Wadax Reference Server and Akasa Optical Interface – Part 2

It was time to run those comparisons with the Akasa. With both connections DWC optimised – we’ll get to THAT in a moment – the V2 certainly offered an engagingly musical performance, but in terms of air, presence, shape (both in terms of musical phrasing and instrumental dimensionality) transparency, dynamic discrimination and dynamic range, the Akasa was clearly superior. As a result it delivered a more natural, more fluid and crucially, a more convincing performance. I could go into the minutiae and endless examples, but frankly it would be a waste of time. Subtle on the surface, the musical significance of the Akasa’a superiority was such as to make this a circumstantial no-brainer. In a system at this price level, where the sense of human presence and palpable immediacy are key to the absolute musical quality, the almost $20,000 premium for the Akasa cable and the interface modules (for the Ref DAC) is almost a case of underwriting the investment you’ve already made in the Server – ‘cos without it, you aren’t going to hear what the Ref Server can do. No slouch via USB, it really blossoms once the Akasa connection is used, while for those without a Wadax Reference DAC, the optical option can be embraced later if or when the opportunity arises. Although I did spend time with the Ref Server in other systems and with other DACs as mentioned above, the performance descriptions laid out below are all about the full Wadax rig – the Ref Server, Ref PSU, Ref DAC and the Akasa optical and DC cables in between.

Even beyond its optional proprietary interface, in operational terms the Reference Server is both distinct and distinctly different. It offers a range of adjustments that are unusual, unusually powerful and anything but set and forget. That constantly tuneable nature makes for a degree of variability arguably matched only by products such as the Cello Pallette, although the musical influence of these adjustments is, I would argue, fundamentally more important than simple tonal shifts.

Part 1 of this review covered questions around what makes the Wadax Reference Server and the Akasa optical interface so different, why it adopts a different approach and the singular technological solutions that approach dictates – including Akasa itself. For some readers it might well be tempting to ignore the background details as ‘irrelevancies’ or dismiss them as ‘marketing hype’, but I’d caution against that. A bit like jumping to the last line of any review, you miss the experience and process that informs that opinion and that in turn limits your understanding. In this case, the actual operation of the Reference Server is both unique and crucial to the results achieved. Understanding that operation is way outside conventional experience, with the direct result that if you skate over the details the product’s virtues are going to remain a mystery, in theory and in practice.

Practice makes perfect…

That practice is going to start with your first experience of the Digital Waveform Controls (DWC) that occupy the lower third of the Ref Server’s control panel. Grouped in two mirror-imaged sets of three, those on the left adjust the USB output, those on the right the Akasa optical interface. The three rotary knobs are designated Input Gain, Speed and Output Gain. Their actual functionality (what they adjust and why) is discussed in Part 1. What I’m going to do here is (attempt to) describe what they do in musical terms and how to use them effectively.