Wadia 2000 Decoding Computer Page 7

I was in for more treats when the music started. The organ projected with more power and purity now. The low-frequency growls were just that much more mighty and dynamic; the reedy quality of the upper registers came across with great coherence and freedom.

Let's not forget the space. Now that music was exciting the hall, it was even more obvious we were in a large space, very wide and very deep. My guess at the time pegged it as something larger than a church. Well, lo and behold, Craig Dory confirmed this. The organ happens to be located in a concert hall.

Another direct benefit of the P-1 transport was the resurrection of some potent dynamics and powerful bass. The dynamics endowed the music with vitality and excitement, while the energy distribution and the improved fidelity in the bass region provided the music with an extremely solid foundation. This energy, however, gave no hint of becoming overbearing, while conveying a sense of abundant energy.

I mean, we had control, for once. Orchestral assaults were awesome, very reminiscent of the feeling at a live performance, where loud is never too loud. But loud at home is usually followed by a turn of the volume control in the CCW direction. Well, with this equipment we are well on the way of getting there. The music I heard seldom peaked out due to the equipment. If the software was clean, then the playback components replicated that.

I usually ended up playing the system at significantly higher volume settings. I know that I got carried away by the newfound fidelity and really let go a few times—in general, the volume kept going higher and higher. I don't know about you, but for me that's a good sign. I don't do it unless the sound is clean and exciting. This same clarity made its presence felt when the levels were low. The stage did not shrink, dynamics did not compress, and details did not vanish.

The fidelity of the more explosive passages was outstanding. As a matter of fact, inner detailing was improved at least an order of magnitude, so much so that I have a confession to make: I'm embarrassed by the mediocrity that had impressed me previously. Now the standards have been raised, since the ability to delve into the presentation and extract new nuances has been refined to a new high.

It happened as I was relistening to the Misa Criola with the Teac CD drive in place. Suddenly I realized that the words sung by the choir were very distinctly articulated. Before, I had assumed that the very reverberant environment had obscured the choir. Sure, it was very appealing, but being unfamiliar with the ultimate possibilities, I had compromised.

Now the words could be followed with ease. They were clear and distinct. What a feeling! I learned that all the space, air, and staging are ineffective without properly articulated words. Suddenly, realism seemed so much more within reach, and not some Holy Grail pursuit.

Time after time the Wadia 2000 demonstrated its ability to replicate the airy environment, as well as the raw energy and weight of a musical event. I refer to the taut ambiance—that sense of unity and intent feeling—that permeates the live experience. The woody buzz of the violins, the energy-laden solidarity of the piano in the lower registers, the screaming glow of trumpets, the thick thud of the kick drum, the tearing guffaw of trombones, and the gutsy lament of a bowed double-bass—any one of those sounds, or all of them, or any combination. These sonic verities were compelling and incisive; the sounds belong together, and the music was allowed to breathe naturally.

One word summarizes the above spirit—"effortless." Live music conveys an assertive and liberated vitality. Show any hint of a struggle or limiting, and the illusion of authenticity is crushed.

My experience with the Wadia 2000 prompts me to comment on the ongoing source-material debate. In most cases it was not necessary to resort to any specific recording to determine the Wadia's contribution. Playing just about any CD usually resulted in a discovery of previously unheard information. I put on "If You Don't Know Me By Now" from the Simply Red CD (footnote 9) and found myself confronted by a whole panorama of transparent soundstage. It was spread out in front of me and I was completely taken by this—I might add, not atypical—experience. And no, I had not heard a hint of this surprise before.

And so I went, from one thrill to another. From recordings of classical music in a natural setting—the Dorian CDs, for example—to the most severely processed stuff, and I still managed to be surprised by the superbly presented soundfield information.

There's no substitute for quality
I have to say that I am slightly embarrassed by the way I have been gushing over the Wadia 2000 processor. That I am completely taken by it is obvious. There's no substitute for quality!

Of course, it's not perfect. We're still talking about reproduced music, and can, therefore, only go so far. But if you're looking for some glaring, Achilles-heel deficiency, then I can tell you I have not come across it yet. Nor do I expect to in the near future.

In light of what has happened during this review, however, I should be careful of sweeping statements. But this whole experience has been so rewarding, I shudder to think what another of the same magnitude would be like.

But what about the Theta DSPro? Unfortunately, there's not much to say. No, there's still no free lunch—it's not a sleeper that will outdo the more expensive Wadia. To its credit, the Theta processor gave a good accounting of itself. But it could not match the Wadia in replicating the soundstage, did not have the same low-frequency extension, and fell short in overall fidelity.

For example, playing the RCA release of Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall revealed that the Theta dramatically foreshortened the stage. I found it interesting that stage width remained about the same for both. But Harry Belafonte's exclamations did not excite as much soundspace as the Wadia did. Carnegie Hall appeared small and relatively closed-down. The Theta's spectral balance favored fullness in the lower-bass region, the plucks on the bass becoming laden, losing some of their speed. Furthermore, applause now had a bite to it, and the size of the audience was diminished.

Another instance is the Philips CD of Beethoven's Quartets Op.59 No.3 and Op.74 by the Amadeus String Quartet. Where the Wadia 2000 had depicted a transparent image of the players, the Theta painted a situation somewhat tending to opacity. The instruments were not discerned with the same timbral clarity, and I came away with the feeling that the musical presentation was inhibited.

As a matter of fact, the Wadia 2000 revealed so much of the surrounding details that I was distracted by the breathing noises.

I see the Wadia 2000 as a pioneering effort, the next logical step. Digital has been taking it on the chin—with good reason—for quite some time. At the very least, the Wadia 2000 should raise eyebrows and thus get the attention of the skeptics. This unit should break their attention span long enough to make them consider alternatives to their analog obsessions.

But I think the Wadia 2000 should have a more substantial impact. Once enough people get to hear how much more is possible with a medium written off completely by many an adamant audiophile, it will enhance acceptance and encourage additional developments.

Why am I so happy about the current state of sonic affairs? Because digital is in our futures. The sooner we get more out of it, the better it is for all audiophiles. It doesn't much matter that the CD was foisted on us—that's out of our control. What is apparently under our control is better sound. And the Wadia 2000, along with the soon-to-be-released CD Drive, comprise a giant step in the right direction.

Suddenly my analog angst is a thing of the past.

Footnote 9: I don't recommend this CD for its sound—it's generally too peaky and shrill. Musically, you're on your own.
Wadia Digital Corp.
1556 Woodland Drive
Saline, WI 48176
(734) 786-9611