Its price may be mighty, but this nifty combination of CD player, DAC and digital pre-amp is real Rolls Royce
It’s incredible to think of a CD player costing close to 20 grand as an “entry level” machine, but Wadia is the Rolls Royce of the digital audio world, and its acclaimed components have always commanded a premium over the sea of mainstream products.
What struck me immediately when picked up the 381i was the bloody weight of the thing. At 25kg it weighs twice as much as a proper audiophile integrated amplifier, and after unpacking it (carefully) I realised why.
The 381i is stunningly overbuilt, its monolithic form seemingly hewn from a solid block of molten metal and then cast in a workshop populated by artisans. It’s a beautiful player to behold, and even with the talents of my usual rig plus a pal’s Perreaux Radiance 200i and Castle Howard S3 loudspeakers, the 381i looked somewhat out of place among components that individually were worth less than half the price of the Wadia.
I needn’t have worried, as this stunning CD player soon found itself at home in my system, but first I had to have a look around the 381i to see what makes it tick.
For starters it’s not just a CD player, it’s also an outboard D/A converter and digital pre-amplifier with four digital inputs – including USB, making the 381i quite possibly the only disc spinner in the market that can accept a computer as a source. The high-end CD transport will play just about anything placed in its elegant tray, including MP3, WMA and FLAC files, while strict attention has been given to reducing high frequency noise and hash via Wadia’s SwiftCurrent3 Discreet technology. Of course, separate power supplies for both the analogue and digital stages allow further noise rejection, and each stage has its own shielded and isolated toroidal transformers – this also goes some way to explaining the player’s weight.
Listening tests began in earnest after a weeklong burn in period (yes, it does work) and the 381i was used both as a CD player and outboard D/A converter from my Squeezebox Duet.
It’s certainly a superb sounding player and although sublimely detailed, didn’t present the music in an overbearingly analytical manner. Both texture and emotion were laid bare by the 381i, and tracks from Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s excellent 11:11 were reproduced with stunning dynamics and realistic timbre. The soundstage produced by the Wadia was enormous, and any tracks with deep bass sounded nimble and awesomely extended.
And it didn’t seem to favour brand new recordings over old. My seldom played Elton John CD, Madman Across The Water, had a new lease of life, the mighty Wadia capturing the now portly singer just before his prime in excellent fashion.
Was I surprised the 381i sounded so great? To be honest, no, but although expensive the player offers so much more than just its peerless CD playing abilities. It’s a DAC, CD player and digital pre-amp in one and although it’s not exactly cheap, value for money remains high because of its superb multi-tasking abilities. GARY PEARCE