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For geeks already surfing the PerfectWave, my upstream action was provided by a Wireworld USB cable hooked directly into a 2010 MacMini running Audirvana (and Squeezeslave). My usual go-to USB-S/PIF converter and re-clocker of Audiophilleo1 brought little audible improvement to any facet of the PWD sound and was thus relegated to the subs bench early on in the review process. (Now that's interesting).

Let’s go solo.
At this price point sonic attributes are less about strong/weak bass/treble or midrange openness/clarity and more about overall but less tangible rightness. A combination of neutrality and liquidity might be the appropriate audiophile verbiage. The PWD doesn't appear to lean in any particular direction except for an emphasis on musical flow that's devoid of tension. It carries you to your musical destination without making it sound like an arduous task even with the heavier lifting of poorer recordings. As the ship cuts the ocean, the traveller doesn't wish to feel to the heat, see the sweat and hear the noise of the engine room many decks below. She just wants to feel the cruise liner effortlessly cut wave after wave.

The PWD’s Bentley ride means that its surface-smooth effortless manner with cruise control obscures the deceptively responsive manner with which it handles pedal-to-the-metal dynamics. There's a formality to the PWD that's easily comparable to a gentleman possessed of impeccable manners and linguistic charm. We know it when we see/hear it. It's the perfect dinner guest you want to spend more time with. Not that the PWD's sound is saccharine-addictive or overly verbose. That might imply overdone sweetness or explicit grandiosity. No, the PWD is altogether more humble. It provides satisfaction that cheaper boxes don’t deliver to varying degrees. Those are contrasted as slightly off-kilter or blighted by a personality quirk or two. Some would argue that one's source should be flavourless with no personality or colour of its own. That it should be well behaved and graceful. Running along these axes, the PWD is extremely convincing.

I've recently spent many hours crate digging through tunes via a Peachtree iNova pushing ProAc Tablette Reference 8s. Its internal Sabre DAC is a far better resolver than you'd expect for a AU$2K all-in-one solution and easily the match of the PWD in terms of retrieval of surface detail. Yet it lacks the regal poise and majestic confidence of its more expensive rival. The PWD is King to the Peachtree's Countess. The latter feels a touch too gauche when contrasted by more exulted company just as one might expect given the budget differential between the two. That the iNova comes packed with amplifier and headphone possibilities makes it the clear leader when bang for buck is the primary concern. Here it is not.

Let's bring some currency to 2011 DAC sparring. PWD vs Metrum Octave. The shouty B52’s vibe of Future Of The Left's "Manchasm" piles on the layers in the final vamp. Falkous' ever-raucous vocals ("Colin is a pussy / A very pretty pussy") tumble over guitars that tumble over guitar shards. A rhythm section of understated drive keeps the song from collapsing in on itself. PS Audio adds a spoonful of honey over and above Metrum's mineral water.

The PWD's layer unraveling is sweeter, smoother and more fleshed out than the Octave. Supplementary meat on bone and connective tissue pays heft and physicality forward. This latter characteristic keeps FoTL’s proto-punk snarl from straying into edginess as occasionally exhibited by the thinner-blooded but speedier Metrum. Both know how to rock but the Metrum is nervier and glassier. It plays Fred Schneider to PS Audio's Kate Pierson.

PerfectWave DAC and amplifier matching? I didn’t find it as crucial as with the aforementioned cheaper mostly Sabre-chipped DACs. The PWD doesn't call for the additional fleshiness or the font-edge anti-aliasing of tubes. It possesses sufficient protoplasm not to require see-saw balancing from amplification or cables. One man’s 'balance' is another man's ‘synergy’. The PWD proved its worth as suitable partner with all manner of amplifiers down here down under: Redgum RGi120ENR, Leben CS300XS, Peachtree iNova and Eastern Electric M88. Completing the audition scene were loudspeakers from Zu (Omen, Soul Superfly) and ProAc (Tablette Reference 8). [Right turn, Clyde. Leashed to my headfi rig of Burson HA-160 and AKG 702, the PWD showed nothing that brooked quarrel with anything concluded from listening to open-air combos.]

PS Audio’s statement unit could be crudely described as ‘mature sounding’. Finesse and organics—and price—are what separate it. The PWD returns effortlessness, refinement and relaxation to the picture. Is this a DAC to match and perhaps best the sonic solidity of CD players of yesteryear? I should concur. Narrowing the descriptive vocabulary further and opting for one word to describe the PWD, I'd call it nourishing. It plays a healthy audio diet straight down the line without if or but. It is a most refined most beatific-sounding unit. Triangulating further, it serves up the mercury-flow midrange of db Audio Labs' Tranquility SE but with greater tonal mass and all’round ease. This is a caveat-free judgment which when considering dollars going down one would likely expect. The PWD is what you'd expect from three big ones: a resolutely end-game DAC. One wouldn't want to be considering a more luxurious decoder for quite some time after such a purchase. I'm to-ing and fro-ing around that age-old truth. You get what you pay for. Paul McGowan has designed a DAC that binds this cliché tightly to its chest.  

Let's go network.  Marja and Henk's piece on the wedding of PerfectWave DAC and PerfectWave Transport concluded thus: "Final comments & suggestions: When the Network Bridge is available, the deployment options of the PWD will reach yet another level." I won't hold out on you. M&H's predictions were correct. The Digital Lens technology found in the PerfectWave Transport has been migrated to the Network Bridge so that listeners who eschew shiny discs in favour of intangible digital formats can also get their ears around the good stuff.

The Network Bridge looks like a PC network card. It slides and snuggles into bed at the rear of the PWD. Into the Bridge then goes the click clunk of one end of a network cable. The other end goes into the router (from which it is given a network IP address). When Bridged, the PWD digital audio feed is no longer moved from host computer to DAC via USB or S/PDIF. Instead musical binary is sent via Ethernet to the Network Bridge where upon arrival PS Audio's Digital Lens tech temporarily holds the audio data in a buffer before sending it down to the engine room for decoding. Aye-aye cap'n.

The Digital Lens is instrumental in maintaining reliable clock data transmission. Audio data is buffered, re-clocked and then sent via I²S to the decoder. Back in Colorado Paul McGowan explained it better:"The Digital Lens inside the Bridge solves a fairly big problem with network audio and that is one of jitter and quality of performance. The broader issue is that in theory how you send digital audio data shouldn't matter to the end product's performance - but in practice this isn't what we get. We've all heard differences between digital audio cables, between network streamed audio and USB audio etc. But again, technically speaking, none of these transmission method should matter and that philosophical ideal is what started us on the road to designing and building the Network Bridge."