Audiophilia PW DAC MKII Bridge review update


#1

I’m surprised that no one has commented on the update to this review - hooking up a Mac mini to the bridge via an Ethernet crossover cable and getting better performance than either USB or Ethernet to the bridge.

(I think I got that right)



Check it out.


#2

Here is a copy of Mr. Sigman’s original review and adddition.

@ Gordon we may need take this out of the tagging section. Very exciting!



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 192.175.1.300, and its Subnet Address is 255.255.255.0, then manually assign the Mac Mini an IP Address such as 192.175.1.301 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.)



Summary



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.





The PS Audio PerfectWave Network Bridge detail.



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):







Paul McGowan, CEO and founder, PS Audio. Photo credit: www.cepro.com



‘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



website

email


#3

Hi,

So if this will work with Mac Mini, why not a WIndoze or even a Linux operating system?

Sorry I’m not home to try it out. But it seems like it could!

I would suppose you would still use your ipad and jriver to control and select music cuts.

Will this solve the Gapless Problem?

Could this solution be the “Silent Server” solution we’ve all been wanting for so long?

I could handle a cool little Mini or laptop feeding the Bridge in a closed system. Then just write a little simple routine for updates.

Let’s hope this works. Maybe this setup could even make WaveStream unneeded?



Steven B-)



@Paul,

Please get Dennis and the Gang to try this out while you are out!


#4

Seems like he was having success with JRMC on the mac mini, which is also interesting.



If the mac mini is connected to the internet, wouldn’t it be possible for the PWD to still access the net?


#5

I did tried some time ago (when there was fuzz about quality of different ethernet cables and switches on this forum) to connect my qnap NAS running minimserver with bridge. I was not able to hear any significant (if any) difference to setup with gigabit 3com switch between NAS and the bridge.

It probably could be the reviewer had some flaky ethernet switch or other NW issue as he got such different results…


#6

I tried this a few months ago.

I figured out the “crossover” cable bit and hooked directly to the mini.

Without the router, I had no ipad connection to the mini for control. [ could not get direct wireless to work either]. [a bluetooth device might work?]

I then tried a switch to add internet to the mini but , for me, SQ was the same as everything just connected via the router.

I have internet [direct from my modem] in my listening area so all cables are short.

I have often suggested to users with multiple PCs and family members, to set up a separate lan for their audio system [closed loop] and then wired or wireless connection to their main [house] lan just for internet access.

I have this in my house and it works very well. all connections are filtered by mac address so I am the only log on for the audio lan.



#7

But if you do this there are no high-end Ethernet cross-over cables!


#8

I never tested the setup with a Mac mini, but I assume that you still can use your iPad as control point. Start with a normal setup with the Mac mini wirelessly connected (dhcp or static) to the Internet. Let’s assume this is all in the range of 192.168.1.x. Then assign both the PWD/Bridge and the NIC of the Mac mini with an ip address in the range of 192.168.2.x and connect them with a crossover cable. Running JRiver on the Mac mini, you can use JRemote on your iPad, because the Mac mini now has become the “switch” between both networks.



The advantage of a Windows or Linux computer is, that you can add a second NIC for connecting wired to the Internet.



Unfortunately, there are no Macs with two NICs installed. A Mac with 2 NICs, JRiver and a perfectly working WaveStream can be described as the Perfect (Silent) Server.


#9

wybe, there is very neat Apple Thunderbolt ethernet adapter, which works flawlessly, so if for example mac mini is equipped with TB ports you are good to go :slight_smile:



Performance of this adapter on gigabit network is surprisingly great.


#10

What is a crossover cable?..is it the same as a normal ethernet cable?

Has anyone tried this with a Windows computer? Is the reason no one is commenting on this because they are not sure how to do it either?


#11

@lstack



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethernet_crossover_cable


#12

Note that if there is a switch or hub inbetween your controller/router and terminal device (e.g. server and renderer) you don’t need to worry about whether the Ethernet cable is crossed or not.


#13

Excellent point, Frode.


#14

on top of that you may be lucky and if you mac/pc is new enough it can detect direct connection without switch and will work even with normal ethernet cable (auto mdi-x) :slight_smile:



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medium_Dependent_Interface


#15

MAIS OUI!

A switch is basically a router minus the wifi.

A lot of users were set up this way and connect the switch, if desired, to the router.

It is worth getting a decent switch [$50-$100].

Or use an old router and turn off the broadcasting.


#16

From a network point of view it is not recommended to connect a router behind another router. It sure doesn’t make your home network easier to configure.


#17

@wybe

Why not?

Many people are forced to do it if they have combined modem/routers from their providers.

On could do a separate subnet and range or extend the 1st router wifi range or even turn off the broadcasting of the 1st router and use the 2nd exclusively. All it really is, is a smarter and more featured switch.

It is, as you said, a brainteaser the first and even second time we do it.

Someday someone will make it easier, I hope.


#18

I have to do this actually - a DSL modem/router on which I limited its DHCP range for devices connected to it, then it feeds an airport extreme via powerline adapters and the extreme hard wired connects to static IP addressed audio components in one range, and has another limited range for DHCP wireless devices. Seems to work for me…and it solved a lot of problems.