The Audio Geek!

New Wadia 170iTransport

My Wadia 170iTransport has finally arrived! It is a cute little thing. The product has now been registered, installation is complete (after attaching a bayonet extension to the supplied RCA-ended digital cable to accommodate the connections in my DAC) and sound checks confirm all is working as designed.

For the uninitiated, the 170i is a 'transport' or iPod dock which bypasses the Digital-to-Analog conversion (DAC) and analog output stage of the iPod and offers pure digital audio output from an iPod (or iTouch or Nano). It is designed to feed a bit-perfect audio stream to an external DAC. The performance of the 170iTransport is therefore only limited by the resolution of the content stored on your iPod. First impressions? Having never listened to an iPod without headphones I have no real point of reference for an iPod driving a two channel audio system. But so far, so good and none of the RFI / EMI noise issues from the power supply that have been reported by some users overseas.

Wadia i170 Transport sitting on the Wadia 861 SE - 2008

I will be testing the 170i as an audio source versus the Wadia 861 SE transport, and sharing the 861's DAC. The usability factor of the iTransport is high, delivering convenience (custom playlists etc with playing time only limited by hard disk size) and decent sound quality in the one small package. Video output is also available, but I won't be testing this functionality as its use as a video streaming device is not in my plans.

However my primary use for the iTransport will be as a front-end to my headphone system. So I require another DAC to enable separation of the 170i and Yamamoto HA-02 / Headroom Cosmic amplifiers from the current audio system.

From my readings on the internet, there is a great 'buzz' around this product and a cottage industry has sprung up for board modifications, clock enhancements, integrated DACS, upgraded power supplies, 'off the grid' battery power supplies and probably more that I haven't seen. As a long time Wadia customer and fan, I am pleased to see the brand now more in the mainstream. Also rumour has it that Wadia themselves will be releasing complimentary product(s) at CES in early 2009. Can't say any more .........

I will post a detailed review after the i170 has run-in and I take a bit more time to analyse.

PS - For all you eagle-eyed viewers who spotted the 860 on the front of the Wadia CD Player and all of my references to the 861SE.......... I had the 860 upgraded to full 861SE specification by the local Wadia agent in 2007!

Latest audio happenings

Some recent amplifier problems have kept the lounge room reasonably quiet for a few weeks, but I am pleased to say a pretty simple repair got my system back up & running again. Thanks Earle!

No system changes to report. However, a small directional cable change appears to have a reduced the ground loop hum problem that has bothered me over the last few months and the sound is back to being acceptably good again.

I have added a little new music recently, mainly retro rock stuff. A couple of re-mastered Heart albums and a Mobile Fidelity Steely Dan ‘Aja’ (pretty cool actually on second & subsequent listens) and Dr John ‘The City that care Forgot’ come quickly to mind.

I had the pleasure to visit an audio buddy last weekend who has recently added a new Acoustic Signature ‘Mambo’ turntable to his already impressive system (Moon/Rowland/Dynaudio C4). Wow, what a sound. It was full, coherent, convincing and really, really musical. And free enough of surface noise, & pops & clicks for it not to be a problem or get in the way of the glorious sound. Another guest bought some anniversary Cary CAD 211 AE mono-blocks to try. The group agreed that, on balance, the overall tone of the valves was generally favoured over the greater dynamics of the Rowland solid state.

Thanks for a great night Phil!

It's all about the music, stupid

Well, now the system is finally going well, it is time to just sit there and spin some discs and over the last few days I have done just that. I am trying desperately to avoid the usual audiophile suspects, and play just run-of-the-mill Redbook CDs.

Some surprise with sound quality, some generate great memories and others, well, are just a bit CD-ish. But overall, all discs played at sensible levels sound better than they ever have before in my system, in my room.

What has sounded surprisingly good? Gerry Rafferty 'City to City', Nick Drake 'Bryter Layter' and the Beatles ' Let is Be - Naked' to name just three.

What generated memories? Boz Scaggs 'Silk Degrees'. An absolute classic! Being a fan, I just wish that his early, pre-Silk Degrees 'Philly sound' albums would get re-released on CD.

And I am continuing to work my way through the collection, looking for that next forgotten 'gem'.

Will list 'em when I find 'em. Great days indeed!

Serious progress at last!

I am pleased to say that the Supratek Malbec mono block has returned and is now back in the system and performing just fine. However, for a while I have been unhappy with the soundstage being too far back in the image and the centre being recessed compared with the left / right mix.

So I set about re-measuring the room, placing the listening position and speakers according to the 'Rule of Thirds' within the boundaries of the room then positioned the speaker drivers and listening chair in an equilateral triangle. I am happy to report that the sound has significantly improved. One further change was to toe-in the speakers so they crosses just in front of the listener's head. In such a 'cubed' space it looks a little strange & cluttered but the image is now pretty solid and emanates from a plane just behind the fast-disappearing speakers. All albums played, both good and bad recordings, showed clear improvements. Good progress.

I have also installed a combination of Black Diamond Racing cones under the CD & BDR cones & pucks under pre-amp, and VIBRAPODS cones under the pre-amp power supply. Not sure which made the most difference but the combination improved the speed & crispness of the mids & highs. especially noticeable on the finger snaps on Patricia Barber's 'Ode to Billy Joe' from the Cafe Blue album.

And finally, the biggest change of all, which amounts to no more than 3/4 of an inch! Who says size doesn't matter!

In an attempt to height-align the tweeter to the listener's ear level, I placed a disk under the front spikes of each speaker, hoping to improve something, not sure what! Well, I am a genius! The increased air under the speakers unleashed hitherto never heard bass from the rear firing passive radiators. Nothing I have read in reviews or manuals advised this set-up tweak for the Definitions. The sound now is much more coherent top to bottom, with the added air or bass fill making the mids blossom and taking some of the apparent harshness off the treble. I reported earlier that the previous round of changes made most recordings listenable, well now all discs sound full and revealing enabling the listener to focus on the music and not on the quality or otherwise of the recording or reproduction system.

The transformation has turned the system into something special. IMHO.

Great sound is not too far away........

Well, it has only been four months since the last update. There has been plenty not happening..........

I may not have fessed up in this column that early after the Suprateks arrived, I was doing some re-positioning of the kit and (gulp) managed to drop (!) one of the Malbec mono block power amps. This resulted in an intermittent fault which together with a persistent hum and the occasional power down of my power conditioner, all has not been well in the Humphries audio salon.

Good news is at hand. The Malbec has been repaired and is winging it's way back to Melbourne as we speak.

New music has arrived in the shape of 10 MFSL and DCC discs. Looking forward to some vintage Santana, Little Feat, Natalie Merchant, Allman Brothers and Miles Davis amongst others.

A Wadia iTransport iPod dock is also on order. Should give me joyous, continuous music via my 160GB Gen5 iPod, through the Wadia dock, using digital into the Wadia 861SE DAC, then through the Suprateks etc. Fun times ahead!

Still work to do to sort out the ground-loop hum and control the room resonance issues after the long-awaited installation of the curtains but I am sure great sound is not too far away!