System context Round One:
Speakers: Usher BE-20 on top of Symposium RollerBlock Jr’s
Amplifiers: Parasound JC-1 Mono Block Amplifiers each on Symposium RollerBlock Jr’s on their own dedicated Symposium Ultra Platform.
Preamplifier: Parasound JC-2 on top of Symposium RollerBlock Series 2+ on my Symposium Acoustics Isis rack.
Power: DAC’s and Preamp fed from a PS Audio Power Plant Premier on its own dedicated 20 amp line. Each JC-1 Mono amp plugs into its own PS Audio Duet fed by a dedicated 20 amp line.
Cabling: All balanced Siltech 770i for the DAC’s and SQ-88B G3’s for the long run to the mono amps. Digital cable for the Ref 7 is a Siltech Golden Ridge II SPDIF RCA-RCA. Power cables are all Siltech power Cables (SPX-300’s for the DAC’s and Ruby Hill II’s for the Preamp and Amps). Speaker cables are Siltech Royal Signature Kings.
Notes: I’m a huge proponent of Vibration Control, so my PWD normally sits on top of a set of Symposium RollerBlock Series 2+’s. Since RollerBlock’s and Cones tend to leave marks on the bottom of components and the Ref 7 isn’t mine I decided to remove my normal vibration control devices from both DAC’s. IMHO both DAC’s would benefit from the use of my RollerBlocks but omitting them puts both DAC’s on an even footing.
Round One will compare 44.1/16 CD derived files being fed by my best source for each DAC. This means that the Ref 7 is being fed from my Exemplar Audio Music Server (A dedicated 1.5TB purpose built PC running foobar2000 and using an M-Audio Audiophile 192 soundcard for SPDIF RCA output) full resolution WAV files via a Siltech Golden Ridge II 1.5 meter RCA digital cable. My PS Audio Perfect Wave Dac is utilizing its Network Bridge being fed theoretically identical FLAC files across my wired network (From a different PC with a 4TB RAID 5 array). Both PC’s are controlled via my iPad.
Tin Hat Trio – Rodeo Eroded
One of my favorite demo discs. It is an eclectic acoustic chamber music recording that emphasizes naturalness of tone and sound-staging/imaging.
Holy Cole Trio – Don’t Smoke in Bed
Excellent female jazz vocal recording, also emphasizing naturalness of tone and imaging.
Johnny Cash – American Recordings
Great gritty male vocal (dare I say Country) recording
Janos Starker and London Symphony Orchestra – Schumann Cello Concerto.
Outstanding recording of my 2nd favorite Cello Concerto (my favorite being Elgar’s, but there aren’t any great Sonic recording of it) Excellent test of imaging and micro and macro dynamics of the full orchestra as well as the lead cello. As well as being a virtuoso performance.
Pink Floyd – The Final Cut
One of the great underappreciated PF recordings. The Final Cut is a wonderful test of dynamics and bass slam, as well as throwing a huge soundstage.
I was going to break it down by recording, but my impressions were very consistent across all of the recordings that I used for my listening tests.
The REF 7 and PS Audio were nearly Identical tonally (the PS Audio was set to Native and Auto for the Filter). So far as tested both are exceedingly musical performers. The REF 7 seems to have slightly muted leading edge dynamics. What the heck does that mean? The initial attack of notes (the leading edge of the waveforms) from the PWD seem faster and more realistic. The difference is small, but due to this the PWD seems to have slightly better low level detail retrieval. This slight edge in detail definitely gives the PWD an edge in the Soundstage and imaging departments. A small edge, but the PWD consistently portrays a more 3 - dimensional soundstage and more precise images.
Due to this leading edge dynamics difference the PWD also gets the nod in the dynamics department (especially micro). I however really want to emphasize how small the difference is, it is a Very Small difference. It manifests itself most noticeably in the Imaging and Soundstage departments. I doubt that this would be apparent during headphone use, but with a decent speaker based rig the difference was small but it was consistently noticeable.
Round One results – PWD wins by a small but noticeable margin. Is it really a surprise that the $3,750 (Retail) PWD/Network Bridge bested (by a very small margin) the $1750+shipping REF 7? Not really. What is a surprise is how close it really is. If you’re on a tight budget and or you don’t need or want all of the fancy features (I do want these features) that the PWD offers the REF 7 is an extremely attractive bargain.
Upcoming Round Two – I’ll be comparing the REF 7 and PWD being fed by my Exemplar Audio Modified Oppo BDP-83SE. I’ll compare both CD’s and DVD-Audio 24/96 (The PWD can also decode 24/192 DVD-Audio –Advantage PWD). This will be the relevant comparison for those not interested in the PWD’s Network Bridge.