Waversa EXT Reference and Streamer - My thoughts
Waversa EXT-LAN Reference and Streamer
I’ve been playing around with the Waversa gear for months now having been generously loaned to me by John Ketcham of Kevalin Audio. I wrote a review of the Waversa USB Reference, and now I’ve spent some time with the Waversa LAN - EXT Reference. It has taken time for this device to settle in; I was warned of the fact by both John and forum users of this device, so I left it alone in play (not continuously) as a default source in my music room.
I have 2 two-channel audio systems in my home, upstairs in a fairly large room composed of a living room/kitchen/dining and downstairs in a dedicated listening room 15’ X 19’. During this review, I swapped speakers. I decided to see how the Buchardt S400 MK II’s would sound in our dedicated room, so they were put in front of the Spatial X3’s for a drive. This move allowed me to gain greater insight into this remarkable product.
Before the speaker swap, I had time to listen using the Spatials with the Waversa/Allnic gear in place. I was not unhappy with what I was hearing having the Allnic DAC in place. The EtherREGEN/ ultraRendu combo removed much of the digital noise coming from the server but the DAC was what made the system sing. Early in this review, I didn’t get a sense that the Waversa LAN/streamer was bettering the EtherREGEN/ultraRendu combo. Furthermore, I was disturbed a bit that the Waversa USB cable that accompanied the LAN/Streamer seemed a touch more open than my Network Acoustics Muon USB. I’m splitting hairs on this but it was slightly noticeable.
The Buchardt’s benefitted being relocated in a much smaller room. More than that, the Buchardt grew bass in this room where in the upstairs system they desperately needed the Adam SW260 subs. When driven by the Allnic gear paired with the Waversa EXT-LAN Reference, I had to recalibrate my senses. There was an immediate smoothness, a calmer presentation having the Waversa in play. This lack of ‘noise’ also allowed instruments and vocals more of their own space. During this time my wife showed up to listen. First off, She was very enthusiastic with the Buchardt’s in play. The Spatials needed more room, the Buchardt’s less. I swapped back the EtherREGEN/Rendu combo to have her take on what may be differences in sound. I did not tell her what was in play. She loved the Ether/Rendu combo but when swapped with the Waversa she was surprised at what changes happened to the music. It was simply easier to listen too due to how smooth and clear the music had become. It wasn’t game changing but there was undeniably a change for the better.
Weeks had gone by and it was time to assess what the Waversa brought to the table after some additional settling in time.
I will provide 3 scenarios to this review but first a general idea of what’s in play.
The long-haul LAN cable comes from an Archer AX11000 router. A CAT8 cable connects to an old D-Link network switch which feeds the devices using Supra Cat 6 cables. Server power is provided from an Atlas Sagio 10/9000 fanless unit and USB is straight from the motherboard. (I tried the HDPlex power supplies but the first one broke in a matter of days and the second one burned). Storage is from a Synology DS216j, power is supplied from dedicated circuits through a Puritan 156 power conditioner and power cables are an assortment of your typical high end boutique fair. The T-2000 uses a Lessloss C-marc entropic plugged straight into a Furutech wall outlet while the DAC uses a Furutech DPS 4.1 coupled to the top-of-the-line FI-50 Furutech plugs. Enough.
This is the simplest method simply using the NA muon USB from the computer motherboard to the Allnic DAC.
We sat down with our customary glass of wine and listened.
Very nice and why do we need anything else? Lana Del Ray’s “White Dress” voice is portrayed with the same ethereal wispy vocal that I heard through the former Holo May KTE DAC only through the Allnic she grew more of a body. Norah Jones too sounded spacious and had a very clear, open sound with perhaps a bit of grain, but very dynamic. With this combo, I felt I could listen to whatever genre I wanted to and be very pleased.
This adds the EtherREGEN and the ultraRendu powered by an Uptone power supply and uses the Muon USB from the DAC to the ultraRendu. HQPlayer comes into play here with a favorite set of filters employed.
This changed the sound considerably. Now we have a much smoother and less analytical sound. Dynamics I would say were similar but the contrast was different. That is, it felt like the former presented dynamics due to the heightened transients or perhaps, a more abrupt way of presenting the flow. It was clear that with just the computer to DAC scenario there was more digital presence and sounded noisier. Female vocals were now more real sounding, more flesh and blood, and space was generous from beyond the confines of the speakers. Localization was spot on with clear images that were not as etched as in Scenario 1. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if Scenario 1 sounded ‘digital’; it only became apparent when compared with Scenario 2.
Using the Waversa EXT-LAN and streamer as well as the Waversa USB and LAN cable.
The sound had changed again in a not-so-subtle way. It was smoother with greater clarity. The vocals especially felt vinyl smooth. Every aspect of the presentation of sound was calmer. And yet, the openness remained, the details were there, the dynamics too, but the digital signature was greatly diminished, so much so that at first I was concerned that something was amiss. Our senses in this Scenario 3 had to be recalibrated again. This was the scenario I’d been enjoying for the last 3 to 4 weeks, through both the Spatial and now the Buchardt’s.
One track we played, a very familiar artist that we’ve listened to countless times on perhaps dozens of systems, was Chris Rea’s “Auberge”. Both “Gone Fishing” and “And You My Love” were presented differently. Chris Rea’s voice had changed. He has this amazingly low baritone, somewhat gravely perhaps, throaty definitely, and always felt raw through all of the previous digital systems I’ve owned. But now it was smoother, more present. My first thought was ‘is this the way it’s supposed to sound’? Or is it? I jumped in my car and drove to the local record store to purchase this album and, of course, not only did they not have it, I was told it was never released in the US.
So once again I had to know (like I’m really going to know this time), how much of the digital artifact I’ve been listening to, grown accustomed to, and enjoyed all these years?
I somewhat randomly grabbed an album - “Raising Sand”, the Robert Plant, Alison Krauss collaboration, and cued it up on my Rega P10/Alpheta 3 cartridge using the Allnic H-5500 phono stage. I sat down to compare the vinyl version against the Waversa LAN/streamer version against the ultraRendu/EtherREGEN/HQPlayer version.
It was somewhat fascinating. I could more or less A-B between the Rega and the digital source by selecting the source on the T-2000. When AB-ing the digitaI scenarios, I had to switch USB cables going from the ultraRendu and the Waversa devices.
I’ve already written about the differences between the 2 digital scenarios. Adding vinyl to this exercise was revealing. The DAC/Waversa digital produced less noise as expected, although in that realm, noise from my vinyl system was not bothersome at all as it was barely present. The ‘noise’ was only in relation to the tidy sound of the Waversa digital. Both were spacious, perhaps the Rega more so, but I felt that perhaps only in depth. I had to go back and forth many times to try to paint a picture in my mind of what each format presented. The Waversa was simply cleaner and a bit more extended through the mid-treble region whereas the Rega presented a bit more generous bass and surprisingly, I felt it presented mid-bass a bit more delineated. But that could be track-specific. It was strange though as I carefully paid close attention to the way a drum was hit and then I noted that reverb was added, and it was in the added reverb that I noted slight differences in texture.
OK, so what did I prefer? On 2 different albums, I slightly preferred the Waversa version. I thought it was simply livelier sounding, a bit cleaner, but barely. I’m sure different albums and different cartridges might change that direction. But wait, I’ve got a Dynavector XXV MKII plugged into my Technics SL1800 (which I purchased in 1979). I’ll steal that and see what changes.
It changed alright. The Dynavector presented an even more open presentation, livelier for sure but at the expense of going perhaps too far in the treble range as vocals became a bit more shouty than what was presented with the Alpheta 3 cart. Again, this is presented only with one album. Both cartridges played it differently, so when I went back to compare vinyl to Waversa (using the Dynavector) the differences changed my perception of what I preferred. I still preferred the Waversa but again, only slightly so.
One more test - the USB cable.
I decided to swap out the Waversa USB cable with the Network Acoustics Muon. The differences were rather subtle, and in the end, I’m not sure which I preferred. An earlier test between these 2 cables was that I preferred the Waversa ever so slightly to the Muon as it seemed a bit more extended, but I wouldn’t be able to choose a winner in an AB test.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve gotten to this point in the review (not published yet), and I’ve continued to play the Waversa Lan/streamer as a primary source with sprinklings of vinyl. So one last time let me compare the Waversa LAN/streamer vs the EtherREGEN/ultraRendu setup. Playing Michael Kiwanika’s “Cold Little Heart” album, I was enjoying the song ”Fallen”. Halfway through I swapped Waversa LAN/streamer with the EtherREGEN/ultraRendu. I got ten notes through this song and was dismayed at what I heard. Did my brain become accustomed to the Waversa ‘sound’? Without the Waversa, music sounded noisier in the form of harshness that I hadn’t noticed other than running USB straight from the server’s motherboard. It seemed that the Waversa had achieved an even greater disparity between my EtherREGEN/Rendu combo.
I decided to borrow my wife again to determine the differences I’m noting through this A-B process. I cued up Alison Krauss/Robert Plant’s “Raising the Roof” and set it on the ultraRendu/EtherREGEN digital stream. We went back and forth again between Rega P10 and the ultraRendu. The Rega was smoother and a bit more dimensional, especially in depth. The ultraRendu digital stream was not far off. My wife enjoyed the warmth on the analog side rather than the slight harshness/noise from the digital side.
Moving to the Waversa was a surprise to her. It was smoother and even more dynamic. In fact, it was so dynamic, she thought she may have preferred the analog sound. However, that turned out to be track specific. Also, note that we play loud and my wife especially likes music played at the extreme level of the system. That forced the small Buchardt’s to play just outside their comfort range which may explain the aforementioned dynamics being a little on edge. Now this is my wife’s perception. I think the absence of noise can make it feel more dynamic. I don’t see how in reality, the dynamics can improve through the addition of a digital filter inside the USB signal transport. But I’m just a student here.
The takeaway here was that the Waversa LAN EXT Reference and its related streamer brought us closer to the beauty presented with the Allnic T-2000 30th integrated and the Allnic D-10000 DAC. The Waversa adds to the magic of these very fine components.
Removal of the digital artifact (is there any more to be removed?)
Serious upgrade for any digital component that uses a USB interface.
LAN EXT = no expensive power cord to be bought but then there’s that USB cable.
Waversa streamer, easy to set up and Roon friendly.
May be expensive if considering going to their top tier level LAN component.
Concerning the LAN streamer, one may want to add additional Waversa components for operation outside of Roon.