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Comparing the NuWave DAC to my reference Bryston BDA-1, which retails for $2300, more than double the NuWave, was interesting. They were way more similar than not. The only real difference detected was a slightly warmer overall sound with the BDA-1. The NuWave was ever so slightly more forward sounding. Also, engaging upsampling seemed to change the sound more on the BDA-1. Selecting upsampling on the NuWave resulted in a more subtle effect. As a matter of fact, in the manual, PS Audio recommends the Native setting for most recordings. A decent guess might be the high precision clocks in the NuWave are really doing their job.
To evaluate the NuWave DAC’s asynchronous USB input, I the used aforementioned Windows laptop running Windows 7, with Jriver installed, with recommended settings. All that I needed to do was install the driver and select the NuWave DAC as the sole output device. I had a stash of FLAC albums connected via a hub-powered SeaGate drive in resolutions varying from standard Redbook to 192kHz.
I worked my way through CD rips from Gary Jules, Frank Sinatra, and newcomer Sam Carter, and through higher resolution material from The Doors, McCoy Tyner, Stevie Wonder, and others. I heard sound that was high end in every way and every bit as good as the S/PDIF inputs. The 24/96 download of Dylan’s Highway 61 sounded every bit as revealing of what was going on in the recording as it did streamed through the S/PDIF inputs. The 192kHz download of Stevie Wonder’s mega classic Songs In The Key Of Life was a real knockout, coming as close as I have heard digital sound to vinyl’s analog ease.
I can fully report the NuWave DAC’s USB in input is excellent indeed. Incidentally, in using the three USB cables noted above, I was only able to hear minor differences, and that took furrowed brow and several rounds of swapping out cables to hear. Overall, the Audioquest was the most balanced, while the DH Labs and WireWorld cables were a bit more forward sounding, though highly resolving.
The NuWave DAC was then installed in my second system, with the McIntosh/Harbeth combination. My source was my second Squeezebox Touch, connected via a Kimber OPT1 Toslink cable, and then via a DH Labs USB cable. This was made possible by the amazing free EDO Applet which allows the Touch to stream 192kHz files and output audio via USB.
Call it system synergy, or whatever you like, but the NuWave DAC was a stellar match. I continued exploring music from deep in my collection, including albums from Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo, and the recent 40th Anniversary remaster of King Crimson’s Islands. These are highly textured recordings, with esoteric instrumentation and unusual arrangements. The NuWave DAC was exceptionally coherent, and had no issues untangling challenging music.