Reviewer:
Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, Questyle QP1R
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVC module), COS Engineering D1, Wyred4Sound STP SE Stage II
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics One SE Up NC500MB, AURALiC Merak [on loan]]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence; Rethm Bhaava [on loan]
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]; Sablon Audio Petit Corona power cords [on loan], Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m cords to amp/s + sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Rectangular 5.5 x 15m open floor plan with two-storey gabled ceiling, wood-sleeved steel trusses and stone-over-concrete flooring
Review component retail: €14'000 - €16'000

Wagner Audio Lab's exhibit at the 2016 Moscow show from our event coverage.
An ambitious new brand. Designed in Russia, built in Germany with a first show room in Dresden... that's what connects our header's unexpected mix of origin designation and company name. Having met designer Leonid Burcev in Switzerland in August 2015, his then email intro explained that "Wagner Audio was created with the help of well-known musicians like Galina Vishnevskaya, Yuri Bashmet, Igor Butman and Valery Gergiev who was invited to supervise the final creation stage [Galina was a soprano married to famed cellist/conductor Mstislaw Rostropovich; Yuri Bashmet is a conductor and violin/viola soloist; Igor Butman a Jazz saxophonist; Valery Gergiev a conductor - Ed.]. They acted as ultimate experts in evaluating the sound of our prototypes next to our designers who constantly compared their sound against what they'd heard in a concert hall. Here classical music is the most reflective and accessible source, therefore Wagner Audio was designed with it in mind." We can agree that using the ears of world-class musicians is a very ambitious and rare approach to designing fine hifi. A year later, Leonid reported that "we finalized the development and design of every component needed for a system and will launch series production by January 2017. We were preparing facilities and looking for the right personnel and foundations since we divided research (Wagner Audio Lab) and production (the new brand Etalon Sound). As you know, we record with our own gear and recently collaborated with the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg to capture Anna Netrebko. We also came to an agreement with her favourite conductor Jader Bigniamini to present our equipment. Soon we will make an experiment in the Bolshoi Theater by putting our acoustic systems on the scene." 'Immediately after rehearsal, I listened to their recording and can affirm that the correspondence to the original was very high. I consider such a method and their audio equipment itself very promising.'"


Wagner's DreamDAC combines discrete R2R tech, fully balanced circuitry and a proprietary algorithm whose description mirrors Metrum Acoustic's Cees Ruijtenberg. The Dutchman splits 24-bit signal into twain, magnifies the least significant bits separately for greater linearity, converts them, then readjusts their now higher output for the final combined signal. "Our schematic solves the zero crossing Achilles heel of all classic multi-bit converters with an R2R matrix. At the zero crossing point, all switches fire at once. This causes noticeable transient surges and high glitch. Since it occurs during the quietest moments of a recording when noise can't be masked by valid signal, it leads to clearly audible distortion especially in the treble." By processing each channel's two phases with separate ladder arrays, Burcev avoids the issue whilst generating a true balanced signal to boot. This would account for four R2R ladders but in fact, he uses twelve - six per channel.


"Our new algorithm fulfills the sonic potential of low-amplitude signal which otherwise either renders with distortion or remains completely obscured by noise to be inaudible. We realize this with a three-stage circuit whereby a single R2R array divides into three parts. Each is a separate R2R converter processing its own signal fraction, having an either low, medium or high level. The low-level signal is shaped by a chain of not 24 resistors like in a conventional 24-bit R2R converter but by 8 resistors only. This results in a dramatically shortened signal path. The digital code's least significant bits benefit from additional gain before conversion and are returned to their normal level afterwards. This algorithm retrieves the lowest signal stripped of noise and maximizes D/A conversion in the most important range of low-amplitude data."


Wagner Audio calls their fully balanced three-stage conversion Super R2R which is already patented in Russia. But there's more. Their converter also acts as PowerDac by including a volume control which alters the converter's reference voltage to "enable volume control without changes in the digital code." Burcev considers his method superior to digital and traditional analog volume implementations. Eliminating a preamp and additional cable also shortens the signal path significantly. For socketry, the standard DreamDAC offers one each coax, AES/EBU and USB, two Toslink and, optionally, one I²S. Analog outputs are on XLR, and optionally, RCA.

Touch screen without mechanical elements.
Leonid's TUC True USB Conversion module is based on proprietary FPGA coding. It generates an I²S output and runs a Russian military-spec femto clock "to function better than the majority of XMOS-based modules". It includes a signal buffer for jitter "lower than the sensitivity threshold of even the most accurate measuring devices". The resultant I²S signal feeds straight to the Super R2R circuit. As a big-picture designer, Burcev also investigated audio cables to determine that the die-pulling of raw conductors creates "asymmetrical properties when the wire conducts the positive and negative half waves of an electrical signal".


His copper Litz solution connects conductors of opposite directivity in parallel to enforce equal behaviour in either direction. Being consistent, this includes Wagner Audio transformer windings, inductors and hookup wiring; and their own external hifi cabling. Burcev's transformers use "a new generation of iron-based nanocrystalline alloy with extraordinary properties. They show a threefold decrease in core volume with considerable lessening of winding losses due to reduced turns ratio. Primary winding inductivity is up to 10 times that of silicon iron yet leakage inductance and inter-turn parasitic capacitances are far lower, leading to enhanced bandwidth." Wagner's 'symmetrized' Litz conductors show up not only in their transformers but also their exclusive Double Ring capacitors. Extending this investigative theme into speaker drivers, Wagner again mint their own by using bell bronze baskets as the late Bernard Salabert championed for PHY HP; Neomax magnets; parallel-wired multi-layer voice coils; and suede suspensions. The present WAlab lineup already includes a phono stage and various amplifiers to arrive on 2017's hifi scene as a fully formed complete system provider. Cue up Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung...