PS Audio and Emerald Physics 100.2 SE pairing review

Introduction

If you haven’t seen my blog yet, I have mentioned regarding the fact that I have been loaned a pair of pretty expensive sound system components. Unfortunately since schedule as a mechanical engineering student in his 3rd year is very busy, I haven’t done much in terms of any project plans regarding these two. However, the global health pandemic of the COVID-19 has came up and has me staying at home until the end of the semester, so I have more flexibility to plan out my coursework and time. This time, I’m doing a review of both of them paired together, in a loose comparison with my usual components, the Music Hall DAC 15.2 and the NAD T747 receiver that I use instead of these two. Now, I wanted to pair these two together in this review as one thing, because one can’t function without the other, and frankly it’s a little too trouble some to compare and move everything back and forth just for a comparison. Rest assured, I will be as objective as possible when doing my evaluation.

PS Audio light up logo on the Perfectwave DAC MKII

To speak briefly about PS Audio, their dedication and quality products, we well as information-rich website with a blog from the owner and a video series in which he features as well, have drawn my father’s recent attention. When the opportunity came about, he procured a second-hand PS Audio to see for himself. And see he did. Despite the short go at listening to this DAC before lending it to me because of his other projects, he loved it enough to lend me an expensive amplifier to go along with this DAC as well. And frankly it’s created quite the pair. And that in itself might be an understatement.

With total MSRP of $6195, $3995 is from the PS Audio Perfectwave DAC MKII with the bridge, and the $2200 is the Emerald Physics 100.2SE amplifier. This system is the most expensive inclusion so far in my system, and it really doesn’t play around. That is in no small part because of the prowess of PS Audio in making DAC, in which they still do, pushing the boundaries of their knowledge and technology constantly.

Emerald Physics on the other hand, makes a variety of products more than PS Audio, such as cords and cables, integrated and power amps as well a speakers and subwoofers, and everything that goes along with those. It’s hard to find very much about them because their about page doesn’t really exist. Nevertheless, there seemingly is also a connections between them and the now defunct Onix company that makes my current speakers, of which I only say is because the owner was the founder of Onix. Quite the coincidence.

Listening Bias

As always, for everyone unfamiliar with me, just to talk about the biases I’m aware of while listening to music, I actually tend to favor a little more bass in my music, but not too much that it overpowers other issues. My thinking is that I like a balance, with a little more added on the bass side. Great audio systems present a sound stage, there I will notice details down to placement of the instruments, the depth of the stage, the size, and in some music, will extend past the speakers themselves. I listen from the middle as much as possible, and position the speakers flanking as evenly as possible to my left and right. I care about imaging, and don’t listen to music like it’s background music, except when I do homework. I do tend to notice the extremities when doing reviews in the past, such as the metallic-ness of cymbals which are dictated by tweeter, and the bass details such as those from a bass guitar and synthesized bass. Vocals are also a main focus as well since I listen to a lot of vocal music. But as will all my reviews, I’ll cover all the bases, and I will notice everything about the sound characteristics of whatever I review. Now this will be a loose comparison to my usual system, which is technically my reference system, as they are at a much different price point compared to the two reviewed here.

Set up

Set-up for this review

For this change, there were a few arrangements I had to make, to make it all work, since there isn’t like a sub-out from a stereo DAC so that I can power my subwoofer. Luckily, the Velodyne has an analog input and output, so I just hooked it via the subwoofer as such, like you would do in a 2.1 system with only a speaker line out, meaning only speakers cables. In this case it’s RCA cables in and out. But other than this arrangement, although I admit not ideal, everything else is the same, everything sounds great and it’s apparently not affected by the the bypass. The placement of my Onix Rocket RS250 is the same, flanking the left and right of my study table, but in place of my Music Hall DAC15.2 there is the Emerald Physics 100.2SE amplifier, taking up a little more space but is the best place for it, considering the dimensions of the PS Audio Perfectwave DAC MkII with the bridge, is very wide. That takes up the space of the NAD T747, and is sitting on top of the Velodyne Subwoofer. My upstream components are the same though, using my Lenovo P43s Light Workstation laptop as the playback via USB to the PS Audio because I can’t really do anything else, and the red Monster speakers cables deliver the sound from the Emerald Physics to the Rockets. The main difference in source and format as well between the Music Hall DAC15.2 and the PS Audio is the fact that the USB can be used for 24bit 192kHz music comfortably, whereas the Music Hall DAC15.2 can only do 24bit 96kHz.

As for the playback and streaming for critical listening, I’ll be using Qobuz on my laptop via the app for the high resolution streaming I have access to. Everything I listened to critically for this comparison is CD Quality (16bit 44.1kHz) or higher, up to 24bit 192kHz resolution. Other than that, for my usual, since the selections are unbeatable, I use Spotify when I listen to my usual music while I do homework or when there is a specific song I want to listen to but Qobuz doesn’t have streaming rights to (probably the only downside to Qobuz), such as certain songs of my favorite genres of Kpop, Sountracks, Rap, Lo-fi, and other niche genres I like.

Specifications

PS Audio Perfectwave MKII DAC w/bridge front view

PS Audio Perfectwave DAC MKII w/Bridge

Physical
Unit Weight 22 lbs [13.5 kg]
Unit Dimensions 14” x 17” x 4” [ 36cm x 43cm x 10cm]
Shipping Weight 31 lbs [19 kg]
Shipping Dimensions 20.5”x 24” x 10” [52cm x 61cm x 25cm]
Power requirements
Input Power Model specific 100VAC, 120VAC, or 230VAC 50 or 60Hz
Power Consumption 30W
Digtial audio inputs
I2S (2), Coax, XLR Balanced, TOSLINK, USB
Sample Rates
I2S,S/PDIF, and USB — 44.1kHz to 192kHz 16bit, 24bit
TOSLINK – 44.1kHz to 96kHz 16bit, 24bit
Analog Audio Output
Connector RCA/XLR Unbalanced /Balanced (X2)
Output level, nominal
(@ rated cartridge input) 1.0 VRMS (0dBV)/2.0 VRMS (+6dBV)
Output level, maximum 3.15 Vrms (+10dBV)/6.3 VRMS (+16dBV)
Output Impedance 100Ω/200Ω
Frequency Response
THD (5.0) 0.03%
(Balanced, +6dBV, 1KHz)
Signal to Noise Ratio 120dB
(Balanced output, referenced to +6dBV nominal output level A Weighted)
Format PCM
Sample rate (PCM) 44.1kHz, 48.0kHz, 88.2kHz, 96.0kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz
Word length (PCM) 16b, 18b, 20b, 24b

(Taken from the PS Audio website specifications on the PerfectWave DAC)

Emerald Physics 100.2SE amplifier on desk

Emerald Physics 100.2SE Amplifier

Input Impedance
@ 1KHz ohms 19k single ended/ 38k balanced
Output Impedance
@ 1KHz ohms: <0.1ohm
Damping Factor
80
THD
.1%
Input Sensitivity for 1W/8ohms (V)
90mw SE/45mw in mono
Input Sensitivity for Maximum Power (V)
2.5V
Nominal Voltage Gain into 8 Ohms (dB)
30dB SE/ 36dB mono
S/N Ratio Ref. Rated Power (dB)
104dB
S/N Ratio Ref. 1W/8 Ohms (dB)
85dB
Made in USA
3 year warranty
Dimensions
9.5″W x 3.5″H x 10.25″D
Dimensions (with spikes and binding posts)
9.5″W X 4.25″ H x 12.5″ D
Shipping Dimensions
12.5″ x 14.5″ x 6.5″
Weight
Net- 16.5 pounds, Shipping weight: 17.5 pounds
Frequency Response:
10Hz – 20kHz +/- .25dB

(Taken from the Emerald Physics website about the 100.2SE)

Build quality and impressions

For components that cost in the 4 digits, these are for sure tough. They are solidly built and manufactured, and they do look good. Both have differing purposes, and one does have a rather unique finish to it, but nonetheless they both are meant to last. Emerald Physics went with a unique approach to their design of the special edition of the 100.2 amplifier. There seems to be a flow finished onto the encasing of the amplifier, and despite the price tag, the amplifier is much smaller than you’d think. When you see tear-downs of this amplifier though, you’ll notice that there is a large toroid placed towards the rear in the encasing, which is where all the weight comes from in this small package. I don’t think they wasted much space either with a D-class amplifier that doesn’t need any venting. I’ve only felt it it a little warm when I touch the enclosure, but nothing more than the temperature of the human body. There are built-in feet with what seems like rubber tips to dampen the amplifier, and prevent scratches to any surfaces it touches.

The rear of the Emerald Physics

On the back is a very simple speaker level out with the Analog inputs near the middle off to the left a little when looking at it straight. There is also the power socket to the left side, and balanced in to the right of the speaker outputs, as well as buttons to switch the mode of the input, as well as if the input is mono or not, and everything protrudes the box-y enclosure. All the protruding posts (speaker output, unbalanced inputs) are of high quality gold plated posts. It reminds of my Rocket RS250 with the way the main enclosure is a say a shape, but the connectors are protruding out rather obviously, like they are just an accessory (obviously it’s not though). On the front you simply have the on and off switch, and a little green light that will light up when the amplifier is on. Overall and very compact package that is capable of fitting in at a desktop setting, as well as larger room setting such as a living soon with it’s size. It’s about a quarter the size of conventional full-size components for and audio system you’d say put in the living room.

The PS Audio on the other hand, seem to employ more plastic around the product, and a glossy piano-like finish on the top for the product, with a light-up PS Audio logo and a touchscreen displace integrated into the face. Definitely a lot more up-to-date with the latest technology available to them when this was release in January 2012. Touch screen is rather responsive and has the matte screen-type finish, which I actually quite like. There a bit of input lag when touching the screen for like volume and other menu, but it’s on the quicker end and doesn’t actually bother me, like some older car infotainment systems. Despite the glossy piano-like top, the surroundings seem like plastic, but luckily high quality plastic, but considering that it’s the internals that are the main attraction, PS audio remind me of NAD in this aspect, and is all business, despite the rather plain looking exterior. I mean, it’s not really plain either with the touchscreen display being the standout compared to a lot of other DACs on the market, even today.

The rear panel of the PS Audio Perfectwave DAC MKII w/bridge

On the back, this DAC packs a lot of value to it, with a healthy amount of connectors, from an XLR input, coax input, optical, usb, I*S-1 and I*S-2 along with the outputs of either Balances or unbalances RCA outputs for you to choose from. As this one comes with the bridge, there is an opened expansion port with a usb and ethernet input for “streaming” capabilities. Not to forget, there is an SD card slot under the Bridge expansion for firmware updates for either the bridge or the DAC itself. To the left there is the power switch as well the AC inlet. Looking at the specs as well, the USB seem to be the most powerful option, with the ability to play PCM (basically one of the best lossless formats out there), as well as decode up to 24bit 192kbps rate files with a USB-B input, as all audio USB inputs are. Truly from just looking at the options and the possibilities of connections and outputs for this DAC, this DAC is powerful and quite the value proposition for customers.

PS Audio Perfectwave DAC MKll touchscreen panel

Sound IMpressions

Alright. I’m going to be frank here. I really don’t want to give this back. I mean, the two major components that I ever need in my specific system, and the fact that they are VERY VERY AWESOME doesn’t help me not appreciate the music I listen to even more. And with all this quarantine and social distancing because of the COVID-19 health issue, this has been the best period of my life. I get to stay at home listening to music with my currently awesome loaners, and because I commute, the time used to initially commute is now used to be doing work at home and listening to music at the same time. Simply superb given that these as a pair are simply just the most ideal pairing I’ve ever heard.

Now to elaborate on why I say ideal pairing, sometimes there are components in a system that simply don’t mesh well together at times. My dad calls it the “synergy” between components. I’ve heard a system where everything combined becomes too harsh on the high frequencies, and others have a lack of bass (for my taste), others where transparency is sacrificed for the other quality. But this… This is simply ideal. Sure I am aware that the PS Audio has a filtering that you can kind of change to make it ideal, but in the default settings preset (which is auto), I don’t find the need to change anything myself. Everything just comes… alive.

I know, I know, the price points vs. my usual components are vastly different, but in this case, I guess money buys. Imaging is much sharper, the stage is extended further, the stage comes to you like a live show, and I can tell what instruments are where almost exactly, even when everything seems to overwhelm (say like, in a Linkin Park song *hint hint*), everything is discernibly present, everything is there, and you’re not actually overwhelmed. You enjoy it. And if you can at least somewhat enjoy music typically not really enjoyable because of the details, you can enjoy other music the music to the most accurate representation possible. Like I said, I’m totally enjoying this, and I don’t want to give it back. Fight me dad. (Also disclaimer I like Linkin Park don’t get me wrong, it just seems like I don’t)

In any case, I shall best explain how GREAT these are, by giving you examples, of which I picked “Numb” by Linkin Park, and “Dear Me” by Korean artist Taeyeon.

Linkin Park – Meteora album cover

“Numb” – Linkin Park

There are certain things that only can be seen when you listen to rock. Actually, many things. In my opinion, Rock is the difference maker between anything I listen to. How a system handles such overwhelming music, as well as how it makes it seem “underwhelming” is truly impressive and is a separating factor between the higher end systems I’ve heard vs. more budget ones. Now, making a song seem as “underwhelming” as I thought it was, is due to the fact that it well and truly separates everything such that you can hear everything, down to each instrument, and that there is no jumble of instruments, especially when electric guitars intervene with drums, vocals and bass. In this case, the way it’s handled is well and truly different, to the point you’d think, is this even the same song? How is this song not a hot jumbled mess? If this were any other system that were of lesser value, say a more budget system, you’d actually hear the (intense) electric guitar jumble itself with the drums, and you don’t hear the cymbals as clearly and separately as I hear with a system of this caliber. Everything has their own role, their own place, and their own distinctly discernible sound. This is what truly separates the good vs. the great.

Taeyeon – Purpose (2nd Album repackaged) album cover

Taeyon – Dear Me

You may not have heard of her, but she is a famed Korean idol group member that has since gone solo, and this song of hers called “Dear Me” in English, from her 2nd repackaged album “Purpose”. I picked this song for the simply detailed, yet emotionally rich song which includes her vocals, a acoustic guitar, electric guitar, a drum set, piano, bass guitar, and a string ensemble. It’s a song about learning to love oneself, and it’s seeming simple, yet complicated tone builds up towards the climax of the song, becoming more “full”. This build-up, introducing more instruments as they go along, as well as more intensity in the voice, and eventually a release which I can interpret as acceptance, is just beautifully conveyed. Starting with just herself and a guitar, you can also tell of the sound-stage presented, a wide and deep stage with nice reverb, presenting what seems like a concert hall. Her voice, piercing through everything, is also used for her harmonization, and you can tell it’s not a thickly layered harmonization, as I can hear only 2 other flanking the left and right when she does. Other instruments back her up, which can also be clearly heard, such as the piano to wards the back left, the guitars flanking left and right, the drum set behind her voice, as well the strings towards the back, but covering the whole stage like an orchestra. Her runs in the background sound like a recording, an LP playing in the background, which is a nice touch adding to the overall feel of the song. It’s a song that pierces you with her vocals, whenever she wants to, and seems delicate when she is. Details down to whenever she breathes, her runs in the background, are clearly heard. Hearing such intimate details like this just makes you appreciate, how truly good the recording, and this system is.

Conclusions

Although not a fair comparison towards my usual components, these two paired together is truly nothing to scoff at. This is truly, much much closer to my ultimate reference of a system. My dad’s. Although the differing factors such as the room size, much much more intricate details, are missing, this pairing, with my Rocket RS250 bookshelf speakers are truly, something you can hear at audio shows. If you ever get a chance to get this pairing of the Perfectwave DAC MKII and the Emerald Physics 100.2SE for a good or great deal, I don’t think you’ll ever regret it. A highly recommended pairing with my RS250s to bring out the best in virtually anything you’ll hear. If you want to go the next level with your system, but you don’t want to really break the bank for a great system with all the separates, a great used DAC and amplifier pairing here is a great way to go, and I can attest to the general money (value) gets you better sound in this case.

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