Wattson Audio Emerson Analog Streamer by Engineered SA
My pursuit of NAS has not been slowing down. There are some brands and models on my radar, for which I am waiting for a good deal. I'm not in a hurry.
Somehow, this little box from Wattson Audio really caught my eyes and I was extremely interested. It fits perfectly in my setup, which comprise gears that are compact, and it can be concealed behind my TV nicely. I don't need refrigerator-sized boxes at all to fuel my ego! On the contrary, I like the elusive, and compact size which does not catch attention at all! David against Goliath. Will the Wattson be a super PQR product that one affords a glimpse of the ultra expensive Swiss laser precision on the cheap, or will it be a bust?
There are two versions, the Analog and Digital: the Analog includes a DAC inside as well as a Streamer; the Digital is claimed to be a better streamer with a more sophisticated design and is for those who own a top-end DAC already. To me, I rather like the one-off solution with the Analog even if I may sacrifice on ultimate SQ, and I'd save major dollars (for a respectable DAC) and, most importantly, space. Mind you, once you purchase either one, you can not revert.
As you know, DJ and some others in this forum are not in favour of the Swiss sound, finding them too sterile and polite, plus lack of drive and energy. I was very curious how this little box would sound ! I also read an interview from Alpha Audio which granted it a lukewarm 3.5 star stating that opined that it sounded no better than a Lumin D2 with an LPS. That said, the unit should drastically improved with an LPS. To me, on other gears so far I have yet to find improvement with some lower priced LPS; thus I remain skeptical yet still curious to see if a properly designed LPS can help the sound or not.
Squarewave in HK has this little Aluminium CNC box (weighing less than a pound) bundled with an iFi PSU to replace the stock PSU in a very reasonable offer. Upon auditioning it with some exotic equipment at the store, I decided to bring it home to try, thinking if the sound is not my cup of tea, I can resell it easily!!
In fact, there's actually very little info on this Wattson Emerson Analog DAC/Streamer on the internet , which is not an issue as I can review it in an unbiased manner. The packing is really compact and the main unit is nicely packed. Since I do not have an iPhone, I downloaded a free MConnect Lite version to control streaming though Tidal. This uPnP is not a very well designed one - I guess they want customer to pay for their regular version. At least for me, anything that is more convenient than playing CDs and LPs is fine, including regularly restarting the apps after playing a few songs etc.
Hooking up is easy as a blowing out a whiff of air. I bought a Viard ethernet cable at half the listed price and was ready to go! I simply connected the ethernet cable to the Analog and then connect it to my icOn4 using my Gotham GAC4 . Function of this streamer is singular and you can play NAS and CAS , and it is Tidal , Quobus as well as ROON ready (don't ask me what the latter is), but I don't think it can decode MQA. It is also able to detect music files on my laptop.
The sound coming fresh out of the box was everything that DJ has described, very analytical, airy treble, a bit nonchalant and uninvolving and we joked around that I should sell the unit first before posting a less favorable review lol. However, to give the Analog the benefit of the doubt , I would do a very detailed assessment with sufficient listening and run-in before I determine to sell it or not.
A good two weeks has passed and the Analog began to slowly evolve. Without listening for a few days, when I started to play songs through Tidal one morning, I sensed the sound has transformed and I thought it was about time to start to listen to it seriously and critically.
How does it actually sound? Does it justify its price tag at all or punch above its price tag? Is it musical , organic and lively enough to be able to stand on its own?
For comparison, I use my Vega Dac connected to my laptop and my Sparkler CDP. It is very obvious that within a very short period of auditioning, I have decided to stick with the Analog and thereafter my Vega DAC has seen much less playtime. Even with my Sparkler CDP, I still see a clear advantage for the Analog, which to me is a big surprise. The Analog has forced me to revisit all the songs that I used to play on Tidal and it's as if I am hearing a new recording every time. Well, the big question is: is it clean, analytical, with needle sharp focus and lacking in grace and naturalness?
Before I reveal the answer, I consider my system (47 Lab Gaincard , icOn4 AVC preamp and Dynaudio Crafft, with 47 Lab OTA and Gotham GAC4 i.c) as extremely natural and musical with no MSG added . Any coloration and unnatural sound can be picked up quite readily. BTW, I'm using duo power Humpties, which I ultimately prefer, as the soundstage and dynamics are more at ease, at the expense of only a tiny loss of vibrancy which is still acceptable.
I had also substituted my stock 47 Lab power cords for Gotham's 52025 and result is eminently worth every penny.
Overall the sound quality has improved leaps and bounds in almost every category without being over analytical and boring! Most importantly , I can still immerse in the music and enjoy much more depth and more minute information that is usually lost in transition. These qualities help shape the whole picture and makes you understand more about the performance. Yet, all this at no loss of musicality despite my thinking that it is on the slightly cooler side (Swiss Phobic attacks start!! LOL). No, I can still enjoy the music, and my urge to listen to more music has drastically increased !
Highs: Airy and full of moisture; you can feel the air surrounding the instruments and its natural decay, hence note to note continuity.
Mid: grainless, flat and free of nasality.
Mid-bass: taut, solid, bouncy, sinewy and precise timing that make you tap your feet so easily and vigorously as the timing is dead on to laser precision accuracy. There is also lower bass as well and is not shy given my setup is definitely nott a bass-happy system!
Imaging: very good indeed without any annoying needling; there are flesh, blood and body without congestion. Very resolving.
Soundstage: width is good, depth is quite good. It seems like my previous setup has a veiled curtain; now it's very transparent indeed.
Timbre: very accurate, portray of performer playing of instrument is amazingly authentic.
The overall sound is natural, musical, involving and with great timing across the spectrum, despite slightly on the cool side. I can communicate with the performance more than before by a big margin .
Cons: 1) lack of verasility as there's only one configuration - Router to Analog. Analog to preamp or active speakers through RCA I.C.; only official Apps through IOS not Android.
How do I rate it? To me, this little gem is a very small revelation and I'm definitely enjoying it tremendously and it has become indispensible to me and it has blended perfectly into my system. It's without a doubt a keeper. Price is not cheap, but it is still within reason and not too expensive by the crazy pricing of today's exotic luxury goods. PQR is extremely high IMHO.
Go audition it to see it for yourself. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how it performs.
Sophie's Rocket Love is sensual
Silje Neagard 's voice on Det Var For Sent is so genuine.
Niia's song Last night in Los Feiliz comes with suspense, precise drums and her myterious voice , easily my favorite!