Installation Notes

Wadax asked the question, “Why visit the network at all? Why not simply use a direct USB link from Server to DAC?” The simple answer to that is, that most USB implementations rely on off-the-shelf encode/decode hardware – and most of that sucks. So, designing and building your own interface becomes a necessary challenge – but at least it’s a challenge that is within your own gift to control. But Wadax being Wadax didn’t stop with a proprietary USB interface. They took things a whole stage further by developing he Akasa optical interface too – and then applying their proprietary feed-forward, error correction technology to the question of signal transfer.

But, “Isn’t a digital signal just ones and noughts?” I hear the tired old chorus… No it isn’t. The digital data might be stored as discrete values, but once you try to move that data it has to be expressed in terms of voltage – and that makes it an analogue signal! A series of square-waves to be sure, but analogue nonetheless. Now ask yourself just how accurately an analogue amplifier or circuit can transfer square-waves? Just think about all those graphs that show a sloping rise time and overshoot, a drooping tail and curved run-out – errors in signal tracing that will impact both amplitude and spacing of digital data blocks. That’s where the Wadax’s load sensitive, feed-forward error correction comes in. It’s also where those rotary controls come into play. Disposed left and right of the central power button, there are three controls for the USB output and three for the Akasa optical interlink. These are labelled Input Gain, Speed and Output Gain. Turn any one of the knobs and the display reverts to a set of six horizontal bar graphs, one for each of the controls.

Precise discussion of which control actually does what can wait for the full review (if I’ve figured it out by then) but having played with both sets of controls at length, I can happily state that not only are they extremely powerful in terms of their ability to tune and, in particular, flesh out the musical presentation, timing and dynamic impact in a performance, you can literally tune to Qobuz, Tidal or local storage sources, each requiring subtly different settings. To that end, the knobs also act as pre-sets (three per output), simply by pressing them in and holding them. The selected pre-set is shown on the display and can be altered simply by pressing the appropriate knob again. It’s simple and extremely effective. So effective in fact, that I wonder quite what the long term impact and implications of this approach will be. For the moment, as far as I’m concerned, it has unlocked the promise inherent in streamed music, for the first time making streaming a valid and useful source rather than a necessary chore.

The Wadax Atlantis Reference Server rewrites the rulebook in terms of size, weight, complexity and ambition. As you’d expect, it accepts files in all the commonly used formats (including MQA). It also operates with the Roon interface, which is arguably the most accessible and intuitive option out there. But more importantly, it finally opens the door on a world of simple, high-quality and highly enjoyable musical access, something no other streamer has managed to date. Longer term listening awaits, but for once (at least when it comes to streamed music) I’m really looking forward to it.