Wadia 861 CD player Page 2

Inside, the 861 is clean, orderly, and chock-full of premium components. The transport is Teac's CMK-3.2, which features full disc clamping, heavy cast-aluminum construction, and a self-adjusting digital servo. In the 861, the transport mechanism is fully shielded in copper and modified to use Wadia's patented ClockLink onboard clock signal—which feeds both the DACs and transport—instead of the clock embedded in the datastream.

AC power is heavily filtered as it enters the 861's rear panel, then fed through two large, heavily shielded main power transformers. It's then fed to one of 14 separate, heavily regulated supplies split among the input, transport, digital, and output sections. The 861 uses separate boards for the servo power supply, the digital servo itself, the digital-signal input conditioning, and the display, leaving the major DAC and output functions for a single, large board.

On the digital end of the main board, the digital signal is routed through a 24-bit/96kHz-capable input receiver, where it's split into left and right channels, each one sent to a DSP processor for interpolation via one of the available algorithms. Next stop is a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), where the datastream is split into inverted and non-inverted signals and sent to a pair of 24-bit Burr-Brown PCM-1704 DACs. With external sources, the DACs can either be clocked with the recovered external clock or with ClockLink.

The analog signals (inverted and non-inverted) are then run through a pair of Wadia's SC-1 current/voltage converters, which use a zero-feedback design that Wadia refers to as a "current conveyor," and are implemented in a patented IC architecture. The analog signals are then sent through low-pass filters and on to the output stage, which consists of either a pair of high-current line drivers (balanced outputs) or a differential amplifier and line driver (unbalanced output). Wadia doesn't specify the 861's output, but claims that it's capable of "driving any amplifier load"—a claim that my experience suggests is true. It's certainly true that the 861 uses premium components throughout and is beautifully laid out, with painstaking attention to detail.

Use & Listening
Before doing any listening, I broke in the 861 for a week using a combination of music and the burn-in tracks from the Sheffield/XLO Test & Burn-in CD (Sheffield Labs 10041-2-T). Before playing, all CDs were treated with Nordost EC03 anti-static fluid (label side) and cleaned with Music Fidelity DiscSolution (data side).

The Wadia 861 performed without a hitch during its tenure in my system. Setup was a snap, and although the remote's vast array of buttons was initially daunting, a quick skim through the owner's manual was all I needed to feel completely at ease with it. I particularly liked the 100-step digital volume and balance controls, and the associated level readouts for each channel. The controls not only facilitated the 861's feeding an amplifier directly, they made it possible to trim the volume and balance much more finely than by using the preamp alone.

Based on my experience of the Wadia 830, I anticipated that the 861 would have a clear, temporally precise sound, and I wasn't disappointed. The first thing I noticed—and the first thing visitors commented on—was the 861's incredibly clean, clear sound.

The JVC XRCD of the Modern Jazz Quartet's Concorde (JVCXR-0203-2) showed the Wadia off beautifully. Milt Jackson's vibes were brighter, richer, and noticeably more vibrant through the 861 than through other players. His initial mallet strokes were more detailed and better-defined, providing a much more descriptive, tangible portrayal of the instrument. The decaying, pulsating tones were more dramatic as well. The pulsations seemed to be larger in amplitude and more harmonically complex, giving the instrument more life and presence and making other players sound a bit muted and muffled.

John Lewis' piano, Percy Heath's bass, and Connie Kay's cymbals were similarly clearer and more vivid through the 861. At the opening of track 4, a medley of Gershwin tunes, Heath runs through a series of midtempo passages traversing his instrument's range. With the 861 there was a wonderfully crisp sense of his fingers working the strings. The initial sliding contact was distinctly audible, followed by a sharp transient as the string was plucked, eventually blooming into a lush mix of string and body resonances.

With other players, regardless of how well the bass line was reproduced, there wasn't the level of inner detail and clarity that the 861 provided, and the lines didn't seem quite as expressive. The Simaudio Moon Eclipse that I reviewed in April 2001, for example, reproduced Heath's lines with excellent power, precision, and pitch definition. It didn't, however, reproduce the fine detail of Heath's fingering as well as the 861, nor was its portrayal of the instrument's body as rich and harmonically complex.

795 Highland Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
(734) 975-4217