NuWave Phono Converter Performance


#1

I purchased the NuWave phono preamp as soon as it was released and have been very pleased with its sound, so I read Michael Fremer’s review with some dismay. After thinking about his conclusions, I decided to run my own tests. Instead of comparing several phono cartridges, I compared the same recording in high res digital and analog versions. I figured this would clearly show what Mr. Fremer characterized as the NuWave’s weak bass, exaggerated highs, and limited sense of space.



I know of only one exact duplicate recording: Stockfish SFR 357.8045.1, which contains a two channel SACD and a direct to disk LP, both made off the same microphone feed. A jazz trio performs. The string bass is prominent and deep. The piano and drums sound farther back but are still very present.



I played the SACD on an Oppo 105 using the two channel balanced output. The phono setup was a new SOTA Cosmos turntable with a Shure version IV arm and a Soundsmith moving iron Aida cartridge. Speakers were B&W 804D’s, augmented with two JL Audio Fathom f113 sub-woofers. I played the first track in each version several times, matching volume as closely as possible with a sound pressure meter.



My observation was that the LP through the NuWave sounded better than the SACD. For example, the pluck on the string bass was clearer; the room and depth were more audible; the sound was more transparent when all the instruments were playing forte; and the drums, especially the cymbals, were clearer. Most importantly, the LP performance was more involving. The lowest notes on the bass were in no way “stingy”; in fact, I had to cut the bass by 1 db to match the LP to the SACD. I heard no exaggerated highs from the LP; and no lack of space.



I also compared several tracks on “La Segunda”, an album available from Todd Garfinkle’s MA Recordings as both a 176/24 digital file and an LP. Since some changes could have been made when the LP was cut, this is not as clean a comparison as the Stockfish, but I know the digital file well and it is a spectacular recording of amazing musicians. Again, the LP through the NuWave was better than the digital file played on a SONY HAP-Z1ES. On “Taquito Militar”, for example, I’ve wondered what instrument played the main tune. It sounds something like a pan pipe, but nobody could play a pan pipe that fast. On the LP, it’s obvious that the instrument is a recorder, and that the same tune, played an octave higher later in the cut, is played on a soprano recorder. Also, the drums are more clearly placed in the space (the lowest drum sounded too far back to be reachable on the digital version). On “Nunca Tuvo Novio”, the voice, supported by a solo cello, is much more emotional. Again, I heard nothing that could be considered weak bass, exaggerated highs, or “sharpness”.



l also happen to have a copy of the LP Michael Fremer used: Wilson Audiophile W-8823, “Winds of War and Peace”. So I played the first track—the source of the excerpt used to compare the cartridges. As is obvious in the excerpts, the main feature is a bass drum, probably beaten with a wooden stick (Fennel used a bedpost when he wanted a similar sound). In a few words, I heard nothing like the problems Mr. Fremer heard. (I organized a wind orchestra while in college, brought the Eastman Wind Ensemble to the Troy Music Hall for a concert, and currently play oboe every week in a near professional community symphony orchestra, so I have a pretty good idea what a wind ensemble should sound like).



I then played the Classic Records version of “The Royal Ballet Gala Performances” to test for reproduction of strings and space. The entire front wall of the listening room became a deep auditorium and the strings were true to life.



Finally, I replayed Mr. Fremer’s test tracks. Track 1 (the NuWave) sounded nothing like what I heard when I played the LP. On the track 1, the bass drum lacked bass; the mids were congested; and the music (but not the sound) was gone.

I believe that if the NuWave’s highs were exaggerated, the lows weak, and the sense of space limited, I would have heard all these characteristics very clearly when I compared LP’s thru the NuWave with their corresponding digital files. Instead, I heard small differences with the LP and NuWave clearly better in every instance. And the same LP used by Mr. Fremer, played through the NuWave, sounded much better than the test track available on his website.



There are many reasons why the two tests produced dramatically different results. My suggestion is, rather than taking either one of our words for what the NuWave sounds like, you listen for yourself. I am certain you’ll be favorably impressed.


#2

Welcome, jrango!



What a delightful and interesting first post. From my knowledge of oboe players, I know you were careful and precise in your comparisons. :slight_smile:



You performed exactly the comparison I hoped someone would be able to do; comparing an LP and digital playback with precisely the same mastering.



Did you happen to compare Mr. Fremer’s digital recording of his reference system with playback of the same LP on your system through the NuWave?


#3

Yes, thanks for posting this! Welcome.


#4

The new TAS with Tony Cordesman’s review is out. I’d say it’s a rave. Congratulations to Paul and the entire PSA team!


#5

Thanks! Didn’t realize it was out yet. I have had to bite my lip for some time as they shoot you if you say anything about the review. :slight_smile:


#6

@stevem2 Where did you see this? Was it the March issue? Seems early to be out.


#7

I subscribe to print and digital download. I got the notice today that the March issue is available for download and there it was. I think I usually get the print version first. This does seem a bit early for March.


#8

It also made the 2014 Editors’ Choice list in the same issue.


#9

Excellent!



Congratulations, Paul!


#10

Hello stevem2,



can you please post the article about the NPC in the TAS March issue?



Thanks



wolfgangt


#11

I only have the complete issue, which I can’t post due to size and copyright issues. I assume PSA will post the article at some point (after the print version hits the stands, perhaps?), assuming TAS permits that (I would think they would).


#12

TAS itself will likely post the article as well within a month or two.


#13

Yes congratulations are in order! Can’t wait to get my copy of TAS. USPS please don’t mangle it (again).



On a related note, I have some thoughts on the NPC that I would like to put forth. The first is I find the TAS rave (assuming that it is, I haven’t read it yet) most interesting after reading Michael Fremer’s original review, the follow up and all the associated opinion. I had read most of the information but was hesitant to listen to the samples, for fear I made a bad choice, so I procrastinated until yesterday. I listened on the system as well as through headphones and heard in both cases only slight differences between them which really makes me wonder, is my hearing acuity far worse than I thought or are all these people delusional (doubtful). I can’t really pick a best one, but if forced I would pick #4. How much of that choice is due to subconsciously knowing that was the high end spread (I had read the posts, but didn’t commit to memory which file was which). I will say the files in general did not sound that great, not a big fan of Wilson speakers or their recordings, but that’s not the point. I will say I was pretty shocked though that someone (not Michael) actually called the sound of the NPC file “awful”. Assuming their hearing is much better than mine, how would that person describe a truly dreadful album, say an RCA Dynagroove? Given there assessment of the five files I don’t think there is a word severe enough in the English language to describe the difference between the Wilson recording and the Dynagroove. Maybe my analogy is weird, but my point here is I think we audiophiles tend to exaggerate the differences, but that’s nothing new.



One thing about the NPC that I may have misunderstood is where it was intended to fall in the hierarchy of hi-end phono preamps. From Paul’s description it is the best phono pre PS Audio ever produced. I never heard the GCPH, which presumably was the previous high point, but my understanding was that it was good for the money. Ok, so the NPC is better, but where does Paul think it stands in the overall hierarchy of all hi-end phono preamps? At this point all I know is Paul says its as good or slightly better than than Lehmann. Certainly a respected unit, but a long ways from the top. What I would like to know is did the NPC perform where Paul wanted it to? I would assume yes, otherwise I doubt he would have released it, but I would like to confirm it.



All this leads me to the assumption that I may have jumped to an incorrect conclusion as to what the NPC is and what it would do for me. To be honest I was most enamored with the prospect of using the digital conversion of phono since I was using the PWD straight to my amplifier. But then, reality (and a Paul’s Post) intruded. After purchasing the NPC I decided to reinsert my preamp (Audio Research LS-25 Mk II) to see what would happen. Oh dear, the system sounded noticeably better (certainly more so than the difference between those five files). That begged the question of how my old phono pre, an Audio Research PH-2 (a fully balanced solid state unit), compared to the NPC. Keep in mind I couldn’t do that without the LS-25 in the system so I conveniently avoided the comparison. But now I had to do the comparison. I compared the two phono pre’s over several days, and had difficulty hearing clear advantages of one over the other. I will say the PH-2 seemed to have ever so slightly better bass and a little less treble energy. This follows with what Michael said. Hmmmm, am I on to something? But the other question is can I compare a 20+ year old component with a three month old one? In other words, the old one is, shall we say fully broken in, whereas the new one is maybe broken in? Weak bass and etched highs are trademarks of a component not fully broken in, but they are also trademarks of less than stellar components too. So which is it, not broken in or not stellar? I don’t know, Arrrggghh. Which leaves me with two questions, anyone think the NPC needs a very long break-in? And the other question is should the NPC outperform a 20+ year old unit that retailed for $2500 then?



Now I really wonder if I should replace my Audio Research Classic 60 with the new amp when it finally comes to production …


#14

I bet your hearing is fine. :slight_smile:



Mr. Fremer’s posted files are an excellent example of the exaggeration of nuance common among audiophiles. I can readily hear differences, but they are shadings - not massive night and day, drop the veil, the windows are finally clean differences.



pmotz said: . . . should the NPC outperform a 20+ year old unit that retailed for $2500 then?


I don’t know.



$2,500 twenty years ago was an expensive pre and Audio Research was/is a master of analog circuits.



My thinking is that if the NPC sounds as good, it is doing very well. The NPC is much less expensive in today’s dollars and offers much greater capability.



#15

@pmotz33@sbcglobal.net Thanks and to answer your question, I consider the NPC to be amongst the finest phono preamplifiers out there. I haven’t compared the NPC to everything, obviously, but we have compared it to a number of phono preamplifiers and find it to hold its own quite well. In any comparison you find some things better, some things worse, there’s nothing out there perfect - or at least I haven’t run across it yet.



I am happy to put the NPC up against just about anything out there, even a 22 year old AR.



Thanks for joining the conversation!


#16

Thanks for the words of encouragement! I’ll keep my fingers (ears?) crossed that the NPC continues to improve with time and I’ll sell the PH-2 to help pay for the next upgrade. Perhaps the new amps will eliminate the need for a preamp and I can use the NPC in the way I originally intended (hah!).