Wadia Digital 830 CD player
I understand Charlie's point. Most of the significant milestones in my 20-year audio journey have involved pieces of equipment that I first thought were too expensive to even consider buying. I was convinced that they couldn't possibly be that good, and that even if they were, the differences just wouldn't mean that much to me. Once I'd heard them, however, and realized the difference that they made in my musical enjoyment, I couldn't go back. My first Linn Sondek turntable was just such an epiphany. The VTL Ichiban amplifier was another. The list goes on; in each case, the piece really was that good, and the performance differences meant enough to me to justify the price.
The Wadia 830 CD player retails for $3250, or $4000 with the optional I/O boards—not expensive by Wadia standards, perhaps, but certainly by mine. I've spent the last two years listening to dynamite $1500-$2500 CD players from companies like California Audio Labs, Ultech, Rega, and Arcam, and have been really impressed. I'd settled comfortably into the mindset that there wasn't much to be gained by spending more, and that even if the megabucks players were better, the differences wouldn't really matter to me.
It was this bias that I took into the Wadia room at CES last January, where I ran into Wadia product manager Peter Bohacek. He agreed that the players I'd heard were nice units, and understood my point of view.
"But," he said, "you really ought to listen to our little 830. It does cost a bit more, but..."
Anatomy and etymology
Wadia Digital's products have been setting standards for performance, innovation, and build quality for years, and have been discussed many times in these pages. Reviews of their more expensive CD players, the 850 and 860, appeared in Stereophile in May and June 1998, respectively, and both are listed in Class A of "Recommended Components." No question about it, Wadia's big guns are good stuff.
The 830 is Wadia's entry-level player. It shares much with its more expensive brothers, but differs in a few ways to reduce production costs. Most visibly, it forgoes the 850/860's massive, machined aluminum chassis in favor of a smaller, more conventional—but still very well-built—unit. According to Wadia, the 830's combination of machined plates, sheet metal, and internal damping results in a chassis that's extremely rigid and inert, but substantially less costly to manufacture. The black review unit was handsome and quite solid.
Pushing the Open/Close button reveals another difference. Instead of the 850/860's Teac VRDS transport, the 830 uses a Pioneer PD-S505 Stable Platter mechanism. This is hardly "scrimping"—the Stable Platter is a superb transport in itself, with an extremely effective full-disc clamping system. To reduce jitter, all Wadia players locate the master clock adjacent to the DACs, rather than include it in the transport stage.
The 830 also replaces the 850/860's 44-button machined aluminum remote with a simpler, plastic-housed one. This includes the standard transport functions, volume and mute, and phase inversion, but not balance or any sort of programming functions. It's functional, but for four grand I'd expect something nicer.
Beyond these differences, the 830 is very much like its big brothers, and shares with them Wadia's modular, multiboard construction and internal interface system. All circuitry is software-controlled as well, which further supports simple upgrades. The toroidal transformer and extensive power-supply filtering are shared with the 850, and the high-current, high-voltage, low-impedance output stage—Direct-Connect Technology in Wadiaspeak—with both the 850 and 860. All three machines feature true balanced outputs and Wadia's NoiseBlock output filtering stage, designed to reduce noise and grunge.
There are a few goodies that the 830 doesn't get—like the 860's super-trick alphanumeric display, or Rocklok jitter reduction on digital inputs—but most of the good stuff is there. Most significant, the 830 is built around Wadia's unique DigiMaster digital-filtering software. This looks at a number of samples and interpolates between them using a proprietary algorithm more akin to a spline fit.
According to Bohacek, the algorithm was developed based on listening tests and "a broader range of measurements than are typically used." John Atkinson discussed the DigiMaster's operation in detail in his review of the 850 in the May 1998 Stereophile (p.119). I refer the reader there for details, noting here only that one characteristic of the DigiMaster system is unusually clean: time-domain behavior. There is very little ringing around an impulse. The 830's DAC board is nearly identical to the 850's. Both use the DigiMaster in its 3.1 version (24-bit, 32x-resampling) running on Motorola DSP chips, and dual Burr-Brown D/A converters.