Review: Wadia 151 DA converter

Category: Digital

Wadia 151 PowerDAC Mini
Having lived with the Wadia 151 PowerDAC Mini going on a year now, I thought I’d share some thoughts and impressions, especially since it looks like there still is a dearth of information out there on this unit.

Room and associated equipment
Although probably better suited to a desktop office system, we wanted to try the 151 in our all day, every day, living area system. We have the typical built in cabinets on either side of a fireplace in our main living area. I got tired of stuffing large components into the cabinets (then dealing with the related ventilation issues). The room is about 20X20 but opens straight into another room about the same size. 10 foot ceilings.

I first hooked the 151 up to Klipsch Cornwalls, but the speaks flunked the WAF miserably for this room (sounded great – see below). I was able to buy some time, however, as she was unable to move the Cornwalls by herself! Ultimately, however, she wore me down. No matter – there were a pair of Dynaco monoblocks in the next room waiting for the Cornwalls. I’ve since tried the 151 strapped to bookshelf B&W’s (301’s) and later, Aperions.

Function and Sound
It is exactly what you would think it would be – cool, compact, and sounds good. Through the Cornwalls, it had surprising slam, detail and weight for such a diminutive unit. I spent many hours cranking it up in this configuration – put a smile on my face every time. Classic 80’s rock/new wave in particular had a punch and immediacy that I really liked. I also liked that you could take it up to full volume without a hint of compression or distortion. Sound pressure levels were more than sufficient for our living area, and in fact got me in trouble several times. Through mid-fi bookshelf speakers, however, it’s pretty unremarkable -- nothing to really complain about in particular, but nothing to write home about either. No surprise here give the limitations of the other speakers I’ve had on hand – just plan on having (or getting) speakers that can benefit from what the 151 has to offer. Personally, I’ll be on the lookout for a pair of Heresys or Spendors for the 151.

The advertised “full function remote,” while cool in that it is aluminum and feels good in your hand, is disappointing. It does not include the most basic of functions, which is a power button – fine if it’s on your desktop (just grab the switch on the back), but inconvenient in the cabinet installation we have. As annoying, the functions on the remote are hard to find – even the volume. Don’t plan on using this in a dimly lit room. Again, this is perhaps a logical consequence of a design intended more for a desk or workstation setting. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to expect that one should be able to find the volume without too much trouble.

One final observation – also in the “it is what it is” category, unambiguously stated in the specs – but, make sure you can live happily with the lack of ANY analog I/O’s (not even a headphone jack). I thought I’d be content with just digital in’s and speaker outs (managed the sub using the speaker outs) and otherwise would not have plunked down a grand+ on the 151. Inevitably, perhaps, I did miss some measure of flexibility. For example, I’ve realized it would have been great to be able to tap a line level out for use in the adjacent screen porch, or for wireless headphones, etc.

No regrets, despite its limitations. In sound quality, convenience and peace of mind, it equals or beats the big Yamaha receiver (RXV2500) I previously had stuffed into the cabinet. Because of its size and sound quality, I’ll probably always have a use for it. Those in the market for comparable gear should, however, also explore other options in this increasingly crowded space of compact integrated dacs/amps.

Associated gear
Klipsch Cornwalls, B&W 301's, Aperion 632's

Similar products
Benchmark DAC1, Various receivers
Thanks for the review--as you said, info. on this unit is lacking and I appreciated your write-up. No surprise that it was "punchy" on super-efficient Klipschs, I wish you would have said a few more words about how it paired with more "typical" speakers but still, overall, great review.
I use it currently with the Master TSM by Merlin, as an alternative to my Audio Consulting; and it is not comparable.
However, it grew on me, by playing for days and days, and the cold colours disappeared, but orchestra seems still a tad congested, piano is surprisingly good, and the usb connection is akiller, fantastic.
So at the end of the day: Highly recommended.
No, I will still go back to the MIPA, this after all, is the equipment of choice.