That was a superb chip with low level linearity a good jump ahead of anything else at the time. The numbers seem rather prosaic these days, which just goes to show there's more to the game than a top score at ASR.
The Sun is out in force today a real 29C here and it's glorious fab day for many things unfortunately I'm stuck in the lab so to make life more bearable I been putting some time on the W15 today, a rather spiffing Nagra CDC has been in for some TLC all in fine fettle.
So I thought hey, lets hook up the W15 to the CDC and see how far off the pace the 26 year 'old timer' is against one of the best one box players.
Big W has now been on for three days solid and is fully up to temperature, CDC absolutely at 100% so for this comparison I have listening to Simple Minds 'Good Times for the next world' circa 1995 reproduction is not to shabby its all Spectrum is Green.
The Nagra CDC. The specs simplified Philips Pro 2 mechanism on a custom Nagra cd draw design. 24 bit A/D converter with internal Burr Brown 8 times o/sampling 352.8Khz delta-sigma dac driven through Nagra own i/v stage powered off board high quality power supply (ACPS-III) via the best Lemo connectors. This unit is the latest vintage. S/N 108dB 'A' weighted/ THD + Noise 0.003% Band width 20Hz-20Khz -1dB. Channel separation 90dB
Big W Gen III, an R2R dac using Burr Brown's ubiquitous PCM 63 all chips are 'k' grade in dual differential configuration. The PCM63 chip could also deliver 8 times oversampling 352.8Khz it had a resolution of 20 bits but by reconfiguring the incoming data stream it could accept 24 bits although it really is only 20 bits. S/N a genuine 116dB ‘A’ weighted, and a THD + Noise of 96dB without any fancy tricks, plus it was also the first truly glitch free dac. Wadia used it's own digital control analogue volume control controlled by FPGA's and with the classic digi-master filter (description at the start of this thread) a linear power supply with three totally isolated rails fully regulated (four stage) and a six (6) layer circuit board unheard of in 1996! Waida used a mix of discrete and high grade operiational amplifiers at the time OPA 627's from memory, all wrapped up in a serious aluminium case. No display as such just LED's that indicate volume level and inputs and sample rates. The 15 Dac in question has been subject to some pretty intensive internal upgrades.
So to the meat and potatoes how do these digital compatriots produce their analogue reconstruction of good old red book 16 bits and 44100 samples a second.
The Nagra beautifully refined and layered, tonally in the ball park of other high quality machines, smooth and respectably articulate not a bum note or any out place quality high end digital reproduction with aplomb very listenable compared to a great many other similar priced devices on the market today.
This machine 'invites you in' to its special place by wrapping its arm around you and letting slip into its fluid presentation and ease of musical expression, nothing phases this Swiss box of indulgent delights. This CDC reminds me of a Robert Boult classic ‘A man for all seasons’ there is genuinely very difficult to really criticize this very fine audio piece at all. If I was being fussy, perhaps a tad more pace and dynamic intent, but as with everything in audio it’s a very personal journey, one man’s meat etc.
Now to the Big W, in standard fair this one of the most desirable digital to analogue convertors in the ‘affordable high end’ again don’t shoot me I feel it was around the £4500 which was equated to a very fine low milage GPZ900R, quality leathers, skid lid, insurance plus a nice 2 weeks away in a foreign climb. I digress, but once heard it just made music so much fun and enjoyable. It always left an impression on anyone that listened to even poor misguides guided chaps from long distant forums.
Now said 15 Dac doesn’t much resemble its ‘factory fresh QA sticker inspection’ (remember those?) For those sticklers for equality I have a calibrated SPL on had to level match the volume as the Wadia is a touch louder by around 1.5dB so playing fair here.
Using the Nagra CDC excellent transport abilities as sighted by Stereophile’s John Atkinson comments in the review:
“The CDP's error correction was the best I have encountered. Monitoring the player's digital output with the RME DigiCheck program running on a PC, there were no audible glitches or flagged errors in the output datastream until track 34 of the Pierre Verany Test CD, which has laser-cut gaps in its bit spiral exactly 2mm in length. Even then, this was only at the start of the track, the rest of which played without errors. It took the 4mm data gaps in track 38 for the Nagra to mute its output, which is extraordinary!”
AES cabling solution was implemented for this exercise (input 4 on the W15) the digi-master was set to max (as was the CDC output) let the combination playing while a trip to supplier was actioned, once back in the lab Simple Minds were cued up form the start and of we trundle into a new musical abyss..
Now not in a month of amir’s ego inflation patterns could you declare that these two digital reproduction giants of their respective space time insertion periods could ever sound similar (even when fed by the same high-quality transport)
The most obvious and immediate contrasts are there from the very first note of the first bar, there is a propulsive drive to music, the bass notes and texture are far more obvious, yet totally intergraded, total ‘physical presence’ is at least an order of magnitude greater. Now you could easily be forgiven for think ‘Arh………………. So it’s turned into one of those big large hairy spherical object players, that throw music at you’
Categorially: NO the sound is very articulate and fluid, and has the correct sense of unforced natural pace with the Nagra’s ability to generate ZERO grain or grit.
Let’s not suggest it’s going to match the CDC’s detail retrieval ability or noise floor, well given that the technology is around 20 years apart, it’s pretty damn close and that’s with using the original jitter heavier clocks & ancient CS 8412-CP digital receiver chip and odd cornerstone PLL frequency. However it’s a lot closer than you would ever feel (something I will be address in the coming weeks, just waiting for some daughter boards I have designed to be delivered). Above all the Wadia bouncy & infinitely enjoyable sound is fully intact. Thee dimensionality is superior as are the dynamics swings , textural rendering is also to close to call. Oddly sound staging has also greater width, a trait that up-sampling produces. The Big W just pulls you into the music with vigour, rather than picking you up by the collar, shaking you hard and throwing you in front of the speakers face down on the floor. (Naim you know who you are!)
So its been a really enjoyable afternoon of music and contrasts both great audio pieces have their perspective abilities which will appeal to various sectors of the listening public. What to take away from this afternoon’s exercise of ear pleasuring (Whoooooo Matron No!), possibly to much emphasis is placed on furthering the digital playback envelope, rather that actually refining the original premise.
The Big W has shown it can more than cut it with the big boys and is still as appealing musically than a great many of the current crop of ultra SINAD (lol) devices, because simply at the end of the day your ears will be the deciding factor as to your desired pathway.
This is not a case of silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but a genuine case of raising the true potential of a very well thought out and designed piece of digital audio engineering.
Enjoyed reading that MisterC, although for a moment I did think I was reading a naughty book - "invites you in' to its special place by wrapping its arm around you and letting slip into its fluid presentation"
Sorry you missed out on the glorious weather I hear you lot have been having, although I think the uk deserves to see a bit of sunshine
Although it has only been a couple of weeks since this thread was last updated, I really felt it needed another 'round' or as Brain Johnson would say 'Back in the ring,........ to take another swing'
So the day after the last update, Big W was removed for the system once one and laid open to the elements totally exposing its inner secrets to the poor unsuspecting world, I was working on a totally different project in parallel to the Wadia 15 a few weeks back and was looking for a particular part which for the life of me had eluded my best efforts to locate the bloody thing. You know when you are so sure that you have part 'A' unequivocally tucked away in that 'special' place but after 2 hours of tearing the place apart you are non the wiser??
The upshot of that was having to look through the digikey site and I inadvertently clicked on a link to a electronics training site, well after another 3 hours disappearing down a programming wormhole and back it gave me a rather spiffing idea.....more on that later.
So, some selective removal and strategic replacements later which led to rather a lot bench testing and audio analysis. The results had given rise to the realisation it was time for grand entrance. The W15 had been deemed worthy and was ready to be introduced into the main system for some critical analysis!
This is no small feat of endevours, very, very few audio boxes have been given the honour of residing on teir three of rack two in the main audio system, this was now taken up by W15, no one (or thing!) had done that before; even far more exalted devices from far off lands had not manage to remove the current incumbent from it's place of residence.
Game on; arhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. but and it is a BUT, Wadia's have this annoying trait, far more so than being Tony Blair or a non vaxer, the bloody warm up time it's like been given the keys to a Ferrari 458, full tank of petrol, the top tyres and an open road, only to be told the rev limiter set to 3000rpm, so close yet so far!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
Well after 1 hour the sound was good but for myself underwhelming (I am a rather picky sod), so with a heavy disappointed heart I left the lsitening room and shuffled off to the lab in disgust wondering if they were any aliens looking down on myself and thinking ' Well we will give this race of backwards carbon-based lifeforms a miss for a few centuries'
The next day was accounted for with a customer visit to Portsmouth and the following day was also taken care of with repairs and upgrades. So it wasn't until the Friday that I had the time and headspace to really perform some critical listening.
So was it worth all the effort and fuss over a 26 year old digital to analogue converter who's specification on paper look like a Fiat Panda taking on a 6000Bhp top fuel dragster in a 1/4 of mile sprint? I mean after all why bother with a large square lump of heavy metal when a much smaller more aesthetically pleasing crafted billet of aluminium would sure make it seem like a late 80's naim system.
To the meat and potatoes then: given that the limitation of the Burr Brown PCM 63 K grade chips are well down 'table' of latest desirable dac chip sets was this ever going to be anything other than a damp squib?
ABSOLUTELY without question this dac rocks and then some, so if I were a betting man of substance there are a lot of the current crop of so-called reference dac's out that cannot hold a candle to this puppy. Now I will clarify this and place it in context.
Big W is not going to generate the ultra open and sweet treble that the very top dac’s can deliver, Soulution/ Mbl/ Prisum/MSB/Esoteric/Tad no quibble, but it's not about that.
However it does possess a zero grain and open articulate treble that is non fatiguing in any way plus it's realistic. Tonally the mid-range is superb it really does convey this area of the frequency spectrum with stunning correctness, then there is the Wadia digital master filter forte’ the bass presentation is just sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo fooking good, bass texture, articulation and decay are absolutely world class, individual bass notes stop and start with the speed and impact of Thor’s hammer, yet never constipated or overblown just stunning realism ridiculously so. The sound also imbibes an infectious rhythmic space to the notes, NEVER forced or exaggerated, it propels the music along with natural unforced pace and you just can’t help tap your feet what ever is happening in the music. Oh it is totally and utterly coherent (pun judiciously intended). This is one fo the VERY pieces of audio equipment that compels you to listen to the music, not forced or skewed in any way but infectious and addictive, in fact you could liken it to an early 90’s rave heads addiction to Coke (a cola) after 12 midnight when the music is pumping!
The Wadia 15 is still residing in the main system as we speak, and o it doesn’t play any files over 48Khz and nor does it dive into the ultra-dark space of say an MSB Select dac, but what is does allow you to is LISTEN to music without feeling the need to ‘I will listen to this because it sounds better’ rather than listening to the music you wish to listen to.
Currently I am listening to Tres Humbre’ as salute to Dusty Hill (RIP) and it sounds bloody glorious and to quote a well known phrase ‘I’m lovin it!’
There is still more time required to for the upgrades to fully settle, however a couple more updates are planned next week so another two weeks then it will be finished for that Big W
I do however have one job left after all of these updated are finished, I am going to further investigate Wadia’s RockLok clocking system at the serial data level, they were the first company in the world to use FPGA arrays to synthesis a digital clock PLL signal. This was the brainstorm I mentioned earlier. More on this in due course.
So far this has been one serious ear opening experience, there is obviously a lot more to digital audio to investigate.
To finish up an image of a new DSC I’m am designing at the moment, the settings are a 1Khz, -90db sine wave digital input signal, going through the DSC and being measured at the analyser end (R&S UPV66 calibrated may 2021) with the seven digits of resolution applied as you can see the signal to noise ratio is way beyond the mud region also note the total lack of any harmonic spurri.
So the big W cuts the mustard in a lot of ways......how very intriguing.
I've been looking at that Chinese DAC you mentioned to me. I suspect some judicious upgrades to that could yoeld equally as Impressive results?
Thank you Oli
I realise that it will not be for everyone, those who are looking for the ultimate in hifi presentation need to look at the current crop of other high end manufacturers, the Wadia purely goes about making real music without any fuss at all.
Fully appreciate other listeners will look for other traits that they feel appeal to them more, that is the nature of audio.
There is a great amount of untapped potential in those boards for sure Oli with a little coaxing a high quality musical dac can be made for sure.
Wonderful write up MisterC, sounds like the sort of thing I'd really enjoy. It looks fantastic on your rack, timeless is probably the word, and I can remember Roy Gregory, when reviewing a Wadia dac saying how wonderful the bass was. Do you leave it switched on all the time, or does it have a standby facility?
Suspect I can hear a few groans across the floor 'Oh boy not another instalment on the W15'
Yesterday apart from some power supply measurements comparisons for a new client, the afternoon was spent in the company of a new customer who popped over for a pre-amplifier comparison with a three box pass labs. Really nice chap from deepest west country, BIG muso and all round thoroughly bloody nice bloke. He brough some music on stick with him as he recently has sold his vinyl front end.
We settled down for a listen and blow me next thing it was 6.30pm, where the time went I really have no idea at all, however we both so engrossed in music we just lost total track of time! Gent went away a very happy man with new pre-amp and myself wondering why the whole system just sounding so bloody musically engaging???
This morning had to pack up a couple of orders, needed to collect something from the demo room and there it was staring me in the face, that 26 year dac was STILL in the system, not the usual pair. My buddy Tim the spearer whore has pooped round on Wednesday evening before going home he was on a work jolly to Slough that must be a contradiction in terms lol (somewhat later than planned!) he dropped by to assess some further ideas I had implanted in the Wadia.
Right now it is producing simply so of the most musical sounds I have ever had the pelasure of listening to at any point my near 55 years on this delightful mudball we call home.
Have come to conclusion that red book has never been fully exploited yet by any manufacturer to its fullest potential imho.
The Wadia has two further progressions to be fitted in the next few days after this its being left alone, it just making such amazing musical sounds right now.
From the finds I have found thus far (most of which are not new I might add), by careful use of components available and using up to date technologies and methodology the older 'dac chip' r2r all in one device are rather special.
Through some judious research I have managed to find enough PCM63 & PCM1702 K2's (yes they really were specs beyond the ‘K’ King grade) rather than a namiee admitting their system sounds like a cat dragging its craws down a black board.
Both sets of dac chips can accept up to eight times red book standard so 352.8Khz is possible using some engineered 11 bit register delay via 5V TTL logic so that the dac chips recieve their data streams at the correct point for reaching the 20 bit MSB point when using an I2s input as opposed to traditional digital/receiver filter array.
However I shall be producing my own 'twist' on this digital input stage, so far my findings have proven 24/176.4Khz with zero issues further investigations are ongoing, however for the time being the big W continues to delight with its full gamut of wonderful presentations. A very interesting year so far and promising far more to come as well!
Specialist audio consultancy with a total emphasis on musical reproduction. Audio & green energy design engineer a real test hound.Bonkers Mad power supply guy.
Pleased the Wadia is sounding so good, but you know what they say MisteC, don't over egg the pudding. Will you want to be giving this machine back? I think you are correct when you say "red book has never been fully exploited", and when you think how digital playback keeps improving month by month, new chips coming out, it is a little surprising the fashion today is to go for older chips
As always a very good point you can go to far, though I have have 'bench bodged mock-up' of the what I am going to perform so I already know the result, but a good point raised.
The next big thing will be what I call a null dac, with a direct digital going straight into the amp, nothing new but I now a few new designs are due shortly and one of them might even been very listenable!
Well after some deep digging and customs issues not withstanding I have finally acquired the very last Wadia I have not owned before rarer than a Jerry's ability not to box swap, or deviant free Tory Government ladies and gentleman I give you a Wadia 15i.
Now undergoing full deep dive into its mystic origins
Specialist audio consultancy with a total emphasis on musical reproduction. Audio & green energy design engineer a real test hound.Bonkers Mad power supply guy.