February 23, 2010

Reclaiming The Throne? Wadia 381 CD Player.

Wadia 381 CD player, built substantially and weights 26kgs. Note the pointed end at the bottom of each corner column?

Many once considered Wadia the formidable king of digital, a.k.a. CD players. However, after several boardroom and ownership tussles, the company faded in to obscurity. But the guys in the Technical Dept. kept themselves busy, and now under new stewardship, it seems that Wadia intends to come back with a vengeance and hopes to reclaim the throne it lost a while ago. Wadia had found commercial success with the ipod dock(which I've heard one recently being feed by an iphone on lossless WAV music files, and came away pretty impressed), now can the subject in review help Wadia reclaim the digital throne? We find out, courtesy of CMY Audio & Visual, the new distributors of Wadia in Malaysia.

The double box c/w foam inserts packaging is common practice in high end audio products, Wadia does not stray from this tradition, at least not when a product retails for as much as RM$29,500.00! It just makes good business sense to protect the merchandise en route to the customers. He!He!

The 26kg player is substantially built and just carrying it out of the box requires good lifting habits like squatting and keeping one's back straight is necessary to avoid injuries! The build quality is as excellent as standards set by previous Wadia products and one has to attach the four points on each corner at the bottom before proceeding to rack placement. Wadia has thoughtfully supplied a set of 4 matching point coasters if your do not wish ruin the surface of the hifi rack.

The Wadia 381 uses a Teac supplied dedicated CD transport, but I don't think it's from the VRDS stables either. It's probably a similar unit used in the Esoteric SA-50, by the looks of it. The CD tray opening/closing action is just not as smooth as on those Esoteric players. I also found the transport command/controls a little sluggish when in use, as if it just takes a few seconds longer, before it decides what the command is, and action is taken. I also found that one has to be extra careful when putting a disc on to the slim fit CD tray, as it tends to jam up while closing, especially with slightly warped disc. However, I did not found any damages to my CDs.
The Teac supplied dedicated CD transport.

The Wadia 381 has the usual RCA & XLR analog outputs and an IEC power input on the back panel. For a little more money, one can have the Wadia 381i(i for input, get it?) , that comes with a variety of digital inputs like USB amongst others, to allow easy connectivity to other digital music files as an alternative source. By the way, did I mention the Wadia 381 has a built in digital volume control, with output voltage selector? This will allow those with a single source, a.k.a. the CD, to by pass the pre amp and wire the outputs of the Wadia direct in to the input of one's power amp. The digital volume control is remote operate able, but I only wish the voltage output selector was remote accessible too[one has to open the casing and access the internal setting jumpers on the output board to set the output voltage, which is user select able between 2v(default), 4V and 8V max].
The back panel.

Other user remote select able features are phase invert, and algorithm setting. The end user is allowed to choose from 3 select able algorithm A(default), a.k.a. Digimaster ver 2.5, algorithm B which has an airier high frequency emphasis, and lastly algorithm C which is sonically between A and B. After repeated test switching, I've decide to leave the Wadia in it's default algorithm A setting, which I felt sounds best in the context of my system.

Straight out of the box, I programed the Wadia to play on repeat mode for a few days to run in, like I always do if time permits.

The Wadia 381 replaces my recently restored Marantz CD 7, first, wired as usual via XLR thru the my Pass Labs X2.5 pre amp then the audio signal is sent to my Pass Aleph power amp. On the first CD it self, The Best Of Vol 1, by Depeche Mode, I was floored! In all honesty, I've never heard this CD so well reproduced before. Depeche Mode's music is 80's dark electronica at it's best, along with the one man electronica band of Howard Jones(both were then my favourite artistes). The various synthesizer keyboards and electronic drum kit, not to mention the voice of Dave Gahan were reproduced with full explicit detail and separation of tone, texture and correct timbre. Not only that, the rather complicated music had the right structure and rhythmic drive that many CD players in high end dome just could not reproduce. Depeche Mode's music at this spectacular level realism must be experienced to believe! Most CD players before the Wadia 381 just either sounded noisy or rhythmically lost when playing these music. A few hours down the road, after repeating the Depeche Mode CD's surreal experience twice, and countless other of my favourite disc, I called it a day, only to remembered that I completely forgotten to evaluate the Wadia's audiophile technical performance! By then, it was just too late in to the night to re start the system again.
My favorite 80's electronica band. Apparently, the sound of multiple synthesizer key boards are very difficult to correctly reproduced. So far only the Wadia 381 has managed to do it right.

The Wadia 381, not only loved 80's electronica music, it just simply loved all music and is as genre blind as I am! Feed it some pop/rock music, you get the feel the immediacy, and driving rhythm of the musical performance. Feed it some girl, guitar audiophile favorites, and one hears all the "air", vocal porn, and the fine(micro dynamic) plucking of the guitar strings. Feed the Wadia some classical chamber music, and it rewards one with a rich and lush musical flavour. Feed it some big band, concert or big, big orchestral works and expect it to present a relistically big, layered sound stage, with plenty of hall ambiance to boot.

Am I getting ahead of my self here??? I think I was just over excited. Now calm down, and tell our readers what you actually heard(is this the left brain of Big E speaking)? Oh yes, the Wadia is tonally neutral, yet leaves just a tinge of warmness in the presentation. The highs are not especially smooth like the Esoteric players, but they are by no means harsh or grainy to listen to. The mids are open, clear, yet full bodied. The bass is pretty special in the way it kinda mimics the analog vinyl's. The bass is bouncy, tuneful, detailed and always articulated. It extends very low too. In orchestral pieces where the compressor powered pipe organ is used, I could feel the lowest notes reproduced in a wave like short burst, sweeping towards the sweet spot. It so very powerful.

The Wadia digs out as much information as it can from the CD source, but again, this is still the Esoteric X-03's forte. The frequency at extremes band width appears just as wide as the Esoteric player, but both driving towards different directions. The Esoteric seems to extend north towards the higher frequency extremes, while Wadia chooses to head south towards bass sphere. Both CD players will present very incredibly real sound stage and imaging factor, but I'd put the Wadia as the slightly more laid back and darker sounding one, if that's your cuppa?

Next, I remove my pre amp from the system equation, and wired the XLR cable straight in to my power amp via a pair of 4 meter long Cardas Golden Presence inter connect. Even in standard 2V output setting, the Wadia had ample drive and enough gain to play music sufficiently loud straight to the power amp. With out the pre amp, I found the sound to offer more immediacy and true to source, at the expense of some mid range bloom and lushness. The moisture quantity in the audiophile "air" quality also reduced somewhat. All other sonic attributes mentioned earlier remains just as valid via the "direct" connection.
Proudly made in the USA! Flag flying on the side panel of packaging.

During it's time in my system, a visitor went as far as saying that the Wadia 381 sounded very much like a poor man's stack of DCS digital system. That's compliment indeed, just looking at the Wadia's retail price, any body who could afford to buy the Wadia is definitely not poor! I would see that said statement rather pointing towards the excellent sound vs value ratio of the Wadia, should one compare it to a stack of DCS digital components.

In my system what really set the Wadia 381 apart from other CD players is the ability to draw me in to the music each time. Every time I put a familiar CD which I thought I knew well, the Wadia presents the CD in a whole new way, making me rediscover another aspect of the same CD like never before. I felt the Wadia just edges ahead of the competition, by not having any particular sonic character out standing, but on every technical and musical merit applicable, it does it all very well and it is this very high level of aggregate strength, that makes listening music, through it a truly special experience every time.

Ladies & gentlemen, the throne has a new king. Hail the new king!

Wadia is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel03-21439206


PuchongWong said...

The sound from this machine is like the perfect body of Mr Universe, women will salivate, guys will admire and envy.

mikelau.2 said...

WA.......LIAU. It takes a level 6 guy to under stand the needs & liking of women kekeke. You real sifu

The Wise One said...

Big E,

What's the standing of the Wadia 381 with competitors at the rm25k to rm35k price level? Or would you elevate the 381 to that worthy of CD players up to rm40k?

Big E said...


IMHO, the Wadia 381 & the Esoteric X-03 are both head and shoulders above all other RM$25-$40K price range CD/SACD players. Having said that, I never got the chance to hear the Ayre C5-XeMP in my system. Odioslueth liked it so much that he bought it right away.

In the context of my system, yes the Wadia edges out the Esoteric by just being the warmer and more musical of the two.

All three, the Wadia, Esoteric and Ayre are superb top tier players on their own right. Which player is best for you depends on your system synergy and largely preference.

All those shopping for a top tier player should check all three out before commiting.

Dahl said...

Big E,

Is the Wadia 381 a big jump from the Stello separates? I am in the market for a CDP to replace my ageing Wadia 22 & 12. I've listened (briefly) to the Stello combo at Edwin's place but was not impressed (not sure if it is the setup & room). Am looking for something that is more analogue sounding. Thanks.

Big E said...


To compare the Stello separates with the Wadia is like comparing the Perodua Myvvi against a BMW 5 Series, if car/hif analogy is to be used.

While in sound perfermance terms, the Wadia wins hands down. It's got band width and transparency, amongst other things, that the Stello just cannot match.

But costing nearly 5 times as much, the Wadia is NOT 5 times as good compared to the Stello. The Stello pair's performance punches above their price range, and give some players costing twice more a though run fr their money. But the Wadia 381 is some thing that has to auditioned, if one has to know the current near state of the art performance available at RM$30K.

Happy shopping!

borgir said...

The King Wadia 381 uses some american company Streem Unlimited transport which is not as good as the new NEO VRDS from Teac.
They are asking $5000 per unit so it wasn`t to Wadia`s taste!