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Positive Feedback ISSUE 75
september/october 2014


exaSound Brings Quad DSD to Mac, Support for Linux and Windows Server Enhancements
by Brian Moura


George Klissarov, exaSound (left) and Jared Sacks, NativeDSD.Com (right) Listening to Multichannel DSD Music at RMAF 2013

Pushing the Boundaries of High Resolution Audio

Many Positive Feedback readers and audiophiles are familiar with exaSound Audio Design based in Toronto, Canada. For those of you who are new to the world of high resolution stereo and multichannel music downloads, exaSound is a company you need to put on your list when auditioning digital to analog converters (DAC) to add to your home music system.

Headed up by audiophile and design engineer George Klissarov, exaSound is staffed by a team that are audiophiles who are also "electronic engineers, software developers, musicians and entrepreneurs" with extensive experience in DAC design and software development. This blend of interests and skills serves the company well.

exaSound is known and praised by customers for their very responsive customer support, passion for stereo and multichannel music, and continuing to push the boundaries of high resolution audio. The company's mission statement is "to deliver the highest levels of quality, reliability and performance in all of our products." exaSound prides itself on the fact that its DACs "are hand-built and individually tested." exaSound also offers a free, 30-day trial of all of their products, daring interested music fans to send them back after an audition. (That's confidence in your products!)

Among the company's innovations and industry firsts are the first audiophile quality Quad DSD (11.2 MHz, DSD256) DACs, the first to support this resolution level in both stereo and multichannel playback, and also the first to support these features on PC/Windows computers. The company continues to innovate, and often introduces new features and capabilities through free software upgrades and new drivers, bringing added value to the owners of their current products, as well as future owners. This has resulted in a number of favorable reviews for their line of stereo and multichannel DACs (see links below) along with two Brutus Awards from Positive Feedback (see link below).

exaSound e28 Multichannel DSD DAC

Bringing Quad DSD to the Mac

In March 2014, exaSound once again broke new ground by becoming the first audiophile DAC company to add stereo and multichannel Quad DSD playback to Apple Mac computers running OS X. They did this with the release of two different software drivers—one that supports Apple's Core Audio native sound system in OS X, and a second that supports the ASIO protocol developed by Steinberg for use in their pro audio products and now increasingly popular in high end audiophile DAC use.

exaSound notes that "Core Audio has inconsistent and sometimes absent support for Integer Mode, Exclusive Mode, and new audio formats like DSD. High-end audio companies have developed proprietary solutions like DSD over PCM (DoP) to work around the Core Audio limitations. Unfortunately, DoP causes 30 to 50 percent overhead. In addition, the DoP implementation for DSD256 requires support for PCM at 705.6kHz and 768kHz. Such sampling rates are a real challenge for both computer CPU and USB audio interface."

exaSound's recommended method for Quad DSD playback on the Mac with their DACs is through the use of the ASIO protocol and their new ASIO driver for the Mac. Ironically, ASIO was a part of the Mac OS prior to OS X when Apple removed it in favor of the Core Audio system.

With exaSound's ASIO driver for Mac OS X, exaSound DACs become the master device allowing "true asynchronous operation," support for Exclusive Mode, improved performance and reduced CPU load allowing even older Macs to play Quad DSD music files and faster track to track changes.

Eventually other DAC makers may take the extra step—and work—to bring ASIO support back to the Mac for Quad Rate stereo and multichannel DSD (DSD 256) playback. It's great to see exaSound leading the market in this area.

Decibel Audio Player for the Mac

Decibel Steps Up to Provide Quad DSD on the Mac with ASIO

All of this work is a moot point unless the makers of music download software don't respond and add Quad DSD and ASIO support to their products. The good news is we are starting to see this happen as well.

In April 2014, Feisty Dog Software, the makers of the Decibel Audio Player for Mac OS X, announced that they had successfully implemented full support of the new exaSound ASIO drivers to their software. This brings Quad rate DSD (DSD 256), in both stereo and multichannel music files to the Mac OS X platform for the first time. And it does so in a very low cost software program ($33). A link to the Decibel web site is provided below.

HQ Player 3.4

Quad DSD on the Mac from HQ Player

Things became even better for exaSound owners in September, 2014. Signalyst, the makers of HQ Player, released version 3.4 of their audio player, with support for the Mac playback of Quad rate DSD using the new exaSound ASIO and Core Audio drivers.

HQ Player is popular among audiophiles for its many music playback options and multiple upsampling filters. If you're interested in upsampling PCM music files to DSD or taking DSD music files at Single Rate DSD (DSD64) and upsampling them, with upsampled resolutions up to Quad DSD (DSD256) and even higher, this is the program to use.

Windows Server 2012

Drivers Coming for Linux and an Enhanced Windows Server Driver

Just as the news that HQ Player was coming out with Quad DSD support for the Mac, exaSound told me about even more support for their DACs that is on the way.

Computers running Linux will soon be getting native and ASIO drivers for exaSound DACs. According to exaSound, these drivers are already in the second stage of testing at exaSound and with DAC owners. They expect the exaSound Linux drivers to be available in the very near future.

After that, exaSound will release an enhanced set of drivers for Windows Server that will not require the use of the .Net framework. This will eliminate the need to install the older version of .Net on your computer before using the drivers. exaSound is currently working with owners of their DACs to set up a test group to give these server drivers a going-over before release.

More to Come

exaSound is clearly a company that never rests. They have made their new Quad DSD drivers for the Mac available to the makers of all music player programs. So we should expect to see more software company announcements of these features in the future.

Asked about why exaSound continues to upgrade and expand their list of company-specific drivers—rather than use the generic drivers that are often found in DACs from competing companies, exaSound offers this comment: "Achieving bit-perfect, jitter-minimized playback with a PC or Mac requires proprietary sound drivers and an external asynchronous DAC. It doesn't matter if the interface is USB, Fire-Wire, Ethernet or something else. What really matters is the true asynchronous mode of operation. The external DAC should come with a memory buffer that has enough data stored away from the computer to feed the DAC without interruptions using its own precise clocks."

exaSound also hints that more products—and drivers—are in the future for the company and the owners of their DACs. As an owner of their e28 Multichannel DAC—I bought it last year after hearing a demo at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest—that's literally music to my ears. And I suspect it will lead to even more music fans taking a closer look at this small but innovative company in Toronto when they shop for a DAC to play their music files. It's a look that has been well earned and deserved.

exaSound Audio Design
3219 Yonge Street, Suite 354
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M4N 3S1
[email protected]

Impressions: The exaSound e28 82fs Femto Clock DSD/PCM DAC – Excellence at the Highest Resolution (stereo review) HERE

PF Awards HERE and HERE

Impressions: The exaSound e20 DSD DAC – First Consumer Quad DSD DAC HERE

Decibel Audio Player

HQ Player 3.41

Microsoft Windows Server 2012