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Impressions: Additional Robinson Brutus Awards, Time-Shifted into 2023

03-25-2023 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 126

Time shift!

 Sometimes things stay on track; sometimes they don't.

My Brutus Awards for last year fell into that category. There were so many great products that were submitted that it was impossible for me to completely clear them out in 2022. 

I have therefore shifted them to the first quarter of 2023, and re-dated them for this year. I'll catch them up just as fast as I can now. Apologies to all for the delays.

PS Audio PerfectWave Transport and DirectStream DAC

The PS Audio PerfectWave/DirectStream stack on our Stillpoints ESS Rack (photograph and image processing by David W. Robinson)

In late 2021, PS Audio via Frank Doris made the arrangements to send me their PerfectWave SACD/CD transport and DirectStream DAC. I had evaluated the DirectStream back in mid-2014, Issue 74. That iteration of Ted Smith's design work with DSD was quite good, and earned my praise.

But I had never used a PS Audio transport with SACDs and their DAC until this opportunity.

PS Audio DirectSteam MkII DAC, their current model, rear view (image courtesy of PS Audio)

Once unpacked and in place, I spent several days spinning SACDs on the stack. In fact, my sole interest in these designs was to see how well they would handle our very extensive collection of SACDs (7500+) here at PF Central. I chose to cable-up with the I2S connection, as it is a very high-resolution connection that I wanted more experience with. (The DirectStream DAC does support USB, as well.) The I2S cable that I chose was the AudioQuest Firebird 48 gbps 8K-10K HDMI that AQ had sent to me for evaluation.

The output of the PS Audio kit was fed to our Vinnie Rossi L2i SE Integrated Hybrid Amp (SET/solid-state) with its own DAC, although I used only the PS Audio DAC for this project. I used TARA Labs Omega Zero Evolution XLRs from the DirectStream DAC to the Vinnie Rossi, and then on to our Focal Sopra One Loudspeakers, courtesy of the TARA Labs Omega Concerto SP Loudspeaker cables. This is a high-resolution system, with very satisfying musicality without loss of transparency and resolution.

PS Audio PerfectWave SACD/CD Transport, rear view (image courtesy of PS Audio)

So…how was this combination?

The results became clear to me in just a few days. After a reasonable burn-in period, the PS Audio PerfectWave/DirectStream tandem showed themselves to be top-notch performers, and highly synergistic (of course!) I was very pleased with the detail that the PSA gear delivered. The PSA transport was clean and quiet in operation; the DAC operated without problem, once I had figured out how to get the DAC to stay at 100% output. (It can very occasionally pop down to 50% output.) The AudioQuest Firebird 48 I2S connection for SACD delivered a superior feed, with bandwidth to burn for SACDs. And boy…did I run tons of SACDs through this system! Regardless of the type of music, SACDs showed their stuff, and reminded me of why I treasure DSD so much, even at DSD64.

There's little doubt; this combination is worthy of a couple of my Brutus Awards for 2023…done with satisfaction!


PS Audio PerfectWave SACD/CD Transport:  USD $6999

PS Audio DirectStream MkII DAC:  USD $7999

AudioQuest Firebird 48 8K-10K HDMI Cable, 5':  USD $1895

 DS Audio Grandmaster Optical Cartridge


Image courtesy of DS Audio

As a longtime enthusiast for all things DS Audio, and an owner of the DS Audio Master1 system, I didn't have to have my arm twisted at all to take Garth Leerer up on his offer of evaluating the Grandmaster, DSA's reference optical cartridge. I was already aware of the extraordinary transparency, clarity, dynamics, and detail offered by the Master1 and its optical design, and was very curious as to what improvements would be realized in the Grandmaster. (Description and specifications will be found HERE.)

For this project, I agreed with Garth to start with the Grandmaster cartridge, while using the single-box DSA Master1 EQ/Phono Amp for an intermediate evaluation. Once that was done, we would add the two-box Grandmaster EQ/Phono with separate power supply to round out the impressions.

For the turntable, we mounted the Grandmaster cartridge on a Wave Kinetics NVS reference turntable with a Durand Tonearms Tosca. (For a prior review by me of the NVS/Durand combination all the way back in 2016, go to Issue 87 HERE; for more details on the NVS, go to the Blue Light Audio Web site OVER THERE.)

So…a very familiar world-class reference turntable platform and system.

The result? I needn't have wondered at all…the Grandmaster took the prior audio virtues of the Master1 as a launch pad, with the same electronics as the Master1, and blasted past them. Although this might sound like a cliché, there was simple more of everything with the Grandmaster, and not just a little.

A lot.

Again, no matter the source, the Grandmaster, showed itself as the best cartridge that I've ever heard. And that's without yet hooking up the two-box Grandmaster electronics to it, something that I hope to do later in 2023. (Maybe. If DS Audio can ever get me a review sample....)

Keep in mind that when I say this, I certainly haven't heard every cartridge ever made, and your mileage may vary. But to have such a powerful, visceral reaction to the DSA Grandmaster tells me that a Brutus Award is about to pop.

"Thar she blows!!!"

More to come...and soon.