DAC Upgrade Dilemma - PS Audio Digital Link III w/Cullen Mod to Direct Stream DAC vs

I’ve owned a PS Audio Digital Link III with Cullen mods for several years now and have been extremely happy with it.

I recently purchased a PS Audit Direct Steam DAC thinking the sound would improve tremendously. Especially since it is about 3 times the price.

I was very disappointed!

After hooking up the Direct Stream and comparing the sound to my other DAC...

- Bass was fuller and seemed to fill the soundstage more. I could hear more lower register detail which seemingly allowed me to see further into the soundstage.

- The sound was lacking badly in air, immediacy,

- Bass was less tight

- Instruments were not as pronounced separately with less air around them.

- Vocals were more 2 dimensional and flatter than my other DAC which has 3 dimensional presence with air around the voices.

- Close mic acoustic guitar had less impact and immediacy. Strumming was less dynamic and impactful on the Direct Stream.

- Bass was razor tight with the old DAC, acoustic bass sounded amazing. Bass was good on the Direct Stream but not tight and a little looser probably because it is going lower.

- Sound was smoother on the Direct Stream. The Digital Link had more pronounced high frequency response and can get strident on some recordings.

These difference were immediately apparent. Upon switching back to the Digital Link, I was immediately transformed to a live event.

The only seeming improvement in the Direct Stream is I was able to see more into the stage due to it’s enveloping bass response. Unfortunately, this did not increase my listening pleasure and experience of listening to a live event.

The Direct Stream sounded like recorded music which got boring after a while. The Digital Link sounds more like live music which enables me to listen to it for hours on end.

Needless to say, I am getting rid of the Direct Stream. I’m not saying it is a bad DAC since maybe it does not match my current system and setup.

Bass is definitely more full and deeper on the Direct Stream at the expense of "air" around instruments and vocals and less tight which may work better on a system with larger speakers. I have B&W 805d 2 monitor type speakers.

And it’s possible that the Cullen mod really improves the analog portion of the electronics allowing more air to the presentation.











i tried the psa d-link with cullen 3 mods (as well as the psa ds)

it is quite a bright, detailed dac, somewhat grainy in the treble

if you are conditioned and like that sonic presentation in your system (likely other parts of your system is compensating a little or a lot...) i am not surprised you find the psa direct stream rolled off and dull in comparsion

before you quit the d-s, you should make sure it has the latest (and last) sunlight firmware update from ted, which brings out the detail much more than earlier windom...

still, with sunlight, the d-s is a more top to bottom balanced dac than the cullen’d d-link... which really fires the treble detail at the listener without relent nor remorse

Well I'm sure it'll need some break-in time but I believe it upsamples all incoming signals to DSD, so I don't know how that goes with you.

How long have you had the new dac before coming to this conclusion about the sound?  It’s entirely possible you just prefer your older one, which is fine, but I think you need to listen to the new one for at least 2 weeks before making a judgment. Part of the break in is the component and part is you getting used to a different presentation.  If it’s not happening by then, just return it. 

Thanks for the responses. I am sure the Direct Stream is a much better DAC than Digital Link, it just doesn't seem to work well with my system.   It was purchased second hand so it should be broken in.  Yes, I prefer the brightness and detail (no grain) of the Digital Link since it contributes to the airiness and realness of the sound.  The Direct Stream sounded much better than the Digital Link on several recordings, however, for most, it wasn't doing it for me.

I just wanted to point out that the process of upgrading is not always positive.

This happened before when I tried to upgrade my speakers from B&W 805D2 to Martin Logan ESL 13A ($16K).  The same thing happened...much bigger, soundstage at the expense of air, impact and "you are there" feeling.  The tweeters of the 805D2 are fantastic so the ML's went back.

we like what we like, it’s all good

it is good you tried, and came to your own conclusion - that is more than many do here...

it is true newer is not alway better, and system synergy counts for much

you did not say whether your directstream has the sunlight firmware... that really matters...

anyhow, the good news is you’re 3 grand richer if you jettison the d-s, keep the d-link 😆

I have had the Cullen modded Digital Link III for several years now. This DAC is amazing with my Maggie setup.  I upgraded my DAC last year only to accommodate DSD and MQA. I keep the PSIII in my other system. 

Have you thought of changing out the interconnects to ones that have a brighter presentation?

I just bought a use DirectStream myself and can see where you could consider the presentation rolled off.  I need to give it some play time until I become familiar with it and then see if I can shape the sound with power cords and interconnects,