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Time for a new DAC - PS Audio PWD

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

I really like my speaker rig’s digital front end which consists of an Exemplar Music Server and an Exemplar XD-1 DAC (A heavily modified Xindak DAC-5). The XD-1 is an amazingly good DAC, its strengths are the quality of the 6922 based SE outputs (and the associated supped up power supply) but it has a few shortcomings that I’d like to address. (I also use an Oppo BDP-83SE that is currently being modified by Exemplar Audio)


1) The XD-1 puts everything through its SRC, so there is no Native playback option. Especially with High Resolution files I’d prefer to not have the data manipulated by a SRC, or at least I’d like to have the option of Native playback.

2) The XD-1 will not accept sample rates above 96 kHz. I’m itching to try some of the Reference Recordings HrX 176.4 kHz recordings.

3) The XD-1 does not have balanced outs (The Xindak DAC-5 does). Since my preamp (Parasound JC2) and amps (Parasound JC1’s) are both fully balanced I’d like the ability to go fully balanced.


So I’m looking for a DAC that:


Allows for Native playback (especially important for High Resolution)

Accepts up to 192 kHz sample rates.

High quality balanced and SE outputs.


I’ve done a lot of research and the DAC that keeps coming out ahead is the PS Audio Perfectwave DAC. I’m not a fan of touch screens that I’ll almost never touch, but aside from that the PWD is the only DAC that fits my requirements. The Network Bridge also seems like a fabulous feature. The idea of having a remote DLNA compliant NAS RAID server is exciting (My Exemplar Server could be moved to my Bedroom/Headphone rig).

I plan on ordering a PWD on Monday.  Have I missed any other DAC’s that meet my requirements?   What are your thoughts about the PWD?  Pros and Cons?



post #2 of 23

I really like my PWD which I got about 2 months ago.  I never use the touch screen, and mostly just use the remote which works well for me.  


I leave it set for native bit rates and not up-sampling, so I can almost say I don't know if it is better or worse with up-sampling turned on.  It was a noticeable step up from my Digital Link III which I really liked, with more realistic presence and fullness to the performance and instruments, and better clarity and separation.  My O2 Mk1 sound less rolled off in the highs via PWD/WES than via DLIII/WES.


I look forward to the bridge, but for now I use several transports including Macbook Pro optical and USB, a DVD player via coax, and Airport Express via optical.  I plan to get a PWT at some point as well.


The only issue I ran into was when I plugged my WES into the balanced output and my ZDT into the SE output at the same time then I heard background noise and hum in both amps, which would get louder as the volume pot was turned up.  The issue was due to a floating case-ground on the ZDT, and when I bypass the resistor between the case and ground it went silent.  However, I didn't need to do that with the DLIII or Apogee mini-DAC to connect both amps to one DAC at the same time.

post #3 of 23
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the info. The touch screen just adds cost and complexity, who knows the PWD might have been as much as $500 cheaper without it. It might have made more sense if they also provided a composite Video output of the screen for display on a larger monitor or projector.


I sort of doubt that the PWD is going to be better than my XD-1 (On files that the XD-1 can handle), but I'm looking at it for the added features and sophistication in the Digital realm (Playback of higher than 96 kHz, Native playback, and the Bridge). I will also probably end up getting both the Bridge and the PWT. I have heard from a friend that the PWD/PWT comes VERY close to the top end DCS Scarlatti and Esoteric separates (He owns them) for about 1/10Th the cost.


Do I need the PWD? of course not, but when does need come in where a hobby is concerned.

post #4 of 23

I purchased the PWT/PWD combo for my speaker rig and I also have a headphone amp (SPL Phonitor) connected to this system.   It replaced a Benchmark DAC1 Pre and a Rega Saturn CD player in a system that includes Harbeth SHL-5 speakers, CAT SL-1 Ultimate tube preamp and McIntosh MC275 v5 tube power amp, Linn LP12 turntable and Running Springs Jaco conditioner.  The PSA combo provides a significant improvement in soundstage width and depth, imaging and detail resolution.  It clearly makes headphone listening more enjoyable.   I liked it so much I bought a second combo for my dedicated headphone system that uses a Zana Deux SE headphone amp and Running Springs Haley conditioner.  I plan to get the bridge when it becomes available.  I use the PSA I2S-12 cable for both combos.  Besides the Rega and Benchmark, my previous digital gear included a Cary 306, Sony XA9000ES, Meridian 500/566, and Linn Ikemi.  Vpivinylspinner recommended the PWD to me through PMs that I exchanged with him and he has an impressive list of sources including a dCS Paganini and upsampler, Weiss and Audio Research CD7.  He told me the PWD offers a lot of what the dCS gear offers at a fraction of the cost.

post #5 of 23
Thread Starter 

Steve, Thanks for the reply. From all of my research I've determined that the PWD is a lot of bang for the buck and more importantly offers an amazing set of features and flexibility.


I just got done reading a long thread over at AudioCircle about a DAC comparison that they've been attempting. What I have come away with after reading the thread is that the organizers are:


1) Friends of the manufacturer of the DB Audio Labs Tranquility DAC

2) Have no idea about how to compare products - (Products should be experimented with to determine their optimal configuration and then evaluated that way)

They had no clue as to how the PS Audio PWD was set up or how the many changes available effects its sound. Putting the PWD/PWT on the carpet while other units are placed on isolation shelves show that they have no concept about vibration control and its significance in a high resolution system. I have absolutely zero doubt that the PWD was not being used to its full potential.


After reading the thread I did some research on the Tranquility DAC, It seems to be another smoke and mirrors product. The only thing that can be determined from DB Audio Labs web site is that the Tranquility has a discrete output and that it's apparently a NOS design. Specifications? We don't need no stinking specifications! As if using pastoral photos instead of photos of the equipment guarantees that it will sound more like real music. The Tranquility fails on features alone. The lack of substantive information cinches my decision to eliminate it as an option.


I think that I'll be ordering a PWD tomorrow. Then the Bridge in a few months, followed by a PWT sometime this fall.


It's nice to have a plan.

post #6 of 23
Thread Starter 

My Perfectwave DAC (Black) should be here on Thursday. :)

post #7 of 23

Congrats! Die hard vinyl junkie here, but I really really liked the PWT/PWD on the few times I've heard it. I've heard them hooked up to my personal preamp & amp (Rogue Hera & Apollo), and Tannoy speakers very similar to mine - so at least the downstream equipment was familiar.


Of course the stack sounds freaking amazing with K2 CD recordings and hi-res recordings. Didn't do much listening to more plain-jane redbook stuff though. It sounds great right out of the XLR outputs (bypassing the preamp), which is a nice option to have. With a preamp in place, the consensus was that the PWD's volume level did indeed have an impact on sound quality - I believe the level of 60/100 was settled on, at least for a while. IIRC, too much below that level, and you start losing bits of resolution from the digital attenuation.



Edited by mulveling - 5/17/10 at 10:09pm
post #8 of 23
Originally Posted by Yikes View Post

My Perfectwave DAC (Black) should be here on Thursday. :)

You will enjoy it plus by buying now you will be eligible for the special release price of the bridge.  I think it will be several hundred lower than the ultimate price.   

post #9 of 23



I love my Exemplar XD-1.  It also appears to have balanced outputs, though no way to select tube or transistor output.  I prefer the transistor output personally.  Do you have any recommendations re: tube rolling?  I understand that swapping out the stock 6922 for a NOS pair will make a big difference.  I also recommend the teflon auricap upgrade, if you haven't already done so.


I emailed Norm Luttbeg.  He still rates the Exemplar XD-1 very highly, though appears to have gone with the Weiss Minerva.  It's supposed to be a very good DAC and appears to have the features you require.


Regarding SPDIF - I'm not sure it can support 24bit/192khz, so if your music server doesn't have AES/EBU, then you might not see any benefit.

post #10 of 23

Just now I have Bel Canto DAC3 for an audition. It's terrific! Best digital source I've ever heard at home. Perfectly balanced FR, undistorted, smooth, spacious, natural sound. And I even didn't play to tune it with s proper transport and digital IC. It plays withs random digital cable and an almost 20y.o. Pioneer PD-9300 as a transport. It has USB input.

Give it a try!

Very underestimated DAC I think...

post #11 of 23
Thread Starter 

Hey all, Well last night I got out of the Hospital after 5 & 1/2 days, but that's for another post. The one and only silver lining is that I had the PWD breaking in the entire time, so now the DAC has about 170 hours under its belt. Hopefully today I'll feel well enough to actually listen to it.


The Exemplar XD-1 can only handle up to 96 kHz input and it automatically up-converts lower sample rates to 96 with up-converting to 192 being optional. The PWD's ability to playback at the Native sample rate is the main reason I chose it over its competition (Such as the Bel Canto). If I remember correctly the XLR outputs are unchanged from the Xindak. Exemplar extensively reworkes the Power Supply and the Digital Section but doesn't touch the IC opamp outputs. As far as tubes go I'm not much for hunting for the best sounding NOS or used tubes. I use a Tube that I purchased from Cryoset, but I can't remember which. My Exemplar Music Sever does allow up to 192 kHz digital outputs on its Coaxial SPDIF output


The previous Bel Canto was a very nice DAC, but just like its predecessor the current Bel Canto DAC does not allow Native or Non-Upsampling of the digital input. 


I'll post some thoughts on the PWD once I get a chance to seriously listen.

post #12 of 23
Hope you are doing much better!
post #13 of 23
Thread Starter 

Much better, Thanks

post #14 of 23

Yikes, glad you are doing better. Hope you have a quick recovery.

post #15 of 23

Went on a "road show" over the long weekend and got a chance to hear this DAC up in New Hampshire - it's a good sounding piece of equipment for sure, although that buzz can get pretty loud with sensitive equipment. The PW Stack sounded a lot better than the Resolution Audio Cantata in the same rig. Enjoy your new toy, and glad to hear that you're doing better!

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