There are other, more subtle sonic differences as well. Where the reference fills empty space with something akin to real air, the Wadia fills it with… nothingness. Also, the Wadia, in keeping with its generally more austere presentation, is slightly less Technicolor in its portrayal of timbres. These factors help explain the reference’s greater vitality, but not why it imparts a more relaxed listening experience. Suffice it to say, though, that both systems are extremely engaging, the Wadia for its purity and intricacy, the reference for its more direct and visceral presentation.
When I deconstructed the Wadia assemblage and listened piece by piece, I was surprised to discover that the transport was a heavy contributor to the system’s reduced energy level. I was able to significantly amp up the vitality quotient by substituting my Goldmund Mimesis 36 reference deck for the 270se. After doing so, for example, “Oh My Soul” from Richard Thompson’s excellent Front Parlour Ballads [Cooking Vinyl] became significantly less restrained, with greater separation of musical lines, more tonal sonority, and, yes, more excitement. Meanwhile, none of the Wadia transport’s virtues were left behind. Now, the Mimesis 36 is one of the best CD transports ever built, and when it was new fifteen years ago, it cost more than the 270se does today. Nonetheless, it is significant that the 36 proved superior in every respect despite having neither ClockLink nor a TosLink to aid it. The 270se’s standing suffered even further when I connected both transports to my reference DAC. Denied ClockLink and fiber, the Wadia transport’s sound just fell apart; images wandered and resolution deteriorated markedly. Through the same DAC, the 36 had none of these problems.
I was curious how much of a difference the fiber was making in all this, so I compared fiber and coax links the only way I could: between the 270se and the 931 Controller. The two proved to be fairly close, but the fiber was clearly better. The coax connection was thinner sounding, and details were slightly etched, although its presentation was also a bit airier and more relaxed. Still, the fiber—at least with the benefit of ClockLink—offered cleaner rhythms, fuller timbres, better imaging, and a more natural rendition of details.
These results confirm the efficacy of both ClockLink and fiber, which enable the 270se to perform far better than it otherwise would. Indeed, the 270se needs these features. But the results also point out that there is no substitute for getting the bits right in the first place. With the Mimesis 36 driving the Series 9, the sound achieves a level of coherence and drive that, when combined with all of the Wadia’s previously noted virtues, is highly compelling while still true to its intended connoisseur character.
So is the 270se/Series 9 worth $40,000? In purely sonic terms, my view is that it is not. This is not because the Wadia doesn’t sound wonderful, for in so many ways it does. But thanks to the pioneering efforts of companies like Wadia itself, there are now several players in the $7000 range—including the T+A 1245R, the Goldmund SR-DVD, and Wadia’s own 581—that offer virtually all of the 270se/ Series 9’s strengths (minus that inimitable “planted” quality), plus some.
Yet in the Wadia’s case there are other factors that may mitigate the extraordinary investment it commands. The first is that, assuming all your sources are digital, the Wadia requires no intervening linestage between it and the power amps. Quite a few CD players on the market with an extra input or two and a volume control make the same claim. In practice, however, most such players actually benefit from linestage intervention, since their internal output stages and volume controls can’t match those of a good linestage. The Series 9, though, is an entirely different story. Its volume control is incredibly sophisticated, and its output stage is pure Class A, has plenty of power, and is quiet as a tomb. Did I mention that it sounds glorious? So this is the rare case where, if all your sources are digital, you can confidently spend more on the front end, knowing you will gain some back by foregoing a separate linestage.
Another mitigating factor is the Wadia’s current and future capabilities. The Series 9 is not presently limited to CD source material; it will accommodate any digital signal up to 96/24. And those signals, no matter how humble (XM radio, anyone?) receive the full Wadia digital treatment. Further, the Series 9 was built with upgradeability in mind, and Wadia promises support for any higherresolution formats that may come along. But I suspect all this value-oriented talk is largely beside the point for those in the market for such a costly component. For them, the Wadia is first and foremost a product of superb craftsmanship, extravagant design, flawless operation, and performance that stands as a benchmark within its chosen philosophy. Just like a Patek Phillipe timepiece.