Great review- I have already hooked up with Steve to upgrade my Esoteric P1 transport when funds become available. Sounds like it will be worth it!
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I would also like to chime in also on behave of Steve Huntley and GNSC.
I own a Wadia 860 and was at a cross roads as far as digital playback was concerned. Did I want to go with SACD, or a player from one of the European companies or get my Wadia upgraded? I talked with Steve at great lengths through phone calls and e-mails. During our many conversations I learned that Steve had upgraded all of the players I was considering other then the AA MKII which had only been out for a very short time. Steve told me his thoughts of the strengths and weaknesses of each player before and after his upgrades. I made the decision to go with the upgrade on the Wadia. I also asked Steve to upgrade my player to an 861. I know for a fact Steve used up a few favors getting the 861 board from Wadia.
I have had the pleasure of listening to all of the other players I had considered buying (stock units not modified by GNSC) The latest EMC1, The AA MKII, Audiomeca Mephisto 2, Accuphase 85 and the Linn CD12. I think my Wadia Statement 861 is more musical then all of the them. It just does everything right.
Here is a letter I sent to Steve after the break in process
To: 'Great Northern Sound Co.'
Sent: October 2002
Subject: Wadia Statement upgrade
I have not had a chance to get back to you since you finished the Statement upgrade on my Wadia 861. Right out of the box I noticed improved dynamics.
After the burn in /break in process these are some of the improvements I noticed with the Statement unit. .The soundstage is huge and deep. The size of the recorded space, regardless of recordings is a snap to gauge, and the placement of the voice’s are rock-solid, with dimensionality that’s the best I’ve heard. The individual instruments and voices are more defined. The low level detail is incredible; I hear things in my CD’s I have not heard before.
The Wadia had a black back ground before, well Steve I had not heard it to this degree.
The vocals are more truthful, they seem to just hang in space, and voices are vivid, layered, coherent and defined, Chesty and full.
The highs are very clear, clean and airy; with the ability to convey the naturalness of the recording with uncanny ease. There is absolutely no edge. The mids have been flushed out more; they are lush, rich and defined. The point of impact of the instruments and then the long decay is just so right. The bass is heartier then before. It is nimble, energetic with fullness, texture, and body.
Before the statement upgrade my system had what I would call a large envelope, now Steve it has a huge envelope and I am in that envelope.
I had long ago regulated some of my CD’s to car only CD’s. After the Statement upgrade I have since pulled some of these out and have been listening to them not only are then now listenable they sound wonderful.
Steve I am not sure if digital can be taken much farther but, if it can you will be the one to do it! And if you do sign me up!
If you ever need a referral to the quality of your work, and your professionalism please have them get in touch with me. I am clearly one satisfied customer and a fan of yours for life!
Steve's magic is not limited to just digital..contact him you and your system will be happy you did.
JSL, your review was fantastic. You definitely have a way with words. I find your experience and opinions of the Statement mod package mirrors mine.
I would like to add that the Wadia 861 is the most dynamic cd player that I have heard. Highs are crystal clear and alive and the lowest base notes can be achieved if your speakers are up to it. The stock design produces a very detailed and holographic presentation. But to my ears plays a little fast or too much on cue on some music.
The following paragraph I wish I had written myself. Many times I have tried to explain this strange, uncanny characteristic of the Wadia 861:
"The upgrade resulted in a redefinition of the soundstage itself, a change in the translation of the recorded acoustic. The upgrade resulted in pristine, palpable, living, breathing musicians on a wide, crystal clear sound stage that falls back as far as the CD says to fall back. Musicians sound “alive” in my listening room. I hear music, not the CD. Today, my system’s sound bears no resemblance whatsoever to the “great” sound it produced a month ago. This isn’t a change. This is a transformation!"
The Wadia , IMO, somehow seems to make a "translation" of how the recorded music "should" sound and then re-creates it
by placing everything in the soundstage in it's proper place. It just seems to properly lay out the soundstage. What I wrote seems silly. But its the only way I can explain it.
I wrote some notes after my mod. Here goes.
I had intended to write a long and lengthy review of my impressions on my GNS modded 861. But, I had been busy with work these last few months.
I had my player modded in November of 2001. I received the player back from the shop around the 1st of December. First off, my goal was to increase the musicality of the player. I wanted a more laid back sound but without losing the power and authority that Wadia is known for. Steve, understood my goals and went to work. I really can't remember the exact mods but they involved bybees and black gates, and the removal of some "non-essential circuitry" as I understand.
The player took about 1500 hours to complete its break in period. You may not believe it...but it's true. The first month of playing was a gut wrenching experience. The following month was better. I'd say that around March 1st, I felt I was hearing 100% of the new player. BTW, I play my system well over 8 hours a day every day.
The overall change in my player I think are not quite night and day but dramatic in my opinion.
The overall sound as I can remember it has changed in the following ways:
-The player does not seem to be in a race. Nor does it feel the need to show how technologically advanced it is. It simply delivers the music at a relaxing yet convincing pace. For me, tempo is extremely important. My jazz, classical, and jazz vocals play at the proper pace and relaxed club style rhythm. I used to feel like the player was just a hair too fast. Sometimes that bothered me. I kept wanting to tell the player to slow down.
-The instruments like brass, violins, guitar, are more lifelike and more fleshy. Classical pieces that feature brass are my favorite because you can really feel the energy the performer is exerting in playing the individual notes. Also, volume changes with within a single trumpet blare, for instance, is more noticeable. This quality, in my opinion helps one to understand and enjoy the music better. Violins and guitars sound more woody and warm while still remaining detailed. I do feel that a small portion of the player’s bass extension has been lost though. But I mean the last bit of base. If you run big full range speakers then you know what I mean.
-The presentation is so so sweet now. I don’t mean syrupy. I just mean that my impression now is that this thing seems to play the music as one coherent performance instead of several events or occurrences without interference from that intangible backgroud noise some refer to as “white-noise”. I used to hear that “white-noise” effect when I would run the stock 861 direct. Now I don’t. I am able to here the words in more of my cd’s. I always had a hard time getting the words to a song. But now, I feel like I am hearing 50% more of the music on some cd’s. I no longer feel that redbook cd’s are always inferior to SACD. Even some of my 80’s rock cd’s (don’t laugh) seem to sound better. I am now starting to see the difference between hearing the music and understanding the message in the music from start to finish.
In other words, I find myself saying, “ Now I get it!” quite often now. Almost every cd is a live performance for me. The realism is incredible.
Just so you know, my system is listed in the Audio Asylum Inmate Systems section under musicluver. I have lived with the Wadia and the vk50se preamp for one year and the rest for two years. My current system is my first true audiophile system and experience. My impressions are based on my one year of ownership of BAT’s vkd5 and the Wadia 861 only. Because I listen so often, I feel I can remember changes in pace and rythym, and changes subtle cues from the old player. I can remember lots of differences.
One last thing, I only did this mod because I believed in what my Wadia was capable of ultimately for my purposes. I like detail, but not etched. The player would sound that way when run direct sometimes. Not anymore. In fact it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes between using the pre and not using it. Personally, in a pinch, and I mean a serious pinch, I could sell the (gulp) 50se if I had to. (tearing now) I feel my player retains all the necessary detail and dynamics, but gains so much more in musical coherence and realism than before.
Oh yeah, Steve did a helluva job!
Let me know if you have any further questions that I can answer for you about the GNS upgrade.