PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review

I’ve been playing with a gorgeous PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC and recently found a spare hour or two. What a difference a few parts can make…

My apologies for the lack of recent articles, I’ve been inundated with work and that really slows down my writing. Much more soon! I recently acquired a PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC here @ Liquid Audio. The NuWave DSD originally sold for around $1800AUD and was only recently discontinued. Most importantly though, it’s a fantastic sounding piece of gear.

In sonic terms, the NuWave DSD is smooth, organic and non-fatiguing, with epic bass performance. Music sounds free-flowing and relaxed when played through this DAC. Anyway as I often do, I figured I’d play with the DAC for a while and test a few simple improvements.

Black-Side-1000 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
It’s a very elegant and solidly built DAC.

Room for Improvement..?

The NuWave DSD is beautifully constructed. Like all products though, the manufacturer has specified parts that allow it to hit a certain price-point. No surprises there and I’m in no way suggesting PS Audio use poor quality parts. On the contrary, they use excellent parts, better than you find in a lot of gear.

They’ve used Nippon Chemi-Con and Panasonic capacitors, two brands I use all the time. So what am I getting at here? Well, PS Audio use great branded caps but not the best grades for audio. Power supply capacitors are critically important to the sound of a device. I knew I could improve the DAC with a handful of better grade, more expensive parts, if I could find a couple of spare hours to do it…

I’ve upgraded many DACs and CD players over the years, including the Musical Fidelity M1 and TriVista 21 Tube DAC. With affordable improvements in mind, I took a peek and ordered some of my favourite Nichicon audio grade filter capacitors, in a size that would fit. I already had Panasonic parts in stock to replace the two smaller capacitors.

A Quick Upgrade

This upgrade process was thankfully much simpler and less time-consuming than that which I employed for the M1 DAC I upgraded recently. It’s also a better sounding DAC before any work is done.

img_3838 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
Bottom panel comes off to reveal…
img_3839 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
…everything upside down, all the electrons will fall out! Seriously though, this transformer is amplifier-sized, very generous for this application. By the way, the precisely fitting bottom cover is held on by 10 lovely little countersunk machine screws, a very nice touch.
img_3840 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
So here’s where all the action takes place, on one tiny board. I’m focussed only on the four through-hole capacitors you see towards the bottom of the board. The large brown ones are Nippon Chemi-Con KMH series, excellent low impedance power supply capacitors. The two smaller capacitors are Panasonic NHG, another good but not expensive capacitor.
img_3842 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
A better view of the board removed. This is a beautiful board and all the soldering is perfect. They’ve used excellent capacitors, but their are better parts available. No need to increase the capacitance, 15,000uF is plenty for this tiny unit. Not much spare room here either.

I’ve used better parts from Panasonic and Nichicon. In this case, I chose Nichicon KG Gold Tune and Panasonic FM. These are two of the highest grade parts from these manufacturers, around twice the price of the factory parts. This makes a real difference to the bottom line, so it’s no surprise or failing that PS Audio chose the parts they did.

Are there even better parts available? Yes, but the trick is to find sensibly priced parts that fit. I’ve had a lot of experience with the parts I’ve used here and know how well they work.

img_3844 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review

img_3843 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
Make no mistake, I love Nippon Chemi-Con and use them often, but Nichicon Gold Tune and Super Through are better for audio. I always hear improvements when I use them, but keep in mind they are twice the price of the KMH. They also have a much higher ripple current rating.

img_3845 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review

img_3846 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
Ah, the power of gold..! I carefully selected this size because it just fit around existing parts. The Panasonic FM are the same size as the original NHG. The Nichicon parts are 85 degree rated, but this DAC barely even gets warm. They will last a long time in this role.
img_3848 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
And there we go, job done. I wanted to tackle the coaxial digital input wiring. Coaxial cable helps keep noisy digital signals out of the audio circuits nearby and keeps the PCM waveform clean. Unshielded wires like this are antennas, literally radiating RF energy into the case. My interest in radio means I’m always looking for things like this, but I suspect many don’t consider it.  I had some mini-coax, but ran out of time. Maybe next time and I’ll add a BNC connector…

Results

I tend to understate things, but WOW, this made an immediate sonic difference for the better. I guessed it would, but such is the importance of capacitors in audio circuits that it still occasionally even catches me by surprise!

This really delivered, as soon as I hit play I could hear the difference and so could another buddy of mine with very good ears. He was unequivocal –

“It’s heaps better!”

Everything is significantly improved, no hyperbole. There’s more air and space, and everything sounds even more fluid and organic. Really, the great qualities of this excellent DAC have just become more obvious by significantly increasing the spend on power supply parts.

Let me again say how very nice this DAC sounds out of the box – smooth, warm, relaxed, articulate. Comparing it to other well-regarded heavy-hitting gear, the NuWave DSD acquits itself incredibly well.

img_3860 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
The digital stack!

Using my Meridian 506 as a transport, the improved NuWave DSD sounds even smoother, more beguiling, more velvety. I’m very, very impressed, the midrange is glorious and the bass is some of the smoothest, natural and most impactful I’ve heard. There’s also a complete lack of digital glare, so the NS-1000Ms are happy too. Definitely one of the nicest DACs I’ve heard for sensible money.

The Bottom Line

With any type of music, the PS Audio NuWave DSD sounds fantastic. It’s great out of the box and noticeably better after the improvements I’ve implemented here.

Best of all, these improvements are very affordable. If you’d like me to improve your PS Audio NuWave DSD, don’t hesitate to let me know.

img_3861 PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review
A killer combination.

PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC

0.00
8.9

Chassis / Build-Quality

9.0/10

Features

8.5/10

Sound Quality - Standard

8.5/10

Sound Quality - Upgraded

9.0/10

Bang-Per-Buck

9.5/10

Pros

  • Excellent build quality
  • Smooth, organic, relaxed sound
  • Lots of inputs
  • Linear power supply
  • Great value

Cons

  • Nothing of significance

6 thoughts on “PS Audio NuWave DSD DAC Upgrade & Review”

  1. Wow! Just awesome, totally awesome.
    This is the kind of post that makes me ponder if it would be worth my while to pay the shipping to & from US/Aus to get my older Musical Fidelity DAC which has a no longer functioning Coax input upgraded
    to it’s full potential of sound quality.

Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts!