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Analog Phono Converter

Take the best analog phono preamplifier we know how to make, combine it with a state-of-the-art Analog To Digital Converter, place them both in a hand crafted chassis, add a massive power supply, provide fully balanced class A analog outputs as well as multiple digital outputs including DSD and PCM and you have the NuWave Phono Converter.

Our expertise comes from building purist analog phono preamplifiers since 1974 and, in 1985, inventing and delivering the first high-end audio DAC in our industry.

And it is with this background of design experience and innovation that we address today’s need for a no-compromise device that bridges the gap between the very best analog and digital audio systems. The PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter.

Use the NPC as your analog source feeding any DAC or preamplifier. Archive your analog collection of vinyl, tape or simply enjoy your records without compromise. Analog, DSD, PCM, the NPC has it all.

The future of high-end audio isn’t limited to just digital audio, DACS, streaming and computers. Analog sources such as tuners, docks and turntables will continue to play major roles in the high-end home audio systems. In fact, with the resurgence of vinyl as strong as it is, analog, turntables and vinyl LP’s will continue to play major roles in tomorrow’s high-end audio systems.

The NPC is the perfect product to bridge the divide between analog and digital. With the NPC it is now possible to keep a high-end DAC as the heart of your system and play vinyl as well as any analog source without compromise. Or, if you prefer, you can place the NPC in an all analog system and use its digital feature set just to record and catalog your vinyl. The NPC is right at home in either setup, analog or digital.

And the NPC is ready for the future with a high resolution DSD, PCM and analog engines built in.

Fully separate analog/digital paths

Unique to the NPC is our design philosophy of isolating and separating the analog and digital paths within the device. This means that the phono preamplifier built into the NPC is a balanced, class A phono stage from input to output.

The general trend in A/D converter based phono stages tends to be a hybrid of an input analog step-up stage feeding an internal A/D converter where the RIAA EQ curve (required for vinyl) filtering and further amplification are all handled in the digital domain. Our philosophy was quite the opposite: keep the vinyl amplification chain, including the RIAA curve, completely analog from input to output, the way LP’s were intended to be reproduced.

Once we have a proper analog output we then channel that high level signal to our state-of-the-art A/D converter for digital processing. This ensures that vinyl amplification, EQ and filtering are all handled as they were designed to be and the resulting sound is sweet, open without any digital artifacts or issues to contend with.

High resolution asynchronous DSD and PCM

If you choose the digital path for your analog inputs, it is not only possible, but actually amazingly good to simply play vinyl LP’s and analog sources of all kinds directly through your system’s DAC. For the first time, a high-end turntable or tuner setup is just another input on your D to A converter and you’ll be amazed at how great this sounds. Playing vinyl on our Clear Audio Turntable, in Music Room One featuring the Infinity IRS, LP’s playing directly through the PerfectWave DAC sound glorious.

You can choose any sample rate from 44.1kHz all the way up to 192kHz and select any bit depth from 16 to 24 bits for playback or recording using the standard digital audio PCM. You can also choose DSD (Direct Stream Digital), which is a more analog-like digital audio format used on SACD recordings. Here you can choose from standard or double rate DSD and play directly into any DSD capable DAC or through USB into a computer for recording purposes.

What’s fascinating is the choices of sample rates and how they affect the sound quality of the vinyl discs you play. Higher and faster is not always better and in our main Music Room, 96kHz/24 bits sounds closer to pure analog from the NPC than does 192kHz/24 bits. Your mileage may vary (and probably will) depending on the type of system you play it through, the filters in your DAC and so on. The point is, the NPC gives you a wealth of selection and the ability to choose what sounds best to you. Once you determine the best sample rate for the NPC output you can use that setting to record all your vinyl.

Feel comfortable also that the output sample rate of the NPC does not affect the input sample rate of the NPC A/D Converter, which is fixed at an incredibly fast five million samples per second. This very high speed allows us to use a gentle, single pole 6dB/octave input filter on the ADC starting at 100kHz so there is no chance of any phase shift at lower frequencies, especially those in the audio band.

Purity.

The NPC can be used as a standalone A/D converter, analog phono preamplifier or both. Connections to a preamplifier, DAC, or computer are simple and direct.

Using appropriate software on a PC, NPC owners can RIP their entire vinyl collections to their computers at 192/24 PCM or DSD and stream the high resolution files to their loudspeakers at the touch of a button.

Asynchronous 192/24 as well as 64X and 128X DSD can be sent over S/PDIF through either the USB or coaxial output and a direct DSD and PCM streams are available through the I2S output. Use of the DoP protocols are standard on the NPC.

Plenty of gain

The analog phono preamplifier we’ve designed in the NPC is the finest we’ve built in the 40+ years we’ve been building them. Phono cartridges the NPC will work with range from a high output moving magnet or ceramic with up to 220mv output, to a delicate low output moving coil cartridge with as low as 0.3mv out. This is an extremely useful range of outputs that can be selected from the front panel display in 3dB increments.

Full resistive cartridge loading options are available on the rear panel.

Passive RIAA curve

Our design philosophy with respect to the RIAA curve found in all phono preamplifiers is unwaveringly in favor of a passive approach to ensure the gain product is even at all frequencies. Most competitive designs rely on feedback based RIAA curves but these have the disadvantage of uneven gain products throughout the audible spectrum and the end result is a different sonic character for all frequency bands, a problem solved with the NPC’s use of passive EQ.

Using our passive network sandwiched between two linear gain stages provides EQ accuracy of 1/10th of a dB from 20Hz to 20kHz.

Differential, discrete and FET

The analog phono preamplifier’s two main gain stages consist of a differential low noise preamplifier input stage coupled through the passive RIAA into a discrete class A FET output stage.

The phono preamplifier’s input differential gain stage is a beautifully designed programmable low-noise gain stage from THAT corporation. THAT 1583 is a major breakthrough in performance with 60dB of programmable gain and noise specified at an incredibly low 1.9nV/Hz and wide bandwidth to well over 1mHz. This stage forms the interface gain device between the phono cartridge and the NPC and its output feeds our passive RIAA curve.

Following the EQ stage is a new class A all FET discrete gain block we’ve been working on for several years. This stage features a combination of JFET and MOSFET devices in a low open loop design that brings a rich, luscious and open path for music on your vinyl discs.

This is truly one of the finest gain stages PS Engineering has produced in over 40 years of designing such stages and presents an open, spacious and effortless presentation of the music.

Digital

The heart of the NPC’s design philosophy is running parallel and separate analog and digital paths, allowing each to be fully optimized for best performance. Certainly there is some merit to running all the phono amplification and EQ functions in the digital domain, as some manufacturer’s design approach dictates, but we have found greater success keeping the two separate and faithful to the original recording and mastering process.

Vinyl mastering is handled through filters and reverse RIAA EQ kept strictly in the analog domain from the input to the final output of the cutting lathe. To help faithfully reproduce this delicate analog path when we playback our records, PS Engineering feels strongly that an analog playback chain is the proper path to follow, which is why the NPC is 100% analog through the phono chain.

Once the playback and EQ requirements of the vinyl path have been properly amplified, it is now a relatively straightforward process to quantize (make digital) the output through a state-of-the-art Analog to Digital Converter (A/D Converter).

Because the NPC A/D Converter is sampling the analog waveform at an incredible rate of 5,000,000 times per second, regardless of where you have the output sample rate and bit depth set to, the conversion process from analog to digital is near seamless and sonically close to being undetectable. In fact, the differences you might hear between the pure analog output of the NPC and its digital equivalent would be mostly a function of the DAC you are playing back the music through.

This technique is really the secret to the NPC’s success. You can plug the output of your DAC (with its input fed from the NPC) into one analog input on your preamplifier, and the pure analog output of the NPC into another preamplifier input and switch between the two while you’re playing a record. Depending on the quality of your DAC, there will be little to no difference between the sound of the two. With an analog to digital converter of this quality, it’s easy to commit your entire analog collection to a hard drive for archivist quality reproduction.

NPC-and-albumsTo handle the all important duties of converting the final analog output to digital audio for playback on your DAC or recording on your computer, we’ve chosen an excellent product from Burr Brown, the PCM4222. This high-performance A/D converter features dynamic range, low noise and distortion characteristics that exceed 120dB.

The analog input to this state-of-the-art Analog to Digital Converter is fully differential and samples at a high speed rate of 5.6MHz regardless of where the user sets the output sample rate or bit depth. This means the A/D Converter is always using double DSD rate and format to convert the analog input to a near-perfect digital output. The input of the A/D is flat to 80kHz to ensure there’s no audible phase shift possible.

The device allows us to provide the user with front panel controls that select linear PCM or DSD formats (although conversion is always handled in the DSD engine). For PCM (converted internally from DSD) the NPC gives a full 24 bit 192kHz output while the native DSD option handles 64X or double DSD at 128X rates. We then take the output of the PCM4222 and run it through our own Digital Lens reclocking solution to make sure the clock that drives the A/D is isolated from the clock that outputs the actual data. This removes any chance of added jitter to the output digital audio signal.

Both PCM and DSD can be sent over S/PDIF, I2S, or USB using the DoP (DSD over PCM) protocols that are standard in the industry. The DoP protocols takes the pure DSD stream from the output of the NPC and break it into individual packets, much the same way another popular protocol, TCP/IP, is used to send data over the internet without any degradation. The S/PDIF and I2S are used to feed any DAC you might have regardless of its input capabilities. If you have an older DAC that only handles, perhaps, 96kHz/24 bit PCM, it’s no problem you simply set the front panel of the NPC to match your DAC’s limitations or potential. If your DAC accepts DSD that will travel properly over the S/PDIF format and work great.

Another great use for the variable sample rates and bit depth is how each sounds relative to your system, DAC and tastes. On our reference system in Music Room One 96kHz/24 bits sounds the most natural and closest to analog. In other listening situations, 176kHz/24 bits sounds closer to pure analog. It is this ability to adjust and tune the system to exactly what works best that really sets the NPC apart.

Digital outputs to feed your DAC, soundcard on a computer, mixing console or recording control board on the NPC are available through our HDMI connector (I2S) or coax (S/PDIF).

USB can be used not to feed your DAC, but rather to feed your computer.

Recording

If you wish to record analog sources from the NPC such as a, turntable, tuner, microphone or recording console output, it is a fairly easy and straightforward process. Simply connect through USB and our reclocked output will connect right up to your computer. You can record either DSD or PCM through either Mac or Windows machines using an off-the-shelf program such as Audacity. Because DSD is sent using what is known as DoP, Audacity or other recording programs handle the files as if they were standard digital audio WAV files. DoP does not alter the DSD data in any way other than cutting it up into acceptable packets that look like PCM, but of course are not. The pure DSD stream is maintained perfectly for future playback. For a full explanation of DoP protocols, download our NPC owner’s manual.

When it comes time to play back your recorded files, you can use any number of DAC’s that can stream from a computer (like our own DirectStream DAC with Bridge II) or you can play the files directly on your computer using a program like Vinyl Studio for both Mac and Windows operating systems.

This setup allow you to stream either DSD or PCM directly to your DAC or to your computer for storage. It’s easy, simple and rewarding to begin to build a digital audio library of all your analog based source material with the NPC from PS Audio.

The NuWave Phono Converted is proudly designed, built and tested to perfection at our Boulder Colorado facilities.

Whether you want to play the best sounding vinyl LP’s or analog sources through your preamplifier or DAC, or if you wish to start building a library of analog sources in your computer, then the PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter is exactly what you want.

The original design prospectus called for two separate state-of-the art audio paths in one chassis with a massive power supply to run both. This nicely sums up the physical aspects of the NPC, but it doesn’t explain what we expected for the the performance of this product. The NPC charter was to create a seamless output, whether digital or analog, that gives an open, effortless and dynamic presentation to any musical source connected to it. Indistinguishable as possible between the two worlds of analog and digital. Its internal A/D Converter is so close to the original source as to have met our design challenges handily.

The story of what prompted us to build this unique product in the first place is perhaps worth repeating. Our PerfectWave DAC has been the center of so many people’s digital audio system and so many people use only the PWD and its volume control to run their systems, we decided that the next product we needed was a really good A/D Converter to finish the chain. This was because phono and tuners had nowhere to go in the all PWD system.

We knew that many people would have a hard time with the idea that we would take their vinyl and turn it into digital audio. That was a hard one for people mentally and getting acceptance would be tough. We also knew, through numerous experiments, that we could make a perfect copy of a vinyl record. We knew the A/D technology had come a long way and we knew that because of the vinyl LP’s limited dynamic range and frequency response (limited relative to a live recording) we could make a perfect copy that would play through a DAC without compromise. That was a big leap for people to understand, but we were confident it could be done.

Our first thought was to make a separate A/D Converter and a separate phono preamplifier. But the more we thought about it the more we decided it would be best to combine the two – that we could actually produce a better sounding/performing product if we put the A/D and the analog phono stage in one box. We also decided, after much listening and work, that we wanted to have an all analog path and then, at the very end, we would convert the analog signal to digital in either PCM or DSD. We did not want to go the route of a partial analog implementation with digital EQ for the RIAA curve. We knew that a partial analog topology wasn’t going to be as analog sounding as what we wanted. It was important to be 100% analog, reproducing the RIAA curve in analog, exactly the way it is recorded in the first place. Then, in the end, we would convert to digital and the results would sound indistinguishable to people when their LP’s were played through their DACs.

We knew this was a revolutionary new concept, one no one had done yet, so it was incumbent upon us to make sure this worked perfectly. It would be a challenge for diehard analog/LP lovers to accept the digital conversion and then to accept the idea of listening to LP’s through their DACs. Yes, this was a tough one but we knew it was the right path. Thus, the NuWave Phono Converter was born, a fully analog path for the vinyl, connected internally (and properly) to a high end A/D Converter. That would be the ultimate solution. The finishing touch was to add another input so you could plug in a tuner or a tape deck and get the same high quality conversion. Now, the PerfectWave DAC could truly be the center of a person’s music system without compromise.

Adding the capability for DSD at a time in high-end’s evolution where most DACs are unable to support it was a major design consideration. But one we felt strongly about including. The entire A/D section is based on a one-bit Delta Sigma converter (basically DSD) and when users choose to output PCM that format is derived from the DSD stream. We believe strongly in the better sonics of DSD and the design of the NPC reflects those thoughts.

Solid engineering, great features and an easy to use front panel interface make the NPC a must-have product for those of us interested in listening and recording analog sources through our high end audio systems.

Physical

Unit Weight14 lbs [6.4 kg]
Unit Dimensions14” x 8.3” x 2.4” [ 36cm x 21cm x 6.1cm]
Shipping Weight20 lbs [9.1 kg]
Shipping Dimensions22.5”x 13” x 6” [57cm x 33cm x 15cm]

Power requirements

Input PowerModel specific 100VAC, 120VAC, or 230VAC 50 or 60Hz
Power Consumption15W

Phono Audio Input

ConnectorRCA (X2)
Cartridge typeMoving Coil or Moving Magnet
Cartridge Output (5cm/s)0.5mV to 220mV
Cartridge load impedance60Ω(80nF), 100Ω(47nF), 160Ω(33nF), 600Ω(8.0nF), 1.0KΩ(4.7nF), 1.6KΩ(3.3nF), 50KΩ(100pF), 100KΩ(47pF)

Analog Audio Inputs

ConnectorRCA (X2)
Input level3.15 Vrms (+10dBV) maximum
Input impedance47KΩ

Analog Audio Output

ConnectorRCA/XLR Unbalanced /Balanced (X2)
Output level, nominal
(@ rated cartridge input)
1.0 VRMS (0dBV)/2.0 VRMS (+6dBV)
Output level, maximum3.15 Vrms (+10dBV)/6.3 VRMS (+16dBV)
Output Impedance100Ω/200Ω

Frequency Response

THD (5.0)0.03%
(Balanced, +6dBV, 1KHz)
Signal to Noise Ratio
(MM-5.0mV)
87dB
(Balanced output, referenced to +6dBV nominal output level A Weighted)
Signal to Noise Ratio
(MC-0.6mV)
72dB
(Balanced output, referenced to +6dBV nominal output level A Weighted)
Equivalent input noise (maximum gain)<200nV
Signal to Noise Ratio
(Auxiliary analog input)
107dB
(Balanced output, referenced to +6dBV nominal output level A Weighted)

A/D Converter

FormatPCM or DSD
Sample rate (PCM)44.1kHz, 48.0kHz, 88.2kHz, 96.0kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz
Word length (PCM)16b, 18b, 20b, 24b
Data rate (DSD)Standard (2.8MHz) or Double (5.6MHz)
Input aliasing filter-3dB 80kHz
Single pole 6dB/octave
Input sample rate5.6MHz
Constant rate cannot be changed
Analog Conversion methodDelta Sigma (DSD) multi-bit

S/PDIF Digital Output

ConnectorRCA (Coax)
Impedance75Ω
FormatPCM or DoP v1.1 (DSD over PCM)

I2S Digital Output

ConnectorHDMI
FormatPCM or DSD

USB Digital Output

ConnectorUSB “B” Type
FormatPCM or DoP v1.1 (DSD over PCM)
Transfer modeAsynchronous