Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Upgrading the PS Audio Perfectwave DAC

As a generally happy owner of the PS Audio PWT/PWD combo for the last couple of years, I had to bite on the upgrade offered for the DAC. As a bit of background let me say that the combo is the best digital I've had in my home by considerable margin. While it offers a wide range of filter and upsampling options, I've always just enjoyed it running in it's 'native' mode where it has given my cd collection a major lift. The upgrade offers improvements wrought by the onward march of digital processing, particularly the option to use the USB connection seriously for computer-based audio.

Now the beauty, in theory, of this two box platform is that updates are handled by software download to a built-in SD drive and that hardware upgrades, such as the new DAC board, can be serviced by the owner. To this end, PS Audio have gone to some trouble to provide all the tools needed, and your $1000 results in a shipment containing new board, new screws, screwdriver, several wrenches, new wiring connectors, all-threads to help push off the cover, and even a white cloth to lay your DAC on to avoid scratches. Despite all the efforts the process has proven to be a mess for more than a few owners.

First, the descriptions of what to order and what will be entailed in the process involve considerable effort on the owner's part. Seems that multiple versions of the PWD were created and sold, and depending on which one you have, different boards and wiring harnesses have to be ordered. PS Audio generally get this bit right though I've read of some owners getting the wrong version because they could not accurately identify the version they owned.

Second, I ordered and paid online before being told by way of a confirmation email that it would be a few weeks before my upgrade shipped. Apparently supplier problems meant no stock on hand but you'd be forgiven for thinking this might be explained in advance.  Assuming I'd have it within a week, I ordered in anticipation of some downtime I'd planned. Scupper that idea. Oh well...could that not be made clear on the site before ordering? There's a series of discussions on the otherwise helpful PS Audio forum where you can learn that some folks have waited months. Ouch.

Third, the package I received came with a manual that encouraged me to check out videos on YouTube showing which of the two wiring harnesses I had received should be used and how to install it correctly. Sadly, the URLs on the manual front page were wrong. Worse, a check of the PS Audio site offered no clue as to the real location. Subsequent discussions with the 'help' desk (who responded three days after I asked)  informed me that a simple search using the words ?PS Audio DAC" on  YouTube would get me there directly but you try this...go on......see what you get.

I could go on....and I will, a bit.....the actual install is not difficult once you get the cover off but the real issue is the firmware update. The SD card provided with mine did not work. After all the labor of installation I had no sound. Not 'I had no upgraded sound', I had NO sound. Full stop. Silence. A dead DAC. This parrot was deceased.  Why? Firmware OR card problems. How do I know this? Well, a question to the PS Audio forum turned up lots of responses from owners who had the same problem  and it was clear (if anything here could be so described given the general convoluted nature of the website and process) that either some DACs did not read 2gb SD cards (as supplied) or the firmware was corrupted. Yikes. An earlier post on a thread from PS Audio's head honcho Paul suggested they had figured this out and all disks shipped before I got mine had corrected the 2gb problem (wrong, I still had it after that supposed date) so by the time I gave up trying to buy a 1gb disk around Austin (I got lots of sympathetic looks from staff in Target, Radio Shack, Walmart etc that confirmed only the most hopelessly backward or impoverished among us even want a 1gb disk)  did I try, at the suggestion of other owners, a fresh download of the firmware to another 2gb disk.

It all worked out in the end but sheesh, did I have to pay one thousand dollars to experience a lost day, incomplete and inaccurate instructions, and a dead DAC? How does it all sound now? Great.  Final score? Sonics: top marks. Service: not so great. I add this to the long line of problems I've had with PS Audio gear (phono stage repair, amp gain cell crash, power regenerator failure) only this time, the sound of the player and DAC keeps me hanging on.  Time for some scotch and jazz. PS Audio owners, be warned - stay calm, expect problems, have a plan B. The final help desk reply today told me they hoped their dealers would handle future upgrades. I don't feel comforted by this.

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