PS Audio NuWave DAC Review on Daily Audiophile

Saturday, January 5, 2013

PS Audio NuWave DAC Front

$995. Available direct from PS Audio (USA customers only), or via local dealer.

Newest and most affordable DAC from PS Audio. Notable for 192 kHz asynchronous USB and defeatable upsampling (native mode). Effectively replaces the discontinued Digital Link III DAC model, which was introduced in 2006 and still sells on some websites.

Features & Specs (from PS Audio website)

  • Three digital inputs
  • 192kHz asynchronous USB
  • RCA and XLR balanced outputs
  • High current class A output stage
  • Native mode
  • 192kHz selectable upsample
  • Low jitter PerfectWave clocks
  • Class A fully balanced discrete analog electronics
  • Burr Brown 24 bit DAC chip
  • Weight: 12 lbs
  • Dimensions: 14 × 8.5 × 2.75 in
  • Color: Silver, Black

Purpose of this Review
Evaluate NuWave DAC ($995 list) for use with computer audio via USB. Compare it to the PS Audio Digital Link III DAC ($995 list / $499 street) with and without the Musical Fidelity V-LINK 192 USB/SPDIF converter ($399 list / $199 street). This converter employs 192 kHz asynchronous processing and is part of my current digital front end. Please see complete equipment list below for details on the review system.

About five years ago I evaluated several DACs in my system over the course of several months. These included a handful of mid-priced DACs from Bel Canto, Channel Islands, and Musical Fidelity. I used either the Hagerman HagUsb USB/SPDIF converter or a glass optical cable straight from my Macbook. I settled on the Bel Canto DAC2 with the optical connection and lived happily with it until it was replaced by the PS Audio Digital Link III (DLIII) sometime in late 2010. A couple months ago, I added the Musical Fidelity V-LINK 192 USB/SPDIF converter, which was a nice improvement but made me wonder how such a combo would compare to PS Audio’s newest offering, the NuWave DAC. After receiving the NuWave for review, it was played continuously for over 100 hours prior to serious listening.

NuWave vs. Digital Link III
Since my main goal was to determine how the NuWave compares to my current setup, I did the following comparisons:

  1. USB direct, both DACs set to 192 kHz upsampling.
  2. USB direct, NuWave set to native, DLIII set to 192 kHz upsampling.
  3. V-LINK 192 converter, NuWave set to native, DLIII set to 192 kHz upsampling.
  4. USB direct to NuWave set to native, V-LINK 192 converter to DLIII set to 192 kHz upsampling.

Note: The USB input on the DLIII can only handle sample rates up to 48 kHz, so the first two comparisons in the list above were done using 16 bit/44.1 kHz music only. The third and fourth comparisons above included both Red Book and hi-res music since using the V-LINK 192 converter with DLIII or USB direct to the NuWave allows for 24 bit/196 kHz material. Please see the list of music used below for details on what was played.

Overall, the NuWave is an improvement on the Digital Link III. The NuWave has more detail, air, and richer tones.

However, the differences between the two DACs were less dramatic than I expected. The sound of DLIII was surprisingly close to the NuWave, especially when used with the Musical Fidelity V-LINK 192 USB/SPDIF converter. I found the DLIII presented a slightly warmer, more pleasing sound, while the NuWave was more realistic and interesting. There were times when the DLIII sounded more cohesive, but other times when it sounded somewhat congested. Again, the differences were subtle.

The best sound was achieved using the USB cable direct into the NuWave DAC with the native setting activated. Soundstage height was maximized and tones were harmonically rich. This was especially true on hi-res material, which generally sounded more refined and nuanced than Red Book.

Wish List
The NuWave DAC is an impressive package, but it’s not perfect. Here are my only nits:

  • I really wish the NuWave had a volume control and remote to make running it without a preamp more convenient. The volume control with remote on PS Audio’s GCPH phono preamp allows me to run it direct to my active speakers for my vinyl listening, which is fantastic.
  • I also wish the NuWave had an incoming sample rate indicator, if only to confirm what I think it’s receiving from my Macbook.
  • I like the more substantial case and buttons of the DLIII better than those used on the NuWave. The plexiglass top and plastic buttons on the NuWave feel slightly cheap in comparison. On the other hand, if these materials were used in order to keep the price under $1K, I can live with it.
  • Lastly, I wish the design of the cardboard box used to ship the NuWave made it easier to re-pack the unit should the owner need to ship it again. The box doesn’t use styrofoam or cardboard spacers. Instead, it uses a single raised piece of cardboard, onto which the unit is secured by a single piece of shrink-wrapped plastic. This minimal approach is effective and great for the trip from the factory. However, once the shrink-wrap is cut and the unit it is removed, the interior of the box will need to be creatively augmented by the owner in order to keep the unit in place for another shipment.

The NuWave DAC is a worthy successor to the Digital Link III. It has improved sound and better features. Its few shortcomings are easy to overlook given it’s excellent price. At $995, it’s a bargain. That said, the NuWave’s predecessor, the Digital Link III, is still a surprisingly good sounding unit. Its performance at the discounted price of $499 is tempting, especially if one pairs it with a decent asynchronous USB/SPDIF converter such as the Musical Fidelity V-LINK 192 for an extra $199. Whether the extra $300 for the NuWave is worth it in your system is up to you. For me, it is. Curious how it will sound for you? Take advantage of PS Audio‘s generous 30-day in home trial purchase and give it a try.

PS Audio NuWave DAC Layout

PS Audio NuWave DAC Back

Equipment Used

Software Used

  • Channel D Pure Music v1.89d2 music server software using Memory Play and volume set to 0.0 dB.
  • All music files in Apple Lossless format.
  • All 16 bit/44.1 kHz files ripped from CD using Apple Lossless Encoder setting in iTunes with Error Correction.
  • All hi-rez files downloaded in Apple Lossless format or FLAC.
  • FLAC files converted to Apple Lossless format using XLD v20121222 decoder

Music Used (16 bit/44.1 kHz)

  • The Mercury Program: “Arrived/Departed” from Chez Viking (CD, Lovitt Records, 643859860021)
  • Jose Gonzalez: “Down the Hillside” from Stay in the Shade EP (CD, Hidden Agenda Records, 795306508120)
  • Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition from Fritz Reiner, CSO (Hybrid CD, BMG Classics, 828766139426)

Music Used (24 bit/96 kHz)

  • Arcangelo Corelli Opus 6: Concerti Grossi from The Avison Ensemble (Linn Records, info)
  • Joachim Kwetzinsky: Shchedrin: Basso Ostinato from Polyphonic Dialogues (2L, info)

Music Used (24 bit/176.4 kHz)

  • Dick Hyman: “Thinking about Bix” from HRx Sampler 2011 (Reference Recordings, info)
  • Respighi: Belkis, Queen of Sheba Suite from Elji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra (Reference Recordings, info)
  • Walton: Crown Imperial (finale) from Jerry Junkin, Dallas Wind Symphony (Reference Recordings, info)

Music Used (24 bit/196 kHz)

  • Haydn: String Quartet In D, Op. 76, No. 5 – Finale – Presto from EngegÃ¥rdkvartetten: String Quartets (2L, info)
  • Beethoven: Sonate Nr. 32 c-moll op. 111 – Maestoso from Tor Espen Aspaas: Mirror Canon (2L, info)
  • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique from Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Linn Records, info)
Pete January 23, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Nice write up, I’ve been looking at the two PSAudio Dacs and the Micromega MyDAC, trying to decide if this is worth the extra money. At least this helps rule the DLIII out.

Paul Letteri February 3, 2013 at 9:56 am

I would like to say that this dac takes between 250-300 hours to fully settle in ,and donot shut it off .digital is so sensitive to temperature
Nd because of the lower voltages it takes longer then a amplifier
To runin. This dac is the best under $2k I have heard except for the NAD – M51. But at under $1k hands own the best ever !
I will say a high quality power cord makes a noticeable difference.

Shawn February 9, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Thanks for the write up, as a note, you are not supposed to cut the shrink wrap on the cardboard box. You just unfold the cardboard flaps underneath and it releases the tension being applied by the shrink wrap. I assume this is done for light weight and ease of repackaging.

Mark Wieman March 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Wow! That’s good to know about the proper way to unpack the NuWave. Too bad there is no indication about how to do this when one opens the box!

gary April 1, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Thanks Guys,
Just got the new NuWave DAC and must say It’s worth every penny
Regards Gary

Tony June 21, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Great write-up. I bought the NuWave and love it!!

I’ve had a Peachtree Dac-It and Decco 2, a Musical Fidelity M1 A DAC and currently have an Oppo BDP-105 in my rack along side the NuWave. I can whole-heartedly say the NuWave blows away every other piece I’ve had in my rack. The air, detail, dynamic power and soundstage are far superior to everything else in this price range (the Musical Fidelity comes the closest).

As previously commented; burn-in is important and leaving it turned on at all times is key!! It keeps getting better and better…You would have to spend 2 to 4 times as much to top this unit. After-market feet (I used sorbothane feet) really help open up the sound as with all DAC’s.

…And don’t cut the shrink wrap as Shawn says!! Made and packed in the USA is a bonus (you should feel the heft on this thing!!).



Bill K. June 26, 2013 at 1:26 am

Tony –
I’m curious as to what specific sorbothane feet you have used the the NuWave DAC. I have a DLink II and would like to make any tweaks possible to improve its sound.
Have you also upgraded the Power Cord and if so what have you used?


Mark Beattie November 3, 2013 at 8:38 am

Has anyone run either this NuWave or the Digital Link III directly into power amps/ mono-blocks? Is software volume control possible when it’s in USB “sound card” mode from the OS? I’ve noticed in OS X some USB sound devices permit ‘system’ volume control and some do not.

I believe with the Sonos I’d still have volume control even when using SPDIF Coax out, same with Toslink out of the AirPlay jack. But this review isn’t the first to say that you may want a pre-stage between this DAC and your power amps (which is also what PS Audio seems to suggest in the user manual). If anyone has experience running this DAC directly it’s appreciated.

Mark Wieman November 4, 2013 at 9:00 am

Hi Mark,
I ran both the NuWave and Digital Link III direct with no preamp. I used the volume control within Pure Music on my MacBook Pro. Worked great. Hope this helps!

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