My buddy Andy’s wife won’t allow power boards, power supplies, DACs amplifiers etc. to be seen in their lounge room. They must be hidden away so that the only sign of hi-fi equipment is the loudspeakers themselves. I thought of Andy when I put together the Wadia 151PowerDAC Mini (US$799) and Zu Soul MKII loudspeakers (AU$2750 – introductory pricing in Australia).
This is a system where aesthetics and discretion matter. Your living space doesn’t have to suffer the intrusion of bigger-boxed DAC and amplifier. Wadia’s PCM→ PWM shoebox isn’t show-pony or bling. It’s discrete, humble, unassuming. It can be tucked away out of sight. More than that: it stamps out the pre-conception that smaller, digital solutions can’t cut it with the big boys.
I’ve already seen what the 151-er can do with the far tougher load of Magnepan’s MMG. With the absurdly transparent (read: unforgiving) 99db Zu Soul MKII loudspeakers, the Wadia refuses to get found out. There appear to be few (if any) skeletons in this mini’s closet; it’s one helluva budget DAC + amplifier that will get you up and running with most speakers. At US$799 few other separate amplifier and DAC combinations will best it with detail retrieval, recording space ambience and all-round transparency. The only shortcoming when dancing with Zu Soul MKII is a leaner bass. But this shortcoming soon becomes a bonus when trying to squeeze the bombastic Zu sound into tighter quarters.
This miniature direct digital amplifier keeps things tight(er) and light(er), ensuring the Zu loudspeakers don’t let their pants slip below the waist. In a smaller room, keep the Souls low to the floor with the finger ports seeing only the faintest glimpse of daylight or bass control will get away from you.
Compared to other amplifiers used with these Zus, the Wadia carves musical layers into thinner slices – she watches her weight, preferring strong bones to fleshy curves. It’s not as quite as voluptuous as say Earle Weston’s Topaz (AU$1800), to which a DAC must also be added. This power DAC gives us an exceptionally detailed listening experience; especially adept with the dense complexity of Aphex Twin’s I Care Because You Do. Layers are cleanly separated with each blurt/fart/bleep given its own space to breathe/rattle/clatter/clang. The downside is shades of dryness with poorer recordings.
The Wadia all-in-one isn’t as muscular or rich or chunky as the aforementioned Weston Acoustics push-pull + AURALiC Vega or REDGUM RGi60 + Metrum Hex. It isn’t anywhere near as expensive either. Think of it as a high quality starting point.
The Zu’s super-efficient driver means we get exciting dynamics; the nano-tech driver lavishes tonnes of tone upon us. Tango-ing with Wadia’s PowerDAC151 Mini we learn (once again) that compact boxes aren’t only suited to desktops, bedrooms and second systems. Preconceptions be gone! Ditto aesthetic intrusion. Hello – Andy? You there?