Second P.S. Audio NuWave Phono Converter Brings Some Sonic Relief

A second NuWave Phono Converter sample arrived the other day and after swapping the two back and forth a few things became sonically obvious. One is that the second sample was not as hard, bright and mechanical-sounding as the first one. And the other was that like the first sample, the second NuWave's lower midrange and bass were less than fully fleshed out.

I compared the two using, among other LPs, a new Mobile Fidelity two LP set of Count Basie Live at the Sands (MFSL 2-401). This was the opening set before Frank Sinatra took the stage for the great Sinatra at the Sands double set issued by Reprise in the early 60s and more recently by Mobile Fidelity, whose version is superior in many ways, particularly in terms of detail retrieval and background quiet. On the other hand, the quiet makes more obvious all of the tape splices! Such is life in the high resolution zone.

The Basie band does a cover of Steve Allen's "This Could Be the Start of Something" and as you might imagine, it's filled with big, brassy Basie trumpet blares, a comping guitar and walking bass lines punctuated by rim shots and Basie's tasty piano tinkles.

Though the second sample was somewhat less hard and mechanical, it was still on that side of the sonic fence. The guitar comping lurking well below the horn section blasts and occupying the lower midrange "warm zone" got less space and emphasis than required and the overall picture was relatively flat across the stage on a recording that exhibits plenty of depth and dimensionality. The drums should be well back between the speakers but were not.

Since you wouldn't be listening 'blind' I'm not going to post a comparison file, though I suppose I could post both the old and new one to see if anyone could distinguish one from the other but I'm not sure it's worth the effort.

The second NuWave was better than the first but the basic sonic personality remained. If you like fast, taut and lean, it will give you that minus the first sample's edgy, mechanical quality. Neither sample was in any way warm-sounding or generous on the bottom octaves.The attack was fast and nimble but the sustain was less than generous and low end extension was clearly stingy.

Then comes the speculation about why the sonic difference between the two? Sample-to-sample variation? If so, which one would you get if you bought one? Cynics might say a running production change after the less than enthusiastic review and more importantly less than enthusiastic reception by readers here based on blind listening. I have no evidence of that nor was I willing to open up the two units and look for physical differences. I'm not accusing P.S. Audio of doing any such thing—just trying to head off at the pass such reader comments! Or, was something genuinely wrong with the first sample and will that be discovered and documented when it is returned to the manufacturer? We'll await the "autopsy".

The bottom line is, you are getting both a phono preamp and a double DSD capable A/D converter in a relatively inexpensive but very high-tech and capable package. In delivering such a high tech, high quality user friendly, high resolution versatile system at such a reasonable price-point, something had to give, and I'd say that would be some aspects of sound quality, particularly bottom end extension and attack suppleness.

How the NuWave works as an A/D converter will be coming up soon in a survey of a few such devices.

In the meantime, take the original file posted on this site, tone down the excess on top and soften somewhat the hard edges and you have the second sample's sound. Don't expect any improvement in bass extension or lower midrange warmth or more generous spatiality.

In other words, were the five file survey run a second time I don't believe the voting results would change all that much if at all. Leaving aside the Ypsilon, the Lehmann Black Cube SE II would again come out on top for its warm, yet detailed and spacious presentation, the Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL would come in next to last, because listeners would again find it overly warm and sluggish though pleasant, the Rega Aria would come in after the Black Cube but ahead of both the M1 ViNL and the NuWave, which would again finish with the least votes. That would be you speaking, not me, but I wouldn't disagree.

The addition of double DSD A/D capabilities would be a welcome addition were the sonics more pleasing but it becomes a hindrance when it adds to the cost of a less than exceptional sounding phono preamp.

Devil Doc's picture

You should go back and re-read your review of the M1ViNL. I don't believe you described it as overly warm and sluggish. I seem to remember just the opposite. In fact it's a recomended component in class B. I'm not trying to be contentious. I'm just confused.

Michael Fremer's picture

I will go back and read it. Haven't since I wrote it. But I bought it because I felt it was a good reference for what a moderately priced phono preamp could do and I still think that. However had I a Black Cube SE II on hand then (which I didn't) I'd have said it was better at the price point. One of the most difficult aspects of this job is that you don't have everything on hand at the same time. Only in time and in persective do things become clarified. But isn't that true in life?

Michael Fremer's picture

I just went back and read what I wrote which was that it had an "overall warm, pleasing sound from top to bottom." I also said it was on the "dark, dry side" compared to the tubed Manley Chinook. I wrote that the M1 had an "inviting midrange warmth and an overall harmonic generosity..." compared to the Musical Fidelity KW. I also said compared to the KW the M1 was "richer, more colorful, better-fleshed-out."

So yes, you are confused! I think you confused the M1 with the KW to which I compared it!

Devil Doc's picture

I was unable to bring up that review on the Stereophile website and have lent or misplaced my copy. Thank you for clearing things up for me and addressing my question in the spirit it was asked.

Michael Fremer's picture

I have a thick skin but I'm especially eager to be corrected when wrong. Seriously. The M1 review was in an Analogcorner column and they are not posted on Stereophile's website but are slowly being posted on

Jim Tavegia's picture

Do you think that maybe the PS unit is low on capacitance loading?  It might have been nice to have added some capacitance loading in addition to the selection of cart impedence dip switches. Maybe that the cart and the PS are not good matches. 

Michael Fremer's picture

Moving coil cartridges are not affected by capacitive loading because of their ultra-low inductance. if you want to get "into the weeds" on this subject here's one of the best discussions, complete with formulae to tax the mathlexic: