Wadia 321 Digital Converter

Digital-to-analog converters
Wadia Digital 321
Wadia 321 Digital Converter

Wadia was one of the first companies to make a decent CD player back in the early nineties. It achieved this by identifying that jitter was a major source of problem for digital audio, a fact that was subsequently taken onboard by the rest of the industry and is now a standard consideration when designing DACs. Wadia were prepared to think outside the box back then and has continued to do so with the Intuition power DAC, which is a combined converter and digital power amplifier in a very distinctive clamshell case. Wadia’s first creation was a DAC, the Digimaster 2000 Decoding Computer and the technologies developed in that DAC remain at the core of Wadia’s models to this day.

The Wadia 321 is enormous – it wouldn’t fit on my Townshend Seismic rack because the 20 inch depth meant that the small feet fell off the edge. But it’s a lovely piece of kit with high build quality and very attractive casework, large radius corners on the diecast aluminium surround, and a black glass top surface through which the Wadia logo glows in what is a distinctly Apple style. Inside the box there is a lot of space as you might imagine, but it has the same footprint as Wadia’s m330 Media Server and a315 and a340 digital amplifiers that might be used to partner with it.

There is plenty of space on the back panel for a good array of in and outputs, these include coax and Toslink for S/PDIF connections and USB for computers and the like. Outputs are available in balanced and single ended form and both variations can be connected directly to a power amplifier, another feature that Wadia pioneered back in the day. The actual digital to analogue converter consists of eight DAC channels which combine to produce a genuinely balanced output for minimum noise and maximum dynamic range.

The 321 is a couple of years old now and this shows in the absence of DSD*, the current flavour of the month in converter compatibility. Instead, the 321 is a PCM based unit that’s limited to 24-bit/192kHz, which are pretty standard numbers for any modern DAC. This is not commercially very attractive to a world obsessed by DSD, but it’s important to remember that specs do not indicate sound quality. Editing is ‘difficult’ in DSD, which is part of its appeal to the purist of course, but in practice it means that any commercial release on the format will have been in PCM at an early stage of its creation. Moreover, DSD can have high frequency noise issues, and even if the actual noise is out of the audioband, as high sampling rates have shown us, what goes on up there can be heard by mere mortals who have maximum 20kHz high frequency hearing. The reason it doesn’t offend many is that it is harmonious, and a bit like the harmonic distortion of valves; some feel that it adds to the end result.

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