PCM vs DSD Comparison (The Truth)

Norvan Martin
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In recent times, there has been an increased attraction to High-resolution audio production and consumption. This is made possible by the release of affordable audio recovery from multiple manufacturers and the broader bandwidth of the internet. In this article, we compare PCM and DSD audio format resolutions.

DSD stores SACD (Super Audio CD which is a read-only optical disc format) and uses delta-sigma modulation. DSD is also a 1-bit with a 2.8224 MHz sampling rate. On the other hand, PCM or Pulse-code modulation is a method used to digitally represent sampled analog signals on conventional CDs or computer audio systems.

Read on to learn more.

PCM vs DSD Comparison Table

Sampling MethodPulse Code ModulationDirect Stream Digital
Sampling RatesVarious (e.g., 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz)Fixed (e.g., 2.8224 MHz, DSD64)
Bit Depth16-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit1-bit
Dynamic RangeWide, determined by bit depthHigh, compensated by high sampling rate
Editing and ProcessingCompatible with standard DAWsRequires specialized equipment and software
File Size and StorageCan be large, depending on settingsCan be large, especially at high sampling rates
CompatibilityWidely supported by various devicesMay require specific hardware/software support



Pulse-Code Modulation (PCM) is the standard form of digital audio in digital telephony, compact discs, computers, and other digital audio applications. It is the basic method of digitally representing sampled analog signals.

PCM sends digital stereo audio data and so cannot transmit surround sound. As an example, if you have a Yamaha receiver and it is displaying PCM, that means it is getting a stereo signal.

In every PCM signal stream, the amplitude of the analog audio signal is regularly sampled at uniform intervals and each sample is quantized to the nearest value in a particular range of digital steps.

Generally, PMC audio recordings are commercially available in 16-bit or 24-bit and the sample rates range from 44.1KHz to 192kHz.

To learn more about PCM, check out our article on PCM vs bitstream.


Some of the advantages of PCM include:

  • Data transmission is secured.
  • PCM has low susceptibility to crosstalk.
  • Offers direct processing of the received digital PCM signal to a PC.
  • PCM has higher immunity to noise.


  • Unlike analog systems, PCM requires a larger bandwidth.
  • PCM systems i.e., encoding, recording, and quantizing circuits are very complex.


Direct Stream Digital (DSD) is primarily used by Philips and Sony as a trademark for their system of digitally recreating sound signals for the Super Audio CD (SACD). It uses pulse-density modulation encoding technology to store sound signals in the form of delta-sigma-modulated digital audio.

DSD recordings are commercially available in 1-bit. The sample rate is majorly 2.8224MHz, with several higher-resolution modern DSD formats in existence. Some of them include DSD128, DSD256, and DSD512.


  • Being a high-resolution audio format, it plays audio of very high quality.
  • DSD format has a wide volume range of 120dB- this means that it can go significantly louder compared to CD-quality audio which has a range volume of 96 dB.


Is DSD the best audio format?

There are some logical answers that explain why many DSD recordings sound very good indeed. Studios that master music in DSD specializes in high-quality recordings of extremely good musicians.

As a result, DSD material contains some fantastic music, and if you’re a fan of classical music, you’ll find that some of the best performances by orchestras and composers have been recorded in DSD, and due to the care and effort that went into them, they sound fantastic even before any of the format’s benefits kick in.

DSD isn’t yet a widespread format, and there’s a possibility it’ll never truly be one with a large selection of music. Despite this, it contains some genuinely amazing recordings of great quality. 

What Do You Need To Play DSD?

To enjoy the high-resolution audio delivered in DSD, you will need a Digital Audio Converter (DAC) that natively supports DSD. Some software players will convert DSD to a playable format on your Mac or PC even if your DAC does not support DSD.

So, Is PCM Better Than DSD?


Wondering whether PCM is better than DSD, let’s look at some of the striking differences.

Bit- Recordings

PCM is always found in 16- bit or 24- bit with various sampling rates varying from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz whereas DSD recordings are always found in 1- bit with a sample rate of 2. 82MHz.

 Because of quantization errors, differentiating DSD from PCM is nearly possible and always confusing to even great sound experts.


The difference that occurs between the value closest to the digital signal to analog signal is what is referred to as noise in this topic.

DSD has a higher volume and hence it can be heard even in silence, unlike PCM where noise is evenly distributed across its sample rate.

Audio Quality

PCM and DSD are not that easy to tell apart from each other often. They are like identical twins. This is because of the similarity in resolution with a difference in bit depths, and sampling rates.

What is DSD over PCM?

DoP or (DSD Over PCM) is a way to transport DSD audio through USB ports that don’t have a DSD driver. In the lower 16 bits of a 176.4/24 sampling rate, each set of 16 DSD bits is stored as PCM bits. Each sample has an 8-bit DoP header attached to it. The DAC at the playback end must be DoP compatible in order to reconstruct the PCM bits into a continuous DSD stream.


It is not easy to conclude which is better than the other the closeness between PCM and DSD. However, because PCM is easier to edit, and it is more compatible with devices than DSD, we shall conclude that PCM is today’s people’s favorite.

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Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics. My email: [email protected]  Connect on Pinterest and Linkedin