I should note, however, that these comments are based largely on the Phono Converter’s PCM outputs. The one DAC I could use with DSD input capability produced excellent sound, but I’m not really familiar enough with that DAC’s DSD performance to make detailed judgments or enter the raging high-end debate over PCM versus DSD. About all I can say is that PS Audio is a great fan of DSD, and it is highly unlikely that the DSD output lags behind the PCM with regards to sound quality.
Creating Digital Copies Of Your LPs and Tapes
I did try making digital copies of FM and tapes with the PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter, and it did an excellent job. My main focus, however, was on its ability to make digital copies of LPs. This is also the main focus of the PS Audio instruction manual, which I would strongly suggest you follow to the letter. The process was also complicated enough for me to contact Paul McGowan—head of PS Audio—for a supplement to the manual on finding the right software to create a digital library of LPs, which is provided in the sidebar to this review.
One of Paul’s recommendations is an independent product called Vinyl Studio ($29.95; alpinesoft.co.uk), which is a very affordable program that worked as well as anything I’ve encountered, and whose features keep improving as the software is refined. The end result was again excellent sound quality for every LP that I copied, but I did come away with mixed feelings about the idea of transferring a library of records to digital. This is not a process that is nearly as easy as streaming CDs or downloading digital recordings. You have to bring your computer to your turntable or vice versa; there are some minor computer set-up issues. Unless you use a Mac, you have to make sure your record is properly cleaned and your phono front end is optimally adjusted, and you have to monitor the actual playback of the record.
This is fine for the pearls of your record collection, but work your way through several hundred or thousand LPs and do so knowing that cartridges, tonearms, and turntables constantly evolve? Well, audiophiles are crazy—I know because I am one—but, that crazy?
And yet, the answer eventually might be yes. The rationale for such a library is not just to ensure against damages to your records or having a digital copy in your library for streaming; rather, one of the great strengths of analog for seasoned audiophiles is that they almost certainly have gradually acquired a front end that has the colorations they love.
Let’s face it, LPs have serious technical limits, one of which is an often musically satisfying level of compression, and most LP recordings were mastered with considerable equalization. No cartridge can be neutral and no audiophile I know of buys a cartridge for its technical performance.
Tonearm settings are critical, and as CBS Labs found years ago there is no right setting for VTA—there is no null; you have to trade increases in one form of distortion for another. Turntables, levels, and cables all make a difference—as does the way you clean your record and stylus. And yet, the end result can still be a triumph of aesthetics over technology.
Some purists may get upset with the idea of recording colorations. The Absolute Sound has never, however, been the province of Puritans. When TAS was founded, Harry Pearson repeatedly pointed out that the test is how real and moving the music is. In fact, if TAS had a mantra, it would be: “It’s the music that matters.”
PS Audio’s NuWave Phono Converter is truly an innovative product with great sound and value for the money. A real pleasure to review—even if it does suck me into making digital copies of my LPs!
SPECS & PRICING
Inputs: Two RCA phono; two RCA line-level
Outputs: RCA or XLR; S/PDIF digital coax; HDMI; USB
Gain: 0.2-220mV, mc/mm
Cartridge loading: 60 ohms (80nF) up to 100k ohms (47pF)
A/D Converter: PCM up to 24-bit/192kHz; DSD 2.8MHz or 5.6MHz (DSD 64, DSD 128)
Dimensions: 14" x 8.3" x 2.4"
Weight: 14 lbs.
4826 Sterling Drive
Boulder, Colorado 80301