PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC
Input: USB, I2S, Coax S/PDIF, Toslink
Output: RCA, XLR
Dimensions: 14” x 8.3” x 2.4” [36cm x 21cm x 6.1cm]
Weight: 20 lbs [9.1 kg]
Availability: Direct Online and Authorized Dealers
There's More Than One Way To Skin A DAC
PS Audio's new NuWave DSD DAC has taken some engineering cues from the company's much-loved DirectStream DAC (see review). While the NuWave does not house the same FPGA-based processing as found in its larger and more costly sibling, it does house a complex programmable logic device (CPLD), a device that sits between a programmable logic device (PAL) and a field programmable gate array (FPGA) in terms of complexity. The CPLD in the NuWave is tasked with one important job; take the incoming bits from the XMOS-based USB receiver and other digital inputs and pass it along to the 32-bit ESS Hyperstream DAC corrected; "discovers sample rate and format, reclocks all incoming data, reduces jitter, waveshapes data output to the DAC chip, and utilizes high speed/low gate count logic to reduce propagation delay for faster throughput". The CLPD accomplishes this in what the company calls "Native Mode" meaning there's no sample rate conversion employed. After the DAC, a passive filter is applied in the analog output stage.
The DAC can handle PCM resolutions from 16-bit/44.1kHz to 192kHz and DSD up to 5.6MHz via its asynchronous USB (DoP) and I2S inputs (the Toslink and Coax inputs are content with PCM-only). The NuWave houses a direct-coupled, fully balanced, high current class A hybrid output stage with a claimed "extended bandwidth of -3dB at 60 kHz!" The company calls that analog transformer pictured above "massive" and they'll get no argument from me on that score. Remember, PS Audio also designs and builds power products so they know from whence they draw. In addition to the ins and outs, the unit's toggle power switch also resides around back. An IEC inlet for the included power cord finishes things out.
The front panel is all input-based information including a list of 'em with associated blue LEDs, and two small buttons with up or down arrows, to work your way through input selection. The chassis is made from black or silver aluminum and steel, another inherited trait from the DirectStream, with a black mirror-like top plate. At 20 pounds, the NuWave feels and looks more than its asking price to my eyes and resembles in dimension a round cornered version of the safe deposit boxes used by really rich people, drug dealers, and super secret agents.
I connected the NuWave DSD DAC to my Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated amplifier with lengths of Auditorium 23 XLRs. Front end duties were handled by my MacBook Pro running Roon and I used an AudioQuest Diamond USB cable to share my bits. Speakers remain the loaner DeVore Fidelity Xs, which are leashed to the Ayre via Auditorium 23 speaker cables.
Fortune Smiles Upon Those Who Listen
The PS Audio NuWave DAC makes some nice music. If you could hear my great-grandmother say that, I can, with English broken by her native Italian, you'd get a better sense of what I mean. My great-grandmother was a woman of few words so the words she spoke meant more than idle blabber.
While the technology responsible for turning bits into music in the NuWave is anything but straight forward, listening to the result is. I listened to the NuWave DAC for more than a month, and from the get-go what I heard was a very dense, rich, and fluidly rewarding way with music. The scale of the presentation is portrayed in a believable manner, meaning that there's no overtly unnatural spotlight drawing your attention from the gist of things. Some DACs can sound a bit too resolute, a too micro-detail lit, where you find yourself drawn into relatively insignificant details while missing the bigger and more important picture.
The NuWave does not lead you astray in that way, rather it pulls you into the performance where you'll experience a very solid, dimensional, and appropriately-sized sound image. While this may seem contradictory to what I just said, the NuWave delivers some very solid and full bass, more so than many other DACs I've had the pleasure of listening to. Don't get me wrong; bass does not stand or jump out, but its rich fullness is worth highlighting.
There are no rough edges to be found coming from the NuWave, think smooth yet nicely textured. Compared to the recently reviewed and similarly priced Metrum Musette (review) there's a bit more flesh on the music's bones with the NuWave, and a generally more dimensional presentation. Where the Musette will grab some listeners is immediacy; the Metrum DAC sounds faster, for lack of a better word, and a bit more lively. Horses for courses. I'd suggest that people who enjoy rich, full, and fluid will likely prefer the PS Audio DAC.
While I like to mention specific music in my reviews, it can be misleading since when I say I listened to the NuWave for more than a month I mean it. That's many hours a day, for weeks and if you think I could list all of the music I listened to during the length of this review, you'd have me confused with someone else. I have to say I wonder when I read reviews where there a dozen or so songs offered as the review play list. That's under an hour of listening time! But I digress.
For reasons unknown to me beyond the obvious, I've been listening to Sturgill Simpson a lot. I'm nearly embarrassed to tell you much how much I mean by a lot, but I've gotten to know Metamodern Sounds In Country Music (see review) very well. While not the best quality recording, with some inexplicable distortion on some tracks, I'm not distracted from the quality of the music. Sturgill Simpson has a compelling, rich, and somewhat deep voice and the NuWave gives it all to your ears in a very engaging manner.
My reference Auralic Vega DAC, at nearly three times the PS Audio's price, adds more dimension, apparent resolution, and sparkle while it also unravels the most gnarly complex noise, like "Figure 8" from FKA twigs wonderful EP M3LL155X, with greater deftness, I'd suggest putting those kinds of comparisons to bed so that you can enjoy the NuWave for everything it offers.
At one point in my listening time, Roon Radio offered up my DSD download of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and the sweetness and warm shimmer of that wonderful music drew me way in, away from DACs, bits, and formats. Big music, small music, and everything in between is handled by the NuWave DAC in such a way that there's not a heck of a lot to miss. Sure, I've fallen for much more costly DACs much harder, and even PS Audio's DirectStream offers more, but if a spirit ascended into the barn and said unto me, "You must live with NuWave, forever!" I wouldn't curse her, I'd thank her.
The Cat's Meow
There are two things we should ask of every DAC; the ability to play all the music we're interesting in playing regardless of format and a musically balanced presentation. Regardless of price. When we want and are willing to pay more for more, what we really want is increased musical engagement. While this can be a never-ending tale for some unfortunate audiophiles, music lovers are blessed with an end to their means.
The PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC offers the ability to play every common file format you can buy, exceptional build quality, and a way with your music that will leave you wanting more: Whether that's more time to listen or more music to listen to is up for grabs.
Also in-use during the NuWave DSD DAC review: Metrum Musette, Auralic Vega