The Wadia/iPod/DAC combo produced a remarkably smooth, clear, richly detailed sound, with rock-solid stereo imaging. If you use a good DAC, as I did, you’ll be amazed at how much more musical information the Wadia is able to extract from the iPod; instead of sounding like a good, but ultimately limited pocket player, the iPod suddenly becomes a serious—very serious—highend audio component. Wonderful.
On “Joy Chant” from Marilyn Mazur and Jan Garbarek’s Elixir [ECM], for example, the Wadia/iPod combo did a beautiful job with the song’s heady mixture of melodic percussion, played in a syncopated style that sounds like a cross between an Indian raga and gamelan music, accompanied by an exuberant saxophone line. The song is rich in harmonic overtones that resonate within the recording space, and the Wadia/iPod combo captured them all with rare warmth and sparkle, so that the sax, in particular, seemed to float in the air a few feet out from my listening couch.
How did the Wadia/iPod/DAC combo fare in comparison to the CD player/DAC combo? Very well, thank you. While you might think two digital sources playing the same digital material (the Wadia/iPod combo playing ALE and WAV files, and the CD player reading the same CD’s from which those files were ripped) would sound identical, the fact is—as audiophiles have known for years—they don’t. While the two sources were close enough in performance that I had to listen very carefully to pick out differences, the Wadia/iPod/DAC combination sounded a little richer, smoother, and delivered super-stable stereo imaging. By comparison, the CD player/DAC combination sounded a little less rich and smooth, offered perhaps a hair more midrange and treble detail, but produced slightly flatter and less three-dimensional images.
All in all, I’d either call it a draw or a split decision in favor of the Wadia/iPod combo, which is pretty remarkable when you stop to think about it. With the help of the Wadio 170iTransport and a good DAC , the iPod becomes a high-capacity, low-cost, portable “music server” that can hold its own in comparison to comparatively expensive and very well-regarded high end audio components.
This a brilliant product, one that finally lets the iPod be all that it can and should be. It took the imagination and know-how of a firm like Wadia to pull this concept off. The 170iTransport provides pass-through component and S-video signals that help iPods video content look as good as it possibly can— short, that is, of using elaborate image processing components to restore whatever image details the iPod might have left out. But the real genius of the Wadia is that it lets you pull digital audio data straight off the iPod and route them to superior-sounding outboard DACs and audio electronics. Plug your iPod into the 170iTransport, and bolt it up to a good DAC and you’ll have an audio player that not only rivals but in some cases handily outperforms multi-thousand-dollar music servers and CD players.