PS Audio NuWave

PS Audio NuWave
Outboard DAC with USB & S/PDIF inputs
Made by: PS Audio, Boulder, Colorado
Supplied by: Signature Audio Systems
Telephone: 07738 007776
Price: £1000
PS Audio NuWave
nother ‘half-pint’ unit, PS
Audio’s NuWave DAC is
especially stylish at the
price with its ‘wrap-around’
alloy casework. Available in black
or silver and topped off by a glossy
perspex lid, it all looks very smart
indeed. However, PS Audio has
not endowed its NuWave with a
display, but simply a selection of
indicators that confirm selected
input, signal lock and whether or
not you’ve elected for 192kHz
upsampling. It’s the only unit in our
test not to indicate the incoming
sample rate – fine if you’re confident
operating ‘blind’ but an oversight if
you’re not sure your PC or Mac isn’t
downsampling in the background.
Connections at the rear are
only fractionally sparser than the
equivalently-priced Moon 300D:
one coaxial, one optical and one
USB input with both balanced (XLR)
and unbalanced outputs. So, with
fewer options, or opportunities to
get confused depending on your
viewpoint, than either the Lavry
or North Star DACs, the NuWave is
virtually ready to go as soon as you
have plugged it in.
All you need do is decide whether
to opt for 192kHz upsampling or
process the incoming media natively
at 48kHz, 96kHz etc. Of note, the
manual contains useful information
in terms of unit setup, system
optimisation and trouble-shooting.
Listening to the NuWave through
its USB input, I was immediately
struck by the sheer verve of the
performance it offered, sounding
punchy, taut and crisp. The unit has
a relatively high output level [see
simple front
panel of the
sports just
two control
and six LED
Lab Report] and required careful
level-matching in order to avoid this
skewing my findings. Suitably dialled
back, the PS Audio continued to
show itself as an ebullient performer,
with bass in particular sounding very
tight and deep.
This worked a treat on the Steely
Dan album, gripping the backing
bass guitar securely and making
each note sound articulate and
distinct. At the top end, the PS Audio
NuWave certainly sounds vivid but
this is also often accompanied by
a mildly gritty character. Via either
USB or S/PDIF inputs, the Gaudete
Quintet’s horns rasped too much
for my liking even if, contrarily, their
basic performance remained very
detailed and realistically staged.
In much the same fashion, Diana
Krall’s vocals were exquisite but her
backing instrumentation was a little
unfocused or indistinct. Ironically,
reverting to the digital output of my
CD player source ironed things out
somewhat and the NuWave started
to sound both smoother and more
inviting with my Steely Dan and
Eagles selections.
Sound Quality: 75%
- 100
A combination of Burr-Brown’s PCM1798 DAC and PS Audio’s
own discrete analogue output stage defines the performance
of the NuWave DAC. The BB DAC provides superb low-level
resolution, good to ±0.1dB over a 100dB range and low jitter
– just 70psec with 24-bit/48kHz data and 100psec at 96kHz,
falling to a mere 17psec via USB. The analogue stage delivers a
huge 5.3V peak output from its balanced XLRs from a moderate
98ohm source impedance, but the output is phase-inverted
so take care with A/B comparisons. This stage also imprints its
own distortion which is ‘high’ at 0.013% at 0dBFs but actually
falls by a factor of 10x to 0.0012% at –30dBFs [see Graph,
below]. Importantly, from a subjective standpoint, distortion is
very consistent with frequency while the response shows a mild
low-bass lift (+0.2dB/12Hz) and treble roll-off (–2.6dB/45kHz
and –7.5dB/90kHz). The XMOS-based USB input (with proven
Thesycon drivers) not only offers lower jitter but also a higher
A-wtd S/N ratio (110.5dB vs. 108.5dB via S/PDIF). All other
‘analogue’ parameters are necessarily identical. PM
ABOVE: Distortion versus digital signal level at 1kHz (red/
SPDIF, black/USB) and 20kHz (blue/USB) over a 120dB range
Maximum output level/Impedance
ABOVE: The rear panel plays host to coaxial, optical and USB digital inputs in
addition to balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) analogue outputs
5.29Vrms / 98ohm (balanced)
A-wtd S/N ratio (S/PDIF / USB)
108.5dB / 110.8dB
Distortion (20Hz-20kHz/0dBFs)
0.013-0.014% (S/PDIF)
Distortion (20Hz-20kHz/0dBFs)
0.014-0.012% (USB)
Frequency response (20Hz-20kHz)
+0.08dB to –0.45dB
Digital jitter (S/PDIF / USB)
70psec / 17psec
Resolution @ –100dB (S/PDIF / USB)
±0.1dB / ±0.2dB
Power consumption
Dimensions (WHD)
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