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Review and Measurements of Paradigm PW-Link Streamer/DAC

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Paradigm PW-Link Streamer, DAC, pre-amplifier with room equalization. It is on kind loan from a member. The PW-Link normally costs US $349 but Paradigm has it on sale for just US $157. If the device performs, it is a killer with all this functionality.

The PW-Link comes in a very similar configuration to the PW-AMP which I recently reviewed:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Audio Review.jpg

As with that sample, I left the protective plastic over the controls for the owner to take off. Same controls are here for volume, power and input selection (streaming or hard-wired).

The back-panel however, is much richer than what we had with PW-AMP:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

I was pleased to see Toslink optical input which I used for all of my testing. I wish there also was a USB input but there is not. I used hardwired Ethernet for my testing, not wanting to mess with wireless.

The DTS play-fi app on Android was flakey with PW-AMP. Here, it did not work at all, not able to discover PW-Link. :( What garbage software.

For this review, I also downloaded the PC Anthem Room Correction (ARC) software. Results are in the measurements below. I was surprised to see an iOS app but not android. Very strange in this day and age. Other than wanting the levels quite loud to do its testing, the interface while a bit crude, was streamlined and worked the first time.

DAC Audio Measurements
As noted above, I performed all of my testing using Toslink input. Here is our dashboard:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Audio Measurements.png


Noticing that out of box level was low, I dialed the volume up to max, only to be greeted with extreme amount of distortion. Even then, I could not get to 2 volt nominal which we like to see out of all DACs. I hit the minus control until I achieved good performance which is what you see above.

Strangely, when I started this test, the SINAD (signal over noise and distortion) was dancing between 80 and 92 dB! I went to record the variation in a graph and most of the variability went away, with the outcome dancing between high 80s and 92 dB. Seems line internal activity was pushing the noise level up as the distortion products were not changing.

Using 91 dB as a generous give, puts the PW-Link barely in third tier of all DACs tested:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier DAC SINAD Audio Measurements.png


Note that many other DACs do better if one dials their output level down a bit so it is a bit unfair to them to put the PW-Link in the graph this way with its lower output.

We can see the saturation easily in Intermodulation test versus level:

Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier IMD Audio Measurements.png


Notice the sudden rise in distortion at around -9 dB or so. This is just broken. The distortion was assymetrical from what I recall with the top of the curve becoming severely distorted. So it is not classic clipping.

Examining THD+N versus frequency produced a very high level due to wide bandwidth of the test (90 kHz), indicating out of band noise:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier THD vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


To see what is going on, we can look at the wideband spectrum of a 1 kHz tone:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier 1 kHz FFT Audio Measurements.png


To the right we see the rising noise level which tends to indicate noise shaping (process of moving noise out of audible band, into inaudible band). I have not seen it have such a sharp rise though. So perhaps there are some signal processing errors.

What caught me by surprise was the rising noise level all the way down to DC level on the left. What on earth is that? Fortunately our hearing threshold is pretty high there so this is likely not audible. But broken nevertheless.

Toslink only goes up to 96 kHz so I could not run my normal multi-tone test which is at 192 kHz sampling. So I created a 7-tone one at 44.1 kHz:

Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Multitone Audio Measurements.png


Ouch. You have only 70 dB of distortion-free dynamic range.

Dynamic range was decent:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


We are barely matching CD/16-bit spec.

Jitter was fine, likely helped with higher noise floor masking spurious tones:

Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Linearity was excellent in low levels where some DACs fail, but terrible due to high level distortion shown before nearing max level:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Linearity Audio Measurements.png


Frequency response was uneventful:

Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


Anthem Room Correction
Anthem is a sister company and I have been pleased to see their electronics bleed into the Paradigm line to good effect. I don't care how good your room or your system is, you need Room equalization. The room, especially at low frequencies, changes the response of any speaker. In addition, there can be level and delay differences between channels which Room EQ fixes. My prior experience with Anthem Room Correction (ARC) was with their receivers years back. Then, it was limited to 500 Hz and while it worked better than mass market EQ systems, it still was not great. So I was excited to test this version now.

The included measurement mic seems to be a step above the "pucks" that come with Audio/Video receiver but not the fancy metal ones I remember from years past.

For the test, I connected the output of PW-LINK to my NHT Pro powered studio monitors and then started the software. I was expecting it to fail to find the device as DTS Play-fi had but no problem here. It found the unit and started to play its "CHIRP" sequences. It waned one center position and then four others at least a foot a way. Or was it 2 feet? I just held the mic by hand in front of my face for the center position and used it at arm length for the other four.

Here is the output from the program:
Paradigm PW-Link Streaming Preamplifier Anthem Room Correction ARC Audio Review.png


Note that typical of these systems, there is no post correction measurements. So the likely correction is not the same what is shown. Still, we can see the classic algorithm of bringing the peaks down and apply a sloping down curve overall.

I then connected the Toslink output from my PC to the PW-LINK and started to play some music. Wow, I was so pleasantly surprised to hear that same improvement you expect from a good room EQ. The chesty sound was now much more open, resolution and separation between instruments better, and overall, a much more enjoyable experience despite my casual try above. I would probably modify the response curve to have a tad less highs but as it was, it was so good that I got captivated playing file after file in my playlist.

Conclusions
The DAC portion in PW-Link is basically broken. It has many flaws which should have been caught and remedied prior to production. The DTS Play-Fi is beyond broken. I can't fathom what testing was performed before releasing it in the wild.

The Anthem Room Correction though is the real-deal. It easily hides any problems with the DAC, producing a level of experience with speakers that you cannot replicate with any other DAC or pre-amplifier. At the asking price today, it is a steal.

So here is the deal: I am going to recommend the PW-LINK. For so little money, you will get a great introduction to power of Room Equalization. In just a few minutes, you will learn and experience what this is about and why Room EQ is mandatory for any audio system. The measured flaws in the DAC can be ignored for the most part unless you have an amplifier or powered speakers that need higher drive. I would forget about using the DTS Play-fi unless you want your blood pressure to go up. Get a USB to Toslink adapter if you don't have that output and use it that way.

----------------------
Questions, comments, critique, etc. are welcome.

I received a formal complaint from the pink panther crew that they are being subjected to too much noise in all this audio testing. They are demanding hearing protection. I don't want them to file a formal complaint to the state so please help fund some custom ear plugs for them using:

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or
upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 

invaderzim

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#2
Thank you for this test. I've been curious for some time how it would do.

If you go: source -> (toslink in -> toslink out) -> quality dac -> amp will it still have the added noise and stuff or just the room correction?
 
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#3
Amir,

Thank you for the review.

As an engineer, and as an almost novice on audio measurement, I'm baffled with all the information I receive from ASR. I guess the same advise that you wrote here about the ARC software can be said about the PW-Amp. It does not measure well, it is a flawed product, but the ARC software makes everything to sound good.

I have a Sanskrith 10th DAC connected to a Powergate amp. If I buy this PW Link, can I connect it between my DAC and my amp and benefit from the ARC software?

Thank you for all the work you are doing. Although I'm confused, I'm learning more and more about audio reproduction and human hearing.
 

amirm

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#4
Thank you for this test. I've been curious for some time how it would do.

If you go: source -> (toslink in -> toslink out) -> quality dac -> amp will it still have the added noise and stuff or just the room correction?
That's a good question. Going to dinner soon. Will test when I get back.
 

amirm

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#5
As an engineer, and as an almost novice on audio measurement, I'm baffled with all the information I receive from ASR. I guess the same advise that you wrote here about the ARC software can be said about the PW-Amp. It does not measure well, it is a flawed product, but the ARC software makes everything to sound good.
PW-DAC is cheaper than PW-AMP and lets you use any amplifier you want with the amount of power you want. At SINAD of 92 dB, it is also far more transparent than PW-AMP's 71 dB. PW-AMP also lacked digital input which means noise and distortion is additive with what is upstream.

At the end, the recommendation from me is a judgement call. I am balancing the factors in my head. You can do the same and arrive at the same or different conclusion.
 
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#6
At the end, the recommendation from me is a judgement call. I am balancing the factors in my head. You can do the same and arrive at the same or different conclusion.
See? Confusion :(

But I understand what you are saying: you can't decide for me. I appreciate that you give us the tests for us to decide.
 

BillG

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#7
The DTS Play-Fi is beyond broken. I can't fathom what testing was performed before releasing it in the wild.
That I find interesting, and it's not the first complaint I've read about it. However, I've used it on two different Android devices here at home, both from different manufacturers, and neither running the latest version of the OS, and have had nary a problem with it. I've had no problem with the Windows application either.

Yeah, being a professional software engineer gives me a huge advantage over the average user when it comes to dealing with issues, but I've had none with it, and I'm certain you're tech savvy as well... :oops:
 

restorer-john

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#8
So what is the USB jack for underneath the LAN port, is that just for USB drives or ext HDDs?
 

TimW

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#10
That I find interesting, and it's not the first complaint I've read about it. However, I've used it on two different Android devices here at home, both from different manufacturers, and neither running the latest version of the OS, and have had nary a problem with it. I've had no problem with the Windows application either.

Yeah, being a professional software engineer gives me a huge advantage over the average user when it comes to dealing with issues, but I've had none with it, and I'm certain you're tech savvy as well... :oops:
I find it sub-par from a usability standpoint and kind of clunky but also haven't had any problems with it. Just select a file or use a compatible streaming service and it plays just fine.
 

BillG

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#12
I find it sub-par from a usability standpoint and kind of clunky but also haven't had any problems with it. Just select a file or use a compatible streaming service and it plays just fine.
The UI/UX is not up to contemporary standards on either Android or Windows, and I've stated that in several of my casual reviews of it online as well. But the only minor problem I've actually had with it was when trying to connect to a particular DLNA server application that it might not be totally compatible with - I've not checked their list of compatible server applications to verify my suspicion as I've got a Chromecast Audio attached to my Play-Fi device. I prefer the former's ease of use and wide ranging support, and use it the vast majority of the time in lieu of Play-Fi... :cool:
 

TimW

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#13
I have one of these and use it just for ARC with optical input and optical output. I tried the analog output but found it sounded just slightly less detailed sounding than my Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital. Thought that could just be in my head though. @amirm it would be great to know if that optical output is broken somehow. I would also like to know if the analog input stinks but if you don't want to test that I'm fine with assuming it does.

@restorer-john yeah two unusable usb connections is pretty odd.
 

amirm

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mi-fu

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#16
@amirm , does it work for you if using Chromecast Audio as a Roon endpoint and connect it with Toslink?

Oddly, every time I connect it that way, the music stops after a few minutes (a minute or two after changing songs on Roon). Maybe some compatibility issue with Roon?
 

GGroch

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#18
........Room EQ is mandatory for any audio system...
Absolutely! So why has room EQ gained so little traction in 2 channel audio? For a lot less than the cost of a single audiophile AC Power cord you can purchase a PW/link and get something that makes a major impact on the objective accuracy of your system. Mainstream audiophilia seems to value the purity of an uncontaminated signal above all else. But try to find a recording studio without room treatments, or a movie theater or live concert venue without electronic equalization.

I feel foolish being so late to this party. I trained salespeople on the benefits of room calibration in home theater receivers for years, but I never, until reading about the PW/Link/Amp on ASR, thought to add one to my 2 channel systems. I expect that for me the PW/Link/Amp are gateway experiences to consider more sophisticated DSP devices and room treatments. But, it is tremendous fun to find this cheap tweek that even my old ears and my miserly disposition can appreciate.
 

restorer-john

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#19
So, is it's possible to use the digital room correction in this device purely in the digital domain (SPDIF in/out)?

Can I go from analog in to SPDIF out (with correction) and use an outboard D/A converter?

If so, this thing is a game changer for 2 ch.
 
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