PS Audio PerfectWave DAC vs Bel Canto DAC3

I am about to revamp/upgrade my entire system and I am looking for opinions regarding a DAC/pre-amp. I currently listen mostly to iTunes (apple lossless) into a Cambridge Audio DACMagic and CA 640Av2 integrated, but I would like to substantially upgrade and move to a DAC/pre-amp combo with a power amp. The top two contenders are the PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC and the Bel Canto DAC3, both of which offer laptop/iTunes connectivity with usb inputs as well as volume/input control to function as a pre-amp. I have auditioned the PS audio but not yet the Bel Canto. What should I know (other than the Bel Canto DAC3.5 about to be released and the use of the Bel Canto USB link for USB to SPDIF conversion)? I am currently using Totem Rainmaker speakers but would upgrade those as well.

>> What should I know (other than the Bel Canto DAC3.5 about to be released and the use of the Bel Canto USB link for USB to SPDIF conversion)? <<

Perhaps asking BC about this unreleased version would fill you in better.

I can only say what I know about the current version, as that is what I own. Several mags have reviewed the ‘$500 USB to SPDIF converter’, AND IN SOME ARTICLES SUGGESTED COLLATERAL MEANS for this conversion. I’ve seen a few, ranging in price from $100 - $500, and if a sound card of sorts is used, a lot more! I’ve also noted as that interface to the DAC 3 improves, so does the resultant audio . And with such conversion from USB, you gain more flexibility with regard to the file formats bit rate and word lengths.

Check the archives here for the DAC 3 info & reviews on it. Usually info on as yet to be released products only the manufacturer can provide such a thing if they choose to.
I haven't had the PS Audio in my system and have wondered about it too. I have had the Bel Canto 3 among others and after trying 7 other DAC's this year I am very happy with my Bryston BDA-1.

I am curouis about the PS Audio, I heard it at CES, but everything sound pretty good there.

Do you subscribe to the PS Audio email newsletter? There is some update info on the PW in there routinely. most recent letter talks about Paul's decision to make their own server now, due to issues loading up some other available ones... and notes on the bridge... etc.

I have it if you want me to forward it to you or you can probably view it online via PSA website I guess.

Of course each PW piece can be had or not, as your case is.
I had the Bel Canto DAC3 after the Benchmark DAC-1 USB now I have the PS Audio PW DAC. It takes some reading but go to the PS Audio website and learn about using the network bridge and audio over a dedicated music network hard drive and controlling it with an phone. Won't all be out until spring it looks like but appears that it is going to be well worth it. As for USB I have the LOCUS NUCLEUS and even with that USB just isn't good for audio, the bridge will be orders of magnitude better. The TosLink the Bel Canto makes is an upgrade but still not as good as what the network bridge will be in terms of resolution AND I lived with the Benchmark and Bel Canto for many months each, the PW DAC is just BETTER, plus it has filters and sample rate selection, I can get it to sound like the oversampling of the Bel Canto or Benchmark or go Native, it really is smooth and for Red Book CD playback it is just right, I put a lot of money into a lot of audio gear and if it doesn't sound right I get rid of it at a loss even, this unit is pretty good and I'd be surprised to get something better at the $2450 price. But I could be wrong so READ READ READ READ all you can.
There is a new competitor for top of the USB DAC heap I would like to listen to, the Ayre QB-9.
i just upgraded from a krell s-300i intigrated to a levinson 432. am currently using my pwd as a pre-amp/volume control (also have the pwt). have a pass aleph p pre-amp waiting to be connected to compare the 2 set-ups....with vs without a pre.

so far i can tell you this much.....the pwd sounds amazing running straight to the ml 432. i can't imagine how it could get any better then this but i'm still planning on connecting the aleph p in a few days just to make sure.

i'll try to chime in with my thoughts after the camparo is completed. my gut tells me the aleph p will be up for sale in the near future =).

the pwt/pwd is an incredible combo. i highly recommend it. at this point in time, i can't say the pwd or pwt are great individually. until the bridge comes out....using them with other gear just didn't sound as good to me. i'm almost 100% sure this was due to the high grade I2S cable/connection i'm using between the pwt/pwd. comparing this connection with the other currently available connection wasn't even close imho. using the I2S connection really makes this pair shine. the bridge might/could change all this though. we'll see.

good luck.
You are so right about the PWT/PWD. This combo is the best digital I've heard. I sold my Levinson 30.6/31.5 because of it. Sounds like your system is really progressing!
thanks Sgr. i've been working hard at getting my system right and it's starting to pay off. i agree with you 100% regarding the pwt/pwd duo. far and away the best digi sound i've ever heard too. they sound good individually, but when paired and connected via a good I2S line...they're outstanding imho.

Hi Sgr. On the thread linked below, it seemed like you were favoring the Levinson gear over the PW. Did your judgment change over time? Why?


In a word, yes. As the PWT/PWD broke in, I noticed how much more involved I was in the music. There were certain things the Levinson combo did well, the image was smaller and maybe more precise, the vocals souded more pristine, bass maybe a little cleaner but not as full as the PWT/PWD combo. As time and tweeking progressed all those advantages the Levinson first had disappeared.
Along the way, a couple of things happened. One, I found that the PWT/PWD was still breaking in, two, I added the Signal Cable HDMI to connect the two pieces, three I found that the PWD/PWT sound was being muddied by vibration, and four the PWT/PWD took an unusual but severe aversion to Synergistic Power Cords.
So the units broke in andI placed 3 Mpingo discs on both the transport and DAC (It took a while to find out where!). I'm using Herbie's Tenderfeet under both the transport and DAC, and I've replaced the power cords with VH Audios Flavor 4 cords.
Even before I did all the tweaking, I thought the units had promise. They have a special sound to them and as they broke in I found myself not wanting to switch back to the Levinson from the Perfect Wave Duo. The PWT/PWD was just more fun to listen to. As time passed, I found myself not wanting to switch at all to the Levinson duo.
That's when I realized that the Perfect Wave DAC and Transport were for me and the Levinson had to go.
While there is really no comparison between the build quality of the Levison components vs. the PS Audio duo (the Perfect Wave stuff is still built extremely well), time has passed the Levinson stuff by, and the folks at Harmon don't seem interested in providing service, updates, or replacements that work, so out the door it went.
Owning the Levinson Reference stuff provided many fond memories but included lots of frustration! (I could write a book.)
I don't know if the Perfect Wave stuff is a contender for the current SOTA in digital, as I have not had the time, money, or inclination to look at and listen to all the contenders. I'm sure there are things out there that could sound better depending on the system, listening tastes, etc.

But when you get great sound now from the Perfect Wave duo, will eventually have a SOTA server when the bridge is out next year, and can purchase the pair for less than $6000.00 in today's economy, how can you lose?

For an easy, almost free, audition, call Bes at Music Direct. He can set you up with the pair. I'm sure there are other dealers as well that would provide the same opportunity, but Bes is very easy to work with and gives good advice.
wow Sgr, i had an almost identical experience. except for your initial feelings that is. i really liked the duo right off the bat. however... i've never owned a set-up even close to your's so my "bar" was set much lower. used a high grade I2S from day one and glad i did (ps audio's silver I2S-12). much better then the other current options. i also upgraded pc's to ps audio ac-5's. they really sounded good together.

i also noticed a slight vibration issue and went with herbie's tenderfoot's as well. took it one step further and finally invested in a nice rack (steve blinn extrawide replaced my target $199 special). all of this along with several weeks of break-in did the trick. it went from great too incredible for me.

can't say i've listened to many really high end digi front ends but i'm certain that the duo is the best i've heard to date.....and not by a narrow margin. it still blow's me away every time i have a listening session. when paired, tweeked and hooked up right...the duo offers jaw dropping performance imo and one i can't get enough of.

cheers buddy

Thanks to all who responded. I have now listened to the Bel Canto gear with the Joseph Audio RM25XL speakers, and the DAC3 did not sound anywhere near as good as the CD2, or as good as I have heard from the PW DAC through Triangle Quartet speakers or the Ayre QB9 through Focal 1007Be speakers on previous separate auditions. Yes, the speakers are all different, but roughly the same class. The Bel Canto DAC3 certainly did not inspire the same enthusiasm for computer audiophilia as did the PW or QB9 did when I auditioned them.

Now I just have to decide on a stereo power amp for the PW Dac. The one I heard with the Triangles was the Simaudio Moon W5.3, but I'm interested in recommendations of other good amps to audition with a less hefty price tag.
If you don't want something new, but a classic stereo amplifier that sounds great, check out a used Krell KSA-250. It is perhaps one of the best Krells yet designed that has the Krell slam and magic in the bass, a tubelike midrange, and smooth treble. I think you'd have to spend a lot of money to find something better. It more than holds its own with most stuff today.