PS Audio PerfectWave Disc Transport
- Written by Jason Victor Serinus
- Published on 11 August 2011
Unless you are new to the high-end, I'm certain you've read enough "With the [piece of gear under review] in place, I heard so much more deep bass on the classic recording of Brubeck's Take 5 that my jaw dropped" examples to tempt you to never again read audio reviews. I'm not going to tempt you further in that direction.
I have already noted how much more "there there" there was when I replaced my old transport with the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport. On every level - including range extension, depth of color, solidity on the low end, richness in the middle, clarity and seemingly limitless extension, soundstage size and focus, and transparency - every one of my beloved recordings sounded clearer, fuller, and more real. My only problem is with my Arleen Auger disc of Love Songs on Delos, which for some reason the PWT refuses to read. The only other disc that has given me difficulty is one of chamber music by Christopher Rouse. I have no explanation for why, out of the well over 10,000 CDs in my collection, the PWT will not play these two.
Besides noting the vast improvement over the sound of the Theta Carmen II and another transport modified by Alex Peychev, the only other transport comparison I performed was with a heavily modified Oppo BDP-93. Despite all its modifications, I found the upgraded Oppo's sound edgy and off-putting. I cannot make any definitive statements about that unit, however, because I was unable to use my reference Nordost Odin AES/EBU digital cable on its RCA output. Instead, I used a Nordost Odin BNC digital cable outfitted with an RCA-to-BNC adapter. Although some have claimed that the adapter is neutral, I am not certain.
What I am sure of is the crucial importance of the transport to the sound of the audio chain. For those of us who use stand-alone DACs, the choice of transport is critical. If you're using an old Sony or whatever as your transport, you owe it to yourself to try the PWT. The better your equipment and cables, and the more detailed your system, the more you will be able to hear the vast difference in sound between transports.
After a year's time, a fellow audiophile told me that Kyle Takenawa's Reference Audio Mods had made a major improvement to the sound of his system. When I checked out the company's website, and saw the proposed mods for the Perfect Wave Transport, what I read made sense to me. PS Audio holds its products to a certain price point. Why wouldn't a better clock and improved power supply, both of which would have raised the list price of the PWT considerably had they come with the stock unit, make an improvement in the sound?
When I was able to reach Kyle to discuss what would be involved, he explained that he had recently changed his approach to modifying the PWT. After any number of listening tests, he had concluded that the greatest improvement in sound came from what, on his website, is currently listed as the "PWT Level 1 Modifications." The changes include Audiocom's Superclock 4-S and PSU, and Rubycon ZL/ZLG capacitors.
Shortly before I had expected to hold an open house for members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, Kyle completed his work. He was quite ill with the flu at the time, and really pushed himself to finish the mod in time and ship the unit to me. Although the upgraded power supply loosened a bit in transit, and the man who tightened it said the soldering work was sloppy, I am certain that Kyle's work would have been more meticulous had he not been suffering from a high fever.
What I do know is that the unit has performed problem-free for a good nine months. My only quibble is a very slight "tick" that I hear when the PWT advances between tracks.
Because my system underwent multiple changes at the same time, including an unexpected change of amplifiers, I had a very short window in which to assess the effects of the mod. I immediately became aware of an increase in bass response, and an added and more natural weight to instruments and voices. When a bass drum was thwacked, for example, the sound was not only more pronounced and defined, but also heavier, as if a lot more air was being moved. To me, such changes are of major significance.
Perhaps the ultimate endorsement of Kyle's Level 1mod is that when I switched back and forth between my modified PWT and my next to current Macbook Pro (outfitted with an Intel i7 chip, 8 GB RAM, and solid-state drive; connected to the Theta DAC/preamp via a Nordost USB cable, Wavelength's asynchronous Wavelink, and a Nordost Odin BNC digital cable; and using Amarra 2.1 as the music player, the sound was virtually the same. With Amarra's latest release, 2.2, upping the ante, and pushing the computer's sound ahead one notch, I am considering returning the PWT to Kyle for his latest "PWT Statement Modifications."
One of the reasons I have stalled so long on reviewing this transport, which was first released in 2009, is that I was unable to test one of its key features: the ability to play DVDs encoded with 176.4/24 or 192/24 material from Reference Recordings, MA Recordings, and Chesky. Now that the receiver chip in the Theta Gen. 8, Series II DAC has been upgraded to full 192 kbps capability, and I can hear what's on these hi-res DVDs, I can attest to the incredible advantage the PS Audio offers over more conventional transports.
There is simply no comparison between the sound of a conventional CD and the sound of one of these company's hi-res masters. There is simply more information on the disc. Everything sounds so much larger, fuller, richer-sounding, and more three dimensional – more realistic – that it's hard to go back to CD when there is a hi-res alternative. No wonder Reference Recordings' 176.4/24 HRx DVDs, and hi-res downloads from HDTracks, Linn, 2L, Cedille, Naim, and other labels have become so popular.