Wadia 850 CD player Page 4
The $5995 Mark Levinson No.39 was reviewed by Wes Phillips in the November 1997 issue of Stereophile. Like the Wadia, the Levinson has a built-in volume control, except that it operates in the analog domain. It also has digital inputs and outputs, so I compared the D/A sections by driving the Wadia from the No.39 via the 0.5m length of Mod Squad Wonderlink I. Again, levels were matched at 1kHz.
I found differences much harder to detect than with the BAT player, which is not surprising given that both solid-state players use similar DAC and output op-amp chips. The main difference is, in fact, the digital filter employed, the Levinson using the Pacific Microsonics PMD100. It was only through long listening sessions that I became certain where any differences lay.
Take the excellent Naxos recording of the Elgar Piano Quintet (8.553737), for example. I could hear no difference in the two machines' extreme top ends, despite my knowing about the early rolloff of the Wadia filter. The 850 was actually just a tad brighter than the No.39, which brought the higher instruments of the string quartet a bit more forward in the mix. Peter Donohoe's piano, however, which is audibly more distant in the soundstage, sounded both slightly better defined spatially via the Wadia, and had greater subjective bass extension. As a result, the Levinson's presentation had slightly reduced authority and soundstage depth, though it was overall rather smoother-sounding. The Wadia gave a more transparent view into the recorded image, though it could occasionally sound just a bit strident.
But the most important (though still small) difference for me was how the 850 more delicately revealed Donohoe's pedaling of bass notes at the reprise of the big syncopated tune in the work's concluding Allegro. The Levinson sounded more homogeneous, but ultimately a little less informative. Is this due to Wadia's DigiMaster filter topology? Afraid I'm too wise an old coot to go there, guys.
The Wadia 850 is up against stiff competition in the form of players like the Meridian 508.24, the BAT VK-D5, the Mark Levinson No.39, and the Audio Research CD-2, all of them Class A contenders. It also doesn't offer HDCD decoding, which may be an issue for some audiophiles, given how many newer rock and country releases are HDCD-encoded. But if you can do without an analog preamp and value the maximum information retrieval from CD, and as long as your system is not itself on the bright side, the superbly constructed 850 is a CD player to reckon with.
So how much does the Wadia design team have in common with Ronnie Corbett's Uncle Charlie? Based on the sound of the 850, if they're crazy, they're crazy like a fox.