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This review first appeared in the November 2008 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end has a link below it to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of or Wadia. - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Source: Audiomeca Obsession II, Fonel Simplicité, Benchmark DAC1 USB HE
Amplification: pre/power - Fonel Emotion; Funk LAP-2.V2; Myryad MXP2000/MXA2150; Trigon TRV100; integrated - Accuphase E212; Lua 4040C
Loudspeaker: Thiel CS 2.4, Sehring S 703 SE, Audiaz ETA
Cables: low-level - Straight Wire Virtuoso; high-level - HMS Fortissimo, Reson LSC 350, Ortofon SPK 500, Atlas (Bi-Wiring)
Review component retail: €459

Where to today? No worries, we're not eyeing heavyweight subjects. Just hifi. Two-channel in fact, not exactly a topic rife with breakthroughs. Nor do I imagine their numbers legions, those who at present lustfully eye a better CD player. The change of the guard, to hard-disc playback via uncompressed files, is in swift progress. That's no novelty neither. Arguably more exciting is which concept exactly will finally gain the upper hand. The theme 'streaming' by now is quite established. But a brief overview (no completeness implied) seems practical before we segue into Wadia's 170i transport:

- There are fully integrated user-friendly solutions like Naim's HDX which extract CD data from their own drive to hard disc, handle automatic backups, include Internet access to grab meta data and make the creation of and access to a personal music library highly intuitive. Such solutions tend to come at a price however and the fact that hard disc, read drive, D/A converter and access software are all bundled together could be a deterrent for 'hackers' and those wanting to experiment.

- Somewhat tweakier is accomplishing the above on one's pre-existing computer. Data storage is handled by mostly free but occasionally specialized software and merely the streaming receipt and conversion of playback files is handled by specific hardware clients such as a Squeeze-Box or Transporter. To set up such a home music network isn't rocket science but often more involved than basic plug & play. A future review will investigate one such solution.

- Plug in and run is possible via computer without excessive hardware or money. Enter the USB DAC and of course a PC loaded with the requisite software to sort, access and manage music files (such as the flexible, low-memory Foobar player) and extract files (i.e. EAC). Sonics can be good but are directly related to the quality of the D/A converter. Further tweaking might involve downloading and installing the ASIO driver (to bypass the Windows-embedded but sonically compromised K-Mixer). ASIO by the way was developed by the German studio software writers at Steinberg and is used by music creators to minimize latencies (the time offset between input and output signal, irrelevant during playback). Certain converters are preloaded with specific ASIO drivers such as the Weiss Minerva and Digigram's VXpocket v2. Whether ASIO really is sonically superior is debatable. We'll weigh in with personal experiences in due time.

You might wonder how any of this relates to today's tester, Wadia's iDock. Isn't that merely a gizmo to get somewhat respectable performance from the iPod while interfacing it with the resident hifi? True, but -- we'll tip our hand early -- once partnered with a quality converter, one goes well past respectable. This opens the door to very serious consideration of using just such an iPod/DAC combo for a grown-up high-end system.

To be clear from the start, the Wadia 170i transport includes no D/A converter. The special feature here simply is direct access to the iPod's files in the digital domain (just what models are compatible can be found under 'facts' at review's end). This bypasses Apple's compromised internal DAC. Why more such devices aren't presently available isn't due to lack of know-how but licensing. Apple is selective. Wadia seems first in line to have been granted a license.

To return to an earlier paragraph, besides serious sonic potential, this concept includes further advantages which make it very interesting. There's the obvious, getting a quasi two-in-one system. The ripped music data are portable for jogging and at home in the classy big rig. This includes convenience. The Wadia 10i has remote control. All this bypasses tweak necessity and computer savvy. This is a pure plug & play affair (while running the free, easily installed and configured iTunes software). Data synchronization between iPod and PC also automates essential file backups. And because the platform is open -- you choose the D/A converter and ripper software -- even liberal experimenters won't feel fenced in. By the way, there's a different socket interface or cradle for each iPod model included with the Wadia dock [see inset above].

Things aren't quite as liberal when one gets to data formats. For lossless, there's merely WAV and Apple's proprietary Apple Lossless. The latter's tighter packing -- similar to Zip schemes -- uses up to 50% less storage but retains 100% of the original's WAV bits. The equivalent and popular FLAC format is sadly not supported. No applause on that point. But your music collection still won't be straight-jacketed with iTunes. Apple Lossless is easily reconverted to WAV. And available storage here is no concern. The iPod Classic offers 160GB to support ca. 450 – 500 complete music album in Apple Lossless.

iTunes quickie...
... on proper file conversion since the necessary commands are somewhat hidden. To convert WAV files ripped to PC into Apple Lossless, go to Bearbeiten in the tool bar, then pull down Einstellungen. This opens the following window. Now click on Importeinstellungen. Under Importieren, select Apple Lossless Codierer (in the other direction, WAV Codierer) and hit OK. Next use drag 'n' drop to move the desired songs into the proper list, select them and right-click. In the command window, pick Apple Lossless Version erstellen (or WAV Version erstellen in the other direction.)

You couldn't simplify things more. Hook up your digital cable between Wadia 170i and external converter (in our case a Benchmark DAC1 USB for 1.298 euros), connect to wall power and plunk iPod in the cradle. The latter operates normal (iPod nano G1 and iPod video excepted) or via Wadia's included remote. Or should - operate normal. In my case, things were mute at first. Quite silly. No display confirmation on the Wadia dock, no action of any sort on the iPod's display. They didn't seem to communicate. As I was told, this lack of visual confirmation is normal. Not even the small slot on the 170i's fascia houses an LED as might be assumed. This is bad only during failure diagnostics should things not shake hands rights away. You're flying blind as it were. In case of trouble, it's recommended to power down Wadia's dock just like a computer reboot. Which I did even though, as it turned out, the 170i had been innocent all along. My digital cable suffered poor continuity. Argh.

So I leashed things up with the included digital link and any anticipated cable-swap dreams evaporated. As comparator, I used Fonel's formidable €2.850 Simplicité whose sound I remembered distinctly when the Wadia/iPod duo first kicked into gear. Surprise! Particularly in matters of transparency and fine resolution, there were notable differences. In the iPod combo's favor I might add, most overt from the midrange on up. Particularly in the higher bands, there was plainly more detail, extension and openness. In short, it sounded more accurate, less veiled and more intelligible. Unexpected that. Fonel's CD player is most certainly no slouch here.

Depending on taste and ancillaries, such accuracy could veer into the 'non-musical' as it did during a friend's impulse visit. No card-carrying hifi fan, he listened to the equally resolute Thiel CS 2.4 and found the results a bit overdone, preferring the more laid-back CD player. Moi -- and I'm admittedly sweating while saying so -- I, cough, preferred the iPod combo particularly on 'smoother' speakers like Sehring's S703SE. To my ears, there was more resolution which even over the Thiels didn't strike me as analytical.

So where's the line between highly resolved and analytical? I say analytical when due to resolution, so much detail is presented that context and tone body dissolve and small things are extricated from the flow and sensibility to be practically counted off on a silver tablet. But that's not what the Apple/Wadia source did. Be it the overt sibilance in Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" [So] or the crucial rattle in Tom Waits' "Such a Scream" [Bone Machine], I didn't react to discrete elements as denuded in isolation, without body but effort. Rather, these items were more finely filigreed. Granted, we're not talking romantically golden. No question about that.

But there's more - image lock and contours whereby individual performers are assigned their place on stage. Naturally, there are different preferences but I enjoy when spatial depiction is highly accurate. And here too the iPod combo edged out the Fonel Simplicité which is already very strong here. It became downright fascinating how, in the symphonically arranged "Song Praxis" by In The Nursery, the bass drums appeared punchy but cleanly outlined between the speaker, or how the Western guitar of Angus and Julia Stone's title track "Silver Coin" (a tip for lovers of fragile vocals accompanied by various acoustical instruments) showed up live and in true scale in my room.

To reiterate a key point you'll have anticipated, it's of course not correct to refer to the iPod/Wadia duo since really, it's a trio which serves up the music. That being the case, it's only logical that the quality of the external D/A converter would be paramount to the final sound quality. Regardless, the iPod/Wadia transport combo does not seem a bottle neck or limiting factor. Not a gram of fat and transparent into the very tips of the hairs - that's how I'd nut-shell the sound of the Benchmark converter. And the bit supplier team of iPod/Wadia caused no disturbances whatever.

Interestingly -- and I'm expecting reader email insisting on the impossibility since bits are bits -- I find Apple Lossless in the upper ranges a bit more silvery or less relaxed than raw WAV files. To avoid misapprehensions, even over highly resolved gear, this is rather subtle but nonetheless audible. So I'm curious about your findings.

For me, the teaming of an outboard D/A converter with the 'transport' of Apple iPod and Wadia 170i is clearly a very viable solution with true high-end potential and undoubtedly fit for rather more than just rendering the iPod listenable. Obviously, just how good your converter is will be vital in this context. If assembled appropriately, such a trio is a solid alternative to establishing a high-quality grown-up hard-disc base in the resident hifi system, even for those who take pride in the pointiest of ears. Further attractions are the easy installation and intuitive use. Even computer grumps won't feel put off.

Product: Wadia 170iTransport
- Supported iPod models: iPod Classic (160GB | 180GB), iPod touch (8GB | 16GB | 32 GB) iPod nano 1.Generation (1GB | 2 GB | 4GB), iPod nano 2. Generation (2GB | 4GB | 8GB), iPod nano 3.Generation - Video - (4GB | 8GB), iPod 5.Generation -Video – (30GB | 60GB | 80GB)
- Concept: Docking station to access digital data from an iPod
- Dimensions: 20,32×6,86×20,32cm (W×H×D)
- Weight 1,1kg
- Other: Analog RCA outputs, video sockets

- Wadia website
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