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PCM vs DSD – What’s the difference? Which one is better?

The distinctions between PCM and DSD are certainly familiar to you if you enjoy listening to music. Both of these technologies provide high-quality audio but do it in very different ways.

DSD stands for Direct Stream Digital, while PCM stands for Pulse Code Modulation. These two file types were created to enhance the audio quality of digital recordings. In order to do this, they employ cutting-edge coding techniques that enable more precise reconstruction of sound waves recorded at very fast speeds (typically 192kHz or higher).

DSD is frequently used by audiophiles because it can capture sound more precisely than PCM. When listening to music with singers, which contains a lot of high-frequency data, the difference is most obvious. While DSD more faithfully keeps this detail, PCM tends to smooth out some of it.

What is PCM?

A technique for turning digital data into an analog signal is called pulse-code modulation (PCM). High-frequency signals are used to represent digital data, whereas low-frequency signals are used to represent audio. The process entails representing the digital information in its original form using high-frequency signals, which are subsequently transformed into an analog signal. When this occurs, modifications to a wire’s or another object’s electrical characteristics can be utilized to denote modifications to the information being communicated.

Early CD players employed this type of digital audio coding to play back music files when it was first created in the early 1930s. A 44.1 kHz sampling rate was used in the original PCM format. This means that when played again at a frequency of 22,050 Hz, it had 44,100 samples per second.

British inventor Alec Reeves invented pulse-code modulation in 1937. After NASA employed it to transmit data via satellites during the Apollo mission, it attracted a lot of interest. Information is now frequently transmitted between computers and digital devices like smartphones and tablets via PCM.

PCM uses an on-off pulse encoding to store and modify digital data. Depending on what the computer intends to encode into the signal, the frequency of these pulses fluctuates.

What is DSD?

Direct stream digital (DSD), which stands for “direct stream digital,” is an extension of PCM that enhances audio quality by introducing a greater sample rate (48 kHz) and a better signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). DSD enhances sound quality while also allowing for lower bit rates than PCM, which allows for more data to fit into the same volume while having fewer compression artifacts. In comparison to standard-quality MP3s or AAC, this can lead to reduced file sizes that take up less room on your hard drive or mobile device.

The Direct Stream Digital (DSD) audio format encrypts audio data using an open, nonproprietary manner. The present SACD format, which employs exclusive compression techniques and is incompatible with all other digital audio players, is intended to be replaced with this one.

The primary benefit of DSD over PCM is that it offers a better approximation of the original signal, which makes it simpler to synchronize various devices and produce recordings.

DSD supports sampling rates up to 192 kHz and employs a 2-channel, 16-bit/44 kHz sample rate. DSD generates higher-quality audio than PCM because it enables for more precise sound reproduction.

Sony first disclosed the idea behind Direct Stream Digital in 2001 when they declared their desire to release a new high-resolution audio format called Super Audio CD (SACD). However, due to technical difficulties in creating hardware for this format, they decided against making it available.

PCM vs DSD – Which one is better?

As we’ve seen, the operation and level of quality of the DSD and PCM digital audio formats are very different from one another. Despite being made with different objectives in mind, both have their uses.

But in the end, DSD is actually the more accurate format. It does have certain disadvantages, such as the high resolution, lack of interoperability, and important mastering restrictions. However, it can provide higher sound quality than PCM and is a more modern audio format. However, keep in mind that it is more difficult to use, so if you are not an audiophile or have limited resources it might not be worth the effort.

PCM uses fewer resources to decode the file and provides somewhat worse sound quality than DSD. If you’re searching for a nice balance between performance and ease of use, PCM might be your best option. In comparison to CD, it offers you the best dynamic range while preserving a smaller file size. I wish you luck in finding your ideal fit.