The audition

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Yesterday and today are reserved for the audition process. Engineer Darren Myers and I began in Music Room One at about 10 AM, yesterday, with 20 slight variations of code for Redcloud, the next Ted Smith upgrade miracle of lowered noise and jitter and significantly better sound quality for DirectStream DACS. It's an arduous process, culling out the weak versions, focusing on the strong ones, until a clear winner has emerged. A clear winner for DirectStream has emerged and Red Cloud is coming Friday. Of course, the audition began with the DAC's current software version, Huron, to establish our reference. The first track was Vivaldi: Concerto For Violin, Strings, And Harpsichord In G Minor, R. 331 - 1. Allegro on the Archiv label with the Venice Baroque Orchestra. This is a tough piece to reproduce properly and one of our torture challenges. In its opening refrain, the ensemble's in full swing and you feel like it should be powerful, but it sounds rather meek before lowering in intensity. We can hear the harpsichord tinkling in the background, but just barely. The sonic performance is respectable—if not a smidge cluttered and compressed sounding—something we thought to be the recording itself. Wrong. Holy sh*t. With Redcloud, it's a 10-seconder (an in-house term when the change is so apparent it takes only a few seconds to hear it). Weight, authority, and anxious intensity where with Huron there was complacency—laid back like Vivaldi can sometimes be on poor recordings but never in person. Within seconds of Redcloud playing both Darren and I turned to each and uttered the same profanity at the same time. Darren insisted we immediately go back to Huron, so big the differences that neither of us could believe it was the same recording. With Huron it sounds as if half the instruments are missing and the confusion is back. Upgrade to Redcloud and instantly the clutter's gone, the violin of Giuliano Carmignola now rich with rosin and full with body—and the small ensemble led by Andrea Marcon comes alive with an energy unknown to me from this recording. What was once an alright disc now has moved to first place on the short list of reference CDs. If I had just laid out $50K for a new DAC and heard this change I would pat myself on the back for making a good choice. But this was no new DAC (though you could have fooled us both). Then the pièce de résistance, the San Francisco Symphony's Mahler III. OMG again. The blat of horns was perfect: blaring without a hint of tizz. The orchestra suddenly transformed from great to spectacular: full-bodied, rich, without the slight bloat we now understand Huron to have had. The remarkable depth of the distant orchestra even deeper, beyond the walls of Music Room One. Captivated we could not turn off the music. That piece is nearly an hour in length. We did not move. Could not move. Tomorrow we'll repeat the audition process for DirectStream Junior. On Friday we will launch the biggest DAC upgrade in the history of DirectStream and DSJ—elevating these remarkable DACS to even higher levels than thought possible—just in time for the weekend. For free. And there's new Bridge firmware too. We've added Spotify Connect (more on that tomorrow), VTuner, Quboz (the European based high-resolution streaming service), and the latest ROON version so users can play MQA encoded files using ROON. For free. My apologies to non-DirectStream owners who won't be enjoying their new DACS and services over this weekend (though we'll buy your existing DAC back at full retail (up to $1,800 on DirectStream) if you're so inclined to upgrade).
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Paul McGowan

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