Here's a major discussion on the Wadia 121:
OK - this is a REALLY preliminary offering. The Wadia arrived at my office about 2 hours ago. Took about 2 minutes to unpack it and set it up. I'm listening to it with the following setup:
MacBook (running Audirvana Plus) -> Pangaea pure silver USB cable -> Wadia 121 -> Kimber Hero balanced cables -> Rotel RB-991 power amp -> Hovland NineLines speaker cables -> Meadowlark Kestrel Hot Rods. (I know this system is not in the same league as many of yours, so take this for what it's worth.)
Also listening to it directly through Sennheiser HD-600s
I bought the Wadia to replace the Cambridge DacMagic Plus I bought and returned 2 weeks ago. I'm running the Wadia in preamp mode direct to the power amp. There were some comments in another thread that using a dedicated preamp is preferable because digital volume controls degrade the sound, especially at low volumes. Wadia strongly disagrees with this. From the manual (which comes in pdf form on a flash drive):
"We strongly recommend that you use your Wadia 121Decoding Computer connected directly to your power amplifier. Even if you purchased your Wadia 121Decoding Computer with the intention of connecting it to your preamplifier, we suggest that you try direct connection to your amplifier. Many listeners are surprised by the improvement in performance over even the most expensive preamplifiers."
"Does the Wadia Volume Control compromise resolution?
The Wadia 121Decoding Computer uses the latest generation of Wadias proprietary digital volume control. The volume level can be varied in the digital domain by means of mathematical manipulation of the signal, eliminating the distortion and noise that are inevitable with even the best analog volume controls. While conventional thinking indicates that reducing the volume digitally can sacrifice low level resolution, Wadia has created an innovative solution. Wadias patented digital filtering algorithm produces a 32-bit output. This high-resolution signal is then used in the computations that in turn reduce the volume level. This new signal is fed directly to the DAC chips. Through this innovative method, the Wadia 121Decoding Computer maintains high resolution even at the lowest volume control settings."
"Can I bypass the Wadia Volume Control?
Because the Digital Volume control does not include any analog circuitry, there is none to be bypassed. Even the mathematical program step that performs the Digital Volume Control calculation is an integral part of the Wadia DigiMaster filter algorithm and therefore cannot be bypassed. If you do not need the Wadia Volume Control, set it to its maximum level on the LED display."
My first impression is that, right out of the box, this is a really big step up from the DacMagic Plus. My biggest complaints about the DM were sibilance and a thin low end. Immediately, the Wadia improves in both areas. I cued up Lyle Lovett's track "Since the Last Time" from the ripped in Apple Lossless from the Joshua Judges Ruth CD. This track is a great song, but was really grating on the Cambridge. Every time Lyle said an "S" word, it was like fingernails on a chalk board. Not with the Wadia. The bass sounds much fuller too. Experimented with some more tracks by Glenn Gould, Art Pepper, Bonnie Raitt, Radiohead, Magnetic Fields and some Skatelites and it all sounds good.
Next step - I desperately need a rug in my office!
I just ordered my 121 yesterday so I will report my findings when it arrives and I have had some time with it. Unfortunately I am told it will take almost a month to arrive as it is back ordered. I am buying locally from my dealer, so I am willing to wait, even though I see they seem to be in stock on a certain website I often buy vinyl from.
I am very excited to hear the initial reports on this DAC. One thing I would like to hear more about is the headphone stage. This is one of the reasons that swayed me to buy the 121 over the W4S DAC2 and Metrum Octave.
I had mine for about 2 weeks now and it sounds amazing. Compared it to several other DACs, both somewhat cheaper and in the same range. Although the W4S was also very good, the Wadia has a soundsignature which best matches my taste.
I did, however, have some problems with my unit. One particular problem is that after some changing of the inputs, the soundvolume is fixed, and at a pretty high level at that. Another problem is that after some use, the volume is just 'gone'. The headphone output is _way_ too high. But my dealer came through and is sending me a new one. Apparently Wadia is aware of (some of) these problems and an upgrade is available. It consists of a new firmware, but also some new hardware as I understand it.
> Nothing burns me more than when an unfinished product
> is put out to the public. A new, just released dac
> shouldn't need new firmware or new parts to make it
> work the way it should, Simply no excuse for this.
I'm also soo not happy. Especially since the new unit shows the exact same problems. Now the dutch representative for Wadia claims that the problem lies with my sources.... ????? I connected the same sources to different DACs and no problem. There is a Arcam D33 now on loan, no problem (but too expensive). It not really like the 121 is new... They've been at this thing since 2009.
Date today : September 1 2012. I bought a Wadia 121 and have been running it in for around 2 weeks and it's really starting to open up. It's good. Really really good even for redbook. In fact I think it's good enough to replace my Mark Levinson DAC! Yup, I might just do that...
Problems? Yes, the headphone volume stops working on more than one occasion and outputs max volume and can fry your expensive cans! Also, the balance control does not work until you cycle the power and stops working again shortly after. I agree that this is not a finished product when launched in 2009 and still not finished in September 2012!!!
But the amazing sound quality makes up for it (for me) as it just sounds amazing. If you intend to use it as a headphone amp my advise to you is to be careful!