Wadia 861 CD player Page 3
When I listened closely and dissected this clarity and precision, it seemed to stem from a more precise reproduction of dynamic transients. The details of a note's initiation—a finger or bow first contacting a string, for example, or the initial movement of air through a horn—were always more obvious and more finely detailed with the Wadia. These initial transients seemed larger as well, as if the Wadia were swinging between ppp and fff where other players were going only from pp to ff. No matter how carefully I matched levels, this added impact invariably made the Wadia sound louder.
Similarly, the microdynamic shadings within a note—the pulsations of Milt Jackson's vibes, for example—were more apparent with the Wadia, making the instruments and voices seem more complex and vivid. I was also much more aware of notes' trailing edges, of how they faded into the background.
Other factors that contributed to the Wadia's distinctive, vivid sound were its soundstage reproduction and ambience recovery, and the perspective that it gave the listener. With the 861, the front edge of the soundstage was projected slightly in front of the speakers rather than slightly behind them, as was the case with the other players. With the Wadia, I seemed to be seated much closer to the stage than I'm accustomed to.
A good example of this perspective was how the 861 presented the L.A. Guitar Quartet's Evening in Granada (Delos DE 3144), on which my favorite cut is the second movement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol. The 861 gave me a front-row-center seat in a smallish concert hall. The guitarists were arrayed in a shallow semicircle, their images overlapping extensively to provide a kind of wall of sound. The guitars were dynamic and vivid, and sharp transients seemed to jump out toward me.
In contrast, the Simaudio Moon player gave me a seat about a third of the way back in a larger hall. Again, the players were seated in a semicircle, but the semicircle and stage were now more wide and deep, with a better sense of the specific locations of the individual players, both on the stage and within the space. The images were more three-dimensional, and their edges were more clearly defined.
The Wadia's slightly forward presentation was consistent throughout my listening sessions, but, it's important to note, was less a coloration than a point of view. For example, the 861's perspective resulted in the images being slightly too large and too close on a lot of closely miked solo or small ensemble pieces. A couple of examples I noted were Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now," a solo-vocal-and-guitar piece from her Hits CD (Reprise 46326-2); and "Chuck E.'s in Love," from Rickie Lee Jones' acoustic live CD Naked Songs (Reprise 45950-2). On the Jones cut, in particular, the 861's snap and impact gave the performance a great sense of life and presence, but its perspective didn't quite match the venue. The ambience cues suggested a mid-hall seat, with a wide expanse of audience between and slightly below the listener and stage. With the Wadia, Jones' vocals and guitar were a bit too large and too close, and the audience was squished unnaturally into a shallow, narrow hollow at her feet. The Simaudio Moon's perspective, in contrast, weaves the pieces together into a more coherent whole.
On the other hand, the Wadia's perspective meshed beautifully with a recording of Arthur Rubinstein performing the Allegro marziale animato from Liszt's Piano Concerto 1, with Alfred Wallenstein and the RCA Victor Symphony (RCA 61496-2). The 861 had Rubinstein's piano well in front of the orchestra and spotlit, with the orchestra itself arrayed well back in a deep, wide soundstage firmly set within the surrounding hall. Although the 861 couldn't match the Moon Celeste's image specificity and edge definition, or its depth and dimensionality within the orchestra, the Wadia's superb inner detail made it easy to locate and track individual instruments within a section.
At the other end of the musical spectrum, the Wadia's presentation of Dead Can Dance's "Yulunga," from Into the Labyrinth (4AD 45384-2), was equally superb. This piece begins with an otherworldly, echo-drenched vocal and subterranean bass line, then gradually builds a surreal but tangible three-dimensional jungle landscape. With the 861, the bass notes had weight and heft and, with the vocals, created an ominous sense of foreboding. As the complexity of the junglescape increased with each succeeding creature's entry, I felt myself drawn in, pulled inexorably deeper and deeper into this strange other world.
With other CD players I tried, all of "Yulunga" 's bits and pieces were there—deep, tight bass and sharp, crisp percussion transients—but there wasn't the deep sense of foreboding that the Wadia projected. The unearthly shrieks and calls of the bizarre creatures weren't quite as raw and unsettling, and the nether world just didn't as dimensional or as tangible. Nor did it seem to have the gravitational pull that existed when the 861 was in the system.