Review: PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Sunlight Software

If you are a regular reader, you know that I’m an old record spinner. The only real time that I spent much effort with a digital source was with the advent of SACD. For nearly three years, I loved their DSD sound. However, in the end there just wasn’t enough music that I enjoyed available on SACD.

As I have shared  before, my life changed a couple of years ago when my macular degeneration began to get worse at a very fast pace. Among other things, this forced me to give up vinyl and go to digital. I just couldn’t continue to justify ruining records and cartridges with my limited vision. in me giving up vinyl and going to digital.

My Digital Journey

I have reviewed many DACs and servers in my journey to find a digital system that I could be satisfied with. I thought I had found it with my digital system consisting of the INNUOS Statement Music Server at $15,000 and the PS Audio Windom DirectStream DAC at $6,000. I reviewed this combination here.

Could This Be Just the Software?

PS Audio released the Sunlight software for the DirectStream DAC on May 4th, a day after my birthday. Man what a birthday present this was! Sunlight takes the DirectStream to a whole new level. My only regret was that I waited several weeks to install it. No, the installation wasn’t difficult. It took me all of 10 minutes to download and install. Remember, I can barely see what I’m doing, so it should take you even less time.

Paul McGowan of PS Audio said that it would be like getting a new DAC. What an understatement! I have never gotten another digital product in for review that was this musical. My DAC no longer sounded digital or like an analog source. My reference system simply took on a whole new level of musical and emotional involvement.

Let me put it this way, in the past I have reviewed phono cartridges that cost twice as much as this DAC that made nowhere near the improvement in my system. Now, what does this magical software cost an owner of any DirectSream DAC? It cost absolutely nothing. You read that right. It’s FREE!

What Makes It Sound So Good?

With the Windom software in the DirectStream DAC, I could always sense that real people and real instruments were in the room. This sense is even more apparent with the Sunlight software. It breathes air into the room. Simply put, it lets me hear more of everything.

Here’s what I mean by that. With the Sunlight software, I hear more of the hall, the club, or whatever venue where the music was recorded. As a result, I experience recorded music in a way that helps me feel more like I am listening to live music. I can also hear more natural air when it’s present in the recording. With the Sunlight software, I hear real air and acoustical space around the vocals and instruments.

So What Else is Different?

The differences between the Sunlight and the Windom software are also more about the differences in how you react to the music. With the Sunlight software, I found that performances were more rewarding. The differences I heard in the sound of the instruments let me hear more of the texture of the music. I also heard more of the colors of the music. Like me, I’m absolutely sure you will find it much easier to follow the flow of the performance when listening to the DirectStream DAC with the Sunlight software.

While the Sunlight software is not overly forgiving, it enables less-than-stellar recordings to be emotionally satisfying. Of course, it can do nothing to help less-than-stellar performances. It’s kind of paradoxical in the way it is so revealing and so satisfying at the same time.

To be honest the sound of the DirectStream with the Sunlight software is a little unsettling at first. It’s so much more dynamic, alive sounding, and emotionally involving. I heard so much more of the acoustical space than I had known was on the recordings that it was surprising. On live recordings, the sensation was very exhilarating.

The bass has great tone and bloom. It sounds so much more like bass instruments do in real life. My system sounded more like real music.  It didn’t matter if I was listening to a bass drum, an upright bass, a piano, or even an electric bass, the instruments just sounded so much more alive and had much better musical tones than they did before.

What About Voices?

The voices are just beautiful. As I’m writing this, I am sitting listening to Ladysmith Black Mombassa’s Long Walk to Freedom. It is really wonderful to hear voices that have so much warmth and natural reverb and still have such a degree of transparency. You can hear so much detail from each singer, yet there is such warmth and harmony that in traditional audiophile language, one would never think of this as being detailed.

Expansive Soundstage

The Sunlight software also produces an expansive soundstage that is very natural and does not draw attention to itself. The scale of the instruments and singers are nearly life size. The overall presentation is very believable, and as I keep saying, very emotionally involving. It allows you to listen deep into the performance. It’s not the kind of soundstage that distracts you from the performance.

Conclusion

The PS Audio Sunlight software update brings a whole new level of emotional involvement. Listening to a good performance is just captivating. When a musician plays a note on their horn or strikes a big drum, it is both startling and so natural at the same time. The sounds of cymbals, bells, or a harp just drew me into the music. Vocals sound so believably real. If you own the DirectStream DAC, the Sunlight software is a no-brainer. Go download it now!

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