This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below
After some experiments, our PWT/PWD loaner combo was ready for critical listening. We set the PWD to native for sample rate and auto for digital filtering. Though not an original choice, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Could not Stand The Weather was first to run the gauntlet. The result was quite astonishing. This we do not often say about audio equipment. Our 19-ohm Avantgarde horns driven by Audio Note’s Meishu integrated with WE 300B tubes and a complete set of ASI cables rarely sounded this good. We’d only reached similar performance peaks some time ago with a very expensive turntable and then only over a few LPs. After the attack of SRV’s guitar, we let bass virtuoso Renaud Garcia Fons do his 5-string bass voodoo for another revelation. As a resident favorite disc, we’d long ago made a copy on a gold MAM-E blank with a Nespa and Furutech DeMag treatment to optimize our enjoyment. Now the PWT/PWD did all that and more with a flipping off-the-shelf commercial pressing.

The wood of the bass’ body was present, the voice of Esperanza Fernandez on La Linea Del Sur so real that it was difficult to remain critical when the music felt so fascinating and comprehensive. We tried different sample rates and filters but heard no improvements. Here and there we ran across changes so minimally perceptible that native and auto CD remained the designated driver settings. [This mirrors my findings of the Meier Audio Corda StageDAC which also runs these Wolfson chips and also offers comprehensive filter/sampling combinations. I could barely hear their effects and most of the time, none at all – Ed.]

Next we connected the PWD to a PC with a few downloads including Bach sonatas played by Lithuania’s Vytautas Sriubikis and recorded and made available by Louis Motek of LessLoss. Connection to PC was a hitch. Foobar readily recognized the PWD as a DAC. Soon the Sonata in E-mol for flute and bassoon recorded in a Swiss church filled the room. However, playing from PC showed how a computer isn’t an ultimate audio source yet. There still were failures, hiccups and clicks—not all Windows and PC elements are silent—and the USB cable too exerted considerable influence. This however changed drastically with the advent of the XXHighEnd player software we recently discovered. In combination with Vista, this Dutch software shuts down all extraneous and unnecessary-for-audio Windows components including a spin-down of the hard disk(s) to transform your PC into a 100% dedicated music player. XXHighend is designed to work with up to 32/384 native signals and can output those over appropriate channels (I²S). USB transfer protocol still is limited to 24/96 though a big step-up from 16/44.1 as we noticed. This 24/96 bottleneck by the way is not imposed by the USB bus itself but the controller chips. [Igor Levin's professional Aardvark studio line has already announced a new Integrity range of mastering/home-audio D/A converters that allow a 384kHz sample rate with 480Mbit transfer rate for USB to overcome the previous 96kHz barrier with their new custom-designed USB controller – Ed.]

PS Audio has announced the Network Bridge for early 2010. This add-on will be a small card that inserts into the PWD’s expansion slot to accept musical data directly from a Network Accessible Storage or NAS device. The Network Bridge will internally connect its own Digital Lens output to the DAC chip via I²S over a third dedicated HDMI connection. Once the Network Bridge materializes, there won’t be any limitations to hi-res recorded file sizes. 32/192 native? Not bad at all.

Taking the rocky road less traveled to do things properly and by themselves, PS Audio has pushed far on their somewhat idiosyncratic course. To quote the company, “…if power from the wall outlet is not good enough, we make it ourselves with a Power Plant. Now if a CD does not sound right because it is fluked in the analog domain, we recreate the signal ourselves but then in the digital domain. And while at it, we make things future proof with on-line upgrades, expansion slots and more.”

We like this attitude. As a result, we really liked the PWT/PWD. Living with the twosome for a while taught us a few things. First, as a drive the PWT absolutely killed our treasured CEC TL5100. If you fancy consistency, go with a memory player, end of story. Once all the analog quirks mentioned in the intro turn into a thing of the past, music listening becomes so much more involving. Our trusted Audio Note DAC in its NOS non-oversampling guise without digital filter could only match the PWD in native mode with 16/24 input processing. That was it. On the PWD’s list of features are so many more options that can release musical treasures from all manner of media that not only the AN found itself firmly delegated to the shadows of yesteryear. We’d include most all other machines into that open-and-shut drawer which don’t work on the memory principle.

By now you might think that we loved the PWT/PWD. Dead right! We thrill over any Swiss army knife that’s been done properly. It’s versatile, handsome and free of unnecessary frills. During our time with the combo, we did however encounter a few aspects that still require PS Audio’s attention. First, the displays of both the PWT and PWD have an automatic dimming feature. In a dark room, they dim down. But this also happens when you stand in front of them to block the incoming light. The screens dim. Step away and they brighten again. A longer timer behind the sensor might solve this. Next, some CDs get their track durations messed up. A 5-minute track might display as having a total running time of 1823 minutes just as some CDs (but only some) displayed track 2 or 3 when it should have been track 1. Finally, the PWT gets noisy when spinning certain CDs. While spinning up to load data into the Digital Lens memory, the drive mechanism then sounds like a small chainsaw. That happens when the loaded CD isn’t properly centered to cause so-called run out. In the early days of computer hard drives, this was a common issue. Hence it’s not necessarily a flaw of the PWT but possibly the Asus DVD drive used. In the case of Keith Jarrett’s Bach Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Buch 1 on ECM, we just made a high-speed EAC copy to a 50-cent CDR blank. Fixed!

All of that is just too bad for our—and your?—cupboard full of tweaky tricks meant to improve the polycarbonate digital carrier. With the advent of the PerfectWave Transport, all of these doodads and gizmos can go the way of the dodo – er, eBay. The combination of PWT and PWD arrives at a fair price considering all their functions, performance and future proofiness. We also respect PS Audio’s choice to not include SACD compatibility at this time as the licensing rights would have bumped up the pricing only for a very limited number of albums when compared to the CD catalogue. Regarding DVD-Audio, we see the same issues with respect to the software density necessary to get the interface truly up and running when we compare it to the zillions of CDs that are already embedded in millions of households around the globe.

All the other newer formats must still prove their long-term viability and are mostly focused on the visual markets to make their audio applications a mere by-product. By aiming at the music lover with a large CD collection who searches for the very best audio quality, the PS Audio combo is a good choice and the PerfectWave Transport is really the most valuable asset here. The accompanying PerfectWave DAC focuses on the future with its ability to accept digital inputs from nearly any format or source. We firmly believe that we can now speak of the beginning of the second digital revolution. Considering perfect sound forever, you might think it "about bleeding time". Kudos to PS Audio for being at the very front lines staking out this exciting future. Cheers!

Quality of packing: Very well packed in cotton pouch inside double card box box.
Reusability of packing: Many times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Mint.
Completeness of delivery: Manual, power cable, remote control with batteries, cotton gloves.
Quality of owner's manual
: Comprehensive and typical American, i.e. sales pitch included.
Website comments: Extensive and informative.
Human interactions: Professional, friendly and courteous.
Pricing: €6000 for the combination is a sound investment
Application conditions: Plug & play.
Final comments & suggestions: When the Network Bridge is available, the deployment options of the PWD will reach yet another level.

PS Audio website