Review: Wadia S7i ( an extreme upgrade ) CD Player

Category: Digital

I have been extremely fortunate in being able to have my Wadia S7i taken most of the way to its outer limits. I know that this upgrade wasn’t the ultimate S7i upgrade possible for those with very deep pockets, but it may well be the first and most significant upgrade performed on any individual’s personal S7i.

Peter Israelson is first and foremost an amplifier and speaker designer. But he also upgrades components, designs and builds cables, and designs acoustical treatments. He's been around the industry a long, long time and John Schaffer knows him pretty well.

Peter is a fanatic and completely over the top when it comes to his designs. He has the ear as well as the knowledge to pull the most natural sound out of any component he upgrades. My system upgrade began three years ago when he first upgraded my speakers. Next, he took the upgrade the rest of the way and designed and built outboard crossovers for them.

When he flew in and brought the crossovers to me, he and Roger Cullen sat down with me and we discussed how to take my system to a point where I could live with it for years to come without feeling the need to upgrade something. They suggested that I start by switching out my Accustic Arts components with a Wadia CD player, which basically paid for itself by eliminating the extra component, digital cable, power cord and rack space.

They also suggested that following the purchase of the Wadia, I would do well to switch out my Karan KA I-180 integrated amp for something with the ability to accept and process the huge amount of data that the Wadia outputs. Peter said that one of the biggest reasons for someone liking or not liking a Wadia component was that their preamp and or power amp was not able to handle and pass along the music it was receiving fast enough.

That sounded illogical to me, but I replaced my Karan with a Burmester 036 amplifier. They heard it and said “nope, that’s not it”, so I purchased a Spectron Musician III Mk. 2. They were surprised when they heard the Spectron, after all, it was a dreaded Class D amplifier. It handled and passed everything perfectly, and was as quiet and as powerful as all get out. But they said that it lacked the bloom of a Class A amplifier, and suggested that I get a Plinius SA or a Pass XA .5. I bought a Pass XA 30.5 and it had the bloom, but wasn’t powerful enough and got bogged down during complex passages. It also ran hot as any Class A amp does, and it my 10’ x 12.5’ room I was sweating. I knew that if I got anything with more powerful, it was only going to get hotter and more uncomfortable.

I went back to the Spectron Musician III Mk2 and sent it to Peter. After a couple months he sent it back and told me that I was ready to hear what the Wadia could do. The Spectron upgrade was amazing. I could forcebly stop my foot from tapping with the music, but I just couldn’t get my head to stop bobbing. After two months of really enjoying everything, he said that I was ready for the main attraction, send him the S7i. I waited for two months while he designed and built the external power supply, and then sent him the S7i. Peter had it for three months because this was the first upgrade of this magnitude and he took the time to try component after component until he had it where he was satisfied. Peter called me, and Peter is a quiet, assuming soul, but this time he couldn’t contain himself. He told me that this S7i was the best digital component he’d ever heard. As I said earlier, Peter’s been around a long time and has heard most of the digital components out there, so that statement was profound. I won’t elaborate, but here’s what he did:

Step 1: Separate the power supply from the S7i. This was done to for two reasons. The first was to eliminate any magnetic interference problems that the transformers impose on the sensitive digital circuits. The second was to allow room for a much better power supply to be designed and built. The new power supply and chassis weighs 40 pounds.

Step 2: Upgrade the rest of the S7i with the best components available to achieve a natural sound. The most natural sounding components, which also carried the highest costs, where Duelund Cast. If you haven’t heard anything about Duelund, here is a link to some information about them:

I received it Friday, Dec. 2 at lunch, and Peter flew in that evening, while Roger (Irish65) and Tony (BLCube) drove in from North Carolina and Virginia. Craig (CHAcoustic) drove in from Illinois Saturday. I spent most of the weekend sitting in the living room so that the rest could take turns sitting down and listening to it. It sounded better now in the living room with the stereo room door shut than it did sitting in the stereo room before I sent it to Peter. Being seated in the stereo room was a complete transformation. Craig said it best when he said that my system had gone from neutral to natural.

A month later, now that it’s fully burned in, I sit in complete amazement. My system doesn’t exist any longer, I’m sitting here looking at the performers onstage. There are no restraints, nothing being held back, nothing except the music flowing. I’m in the church with The Cowboy Junkies, I’m in the audience listening to Nils Lofgren’s acoustic set, I’m wherever the CD was recorded, just listening to the performance like it’s being performed right in front of me. The dynamics are real, and no matter how complex the music is, a bell chimes and decays as it does naturally in the mist of it all. I don’t know what else to say but “Peter, thank you so much!”.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

I have never been able to do a direct comparision between the S7i and the 9 series.

At the time that I visited Rob (Rtn1), the left balanced channel was acting up so I was running unbalanced. Rob's setup uses the fully balanced BAT Rex preamp, so that was out. Trying to place the S7i in his system using any other configuration would negate any honest one-to-one comparisions.

My only opinion of the S7i to 9 series is this, and this is only my opinion. It comes down to what you can afford to pay and what you are willing to pay. I believe that the S7i is one of the best CD players currently on the market and I have one. The 9 series requires three more rack spaces, three more power cords and however many digital cables. If you can afford all of this, I would definitely make the effort to listen to both for yourself and choose the one that you feel is the best for your situation.

I'm sorry that I couldn't be of any more help than that.

lovely review of S7i.
why did you not try the Pass Labs XA 100.5 if you needed more power?


I think that the XA 100.5 would have been the correct choice, but my room is only 10' x 12' 6". Since the XA 30.5's heat made me really uncomfortable, I couldn't imagine how much I'd be sweating and irritated with a pair of XA 100.5 amps.

Believe it or not, and I know that a lot of people don't like the Class D amps, my Spectron (even before the mods) satisfied all of my needs except for the bloom. It is one really, really good amplifier. The fact that it runs cool is an added bonus.


If you are still active here (it sounds like you've found audio bliss, so I understand if you are not), can you tell me if this player listed last August (2016) for $13,500 was originally yours?

Or if this similar Wadia S7i Extreme Mod offered by High Performance Stereo in Florida was yours? (It also just went up on eBay for $12K.)

I am as surprised as I am happy that you found the music you sought with a modified, cool-running Class D amplifier. It sounds like Peter Israelson is the "real deal." 

Thank you so much for this outstanding review!


Mark Hubbard