Wadia boundary-breaking 381i
Just when you thought CD players hadreached the end of their evolution, Wadia unleashes the boundary-breaking 381imodel whose performance left veteran audio-video reviewer Peter Familari wanting more of the same.
On a needs to know basis Wadia’s 381 CD player is the brand’s entry-level model which costs a hefty $10,999, weighs a back-breaking 25 KGs and is built with the precision of an Audio R8 Spyder. Spend an extra $1000,and you get the 381i which adds digital input and output connections to the basic beauty of the 381 and turns it into a digital hub for music servers, PCs and other digital sources. Either way you get a premium grade CD player that doubles as a high-end outboard digital-to-analogue converter, digital preamplifier and the ability to play back just about anything that fits its loading tray including discs encoded with MP3, WMA and FLAC files.
Attention to detail in this deeply, deeply talented master of music comprises Wadia’s SwiftCurrent3 Discreet Technology which beavers away silently removing high frequency garbage from entering the delicate music signal. Wadia employs a second, expensive hi-tech weapon against noise in form of separate power supplies for each of the analogue and digital stages including shielded and isolated steroidal transformers. est sounding and most reliable parts and a close look at the way they come together reminds one of the internal mechanism of a hand-built Pate Philipe Swiss watch.
But that kind of information is for audio greenhorns. Ask veteran audiophiles passionate about the 381 and they’ll tell you any of Wadia’s models are top-of-the tree musical instruments competing against$30-$150,000 heavyweight rivals from Mark Levinson, Krell, Esoteric, Naim and the likes of the awesome DCS machines. And as for the analogy with the svelteGerman-built Audi Spyder they’ll tell you Wadia models’ response to music’s peaks and troughs is just as gazelle-like and just as fast. A nearly convert to the Wadia school of music and a twelve-year ownership of a previous Wadia’s player I wasn’t surprised when Paul Clarke, CEO of Wadia’s Austrailian distributor, Audio Active arrived at my place struggling with an 381i in a back-breaking shipping crate the size of a Wilson Watt/Puppy loudspeaker.
With 30 years of audio writing work well behind me, I’ve learnt to pay attention to the techno-devil in the detail. The care and expense with which a high-end audio component is or isn’t shipped with tells you much of what you want to know about a manufacturer’s ethos.
Wadia packs and ships the 381’s with the care of a life-saving piece of expensive medical equipment: solid outer carton, just-as-solid inner carton, separate container for remote, cable, removable and adjustable spikes feet, suspension trays for the feet and of course another for the beautifully produced owner-manual.
Getting the 381i onto an equipment rack is another story. It takes two pairs of gloves and adults to place it deftly into position so the chassis is perfectly horizontal to the surface supporting it. The gloves which I always have at hand ensure no finger prints remain on the superbly finished chassis, such is the pride of ownership this CD player inspires. Step back to look at its minimalist styling and you’re left in little doubt the Wadia 381i is built to bat at the top of the major league.
While my review sample came out of Audio Active’s busy demonstration room, it had clearly yet to be broken in. And a word here to audio greenhorns and enthusiasts alike: shitty sounding components sound shitty until the day they go to god; the really great-sounding models sing straight out of the box.
The Wadia does loosen up after about 100 hours of music. The gains are worthwhile and audible. But the point made here is the Wadia is a blisteringly awesome sounding machine from the immediate get-go.
Slotted into a respectable but hardly extreme high-end system comprising the Linn LP12/Alphason HR100 turntable, Elektrat Audio, Audio Research Reference 1and 2 preamplifiers, VT100 amplifier, Krell KSA50amplifier, assorted Shunyata cables and Wilson Sophia speakers the Wadia 381i had me reaching for CD after CD without a need to spin vinyl on the Linn.
The level of detail retrieved by the 381i and the size and depth of the imaging presented with a slightly warm but never laid back or lush tonal colour tells you within seconds of priming the power switch and pressing play on the remote, that you won’t be in any hurry to press the power-off switch on this pedigree music maker.
Seasoned audio scribes all report the Wadia elicits sensation of listening in to the music rather than being on the outside. I can tell you that’s a fair summation of how the Wadia performs with any recording or genre of music.
If it’s a poor recording you hear it but here’s the thing: the Wadia allows you to hone in on that huge, wide open music stage and isolate the elements that have been trashed by the recording engineer. That’s a measure of how stable, solid and massively detailed the image the 381i builds in a listening room.
The beauty of the comprehensively equipped Wadia is its adjustable volume and balanced outputs. Both provide worthwhile alternatives to running the 381iusing an RCA cable to a pre-amp.
Some systems will gain an extra level of neutrality and lowered noise floor when the 381i sends its signal straight to a power amplifier/s via a balanced cable. Others will prefer the tonal warmth of a pre-amplifier and RCA cable Point is you can have hours of fun tweaking the Wadia without spending a cent.
And also free are choices of three user-selectable up sampling algorithms including Digi Master v2.5 and each provides a subtly different enjoyment of the Music. Six weeks wasn’t near enough time to explore my CD collection. But I can tell you the hundreds of hours I spent with this dazzling player simply left me lusting for more of the same.