two programs can do that as of the moment: the Merging Technologies’ Pyramix and Sony’s Sonoma.

Can I Play DSD Data Anywhere

No, you’ll NEED SPECIAL PLAYERS to listen to DSD audio, some of which we mentioned in this article.

If you don’t have a special player, your DSD can be converted to PCM on the fly by your DAC.

If your device can’t handle the sample rate of the DSD, you’ll need to buy a DAC so that you can enjoy your music to the fullest.

What if I Want a Hi-Res Physical Audio Format?

If you prefer listening to music through PHYSICAL FORMATS, then luckily for you, there is a format out there for you.

It’s called the Super Audio CD (SACD).

An SACD DISC contains DSD audio which carries more information than the regular CD does.

You’ll need a special player that can process the SACD. The player should have the logo of the SACD somewhere on it.

There’s also a HYBRID SACD disk that carries two layers of information; one part of the CD layer contains the DSD stream and the other the PCM stream.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

While the sound quality of Direct Stream Digital files is better than PCM music files, the quality of the overall production matters more.

So while DSD files may be the technically better format for audio, there’s no guarantee that the tracks it contains will be anything better than tracks that use PCM encoding.

In the end, bad music will be BAD and good music will always be GOOD.

RELATED: Best Sound Card For Music Production: Ultimate Guide


May 4, 2022 – minor content edits

About the author


After becoming obsessed with the beats that were the soundtrack to his youth, Nick became a student of hip hop, digging for vinyl records, looking for the perfect break. Before he got his hands on an MPC sampler, he would mash these records, beats, and breaks into mixtapes and live DJ sets.