Wadia Digimaster X-32 digital processor Page 4

The X-32's soundstage was superior in width and depth to some less expensive processors, but didn't have the feeling of depth provided by the DSPro Basic. The forward quality noted earlier seemed to push all the instruments toward the front of the soundstage, without a clear delineation in the front-to-rear perspective. There was a slightly closed-in character, without the sense of air and space heard through the 2000 or the DSPro Basic. On the Dick Hyman Plays Fats Waller CD (Reference Recordings RR33CD), the Bösendorfer had a reduced feeling of room around the instrument. Jazz at the Pawnshop (Proprius PRCD 7187) didn't have the same open transparency for which this recording is noted. My acoustic guitar and bass recording on the Stereophile Test CD (track 12) had less bloom around the instruments, created by the acoustics of the 140-year-old church in which it was recorded. I should clarify these remarks by saying that the X-32's soundstage is excellent for a $2000 product, but did not approach that of the DSPro Basic, an area where the latter is clearly an overachiever.

Low-frequency presentation was excellent by any measure. In fact, it was very close to the performance of the 2000. This is one area where I've yet to hear any processor beat the 2000. Bass was tight and powerful, infusing music with a foot-tapping rhythmic drive. The X-32 had the ability to convey the energy of bass lines with conviction and authority. Bass dynamics were equally impressive, with transients jumping out of the soundstage. There was never a sense of bloat or mush. Pitch was clearly defined, with each note distinct from its neighbors. However, the X-32 did not match the round and liquid low-frequency textures exemplified by the Stax X1t. This is perhaps an unfair comparison, but nevertheless puts the X-32's performance in perspective.

I found the X-32's presentation detailed, but not overly etched. It was better at portraying transient detail—percussion, for example—than the finely woven inner detail that gives an instrument its texture. Perhaps I've been spoiled permanently by the Stax X1t in this regard. The X-32's less-than-expansive soundstage affected my perception of detail. The low-level detail in reverberation decay just didn't seem to recede into space as heard with other processors. Whether this truncated ambient detail is a cause or an effect of the foreshortened soundstage, I don't know. At any rate, the X-32 was competent in revealing transient detail without smearing the dynamic envelope, but fell short of the DSPro Basic, Wadia 2000, Stax X1t, and Proceed PDP in revealing instrumental nuance and low-level ambient detail.

Incidentally, the X-32 was auditioned with the stock ROM chip that provides the most jitter reduction. The X-32 had no problem locking to either the Esoteric P2 (not surprisingly) or the digital output of a Marantz CD94. Out of curiosity, I replaced the stock chip with the one supplied outside the unit that loosens the tolerance on transport jitter. I heard a less smooth high-frequency presentation with the optional chip (looser jitter tolerance). However, I removed the top from the warmed-up X-32, replaced the chip, and auditioned it immediately. It is possible that the change in temperature caused by removing the cover had more effect than changing chips.

Conclusion
Had not my standards in digital playback been absolutely raised by the $12,000 Stax DAC-X1t, and in a more competitive sense by the identically priced Theta DSPro Basic at $2000, I could more enthusiastically recommend the Wadia X-32. Although it is an excellent product both sonically and technically and offers a high level of performance for the money, it is, however, eclipsed by the DSPro Basic, which, in my opinion, sets a benchmark of performance at this price level.

Nevertheless, the X-32 was always musical and enjoyable, warranting a "Class B" recommendation in Stereophile's Recommended Components. Compared with what has been previously available near this price point, it is clearly superior. Its main strengths are a tight, well-defined bass, excellent dynamics, good presentation of transient detail, and a relatively grain-free treble. On the down side, it lacked the see-through transparency, soundstage depth, and liquid textures that characterize the best digital processors. Although these characteristics were apparent in sufficient abundance to qualify the X-32 as a high-end contender, the X-32 fell short of the best in digital playback. In addition, I would like to have seen more attention to fit and finish for the X-32's $2000 price.

I must add that I was very impressed by the X-32's technology. The list of innovations is remarkable: the Rock Lok circuit for reducing jitter in the incoming data stream; programmable gate arrays that replace dozens of chips; the ability to reconfigure the digital circuitry with ROM chips; and the staggered DAC array to achieve more interpolated waveform points. These techniques, I believe, point to future trends in digital converter design.

The Wadia X-32 is certainly worth an audition: Potential purchasers of any digital processor near the $2000 price range should audition the X-32 for themselves.

COMPANY INFO
Wadia Digital Corporation
511 Second Street
Hudson, WI 54016
(715) 386-8116
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