Was that a hidden Dutch asset? Against its precedent—and having curated this entire system as my reference thus with Pasithea—Wandla operated at clearly lower res so also with less snap or spunk. Even with Hypsos back at the quicker 22V, the Polish challenger didn't muster comparable energetic directness, dynamic verve or top-down illumination. My suspicion fell on Ferrum's high-gain circuit. Even in normal 2V mode this system requires ~30-40dB of cut. With Wandla's 'pro' specs of 9.5/4.75Vrms on XLR/RCA before internal trim recalibrates the max voltage which 100 represents, that meant 45-60dB of cut. It's because my amps only need 1.4Vrms for full output. Here Wandla's balanced gain before pre-trim was 6½ times too high. Meanwhile Cees Ruijtenberg's circuit always and only generates the signal voltage we need. It cancels all attenuation. Was this its secret to greater magnification powers and immediacy? Having done comparisons between Cen.Grand's Muses chip and magnetic volume with three different multi-tapped autoformers, I'd heard similar changes. Hence my suspicion that Ferrum's choice of padded gain to produce great tone density sacrifices resolution in systems which can't process anywhere near its full signal voltage to require serious cut. This was underlined when I inserted a simple but high-quality in/out autoformer of fixed 24dB cut. It reduced the difference delta with Pasithea but far from closed it.
The difference lived in the ballpark of how premium widebanders like the above hybrid OB Qualio IQ, a Cube/Voxativ equivalent or compact DMAX Super Cube present vs a very good multi-way Raidho. The Dane will have a certain golden sweetness and tonal suavity but be less electrifying and invigorating for it. Said that, my inner calculator chimed like Hector's wheelchair bell from Breaking Bad. "Wandla costs significantly less than Pasithea" it said. Quite. All was right with the world. Beyond where I play awaits a big white spot on the digital map. It's populated by names like CH Precision, dCS and Wadax. That's for a very different audience. So is a €6K DAC already for a different audience than today's €2.8K challenger [€3.8K with Hypsos]. It accomplishes the very neat often rather costlier trick of textural elegance. Getting that and more resolution is still rarer.
Having been duly hectored by our Salamanca chap, time for an award. Given how it duels twice-priced contenders of Cen.Grand/Denafrips caliber then packs more calibration heat, Wandla really is our friendly neighborhood werewolf. During the day it looks demure and lightweight. Come nightfall when it's time to change or wandel, a far stronger rather single-minded being emerges.
Unlike the vicious werewolves of fantasy, this changeling is a sophisticate. Its makers clearly didn't just measure but listened. This is no brute which mauls intangibles like textural elegance because measurements tell all and anything else is imaginary. Yet like a hot-blooded werewolf, Wandla runs surprisingly hot. Mostly class A bias seems no lie. And like a fit werewolf, Wandla has great muscle tone and physicality. Those and its related tonal charms are the musical arguments today's rotating platter puts front and center. All the rest of it is accounted for. It just doesn't register first. Dim sum; and then some.
Not to be underestimated is the sweet-spot tuning of Hypsos. That's a far stronger course corrector than Wandla's existing library of digital filters; or comparing coax to AES/EBU. Hence no comments on the stock switcher. As Ferrum's current flagship DAC, Hypsos is an intrinsic part of the equation. It's just nice that it may be added later to lower the initial cost. Power users will appreciate the presence of configurable I²S over HDMI; and ARC over HDMI to loop in a smart TV. The analog input welcomes a turntable via offboard phono stage; or a legacy cassette even open reel deck where analog volume bats more purist eyelashes. Given budgetary constraints to maintain Ferrum's existing 'family' appeal, Wandla's R&D team really did an ace job of picking a classy sonic poison then polishing up the user experience. Did I mention that you can change volume 'over' an open menu window to temporarily bring up the big numbers then be right back at the same window to keep evaluating sundry settings all by remote and from the seat where it matters? Again, an award is the only fair response to this much brains and beauty.