August 31, 2011

Digital Tour de Force - Wadia 571 CD Transport, 931 Digital Controller, 922 Mono Decoding Computers

This set of Wadia is breaking all the records at Hifi Unlimited.

In the foreground of the photo, from left to right, Wadia 931 Digital Controller, 2 pieces of Wadia 922 Mono Decoding Computers and Wadia 571 CD Transport

Firstly, it is the one system component, in this case a digital frontend, that consists of the most number of pieces. We are used to seeing a CD player coming in 2 pieces, such as a transport plus a DAC or a CD player plus an external power supply. However, this Wadia system goes a couple more steps further – it comes in 4 pieces. There is the Wadia 571 CD transport; the Wadia 931 digital controller; and 2 pieces of Wadia 922 mono Decoding Computers. ‘Decoding Computer’ is what Wadia calls their top of the line DAC.

Secondly, weight. The Wadia 571 CD transport alone weighs 24kg. The weight of the others was not mentioned in their spec sheets but I would venture to guess that the Wadia 931 Digital Controller would be about 20kg and the Wadia 922 mono DAC about 15kg each. That makes a grand total of 70-80kg (150-175lbs) worth of muscle, all this to play a CD that is less than 20g in weight. I was lucky to have a couple of friends helping me to carry them up to my listening room, helping me to unpack and set up, repacking them again and bringing them back to the CMY.

The weight is no doubt contributed by the solid aluminium enclosure that makes up each box, giving them a bomb-proof solidity that inspires confidence. I am sure these heavy weight enclosures made the Wadia system immune to all external vibration and all sorts of mechanical interference.

Thirdly, price. Hold on to your chairs - the Wadia quartet costs a total of RM174,880. It has set the record as the most expensive hifi component we ever write about on hifi-unlimited.

I had no rack space to house the 4 heavy boxes, so they go onto the floor. Having the Wadia system spread out in front of me thus was awe-inspiring and intimidating, to say the least. The first thing for me to do was to deal with the technology that went into these impressive pieces. It was no longer as simple as hooking up the powercords and the interconnects, load a CD, press play and you’d get music. Well, the powercord part still applied, each piece of gear needed its own power, so the owner would have to come up with 4 power outlets and 4 powercords. The analogue interconnects were still needed too, going from the analogues output of the 922 mono Decoding Computers to the pre-amp, or straight to the power amp if you desire ( the Wadia 931 comes with digital pre-amp function).

In-between the Wadia 571, 931 and 922, Wadia applied their technology and connecting scheme. Everything is strung together not with metal cables but glass fibre optic cables, supplied together with each component.

Wadia 931 Digital Controller

Let’s start with the Wadia 931 Digital Controller which acts as the heart of the system. The 931 Digital Controller essentially functions like a digital pre-amp - it has multiple digital inputs, which support up to 24bits/96kHz (which we also confirmed by streaming digital music files from a Bryston BDP-1). Wadia says on its website that provisions have been made for the 931 to accept 24/192 data when a standardized input is agreed upon. The 931 has a 100-step volume control implemented in the digital domain allowing you to bypass an analogue pre-amp. More importantly, the 931 supports two established Wadia jitter-reduction technologies: RockLok and ClockLink. I quote Wadia: “RockLok is Wadia’s proprietary circuit that uses cascaded Phase-Locked-Loops (PLL) to recover the clock signal from the incoming data. RockLok produces a low-jitter clock signal from any standard digital source and can be used with all sources that comply with industry standards. With ClockLink, the clock signal embedded in the incoming data stream is ignored in favor of a local crystal oscillator. This requires that the source component be synchronized to the 931 Digital Controller via a ClockLink output. Any of the inputs can be user-configured for either ClockLink or RockLok mode”.

On the left side of the back panel are the digital inputs, which consist of 1 AES/EBU (XLR), 1 optical, 2 SPDIF (BNC) and 2 ST glass fibre optic
At the centre is a ST glass fibre optic connection for clock output to the transport
On the right side are eight configurable clock and digital outputs to go to the DACs

In use, two fibre optic cables lead from the Wadia 931 Digital Controller to each of the Wadia components, one cable carrying the clock data, and the other the music’s data stream. So with the 571 CD transport and the two 922 mono Decoding Computers, we have a grand total of six fibre optic cables being used, as you can see in the photo below.

The Series 9 components are Wadia’s top dog, however CMY has not gotten the 971 CD transport. It has its junior, the 571 CD transport instead, and that is how we use this Wadia set.

Wadia 571 CD Transport

The ClockLink and digital outputs at the back of the Wadia 571 CD Transport

The Wadia 922 mono Decoding Computers have only fibre optic inputs, which means that they must be mated with the 931 Digitial Controller. It has both RCA and XLR analogue outputs. The proprietary DigiMaster 1.4 decoding software employed comes with a sampling rate of 2.8224Mhz and a digital resolution of 26bits.

Wadia 922 mono Decoding Computer. The analogue outputs consist of 1 RCA and 1 XLR. The digital inputs consists of 2 fibre optic, 1 for digital clock and the other for the digital music stream

I started my listening after a day of continuous playing to warm the components up. They were barely warm to the touch after that. I first compared the sound of going through my Pass Labs pre-amp and without. Sans pre-amp, the big improvement was in the treble region, which sounded more detailed and cleaner. For example cymbal hits were more distinct from one to another. With pre-amp, the portrayal was a little muddier. On the other hand, with pre-amp, music had a little fuller body and a little more colourful (or some may call colouration, whichever way you want to see it). Both presentations were good. If you wanted to hear everything clearly, go without a pre-amp. At the end of the day, I decided to do my listening with the pre-amp in the chain.

The Wadia system never put a foot wrong in the 2 weeks I had them. Every piece of music was produced with complete technical excellence. I had the impression that everything on the silver disc was completely dug up for the presentation; nothing could escape the laser sharp analytical capability of the Wadia.

The Wadia turned up the system’s transparency a few notches, the window on the music was wide open. Separation and focus were both very good. There was no blurriness or smearing anywhere from top to bottom. The width and depth definition of the soundstage conjured up with the Wadia was excellent. The wealth of details allowed all the ambient cues to be heard. Listening to orchestral music, every section was nicely delineated, following the playing was made very easy.

The dynamic expression of the Wadia was impressive too. Passages ranging from whisper quiet to thunderously loud never fazed the Wadia quartet, it went up and down the dynamic scale with ease. Bass performance was one of the very best I have heard in my system. It was tight and punchy. The slightly lean bass characteristic, rather than the ‘phat’ kind, allowed the bass line to be followed easily.

Adding to the flawless performance of the Wadia system was the level of refinement to the sound. The smoothness will allow one to listen on and on for hours without listening fatigue.

The Wadia system portrayed the truth encoded in digital recordings, it did not embellish. I feel that to get the best from this combination, you’d have to partner them with the best, anything that has any hint of dryness or too squeaky clean further down the chain should be avoided, as the Wadia's sound had no excesses, and those qualities in the others will be exposed for what they are.

The combination of Wadia 571 CD Transport, 931 Digital Controller and 922 Mono Decoding Computers are at the forefront of digital technology. If you are shopping at this exalted level, there are but very few choices. With Wadia, you’d be certain that you won’t miss anything on your discs.

Wadia is carried by CMY. To listen to this Wadia combo, call CMY Damansara Uptown 03-77272419

1 comment:

Ken said...

Looks like Wadia "house sound" has not chnaged over the years!