Is DSD Just A Placebo Effect?

I recently got into DSD after getting a decent DAC and it seems to sound so much better than regular hi-res PCM. I’m not sure if its just a placebo effect because the numbers are bigger and it costs more or if there’s actually some merit to using density code modulation. Anyone else have experiences with both and able to tell a difference?

1 Like

It is just placebo. Try a double blind by getting a friend to play them both without telling you which one. You definitely won’t be able to tell the difference. There was a study conducted where people listened to different bitrates of mp3 and compared them to Flac and only the mixing and mastering engineers could consistently identify Flac over high bitrate mp3. Nothing wrong with DSD though, it’s just not going to give you a noticeable improvement.

1 Like

Not sure how to do a proper ABX since the DSD albums I get come from a vinyl rip and the equipment to rip it in dsd would have a different sound signature to the equipment that makes it hi-res PCM.
That’s why i didn’t default to an ABX.
I feel like DSD sounds more realistic but i can’t make up any audiophile words to describe it.

I have some DSDs. They do sound more fuller and richer than regular files. I dont think its a gimmick, just the future. With harddrives, clouds etc going bigger and bigger (combined with 5G) then most records in the future will be DSD level since file size does not matter anymore

After I have learned the intricacies of the digital audio and got rid of all the placebos and myths about it from my head, what I can say for sure is that digital audio doesn’t play dice. If the format is lossless, the final waveform of the audio will be the same no matter the format.
DSD just has a diferent method of outputting the same waveform as non-DSD formats.

That being said, the only conceivable reason why you would hear a difference (other than pure placebo), is that maybe your DAC outputs the DSD vs non-DSD differently, which makes that DAC inherently imperfect. Not insulting your DAC, it’s just the only conclusion that makes sense.

1 Like

This is a list of free, downloadable files, allowing you to compare CD-Quality, MQA (16bit/44khz), to 24bit/192khz, to even 24bit/382.8khz, to DSD64 to DSD256, and everything in between.

Judge by yourself: Just put the same song, with like, 10 different bitrates, in a playlist, set the player to “random”, and close your eyes. Have fun! :slight_smile:

Personally, 90% of the time, I find that 96khz sounds better than CD. Not bad since I only have an old Denon AVR-1312 as a source, and Sennheiser HD280 Pros… for now. Fostex T50RPs will be next, all I can say is, good luck 44.1khz filters, lol.


You don’t need a whole collection of files for multiple formats. A hi-res file can be converted to standard quality very easily using free software like Aimp player or Audacity.
I always downconvert them since I never hear anything different, and I am using HD 600 + Aune X1s.

Of course, it’s also all according to the digital audio theory, no need for placebo. One quick way to verify the theory:

  1. Take a hi-res and downconvert it to 16/44.1.
  2. Put them in Audacity as 2 parallel tracks and make sure they are perfectly aligned sample by sample.
  3. Invert the phase of one of them with audacity.
  4. Play both tracks at the same time in Audacity or save the output. The identical parts will cancel each other out.

This is the de-facto way to output the difference between 2 different tracks and in this case nothing will be heard. A spectrum analasys of the output reveals that everything bellow 22 kHz is gone, which means a hi-res file is identical to CD quality bellow 22 kHZ, which is way above what you and me can hear at our age.

I also used this method to see the difference between a lossless file an a high quality 320 kbps mp3. The difference in most cases is just noise, which makes 320 kbps mp3 indistinguishable for human ears from lossless. I still use standard FLACs when possible, but I don’t fret when I can’t get them.

TL;DR: “Hi-res” audio is just marketing (or for studio use) and I refuse to fall for their tricks and money hungry schemes. Also, they occupy at least 4x more space than standard lossless and my collection is already over 100 GB.

1 Like

I definitely won’t throw my mp3s, wav files, or my CDs, in the garbage, because “Hi-Res audio” exists. Still, I want Hi-Res audio files.

I have an Edirol FA-66 for my little home studio with a little switch that goes to 192khz, and when it upsamples my mp3s to 192khz, my jaw drops.

I also have Fluance SX6 speakers, look at their graph. They go up to 20khz and beyond, and with some mp3s, I hear something wrong in the tweeters. Hint: The problem is definitely not the tweeters.

Finally, the fact that you did a test and concluded it’s snake oil because you did not hear any difference, only means that your ears can’t hear a difference, not mine, not everyone elses. You can spend all the time you want saying 1080p is placebo because we only see in 720p, 60fps is placebo because we only see 30fps, and mandarin is placebo because we only taste oranges, people watching 1080p60 videos eating mandarines won’t care.

TL,DR: Your ears (and/or equipment) can’t tell a difference, good for you, it will cost you less. It’s the same for most people who will visit the 2L website and compare for themselves, but not everyone.

1 Like

I don’t think you read everything that I wrote in my post. What I heard means nothing. The method I presented there proves that a “hi-res” file is identical to lossless files bellow 22 kHz, absolutely nothing subjective involved.
My findings were just practical proof to what was already know since 1950. Standard CD quality of 44.1k samples per second is enough to PERFECTLY reproduce any audio bellow 22 kHz. “Hi-res” just increases that limit to 44 kHz or 88 kHz, which is bollocks.

A spectral analysis of the many “hi-res” files I had in my PC revealed that the vast majority of these had little to no audio information over 22 kHz, which makes them the practical definition of snake-oil.

I can link you any number of respectable and trustworthy sources, that is if you want to learn. As far as I know most “audiophiles” are paradoxically more keen on “believing” rather than knowing how something works. Like this many many myths about digital audio are born, like magical added “coldness” or “stair-steps”.

1 Like

Except when filters wreak havoc under 22khz, just like mp3s wreak havoc under 20khz (or even under 16khz actually) and make decent tweeters sound like they’re broken. You also forgot about bit depth. 16bit/44.1khz vs 32bit/44.1khz means twice as much detail in the audible range.

I like the quote “everything audiophile is subtle and not worth it”. But above all, this only means the website you got it from sells fake hi-res (or it was fake torrent files). Real hi-res files have data above 22khz, 96khz, etc. Even old, well-recorded electronic music have analog synth sounds going up to 96khz recorded on vinyl.

All of them don’t matter. All that matters is that everyone has to judge by themselves and compare with the 2L files (for example). All that matters is blind testing. With real hi-res audio files.

Finally, you maybe tempted to spam the forum with blind-test studies showing more or less 95% people can’t tell the difference between CD and Hi-Res, thus “proving your point”… Without even realizing the fact that 95% people enjoy music in car stereos and believe their Beats or Airpods or random chinese headphones are “good enough”. These studies only confirm what we already know: Most people don’t have “golden ears”.

TL,DR: Leaving people with real hi-res audio files alone, and letting them decide by themselves, is the only way to go, because you don’t have their ears.

Fine, I know from experience that I waste my time earnestly teaching someone that doesn’t want to learn. I can tell you didn’t even seriously considered any of the information and objective proofs I provided you. And you didn’t thought about the numbers and engineering that make it work. Just be sure to keep the misinformation to yourself and not spread it out.

1 Like

Tell that to everyone whose brains are apparently mysteriously broken in telepathic man-to-machine ways because they can tell the difference between 16bit/44.1khz and more in blind tests.

In medicine, a placebo is a treatment simulates the appearance of a drug that is being tested but is made in a way that has no effect. I don’t think you meant to relate DSD to a non-functional format, right? In the strictest sense DSD is not a placebo. It’s a format that delivers music in a different way.

If the source is the same and they’re properly formatted in their respective formats, they should sound the same. The differences start being heard in the equipment you use to deliver and convert it… so that means if you have equipment that properly handles both formats, they should sound the same.

That said, I’m for more accurate formats whatever they are (DSD included). It doesn’t matter whether I can detect the difference using the equipment I have now; it’s nice to be able to know that if I find something that can take advantage of these they are there. Not everyone can carry a philharmonic orchestra in their pocket.

1 Like

One thing I have heard though, is that the process to convert from dsd to analogue is a lot simpler than the process to covert pcm to analogue. I was watching one of Paul’s videos on PS Audio, and he explained that DSD is essentially analogue that just needs to be amplified. That was his basis for designing the direct stream dac. The simplicity in the conversion supposedly leads to a higher accuracy, which creates the effect of it being a better dsd dac than a pcm dac.
After investing a little into dsd256 albums from 2xHD studios, who take the original masters from tape or rarely (if they have to) vinyl and convert it into various DSD formats through entirely analogue equipment, I can say something is lost when going from DXD (essentially fancy pcm) to DSD256.
However, this studio also releases lower dsd rates without downsampling, so there’s not possible error introduced other than that of the system itself. This means I was able to compare dsd256 and dsd64 and realise there is absolutely no difference between the two on my system.
For reference,
Running Topping d50 -> Aune x1s -> dt1990 with Audioquest Evergreen interconnect.

1 Like

man… so I gave DSD a shot since the Topping D90 supports it. I figured I might as well give this DAC a chance to make more of an argument for it’s price aside from being very well measured.
I bought the album “If the Moon Turns Green” which is some contemporary Jazz Album after listening to a few of the samples on the HDTracks Website… in DSD 512.
I don’t listen to a lot of Jazz, but it’s a nice sounding album and figured it would make a good test.
Getting DSD playback setup was a bit convoluted… but managed to get it working perfectly fine with Foobar… with the D90 playing back the DSD files natively. I also found the same album on Amazon Music HD in “HD/ CD Quality”… to compare it to…

I was very surprised to hear the DSD version of the album sounded a lot better than the album on Amazon Music HD… So this left me scratching my head a bit. Decided to buy the album in FLAC from HDtracks as well… so this time I was comparing FLAC standard PCM playback to the DSD 512… in this case… they actually sounded very close… if not identical. But both definitely sound better than the version on Amazon Music HD… so I’m not sure what is up with that. Don’t think I purchase anymore albums in DSD… but it’s interesting to know the ‘masters’ on Amazon Music HD aren’t always the ‘best’.

The main benefit of dsd imo is the more care put into mastering, but other than that


Yeah, both versions FLAC and DSD from HDTracks website sounded great… but the version on Amazon Music sounded comparatively really compressed (The loudness of all the sounds and vocals brought up to the same levels). If anything… testing this out just left me feeling disappointed in Amazon music… lol

I wonder if amazon music is using some volume normalization/replay gain or something to make all tracks similar volumes. Or they are being limited in LKFS/LUFS when they master. I don’t know if they master themselves or not so

There’s an option to normalize volume between music which I had turned off… that was the first thing I checked for. And doing any sort of volume adjustment or leveling didn’t fix the sound quality issue with Amazon music either. =(

I also checked out the album on spotify… and it sounded largely the same as the Amazon version.

It just seems like HDtracks has a better master that is less compressed for whatever reason.

I just set up a trial for Amazon HD and it does seem like every track has been reduced so as to not exceed -6db.