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Wadia 151PowerDAC Mini amplifier review

  • Wadia’s 151PowerDAC Mini is a sealed compound: DAC, pre-amp and power-amp rolled into one box, all fused together in one clever digital circuit. There are four ways in (ALL digital: USB, optical and two coaxial) and one way out (loudspeakers). There’s no line- or pre-out. That’d cannibalise the market for Wadia’s 121 digital-pre. Amplification is all digital but this ain’t no standard Class D-esque implementation. This ain’t no B&O ICEowered device. All incoming data is up-sampled (here to 24/384) using Wadia’s home-cooked DigiMaster recipe.  The PCM stream is converted to PWM which in turn is digitally amplified to drive the loudspeaker output stage.

    “The only analog signal path in the digital amplifier is the output reconstruction filter. The main purpose of the output filter is to attenuate the high-frequency switching component of the power stage while preserving the integrity of all signals in the audio band.”, says Wadia’s John Schaffer.


    Introduced in 2010 – an aeon in current digital audio terms – I see the 151PowerDAC Mini as the smaller, cheaper, feistier forerunner of NAD’s Direct Digital C390DD.

    The Wadia iTransport-friendly remote control is reassuringly heavy and reflects the built all-round quality deployed on the this unit’s realisation. The pointed, rubber-compound feet ensure that the aluminium chassis (20cm x 20cm x 6cm, 2.72 kg) appears to float on the shelf.

    Setup is absurdly simple: plug into mains, plug in a digital source (I started with USB), flip the rear power switch and let the music rip. It’s so easy even my Grandma could do it. This DAC-amplifier requires a significant run-in period. Don’t draw conclusions too early — things become smoother and more dynamic after eight or so weeks of regular use.

    Let’s get a minor niggle out of the way early on so we can concentrate on the good stuff. USB only does 44, 48 and 96. No 88.2 says Audirvana+. Enter the Wyred4Sound uLINK which can pipe any sample rate up to 192 over S/PDIF. This USB convertor diversion bests the Wadia’s stock USB sound for liquidity and tonal richness by a small margin. Up-sampling to 176.4 via Audirvana+ is this reviewer’s current playback preference.


    Listening sessions kicked off with 47Labs Lens loudspeakers. Single-driver are normally the preserve of SET fanciers. The 47Labs are deceptively demanding little buggers: 85db efficiency keeps sub-10 wpc amplifiers at arms length. They like a bit of grunt. With the Wadia151 they get exactly that. John Tejada’s Fabric mix is present as fast and punchy with an abundance of snappy dynamics. Transparency – seeing INTO the music – is readily apparent from the get go. Anyone who enjoys deep detail extraction will find much to like here.

    The subtleties of Nick Cave and Mick Harvey’s songwriting skills are presented with flair and dexterity. This 24-bit version of the 2012 remaster of No More Shall We Part sounds exquisite. Warren Ellis’ heavily mournful violin turns are a standout – the textural reveal of the Wadia doesn’t overly romance the performance but (again) the immersive Wadia brings home emotional gravitas by underscoring the delicacy of Cave’s piano caress and cleaving space around his voice.

    So far so illuminated, airy, punchy. Those three words nail the essence of this PowerDAC; but the Japanese mini-monitors can only give so much in return. The 151’s super-tight grip on bass means a presentation that’s sometimes short on heft but always long on finesse; this Wadia/47Labs pairing is a treat for the tenderness of “Love Letter” but insufficiently drama deal when the over-zealous preacher man of “Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow” comes a-riding. With vocal, piano, guitar and strings, this amp-speaker duo is superb, best suited to close quarters listening in small rooms and on desktops. That midrange is all Cave and Ellis. The latter’s heavy violin work dominates proceedings. That’s not to say the rhythm section doesn’t get a look in, just that its presence is dialled back in favour of textural and timbral information.


    “The world is turning, I hope it don’t turn away”. The title track from Neil Young’s On The Beach kills with a thousand cuts. The spark that ignites Young’s guitar illuminates the song from from the inside out. This isn’t atypical of an amplifier that starts from the blackest of backgrounds. The Wadia is deep-space silent. A tambourine rattle buried deep in the left channel of “Ambulance Blues” appears mid way through On The Beach’s closer. Wadia strike frequently with those never-noticed-that-before neurons. Who doesn’t love that? Reminiscent of the Metrum Octave DAC, the effervescence of sparkling mineral water tantalises without ever feeling artificial. Detail that’s far from MSG enhanced — pure Perrier!

    Moving toward more price-appropriate loudspeaker partners, the Usher S-520’s fickle load overstretched the little Wadia with some material. These are speakers that require grunt before refinement. This Power DAC works with those priorities inverted. An easier load was required. PSB Alpha’s B1 were just a jump to the left. 91db ensured a far more agreeable partnership.  Again my listening notes read of cleanliness and transparency, particularly form the waist up.


    The Wadia151PowerDAC was then compared to the latest iteration in the Nova series from Peachtree Audio. Having made the shift from Class A/B to Class D, the Nova125 offers a mightily respectable 220 wpc into 4 ohms as well as built-in DAC (an ESS Sabre 9023 implementation), switchable tube buffer and an excellent headphone output. When Peachtree-paired the mini-Maggies displayed greater tonal mass – in line with my experiences of bringing more watts to the Magnepan table – but the presentation was more recessed and polite than the Wadia. I’ve been informed that the MMG are perhaps the most laid back of all models in the Magnepan range. Hence, the dynamic sparkle of the 151 is a better match. Both amplifiers show a firm hand with low frequencies but the little fella served greater illumination, more spatial information and a soundstage depth that starts closer to the listening position. The Wadia brings the music to you. With the Nova125, you go to it. I’d wager the latter would be a superior choice with brighter loudspeakers that need bringing into line with more go-juice. A brief run with Usher’s super-budget champs – the S-520 – confirmed this. This is loudspeaker territory into which the Wadia doesn’t work as effectively as the more powerful rival. You win some, you lose some.


    Currently midway through a three-way amplifier review for Magnepan’s MMG, a slew of reader emails ensued. Some readers have asked about Class D offerings, one or two about direct digital “PowerDACs” [like this very Wadia]. I hadn’t even considered it an option. I’d fallen hook, line and sinker for the desktop audio connotations of the 151’s form factor. Surely, this was amplifier for tighter corners and standmounts. The specifications sheet didn’t allude to MMG romance…

    ….but hallelujah, what a result! All of the 151-er’s aforementioned sonic traits mainline effortlessly into six hundred dollar panels.  Here’s how the pen went down on an afternoon’s listening session:

    Lambchop – Is A Woman. Purity and image specificity rain down. Guitar texture that sparkles without hardness. Subtlety and nuance make for a greater emotional connection.  Voices From The Lake – Voices From The Lake.  Air!  Clicks and hisses more room to breathe and dart.  Kings Of Convenience – Riot On An Empty Street. Veil-lifting on guitar strum and fretwork. Spatial information. Illusion or not: soundstage depth.  “Brando Mumble, Mingus Eyes”. Richard Thompson’s Mirror Blue. Connotes the essence of NAD’s bigger, badder C390 DD. Clean, smooth and bags of depth. Here was a separation stunner that’s not quite as tonally dense as the beefed up Peachtree.  However, there was emphatically more sparkle than the Nova125.  No mess, no fuss.


    Price informs the majority of critical context. My listening experiences with the Wadia 151PowerDAC all roll up into one tidy phrase: truly exceptional value for money. And that’s at the RRP of US$1299. Some online stores have been seen discounting it to $799 – here we move toward a definitive slice of must have hifi.  It’s almost everything that great budget hecklers holler for: simple setup, unobtrusive form-factor – making it easy to sneak into the house – and utterly transparent and engaging in its reproduction of music. That it bucks no-go expectations with tougher loads like Magnepan’s MMG means we have a DAR-KO award winner on our hands.


    Associated Equipment:

    • iFi iUSBPower
    • WiredWorld Starlight USB cable
    • Resonessence Concero
    • Wyred4Sound uLINK
    • Zu Audio digital interconnect
    • Peachtree Nova125
    • Magnepan MMG
    • Usher S-520
    • PSB Alpha B1
    • 47Labs loudspeaker cable
    • Zu Audio Event loudspeaker cable


    Audition Music:

    • Lambchop – Is A Woman (2002)
    • Voices From The Lake – Voices From The Lake (2012)
    • Kings Of Convenience – Riot On An Empty Street (2004)
    • Neil Young – On The Beach (1974)
    • Richard Thompson – Mirror Blue (1994)


    Further Information:

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. I have to agree, that little Wadia is a great piece of gear. It’s a bit of a pity that something this good will mostly be used with ipod related equipment when it is capable of so much more.

      • Indeed Cafad. This is one juicy little fruit capable of satisfying bigger appetites.

        • Another fine job Mr. Darko!!
          I LOVE my 151PowerDACMini! It’s a killer desktop piece, and the dual COAX inputs really come in handy. I actually love driving the CEntrance 2504 coaxial desktop speakers with that bad-boy. A KILLER match.

          Oh, and the price was actually dropped to 800 bucks. They did this when the CEntrance Audiophile Desktop came out! The DACmini PX was at the 151’s original price (1500) and Wadia dropped it to nearly half! Smart move on their part.

    2. With power DAC’s you’ve seen the future. A better implementation of digital technology than ICE with fancy power supplies…the power DAC is cheaper to boot.

      In more than a few cases you will see these outperform ICE-based digital amplifiers at a fraction of the cost.

      Take NuForce’s DDA-100 as an even better example (albeit with only an optical input).

      Must be Occam Razor’s at work here. Or it’s mathematical counterpart, Solomonoff’s inductive reference.

      For those of you who are not familiar with Occam, Google it.

      The margins will be higher with conventional plus DAC and ICE-based amps + DAC.


      Why not use seven knives to cut one piece of beef when one will do the job as well and then charge for the rental of the seven knives?

      • You could well be right here Andrew. Keeping it simple is rarely out of step with success.

        • John, I’ll look into getting you a sample. No guarantees.

          But do remember it only has a USB and optical input (I happen to like the optical) and I believe a higher sampling limit of 96K (Im not sure, can’t remember if it may go higher.)

          I’ll get back to you on it.

          You are where exactly?

          Please use my personal email to respond.



          • Andrew – very kind of you but I usually deal direct with John Schaffer at Wadia HQ.

            • I just saw your reply John. I meant a NuForce DDA-100, not the Wadia. You need the first to make any comparisons. They said they will contact you. I have no idea if they have.

            • Correct, I think it is very smart of them in recommending it as a desktop amp, as you know the amp issue can be very tricky with the Maggies. But it looks like in a desktop set up it works really good. A good deal if you need your desk for other things besides music such as work. lol

            • It sounds glorious with the MMG too. Not so sure it’d be a good match for the bigger models though…

    3. Would be very interesting to read how the Nuforce DDA-100 sizes up to this Wadia.

      • Yeah – I’d like to know about that but – as always – it comes down to the manufacturer willingness to send me their product and my time availability!

    4. Thanks John,

      I love reading about inexpensive alternatives that still have reference genes. I always thought the 151 fit that bill.


      (full disclosure-I sell them, but felt that way before I started this little biz, and I like them with many speakers I don’t sell.)

    5. Spot on review. I’ve had my 151 for about a year now which I picked up second-hand for less than $600. Was totally disappointed with it to start with, even after some serious burn in, until I realised it was highlighting the (previously masked) inadequacies of my B&W standmounts. I’ve since paired it with some ancient QLN1’s which take a bit of driving given their 85dB sensitivity but my word, how the 151 shines now. It’s revealing, images beautifully, and is just generally ‘musical’.

      Your review doesn’t mention how horrendous the Wadia’s remote is to use though – it’s a beautifully constructed item but near impossible to use without looking at which button you’re pressing each time. Lost count of the times I’ve inverted the phase instead of altering the volume…

    6. I can’t seem to find it discounted bellow $1200 anywhere, even the link posted shows there prices. Any idea anyone? cheers

    7. I’m contemplating of ordering this Wadia since I already own the NAD C390DD and Nuforce DDA-100. Was going to do an all out comparison but probably I should wait until more of these PowerDACs with USB input and remote come out later this year. The true digital amp age is finally here to stay after a decade of frozen development blamed on ICE…

    8. Interesting article. Keep it up. I find these so interesting.

      As for this, one has to wonder whadia want?


    9. Hey John,

      I know Zu is all about tube amps for their shit. I have owned a pair of Tone’s, custom made sub and Druid MK4’s run with a Peter Daniel “gainclone” amp and loved it. Zu seems to not be to class D amp happy, but was/is more Digital class friendly. What do you think about the Wadia 151 w/Zu speakers? I think you only know the Omen, right? Any comments?

      Palm Springs, CA,

        • Thanks John,

          The reason I am asking is because I am considering the new SOUL’S myself. They seem to be to good to pass up!!!!

          BTW, you hear anything from Portal Audio?

          Hey Bro, I tried my best to hook you up with them.


    10. Great review, and good comments too!

      In terms of textual richness I was wondering if the 151 is comparable to entry level tube amps, and also how resolved and airy the top actually is, or does it have a signature of class D compressed heights?


      • I think this is a much better unit than entry level tube amps (with a couple of exceptions); but it’s a tough direct comparison to make in itself because the Wadia is an all-in-one-r. 🙂

        • Thanks, John.

          I actually just purchased one to replace an older Dac and a tube amp. I like the sound of tubes, but got tired of looking for and paying serious money for NIB NOS stuff.

          I think this little box might do the trick in terms of musicality, which was also the reason I asked about the textuality. Tubes does have a certain tactility and presence to the sound, which I actually also found on a minor level in the little Trends 10.2 – also the reason that I started to consider this type of amp, as a friend of mine insisted that I tried one.

          What the Wadia does lack due to its design is the fetisch of having a several boxes to produce music, but I hope the sound will make up for that.

          These units are quite expensive in Europe – normal retail in Scandinavia around 1700 USD, but can be found cheaper though ( I did). Anyway, great review and thanks again, and I look forward to listen to mine after some serious burn in time.


      • I think it is a mistake to make the comp to other kind of technology, tube or ss. The only valid comp is likely another implementation of digital. John is correct, the Wadia is a two component in-one affair, a DAC and amplifier; and I’m not sure they can be used separately. NuForce’s take on the power dac cannot be used otherwise – it operates entirely in the digital domain to its output and its input is digital.

        Why are comps to other technologies a waste of time? Because you don’t compare a measuring instrument to another measuring instrument, except for their ability to do the job they are designed for. An amplifier can be thought of as a measuring instrument to “measure” the music…to not alter its input other than amplify it; it’s measured output is the result of its capabilities and the rest is opinion.

        The technology applied in its design is beyond the point. What you are speaking about if you can hear it at all is a coloration – a distortion if it is a characteristic of a particular kind of technology that can be repeatedly recognized and categorized.

        Tube sound can be characterized as a coloration that is not necessarily desirable, but in some cases the sound may be more listenable than an alternative. In other cases it is not. There is no question in my mind that digital tech has already, in its best form, overtaken analogue for too many reasons to list here, and in its best form digital won’t be using tubes.

        To determine which is “best” is relatively easy if you have the means to perform the experiment. Accurate is what the microphone hears. The live mic feed. If your recording of the live mic feed matches, digital of analogue, the closer one to the feed wins. The Absolute Sound is not the concert hall, but the live mic feed.

        • I agree to a certain point, Benjamin. First of all the Wadia is powerdac, and it cannot be separated, as it only has digital in and speaker out, no pre out or the like, so no chance here to judge each component separatly as they are glued together, so to speak.

          However it is also a question of the sound that is produced, and it is comparable to my existing dac/tube setup quite easily, as it is just a matter of listening and judging the sound. Some prefer the coloration made from tubes, others don’t. My personal reference is the tube sound to a certain extent ( I play on level 1/2 Audio Note), as it has or adds a certain drama to the music, which I actually also found in the little Trends amp. But tubes also has other faults, one being that bass is less controlled, which I think is generic compared to SS amps, which are able to produce a much more tight and refined bas.

          But I do think you have a very good point in underlining that this is a whole new technology, where it makes much more sense to discuss clever technical solutions instead of expensive and serious crafted components – i.e. Partrigde vs. Hashimoto output transformers etc.

          Of course you cannot substitute technology with quality, but clever tech makes it easier to achieve better sound with components of less quality – or so it seems. And for the tubes part they are especially expensive to make as they require expensive output transformers.

          I also agree that the future is within the digital tech area, and we have only just seem a glimpse of the future. The new technology does not, however, change the aesthetics of the sound we prefer, but just makes it easier to achieve at all levels.

          Best regards

          • I am curious to know how you think of Wadic minidac performance in comparison to your tube set up that you liked.

          • Henrik, I have no intention of arguing what is quality or “seriously crafted.” I think that a novel and revolutionary product that is a game changer – as the Wadia and NuForce are – are seriously crafted regardless of their prices. They are components that can do the job for $500=1000 (and are reliable using quality parts) that another maker builds for $5000. The first two are seriously crafted components and the last might be a scam. Even if the latter costs $2000 in parts.

            A good engineer/designer can produce a great speaker for $5000 – take Magnepan – while a lesser designer will get the same/similar performance by spending $5000 for parts and labor, and accordingly has to sell his product for $25,000. The $25,000 speaker may look expensive, flashy, cache’, however what counts is the performance. I say this because the “looks” will fade alike that of the fair sex when she ages. The performance however will remain the same.

            Vanity should have little to do with what you listen to. Then you’ll be taken seriously.

            Moreover, technical discussions are informative and interesting, however what counts is the performance.

            And of course you CAN substitute technology for quality — whenever the performance of the technology exceeds the performance of that you call “quality.”

            How you value technology and how you value quality may or may not make sense. I don’t compare a chip or capacitor to a transformer, nor do I consider one to be quality and the other not. They have different purposes, used for different applications, and quality has nothing to do with it.

            There are quality transformers and quality capacitors, but used improperly, either will have technically poor results, regardless of the quality of their manufacture.

            A poor step up or output transformer will result in sound that lacks quality and performance, and may weight more than an equivalent active circuit made of cheaper parts, but that might produce quality sound and performance. Which would you take?

            Yes, we should be grateful that new technologies at low cost can produce quality sound. We all benefit.

            Karl Marx would approve.

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