Here the signal comes off a Shanling M3 Ultra DAP next to my chair. It's used as USB SD server into a Soundaware D300Ref bridge on super-cap power. That forwards reclocked digits via AES/EBU. Either DAC then saw a custom Pál Nagy analog precision filter with fixed 80Hz/4th-order hi/lo-pass outputs feeding a Crayon CFA-1.2 for the MonAcoustics SuperMon Mini speakers; and a 2 x 9½" Dynaudio S18 subwoofer for active sealed force-cancelling bass.
As the next photo reiterates, Wandla's display grows briefly to XXL when we trim SPL. That's smartly legible from the seat. Cen.Grand do the same for preamp mode so analog sources. In variable mode with digital sources, their volume readout remains inexplicably tiny to be useless from afar. 1:0 for Poland before first sounds commenced. Incidentally, the Sino deck too uses the Muses chip but without extra buffer. With Wandla's menu accessible by remote, it's child's play to manually set the screen to the menu layer we want to adjust, say digital/analog volume or digital filters. We can then shuttle endless settings from the seat to make our decision. Back in manual mode, for this setup I preferred Hypsos at 28V. It gave this inherently quicksilvery already energetic and transparent system more gravitas.
If we thought that a €3'800 x £6'000 head butt would be predictive, reality had other ideas. Be it native DSD or majority PCM, I heard little tonal otherness. While I wouldn't call textures identical, they were on par. The key offset was Cen.Grand's frontal stage edge sitting farther back. Whilst that put more virtual distance between it and my chair, the far end of the stage didn't recede equally. Ferrum's extended just as far so apparently through the front wall but started closer at the speakers. The net effect was a more distanced shallow perspective for the DSDAC, one more forward yet deep for Wandla. I already knew how PCM resampled to 1'024 DSD creates softer more generous tone with a small extra emphasis on decays so less sharpness on attacks. My iFi iDSD Pro Signature resamples either to 1'024 or oversamples PCM up to 705.6kHz. I'd contrasted those flavors before. Now I heard proof that in its own way, Wandla borrows from high-rate DSD texturization in pure PCM playback.
In this particular decision between two DACs, arguments wouldn't just be about money spent; or more compact form factors. Variable Hypsos voltage is a valuable sonic mover if we don't subscribe to an absolute sound set by total strangers in some faraway factory. And that didn't yet factor Ferrum's two-step option of Wandla now, Hypsos later to calm a whining wallet.
On more economics, we'd expect greater labor savings for China than Poland. That Ferrum can manufacture in Eastern Europe and remain this competitive is a further feather in their cap. True, case work wasn't as luxo as Cen.Grand's but perfectly fit for purpose. Then Cen.Grand's display had no brightness or time-out modes. Ferrum's mostly young team applied more smartphone think to their user interface. It's more modern, its menu far more layered. Most shoppers would call Poland the clear winner of this match. But I had one more skirmish up my sleeve; the main downstairs system. Here Wandla would battle €6K Pasithea, a multi-paralleled R2R DAC with split processing of the least significant bits plus variable reference voltage for lossless 'volume'. It's really true variable gain so no resistive signal cut, no math-based resolution decimation, no bit stripping.