Olde Worlde DAC that has lost none of its charm
When hearing the 25 for the first time in 2005 I was amazed at its enormous soundstage, its back to front layering and its rhythmic timing, as well as its solid bass. If you are used to mid class electronics and never heard a Wadia then this may be quite a revelation. The 25 does carry the usual Wadia tradeoff: all the above advantages coming at the cost of some air and fluidity in the highs, but it is not severe and can mostly be compensated for with the right cables. Maximum samplerate is 48khz, so the DAC is not suitable for high res formats.
Above: the setup in which I first heard the Wadia 25.On top of the Spider rack sits the Sony XA50ES that was handsomely beaten in the DAC part by the 25, and served as a partner transport very well for quite some time, until the combo was replaced by a Wadia 861.
Years later I heard the very same DAC again in the company of a Jeff Rowland Aeris and a more recent Wadia 521. When the 861 replaced the 25 I sold mine to a friend more than 10 years ago, and although he had also moved on, he never sold it. He was kind enough to let me borrow it for some more comparisons. Its sound was instantly recognisable and I liked it so much that I made a deal with him and so “my” 25 is once again permanent part of the system.
Although the Wadia 25 is not benchmark-setting now (it does not have the resolution and finesse of today’s best DACs and can be a bit pompous), it still sounds incredibly engaging and has spot-on natural timbre. It can be quite dry in the treble but also has rock-solid bass, lots of power and excellent drive in return. In fact the 25 joins my personal ranks for most impressive bass along with the Wadia 27, 861, PS Audio PWD MKII and Jeff Rowland Aeris. But as in life, when one excells in a particular area, another area is normally less evolved. With classic Wadias this “less evolved” area is in the ultimate resolution and treble fluidity. I tend to think one excludes the other, meaning that when the bass is very accurate, then the treble is, too. And perhaps this can be taken too far. Then again, the EC Designs Mosaic is a NOS, filter-less design, highly focused on delivering the absolute lowest distortion. And yet it has the most fluid, gentle and airy treble reproduction that I have heard from a DAC. But the Mosaic does not come close to classical-Wadia’s visceral bass reproduction.
It is my theory that when bass is reproduced squarely and accurately then this is desirable. But when the treble is too, then you start hearing the digital nature of the sound, or at least this seems to be the case when dealing with certain digital filters.
More recent Wadia such as the 27 and 861 are a little smoother in the treble and the last CD products such as the S7i have the most open and airy treble of all Wadias so far, but they also sound less voluptuous in the bass. In generic it could be said that the Wadia sound evolved from dark and extremely solid to more neutral and more balanced.
It is interesting to note that the “olde” 25 seems to partner very well with the “modern times” Aurender N10 Music Server that is my current main music source. Along with its impressive bass solidity the 25 creates a particular sound that precious few other (non-Wadia) DACs mimic today, irrespective of price.
The Wadia 25 was produced between 1996 and 1998 and is now 18 years old. Still I like its personality so much that I can’t bring myself to remove it from the system even if it doesn’t keep up with the standards set by today’s DACs in terms of finesse and airiness, of the lack of USB and compatibility with hi-res formats. The 25 sounds tighter and more articulate than the 521 and its timbre may even be a little but more convincing but the 521 sounds much more luxuirious and is more refined and airy, rendering the 25 quite dry and dark and low-res in comparison. The 521 on balance is certainly a better DAC and it is my current reference, but the 25 remains connected in the rack, proudly withstanding the temptations from other DACs that come and go.
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