So after getting the PS NuWave DSD Phono converter, I was a believer in PS Audio. I then started to really think about recording all my vinyl (and other people’s, for that matter) in DSD format to preserve the vinyl-ness as much as possible and wouldn’t have to spin so many records and wear them out, etc. That lead me to the DirectStream DAC, which, while seemingly amazing and would be able to fulfill my desire to preserve and play my vinyl digital-style, was a touch out of my price range. At least for now. More in my price range was the NuWave DSD DAC. True, it didn’t have all the bells and whistles of it’s big brother, but it was reported to put out great sound, so I was game.
First I bought a Mac Mini as my platform for my media server. Why a mini? I’m fairly agnostic WRT to Mac/PC. I own and use both on a daily basis. I just figured that a Mac would make this process a little simpler (theoretically) since it already is plug and play with NuWave DAC driver. That and the low profile appeal to me, not to mention that I run a Mac network in the house. So a Mac Mini it is. Once I bought the Mac I integrated it with my Yamaha pre - sans DAC- (I know, I know - about to get an Anthem, hence the need to save $$ on the DAC) and installed JRiver. Why JRiver? First of all it is pretty ubiquitous, has a good sonic reputation, and it handles DSD files. Simple as that. I thought about Audirvana, but I’m not wild about using iTunes with it (I actually hate iTunes with every fiber of my being, if I’m being honest, but that’s neither here nor there). A quick aside. Apple, can you please make it easier to use a iMac as the monitor while setting up a Mac Mini? I thought it would be as simple as connecting the thunderbolt cable between the two and hitting cmd+F2 and I could use the iMac monitor off of the Mini. No dice. I hadn’t thought through the complicated nature of wireless keyboards and mice under said configuration. Needless to say if it works, it takes a better man than me to set it up properly that way. Anyway, So I installed JRiver on the Mac Mini using my flatscreen as a monitor. Much easier! I then saw various tutorials about setting up JRiver on a Mac and was on my way. Or at least I thought I was.
I followed instructions to the letter. I plugged the DAC into the Mac and it recognized the DAC and installed the driver. Awesome! I then set up JRiver with the appropriate settings and… Nothing. No sound. I restarted the DAC and tried again. No dice. I modified the settings here and there, experimenting as I went along. Finally I got sound! But I couldn’t play DSD files, only PCM based FLAC and MP3. And it wasn’t converting to DSD to the DAC - the DAC saw only PCM. Crap. I tried going bitstream and then could get the DAC to see DSD, but it was garbled under a storm of digital noise. Something was amiss. I called PSA and a very helpful guy named Jeremy walked me through things. All the correct boxes were checked on JRiver but still no dice. What was going wrong? Finally one of Jeremy’s colleagues joined in and together we still were not doing any better in getting the DAC to see the DSD properly. Occasionally I could the the DSD files to play… but in PCM. Finally the other engineer asked me to look at the Midi setup and tell me if the driver was setup properly. Yes, the PS Audio driver was there. But strangely it has deselected from the default output and now the system default output was in control. What’s more, I couldn’t select it as a default device. And the settings weren’t correct. It calls for 24 bit, 176.4 kHz, but the Midi was seeing it as 16 bit. Huh. I hadn’t changed it back at all. Why was It like that? So Jeremy and his colleague instructed me to close out JRiver and then re-attempt the PSA NuWave driver. And this time it worked!! Kind of. I was not playing PCM and DSD files, but no DSD conversion goodness. Argh!! Finally we directed JRiver to use bitstream and to convert to DSD using DSP Studio option. And Viola! DSD sound with a happy little DSD light on the DAC!! AND that light stayed lit when playing PCM files so they were being un-converted!! Yes!! What we think happened, is that swapping out an old crappy USB cord for a Nordost Heimdall USB cord with JRiver running caused the PSA USB driver to lose preference to the default core audio option. So lesson learned: If you have to make changed to the PSA USB driver for sound output, make sure JRiver is off (including media server) and connected to the DAC before doing so. And look at the MIDI settings if you disconnect the USB cable at all. Your Mac may try to reassign to the default system output. Once JRiver was closed, I could then select the PSA driver and the correct resolution. So here’s a basic overview of my settings:
Midi player configuration: Select PS Audio USB as default out (with JRiver OFF). Make sure it says 24 bit and 176.4 KHz. Now open/install JRiver.
Then I used the PSA instructions “How to set up JRiver and Bridge”. Be sure to do this exactly as they delineate. I thought I had but since I had set up the DLNA server before I saw these instructions, I originally picked “Generic DLNA” instead of “Audiphile 24 Bit”. Didn’t work.
Then be sure to open DSD Studio under the “Player” tab. Check Output and choose “DSD in DOP format”. I stayed with single DSD since most of my rips are in that format. Close out DSD Studio. Don’t choose “Bistream” under “Tools”>“Options”. I don’t know why. One would think that since you were choosing “Bitstream DSD” while setting up the DLNA server, you would naturally choose this option. You would be wrong. I wasted a lot of time trying to make it work.
The result was worth it, despite all the frustration. Trust me on this. This setup gives me better sounding digital files than I’ve ever experienced. My DSD rips of vinyl are indistinguishable from the real thing. Transparent, I think the word is. Digital FLAC files sound better than the CD Red Book version from my player without the DAC. Much better.