When Italian private equity firm Quadrivio SGR went shopping a few years ago, it wasn’t clear to everyone why they were acquiring some of the biggest names in audio during a recession. The new parent holding company, Fine Sounds SpA, which is based in Milan , now owns Audio Research Corp., Sonus Faber, Sumiko, McIntosh Labs, and Wadia Digital – some of the biggest names in high-end audio.
Rather than gut the assets, Fine Sounds SpA infused these five stalwarts with cash, and more importantly, human capital. Italian designers and American engineers met halfway (hope they had a boat) and there has been nothing but praise for the quality of the products and even the pricing which, considering the brands, has remained fairly stable.
Sonus Faber designer, Livio Cucuzza, who has designed some of the most beautiful loudspeakers in the world, went to work with his U.S. counterparts, and the first child of this new marriage, the Intuition 01 PowerDAC, has everyone feeling that twinkle up and down their legs.
Wadia, which is based in Saline, Michigan, has been cranking out some of the best digital products in the world under the steady hand of John Schaffer for many years. Schaffer, unlike many in the high-end world of audio refusing to see the apple about to crush the orchard, had an “intuition” from the very beginning about the significance of the iPod and how it would change digital audio forever.
Wadia understood that a business model dependent on selling $10,000 CD players and DACs was never going to be sustainable in the long run. So when Schaffer brought the first 170i transport to a CES show – which was designed to turn your iPod into a music server – people began getting nervous. His instincts were correct, and the subsequent 171i transport ($600), 151 PowerDAC, and 121 decoding computer ($1,300) were home runs and continue to sell like crazy to this day.
If you use an iPod as your main source, you have never really heard just how good it can sound unless you connect it to an audio system using a high-end component like that of Wadia’s. While not inexpensive, this gear is capable of transforming your entire system.
The Intuition 01 is an extension of the Wadia PowerDAC concept, but in a very sleek-looking chassis, and with far more sophisticated circuitry. The Intuition 01 combines a 350 watts-per-channel Class D+ power amplifier, 32-bit AD/DA digital preamplifier, and a 32/384 DSD-capable USB DAC. There are 6 digital inputs (2 Coax S/PDIF, 1 AES/EBU, 2 Wdialink/I2S, and 1 Toslink) and two analog RCA inputs, which means that you can connect a turntable and analog tuner as well.
The design is one of the most gorgeous looking pieces of industrial design to come out of the audio industry in years, and is very light. The entire package weighs less than thirteen pounds, and sounds utterly remarkable. Connect it to a great pair of loudspeakers like the KEF LS50s, Dynaudio Focus 260s, or Sonus Faber Venere 3.0s and you will have as good an audio system as you will ever need.
While not inexpensive at $8,000 (depending on finish choices of silver, anodized black, anodized brushed chrome, nickel), the Intuition 01 may be the more forward-thinking one-box solutions to ever come out of the industry, and certainly utilizes some of the most sophisticated digital converters available.
A comparable collection of components of this quality could easily run you $15,000 or more, and that doesn’t even include the loudspeakers.
It’s pretty clear from the Intuition 01 that Fine Sounds SpA knew exactly what it was getting when it brought Wadia Digital into the fold: a wolverine tired of wearing flannel, but utterly dashing in the finest Italian wool.