04 January, 2009

Return Visit: Wadia's Loft, but focus on Wolfson 8470 DAC

Return Visit: Wadia's Loft, but focus on Wolfson 8470 DAC, aided by dCS 972 Upsampler

紂虐柴灣 的 HiFi 精 A, B, C

Just a little background for the uninitiated. In the Chaiwan industrial estates there are MANY hifi 竇s, with different approaches. For what I know, fever prizes must go to HiFi 精s A (Alansoo), B (wher, aka wadia) and C(harles).

Wadia's place needs no introduction, and I won't say much. For this visit, aside from the familiar Rey Audio and FM Acoustics amp, we were treated to his new preamp, the MANLEY Wave, which has built-in digital conversion! I was particularly pleased with this new toy as I still own an excellent sounding VTL DAC-preamp much like the "First Wave" mentioned in the Manley link (Ultra Analogue 20040).

Wave the bye to Son of the Wolf?
The venerable STUDER D732 provided the digital output. I am not sure if Wadia used his dCS 972 to upsample the signal before input into the Manley, as the latter automatically upsamples to 96kHz before decoding with the 24/96 PCM1704. As soon as Wadia hit the play button, I heard the best sound to-date from his Rey Audio monitors. A good tube preamp simply breathes live into music. Once again, this re-affirms (as if it needs to be) my firm belief that a good tube preamp brings music to a higher level, whereas the choice of amp (tube/ss) is secondary. It's important to note that a good preamp provides a lot more control that is mandatory for playback of large-scaled music, something vintage and cheap tube preamps cannot do.

Then we played with tubediyer's new DAC. It was for this reason that I had to forgo Penndan's party that day. It's the DAC you see sitting on top of the box in front of the racks. Strictly speaking, this version is not tubediyer's own design, but an OEM'ed product. I cannot reveal too much, but suffice to say it uses 8x 24/192 WOLFSON WM 8740, the same chip used in less extravagant fashion by the ubiquitous Cambridge Audio 540C/640C/740C; the Arcam DiVA CD73; and the Rega Apollo. Wolfson is gaining popularity, even being adopted by mass market AV amps (like Onkyo) as well as products like the well-reviewed (even by Stereophile and TAS) Onkyo CD players of the xx55 series.

I had a stake in this that makes me want to hear more Wolfson products. As many know, I like to play with digital products and am open to any format, including Music Servers. Sometime ago in NYC I acquired a Rega Appollo. It was quite detailed and certainly quiet in background, but there is a literalness that nagged at me, which surprised me as Rega is supposed to be a company strong on rhythm and pace, which I'd rather not lack even at the expense of a little extra "refinement". Music deficient in rhythm and pace is just a dead beauty. Ditto the Arcam, though I have heard the Cambridge to reasonably good effect and perhaps one day I shall try a higher model.

Nightingale or Raven?
Much (like clock) about this prototype DAC is unknown. When first played, fed directly the digital output of the Studer, sound was singularly unpromising. There was a lack of life and coarseness so severe that it made the nightingale in Serenata sound like a hungry raven! Of course we mocked tubediyer to our content.

Then miracle of miracles. Wadia suggested we upsample the signal with the dCS. First, a hugh improvement with 96Hz. Then 192 kHz just nailed things. Suddenly, everything snapped into focus, and the evil curse had been removed and the raven turned into a nightingale!

Suffice to say we were MIGHTILY impressed. Upsampled, the stage became hughly airy, surpassing that of Manley's. High-level playback was impressive for the ability of individual instruments to maintain focus in complex passages, again out-trumping Manley. However, and this is important to me, I cannot completely rid myself of a small but nagging sense that rhythmically it can be just a bit better (the Manley is superior in rhythm and pace). It's like a deja vu, stemming from my experience with the Appollo. There are more questions than answers. Do chips have intrinsic characters? Of course they do, even if they all seem to do the same thing. Note that even upsampling vs oversampling generates a hugh amount of question marks, as evidenced by questions generated by the reviews and measurements of the dCS 972. Nonetheless, this product is very impressive and I congratulate tubediyer for his manufacturing skills, and I look eagerly look foward to seeing its completion and evolution.

David vs Goliath
That very day I had just taken delivery of the Wadia iTransport and borrowed whlee's iPod Video. So we attempted to burn some files with Wadia's iMac, surprisingly to no avail!!!! So that's for the next article to cover.

Meanwhile, these "computer speakers" are the best I have heard. Guess what brand?

Studer! :-)

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