PS Audio vs NAD M12


I am new to HEA and am building out my first system.  I want a DAC as part of that system as well as a Turntable.

I have been looking at used equipment....NAD M12 with the BLU bridge and also like the PS Audio DSD programmable DAC.
The NAD does have a pre amp and is MQA compatible.  I like the idea of the PS Audio’s ability to continually upgrade the DAC.

Havent heard either system yet.  Any thoughts/opinions is much appreciated 
razorbraun
I’d go with the PS Audio DirectStream DAC. The designer, Ted Smith, is a genius. Moreover, PS Audio provides exemplary customer service, and Paul McGowan, the sole proprietor AFAIK, is a true mensch, a real good guy!

On the other hand, NAD is an international corporation owned by the Lenbrook Group. So, I imagine it’s going to be quite impersonal, as is most often the case with corporations. Look at what happened to Infinity after it was acquired by Harman Kardon. It lost the personal touch, customer service was crap, and audiophile values were supplanted by bean-counter values. I wouldn’t buy a NAD product. But YMMV.


The DSD day can also be used as a digital source preamp as you have volume control. If you install the Bridge ll you have MQA compatibility. PS Audio customer service is excellent as jburidan has already stated.
Thanks for the info...The PS Audio does sound better in terms of Tech and Warranty Support.  Wondering if anyone has experience with the sound quality of both?
Another thing about the NAD M12 that's a huge red flag IMHO is that there's no information about which D/A chip is used. The NAD website doesn't mention it, and none of the reviews mention it. It's a pig in a poke AFAIK.
razorbraun, the NAD M12 looks nice, but the sound is prolly mid-fi at best. My advice is don't waste your money,
I have the PS Audio Stellar Pre/DAC in one system and the NAD M12 in another system and a Parasound Halo system in a 3rd system.  The OP is, I believe, interested in a different PS audio system than what I have, but I’d suggest they consider the Stellar system for the value and warranty.  And, if they’re not interested in that system, I think they could safely go w/ PS Audio as a company that does nice work and builds very good products.

The PS audio stellar stack is an unbelievable value.  The sound quality is remarkable for the price.  While I think the NAD is better overall, it was about 2.5x the price.  And, for some music, the PS Audio is actually better from a musicality standpoint. It’s just very easy to listen to.

Regarding the M12 - I have to disagree with one poster who stated that the NAD is mid-fi.  That’s simply not true.  I fully understand that some may prefer a different sound offered by other topologies, but that’s preference, not an indication of fidelity level.  After break in, the NAD masters electronics are very revealing and quite musical.  To that point, while my Parasound Halo gear is certainly decent, we probably all agree it’s mid-fi.  Plenty good for where I have.  However, the NAD gear is significantly better to my ears in every regard, and far more revealing of details.  Of course, it sounds very different.  But it sounds better, too.  

Of course, I’m know that the NAD M12  can be bettered by super gear at many times the price, but that doesn’t make it mid-fi. Diminishing returns are at play.   

My $.02

Thank you very much... I appreciate the direct comparison.  Tough choice for me as the NAD does act as a pre-amp and I like the ability to add modules.  I like the PS Audio DSD with the programmable chip.  It can act as a pre-amp for the DAC portion only.  I am hoping to add a phono down the road, which the NAD does have inputs for.  Overall cheaper than the PS Audio, don't want to upgrade for a while.
Thanks again
The M12 uses what was previously the Zetex ZXCZM800 chip, which was purchased by CSR CSRA6601, and is now part of Qualcomm.

The chip has some interesting features such as a 35 bit digital volume control and a use of PWM in its processing. There is a high degree of IMD distortions that was tested in earlier products, but it was fairly low in level so audibility didn't make it a major issue. 

The Stellar DAC uses the ESS9018, which also has an IMD issue, but very typically a little lower in measured compared to the chips NAD uses. 

The PS Audio DSD line is entirely different and uses FPGA chips in a similar fashion to what Chord does. Many use FPGA to implement custom controls or filtering and processing, but few use them as a complete DAC solution as you must carefully construct an analog output since the FPGA chip contains none. Some of the latest Chord designs have achieved some rather excellent performance, so its feasible to use this route to get the job done, but some of the top shelf chips out there can also get right up there as well.

One thing of note is that with FPGA based designs, it is possible to improve performance with firmware upgrades. This is something that PS Audio has successfully accomplished with the DSD over the years.


You obviously have in-depth tech knowledge of the equipment...much appreciated as well as everyones responses.

I understand that the NAD takes inputs and then converts to digital to accomplish filtering, switching, volume control to eliminate noise.  I assume the PS Audio does the same, but have no real knowledge of that fact.
Do you happen to know or anyone know about the analog outputs of each?  I have watched "ask Paul" video regarding DACs and he indicated one of the most important things to look for is the Analog output stage.

Any insight as to a comparison of the analog outputs would be useful as well.

Thanks in advance 
I love the the title.  I will have both the M12 and DSJ hooked up this weekend.  I'm in the same boat will post my listening experience.  Both will be used with active speakers (Emotiva Stealth 8s).

I also have the M10 in another room and really like that unit.   
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The NAD does upsample to a very high sample rate and I believe the rate is to coincide with the PWM encoding scheme used.

I couldn't say what the NAD M12 uses as an output stage, but I don't believe its discrete implementation. Don't take this as negative as I have seen both good and bad implementations from the very same company on differing product lines. I would expect the M12 to have been held up to the efforts of their Master Series. 

PS Audio in the past has offered a variety of filtering options, upsampling, and the ability to defeat oversampling, or NOS mode. Download the manual for the DSD and you can read the options provided as they are some of the more extensive offered. Even though some will measure poorly, people have hoot experimenting with it and figuring if they like the distortions. Always keep in mind that not all preferences are for dead on accuracy and its why certain products exist. PS Audio tends to cater to this affection as well as the camp that prefers accuracy.

PS Audio uses a mosfet based Gain Cell in their Stellar DAC and use it to adjust the gain to avoid the use of the in built ESS digital volume control. The reason for this is to avoid truncation when attenuating 24 bit digital signals. With 16 bit, there is plenty of headroom to digitally attenuate without any real significant loss information. When I've seen this implemented in other products with measurements, it appeared to be of sound design.


mmeysarosh thanks again for your response!.... I hadn’t thought of downloading the user manual... next item on my research list.

mbolek... very much looking forward to your direct comparison.  I’m looking at the Ps Audio DSD senior but the DSJ comparison is still an outstanding opportunity.


Out of the box the DSJ sounds amazing. Interesting that I'm praising an end of life product. It is so much better than the M12.

Sorry for the NAD quasi-bashing, but here is my feedback.

That unit will be going back. I hate to say it, the older technology NAD products (M12, C658, T758) are not that impressive. On the other hand, I think the M10 is a keeper. I love it and the sound w/ the nCore is very nice.

Back to the DSJ, with my active speakers it sounds really good. Time to let it break in and see how it sounds. I don't know how much better it can get.

It does emit hiss to my speakers, wondering if that is because of the lack of a pre-amp. When I ran the M10 (passive), it was dead quiet. I don't know what NAD did with the M10, but it is very impressive. DSJ has better bass, almost over powering with my Stealths.

I went out an ordered the Elac 61 monitors.....my buddy is going to send me his Lyngdorf 3400 and see how good that will sound with passives speakers.  

I think I need an intervention...
Back in the day I owned lots of NAD products, a full "Masters Series" stack being the last NAD setup.  Though I loved the sound and simplicity of the features, most of my components needed service.  My M3's display screen went crazy and display hieroglyphics, the M5 transport got "stuck" and wouldn't open.  My prior setup had a receiver which would drop the right channel (three weeks after the warranty expired).

I now own a PS Audio P15, DirectStream transport and DAC.  I can tell you that since I bought the DAC, every time Ted Smith creates a new version of the firmware, I've applied it, with excellent results!  And the few times I've contacted PS Audio for support, they are consistently excellent!
I want to thank everyone for the advice, tech experience and reviews of both systems!  

I went with the PS Audio DSD with bridge as I found a used/ new other at a great price. Hasn’t been shipped yet and still need speakers.

i ordered a set of Buchardt S400 to start off with.

Thinking I would like a set of Sonus Faber Sonettas or better.... but that’s another thread 

thanks again 


@razorbraun..
Good call on the S400s.  Just was turned on to them also and probably will pre-order. It will be nice to compare them to the Adante's.

Was able to set the attenuation correctly.   I actually still have three concerns with the DSJ...

1. Lack of room correction
2. Potential need for an additional pre-amp
3. Discontinued product (although, Ted will continue his awesome FW updates)

I'm afraid once I listen to the Lyngdorf, all bets will be off.




@mbolek. If you’re seriously thinking about the Buchardts ....I would seriously preorder the Buchardt now as the have a 200 Euro off regular price going on.... they can’t meet demand.  They have an in home 30 trial period.  Free round trip shipping.

I ordered the black pair prior to the production problems.  Recently sent an email asking to upgrade to the Oak... they upgraded at no charge due to the late delivery.  I’m supposed to get them mid March... if they don’t get here I’m going to ask for another 200e off since that’s what they are running now (if the special is still on)

I bought the Perfect Wave Direct Steam DAC with the Bridge II DSD Senior for less than the cost of the Junior.  According to their website the DSD is compatible with MQA if you have the Bridge and the latest software version....Snowmast

”Now, full MQA, Tidal (including Masters), Spotify, Qobuz, VTuner, and Roon ready.”

You’re absolutely correct about a preamplifier.... more cost involved.  That was part of my dilemma with the NAD vs PSA. 

I probably will use my Anthem MRX 720 as my preamp for now.  It has a good RC software.

cheers
Razor
@razorbraun To be fair, the DSJr trades for WELL below list price, even brand new, but snagging a deal on the DSD is great. As noted, PS Audio doesn't recommend using it as a preamp, so definitely play around with that. The Anthem could work just fine. I used a DSJr through a Marantz AV receiver because it was the only preamp I had in the house at the time. It sounded markedly better than just using the DSJr straight into my amp.

Coincidentally, I've also got a pair of S400s on pre-order and have been looking at NAD M12/M10, PS Audio, etc. Perhaps you, @mbolek , @canibefrank and I should all check into the same mental institution, since we all seem to be hovering around the same products! Or maybe we should start a focus group to show companies that there is a demand for these products. Devices like the Lyngdorf TDAI-3400 and NAD M10 are (in my unpopular opinion) the wave of the future - particularly due to room correction. Cheers!
@jnehma1 Why does PS Audio recommend to not use the DSD as a pre-amp?
lots of discussion around the need for a pre-amp.  here is the answer from Paul..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F6z2iix_0c
@livlifdc I didn't watch the youtube video @mbolek linked but when I spoke to PS Audio on the phone they indicated the signal to noise ratio was not ideal for using the DSD or DSJr as a DAC (it's worse on the DSJr, which is what I had). I asked if they planned to make a DSD DAC/Preamp unit, like their current Stellar Gain Cell DAC/Preamp. They said no plans at this time. So my point to them was it's a bit odd that their Stellar Preamp has a DAC built in so you end up getting two DACs if you use a DSD/DSJr with that preamp. Your only other option with PS Audio is to go up to the BHK preamp but that is significantly more expensive and IMO isn't a natural mate to the DSJr that I had.
@jnehma1 Agree...

The video from Paul is not definitive.   Not that PS is trying to upsell additional components, but I'm now in the "keep it simple" mode.  I love the M10 and my buddy just pinged me on the Lyngdorf and will end up with an integrated streamer/DAC/amp/room correction/cuisinart....

@razorbraun.  I have the S400 on pre-order.   Between Jon and a few other folks these speakers from Denmark are worth a try.  I have Elac 61s arriving Friday and will be able to use the nCore's out of the M10.  I love Hypex as I have built several of their UCD designs in the past.
Interesting take over at the avsforum.  I felt the M10 sounded better.   Maybe the synergy between the M12/17 is really good.

So I did a head to head of my Nad M12 an the M10.
Using the pre-outs on both, feeding into my amp a M17, toggling them back and forth.
(And I did this as a blinded test with both me and my wife)

Streaming through Roon, the m12 wins. Not by a huge amount, but a noticeable amount.
The M12 has more dynamic range, more depth. It seems more full. 
The M10 is slightly more flat, seems muddy in given ranges.

And the same can be said of using the M10 amp (speakers).
The M12 / m27 still wins.

So I was hoping this was a one box solution. But sadly, no. So I am sending the M10 back.