Capital AudioFest Part 2: WADAX, Innuos, QLN and Vinnie Rossi

Although proudly analog systems were plentiful at CAF, some of the absolute best sound at the show was produced in digital rooms.

I’ve heard Vinnie Rossi and Innuos gear several times before, though I’ve never heard Rossi’s DAC sections. For CAF, Mark Sossa of Well Pleased Audio Vida and Rossi put together a room with QLN Prestige 3 loudspeakers, an Innuos Statement Streamer and a Vinnie Rossie L-2i-SE integrated amp and built-in DAC. I entered this room alongside Dave McNair, an experienced recording and mastering engineer who’s worked with names like David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. After a short time listening to some music he had directly mastered, Dave turned to me and said ‘from 1khz on up, the response of this speaker is perfectly flat.’

I couldn’t have agreed more. The midrange response of the QLN speaker was absolutely flawless, without a hint of any strange timbral or dynamic irregularities. I haven’t heard much better from any speaker ever. The phantom image was solid and precise from any position in the room, even far outside the sweet spot, another incredibly tough trick to pull off, and full credit goes to Sossa and Rossi for the fabulous job they did setting everything up.

The Rossi and Innuos make a great combination every time I’ve experienced them, and this time an extra special synergy between every part of the signal chain was really on display. I’ve not heard Rossi’s built-in DACs before, and was at first skeptical of the high price and off-the-shelf AKM4497EQ chip, but the detail I heard in this system was among the best I heard at the show from any setup, analog or digital, and without any of the traits stereotypically associated with bad digital sound. The lack of eye-candy and barebones digital setup was a nice visual aid, removing a lot of the ‘wow’ factor more complex digital or analog systems have – there were a mere three components on the rack; the amp, streamer and a power station.

The QLN Prestige Three was listed at $12,000 USD/pair, the Innuos Statement Music Server with a 1TB SSD was listed at $13,750 USD, the Vinnie Rossie L2 Signature Edition Integrated amplifier with optional DAC ($3,495 USD) and optional Phonostage ($3,495 USD) came to $18,995 USD total, and the GigaWatt PC-4 EVO+ with LC-3HC power conditioner was listed at $10,000 USD. Wiring was done by Triode Wire Labs, and an SGR Model 5 Symphony Statement rack made in Australia priced at $3,200 held everything up.

Next up was the Wadax room, a company I hadn’t heard much about before CAF this year. Jameson Mourafetis of F1 Audio in Chicago is a bit of a DAC guru however, and mentioned to me that Wadax was one of the few companies that had gone the custom-programmed FPGA route, developing an entirely proprietary filter implementation. In fact, they’ve developed their own ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) – essentially a totally specialized IC chip just for digital conversion, which they’ve dubbed the MusIC2. For those who may not know, there is an exorbitant amount of time, money and talent that has to go into developing an ASIC, so this is pretty impressive stuff. I’m always intrigued by DAC makers who go beyond off-the-shelf chips, so I made a point of stopping and listening in the Avantgarde and Wadax room. Avantgarde is a speaker company I’ve had a few run-ins with, and though I’ve never lived with them – something I suspect many of us have in common – I do feel like I have a reasonable handle on their sound.

The Avantgardes, like many extremely expensive horn speakers, have tremendous resolving power, digging up absolute gobs of perceived detail, sometimes at the expense of having high frequency peaks or harshness. Interestingly enough, I felt the detail on offer in the two rooms Wadax and Avantgarde were showing in was immense, but not overwhelming. The sound wasn’t soft by an stretch of the imagination, but seemed very smooth and extended without any of the forwardness or harshness horns can sometimes have with poorly-matched gear. I’d be interested to hear more of these, admittedly pricey DACs, to see how they hold up to other flagship DACs from the likes of Chord, MSB and Exogal.

The first room had the Wadax Arcadia DAC listed at $22,000 USD and matte grey horn/black cabinet Avantgarde Acoustic Uno Fino speakers, which retail for $24,800 USD a pair. Cabling was by Transparent Audio, equipment rack by HRS and an Aurender N10 server listed at $8,500 USD was the streamer. Wadax and Avantgarde were also in another room together, where the Wadax Atlantis Transport, DAC and Server were being used, coming in at $45,000 USD, $69,000 USD, and $20,000 USD respectively. The large, red finished Avantgarde Acoustic DuoXD horns with 1,000 watt powered-bass module which lists for $45,000 USD was paired with Phasemation MA2000 25 watts/channel Class A Tube amps, and a Phasemation CA1000 tube preamplifier. Both components list for $32,000 USD. Cabling was again done by Transparent Audio, and stands and platforms by HRS.

Up next: Fun with streaming and music.

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