I've been bugging Jlam and Piano Tuner for the last couple of years to get into Computer music. Each time I see an article on the demise of audiophiles and the rise of the download generation, I send it to the both of them! My nephews and nieces have never bought a CD (let alone vinyl) before. Everything is purchased online and downloaded. That is the future of music! They are the future audiophiles!
Eventhough I have a full Tidal Suite (with the Agoria on order), the Vekian Opus combo, the Thales TTT with Simplicity tonearm, I listen to my ipod the most, as I spend most of my time travelling on business. So I have ripped all of my 4000+ CDs. The convenience of searching, sorting and listening to music on a computer or device is uncomparable. I am a music lover FIRST, and an audiophile SECOND. So having access to all of my music at a touch of a button is important.
As an audiophile, I wanted my downloaded or ripped music to sound just as good as my cd deck. After all, its all bits and bytes, so if I just run my mac through my state of the art DAC, it should sound the same right? NOPE!
I've either owned or auditioned (in retail shops or in home demos) the Slim Devices (now Logitech) Transporter, the Meridian Sooloos and even the Linn Klimax. They were all a dissapointment. Don't believe the hype. Go listen for yourself.
I finally settled for having my music running on a Mac with Sonic Studio's Amarra, connected to my system. I only used it when I had large parties and wanted to choose the playlist to set the mood. Sound wasn't good, but I did not have a choice.
So when Piano Tuner called my a month ago and said that he has found a product that he can finally give the Audio Exotics stamp of approval, I immediately arranged to meet up with him in Hong Kong. Wadax's designer and founder, Javier Guadalajara was in town and PT wanted me to meet with him and audition the WADAX Pre-1 with the Hermes Stream player. Essentially what I've been looking for the last couple of years.
The setup at the AE studio when I arrived there yesterday is the new Cessaro Lizst, the Robert Koda preamp, Power Labs TNT50 amps. PT also had a single chassis CD player (supposedly more expensive than the Vekian Opus combo. I forgot what the name was) and the Wadax Pre1 setup. The Wadax Pre-1 was connected to a Wadax external server that can house 2 SSD drives via an Ethernet cable. The Wadax Pre1 is a simple yet beautiful looking piece of equipment. Solid and heavy, it is obviously well designed. You can control the Wadax with the remote or via the Wadax Ipad app (we only used a prototype). The final app will be available on iTunes in 2 weeks. You can stream music from any Itunes library over wifi. At AE, we used PT's Macbook Air. There is also USB port at the back of the Pre1. My experience with USB has been spotty. I tried it with the Vekian Opus DAC, and also with a DAC by DCS (forgot the name). (Frankly, don't waste your time!!). The recommended way of connecting to the Pre1 is using the Wadax server, connected via a Ethernet cable. (The server that Javier brought to AE was a protoype and he showed me drawings of the final product. Wow! They were sexy! ) The server has a CD slot in the front where you can put in your CD. It rips the CD to FLAC with all error corrections and check against 5 online sources to populate all the metatags. You also have the capability of connecting an external NAS (Network Attached Storage), as the media server only holds 2 SSD drives.
The engineering on the Wadax represents a paradign shift in high-end audio. The ASIC chip was developed and designed by Javier and his team. It can take into account over 1500 signal parameters, and can be programmed to take into account cartridge type (for the phono stage) and other soon to be announced features.
The stream player can also 'RECORD' your vinyl at 128 bit resolution. Can you imagine? All your favourite vinyl, recorded at high definition?
Now the sound.
My experience with most computer audio is that it has tended to sound too lean or compressed or mushy. We did a simple a/b test between the Wadax streaming the exact same file over Wifi from the Mac and the Wadax Media Server. The sound from the Mac was definitely more compressed, while the file from the Media server sounded ... like Vinyl. I don't want to go into describing the technicalities of the sound as I'm really not that good at it, but the sound coming out of the Cessaro was amazing. I have never heard computer audio sounding so good before. And mind you, these were not high definition tracks. These were normally ripped tracks on FLAC. Our next test was the Wadax vs the CD player. Again, the Wadax won hands down. And considering that the CD player costs more than the Wadax (which also has other features discussed below), this was definitely a revelation. The sound from the Wadax was very natural, very analogue, effortless and open. And most importantly it was musical. Against the Wadax, the CD sounded too clean.
There were a few people who visited AE during the day. In general, everyone was shocked at the performance of the Wadax. Many times, folks would ask. "Is it streaming or is it playing the CD?" The sound from the Wadax Media Server in my opinion can rival any of the best cd gear that Audio Exotic's carries. Plus it has the advantage of convenience. We used the iPad to control the Wadax, lining up songs to hear, creating playlists. What more could you want?
Actually, there is more.
The Wadax is also a Preamp and its also a Phono Stage The same ASIC chip can 'map' the characteristics of your turntable setup and correct it in real time! Javier showed us a vinyl record that you play on your turntable. You turn the Wadax in record mode. You then email the file to the Wadax team that looks at it and creates a custom mapping just for your setup. That file is then sent back to you, and you load it back onto the Wadax using a USB key. So now, everytime you play your Turntable, the signal is reconstructed based on the exact mappings of your turntable. Star Trek stuff? MosDef!
We spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the phono stage. There were other luminaries from AE there including Mr Zanden, so I will leave it to them to describe the sound. Needless to say, I thought the sound was incredible.
The next generation is particular about value. Something must have value for them to consider buying it.It must also have convenience. And must have appeal and look good. The WADAX scores on all these points. Its not cheap (same league as the rest of AE gear), but when you consider what you get in one beautifully designed unit
1) a world class preamp,
2) a world class DAC,
3) the best Computer Audio Streaming server I've heard,
4) a world class phono stage that is mapped to the characteristics of your setup and
5) a phono recorder +
6) other yet to be announced features.
the numbers don't sound that bad. One of the hidden costs of high end audio is the cost of cables. Just consider how much you will be saving on cables by getting rid of some of your components if you move to the WADAX? When I added this up, it made sense.
I guess you'll being seeing my stuff on sale on Audiogon soon
For folks in Singapore, I'm hoping to have a Wadax in Singapore soon. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org