Wadia 27ix & Wadia 270 transport Page 3

With the 270 driving the 27ix and the latter connected directly to the Levinson power amplifiers, the sound quality was jaw-dropping. Only the Linn Sondek CD12, which Wes Phillips reviewed in February, was in the same league for CD playback. Even my own Mark Levinson No.31.5/No.30.5, which I purchased a few years back, fell a little behind when it came to the sheer transparency of the Wadia's presentation.

Tiny recorded details were laid bare, yet without the presentation being spotlit or forced. When I used the Wadia 27ix as the monitoring converter for the mixing of Stereophile's recent Rendezvous CD (STPH013-2), the differences between the natural acoustic of Chad Kassem's Blue Heaven Studios and the artificial reverberation I was adding to the vibes with a Lexicon unit were startlingly clear. The 27ix made matching the quality of the latter to the former a lot easier.

The impressive transparency was matched by the billowing nature of the soundstage. On this issue's recording of the month, Eternity's Sunrise (Harmonia Mundi USA 907231), the slow-moving choral harmonies of John Tavener's Funeral Canticle lit up a vast space between and behind the speakers. Yet individual images within that space were rock-solid in their positioning.

Tonally, the Wadia's presentation was easy on the ear. Whether this was due to the premature top-octave rolloff or to the accurate waveform preservation of the processor, who can say? But it definitely made the Levinson No.30.5 (about to be sent off for the No.30.6, 96k upgrade) sound more up-front and slightly more "mechanical." (All comparisons were performed with levels matched to within 0.1dB, using the No.380S's preset input gain function.) The mid-treble of the Wadia, however, was very slightly more grainy than the Levinson's.

And the Levinson had slightly better-defined low frequencies, which led to a better-preserved sense of pace. Where the low bass was completely overcooked, as in Massive Attack's Unfinished Symphony (Virgin 7 86228 2), the Wadia's already fat upper-bass presentation became too much of a good thing, even with the 270's resolution-enhancement mode switched off.

These comparisons were performed with the same transport, Wadia or No.31.5, driving both processors. Interestingly, these differences were magnified when I compared the complete Levinson transport/processor combination with the Wadia 270/27ix. But, all things considered, coming home at the end of a hard day's wordsmithing in the office to escape into the lush, opulent, billowing virtual sonic reality of the Wadia components was just what high-end audio is all about.

My only criticism: The limited acceptance angle of the remote, and the fact that you can switch between the 27ix's six inputs only sequentially, which made A/B comparisons between digital sources hard to perform.

The 24/96 experience When it came to high-resolution digital, the Wadia shone brightly, rivaling my memories of the dCS Elgar. Whether it was my own 96kHz master tapes, or Classic's and Chesky's DADs, the 27ix's benefits in CD replay were magnified. The most impressive sound I heard was from an audio DVD sampler from Turtle Records that I was given at the recent CES by the Dutch company's Harry van Dalen. Included are purist recordings of music ranging from Bach organ though a trumpet/bass/drums reading of "Cherokee" and arrangements for marimba ensemble, to Brahms' Clarinet Quintet, with diversions into the sounds of clocks (!). The sheer vividness of the Wadia's presentation, coupled with laid-back high frequencies that resembled nothing so much as the real thing, made this the best I have ever heard from any digital audio technology. In the words of Sam Tellig, there was "simply more there there."

Undoubtedly expensive at $16,900 for the pair, the Wadia 270/27ix combination is about as good as CD playback gets. But the situation is less clear when the Wadias are listened to as standalone components. I wouldn't advise anyone at present to buy an expensive CD-only transport unless they have a large investment in CDs that they don't intend to stop playing. But with its 24/96 capability and the possibility of being upgraded to deal with both encrypted data and DSD recordings, the 27ix has a rosy future. Class A—with a bullet!