July 18 UPDATE!
Always wanting to simplify the way my system works (in particular, removing middlemen), while retaining or bettering its sound quality, I am happy to report a significant such advance, just discovered, in how one can use the PS Audio PerfectWave Network Bridge: You can connect the PS Audio PerfectWave MKII DAC directly to a Mac Mini (as music server) with one (1) ethernet cable; no need for an internet connection, routers, switches, or hubs! No need for the internet at all. And you get the same outstanding better-than-USB mode quality of sound that I wrote about in the initial publication of this review. After asking PS Audio if this simple kind of connection was possible, and being told that they had never tried that, I took up the challenge to see if it could be done — and succeeded.
This was accomplished after tinkering around for two days, with the help of my IT guy (Sam Lee; not an audiophile but a great IT guy. He also has helped me setup my backup hard drives for storing my audio files. Thanks Sam!). Yes: You connect one end of the cable to the DAC’s Bridge ethernet input, and the other end to the Mac Mini’s ethernet input. You must use a ‘Crossover’ ethernet cable (use it in either direction, it does not matter), and they too only cost around $5 for 1 meter.
Here are instructions:
1. Using the front-panel touch screen on the DAC in Bridge Mode, go to ‘Home’, then to ‘Media Bridge’. Now turn off DHCP (at the bottom): This stops the DAC from requesting an IP Address; instead it uses a self-assigned one (which is visible on the screen; make note of it, and make note of its Subnet Address).
2. Now, go to your Mac Mini (in ‘System Preferences’ under ‘Network’) and manually assign it an IP address (different from the DAC’s) but use the same Subnet Address as the DAC’s. For example, if the DAC’s IP Address is 188.8.131.520, and its Subnet Address is 255.255.255.0, then manually assign the Mac Mini an IP Address such as 184.108.40.2061 and the same Subnet Address (Mask) 255.255.255.0.
3. Power off the DAC (on the back) and then power it back on. The software will re-initialize and the touch panel at it’s top will now say ‘Network: Connected’. You are now up and running.
Now listen and enjoy!
If your home has a wireless connection (via an Apple AirPort Extreme, say), then you can of course continue to have your Mac Mini wirelessly connected. (If you need/want to update the DAC’s firmware by hard-wiring it to the internet, just turn the DHCP back on, replace the crossover cable with a regular one, with one end in the DAC and the other into the AirPort Extreme.)
The PS Audio PerfectWave Bridge is even better than I thought. I think this will cause other DAC companies to follow suit: superior sound quality with one $5 ethernet cable. Goodbye USB in DAC’s?
The full review follows:
PS Audio’s high-end DAC, the PerfectWave MKII, offers an optional network ‘Bridge’ that allows one to stream high-resolution digital audio files to it without the use of a USB cable (from computer to DAC), and without the use of other standard digital cables such as Toslink, Coaxial and BNC. In my recent review of the MKII, I chose not to have the Bridge installed. There were three reasons for that, with the main one being that it requires an internet router/connection hard-wired to the DAC and my internet connection was in one of my daughter’s bedrooms (the room that used to be my study in my bachelor days), while my audio system is in the living room. The second reason is that it also would have required me to change my audio software from Pure Music to J. River, which I viewed at the time as being a potential hassle: I already had invested much time and effort in getting Pure Music up and running smoothly — I did not want to go through that sort of pain all over again. Thirdly: I just subjectively assumed (wrongly, as we shall see) that it would make no difference in sound quality or at best a trifle of one, so why bother?
Several comments from readers of my MKII review suggesting that I try out the Bridge, coupled with some nudging from CEO of PS Audio, Paul McGowan, convinced me to try out the Bridge and give it a fair trial. As is typical of an audiophile, I could not resist the challenge.
So, I snapped into action: I had my internet connection moved to an area right next to my audio system (no simple matter, my building is over 100 years old; I had to hire professionals to do it — it took nearly 4 hours of work), downloaded a copy of J. River, and acquired the Bridge.
Installing the Bridge was very easy; I snapped the circuit board into the back of the MKII via two screws, snapped in the supplied tiny SD card (to upgrade the software) and connected it to the internet via a hard-wired ethernet cord (connected to a router; in my case an Apple AirPort Extreme). The computer, too (in my case a Mac Mini as server), was hard-wired with an ethernet cable to the router. As ethernet cables, I simply chose cheap used ones from my office, assuming (wrongly, again as we shall see) that I would probably have to upgrade them to some fancier, more expensive versions, as I did find necessary for USB cables.
Before I continue, let me carefully explain the most important things that the Bridge allows you to do with the MKII DAC that you could not do before: Your computer sends the digital audio files to the router through an ethernet cable (or if you wish, wirelessly; but PS Audio suggests using the cable for better performance), which then passes them on to the MKII DAC using a hard-wired ethernet cable snapped into the Bridge. (We are talking about sending files with a resolution as high as 192kHz/32 bit if you so wish. Impressive.) Yes: the files are passed on to the DAC using an ethernet cable versus using a USB cable (which instead directly connects from the computer to the DAC). Using the MKII hand-held remote control, you can toggle back to ‘USB mode’ if you so wish — you do not have to use the ‘Bridge mode’ unless you want to. I kept my USB connection intact, particularly since my main purpose was to compare the two modes for sound performance, by switching back and forth. It is crucial to also understand that the Bridge is gifted with a ‘Built in Digital Lens’ technology, a unique extremely sophisticated PS Audio low-jittering technology that is already contained in the MKII unit for the USB mode. With the Bridge mode on, you still have the extraordinary ‘Native X’ mode and all the various filters to choose from as when using the USB mode without the Bridge.
Getting the Bridge to Work
Admittedly, getting the bridge to work was not easy and I became very frustrated. I could not get any sound — only silence. I assumed (rightly, for once) that I must not have properly chosen the correct software settings on J. River and this ultimately turned out to be the case. (PS Audio was very helpful via phone and email giving me pointers and such). It took me more than a week to finally solve the problem; mostly because I was very busy with family. One night, however, I woke up at about 2:00AM with insomnia, so I drank a glass of wine to help me get back to sleep [good vintage, I hope? - Ed]. But, since all was quiet on the Western Front, I could not resist giving things one more try. I newly noticed a setting choice in the left corner of the J. River software window, under ‘Playing Now’ — ‘PS Audio DAC’. It suddenly appeared after about a 30 second delay once the MKII was turned on from sleep mode. Once I clicked on that option, all hell broke loose! Track one, ‘Babylon Sisters’ from Steely Dan’s ‘Goucho’ randomly came blasting out of my speakers at a very high volume, not only shaking my apartment but waking up my wife. ‘Shake it’ it did. But my wife was as dazzled as I was: it sounded fantastic.
With the volume quickly moved down to a 2:00 AM level, it of course was not possible to rigorously compare the two modes (Bridge versus USB), but it was immediately clear that the quality of sound using the Bridge had to be reckoned with; it was at least as good as the USB mode at low volume. I had to wait until the next day for serious testing, but before I went back to sleep I pondered deeply over the most pressing mystery to me: How in the world can my $5.00 used office-quality ethernet cable connected to the MKII DAC for transferring the files sound as good as (and possibly better) than my high-end Wireworld Platinum USB cable that retails for about $400, or my Audioquest Diamond USB cable that retails for $550? I shot off an email to Paul McGowan to get an answer and here is his email response (received that same morning several hours later):
‘Thanks Karl. Of this subject there is much debate but I’ll give you my opinion. I use hundreds of feet of ethernet cable through multiple switches and routers at work and notice no appreciable differences - so spending money on a fancy ethernet cable makes no sense to me. USB, on the other hand, is extremely dependent on high frequency signals getting through in good shape - witness the fact you can only have a USB cable under 10 feet or so for it to even work. USB is a two-way dependent platform designed for use between two pieces of equipment and it is dependent on signal quality to even work - where ethernet network traffic is designed to work over thousands of miles and, while slower in its ability to transfer data, completely insensitive to cable things by design.‘
Sound Quality of The Bridge: Summary
After some hours of testing: Hands down, the sound quality of the Bridge mode is superior to the USB mode. More body at all frequencies, more transparency, a smoother and more natural sound, more and tighter bass, increased resolution and details exposed through my speakers that were not exposed before using the USB mode.
The Bridge is a gem. Of particular note is that the character of the sound can be changed in tasteful ways (and differently from their effect using the USB mode) by choosing your analog interconnects (from the MKII DAC to amps) wisely; experiment and enjoy — I am still doing so. My friend and Audiophilia colleague Martin Appel, who I rely upon to introduce me to and lend me amazing interconnect cables (I know of no one else with his magical ability to find the best sounding cables) has me focusing on three (appropriate for my system) and I enjoy all of them for different reasons; I still have not completely made up my mind which I like best: my wife is worried that I will want a pair of all three — she is probably correct.
Since I awarded the PS Audio MKII DAC an Audiophilia Star, I feel it is imperative to award one to the Bridge, too. The MKII allowed me to rid my system of a $4,000 preamplifier — and get better sound. The bridge allows me to rid my system of $400+ USB cables and replace them with $5 ethernet cables— and get better sound. Now, that’s progress.
[We are proud to award the PS Audio PerfectWave Network Bridge an Audiophilia Star Component Award. Congratulations! - Ed]
PS Audio PerfectWave Network Bridge
Manufactured by PS Audio
4826 Sterling Drive, Boulder, Colorado 80301
Phone: (720) 406-8946
Fax: (720) 406-8967
192kHz 32 bit compatible
Built in Digital Lens
Decodes all popular formats
Enables cover art and titles on the touch screen
Connect via Ethernet or WIFI
Computer (as server) with peripherals: Apple Mac Mini, running J. River; Apple AirPort Extreme router.
DAC: PS Audio PerfectWave MKII DAC
Amplifiers: 2 Wyred 4 Sound W4S mAMP Monoblock Amplifiers
Speakers: Monitor Audio Platinum PL200
Speaker cables: Acoustic Zen Hologram II, spade with bi-wire (for the speaker end)
Amps to DAC interconnects: Acoustic Zen Absolute (Zero Crystal Silver) XLR,
Morrow Cable MA7 Grand Reference XLR, Antipodes Reference XLR.
USB cable from Mac Mini to DAC: Wireworld Platinum USB cable, Audioquest Diamond USB cable.
Power cords for amps: Kaplan Cable HE Mk2
Power cord for MKII DAC: Kaplan Cable GS MkII
Power cord for Mac Mini: P.I. Audio Group MPC/Mini++
Power center: PS Audio Dectet with PS Audio AC-10 power cord
Kaplan Cable customized Hubbell wall outlet for the PS Audio Dectet