A DAC Called Wandla

A DAC Called Wandla

Ferrum reels in the bass with this exciting new component

Imagine a hi-fi brand whose first product is a power supply.

"HYPSOS is our firstborn," writes Ferrum on its website, going on to list, in chronological order, its jewel-like product line-up: The OOR headphone amp, ERCO headphone DAC/amp, and, most recent, the WANDLA DAC. "These four siblings perform like nothing else right out of the box."

Then, in an unfortunate mix of metaphors, Ferrum writes, “Marrying HYPSOS to one of the other three will unleash musical bliss.”

Incestuous figures of speech aside, this Polish brand’s product genesis and tightly curated offerings give you an idea of the intricate math-rock sensibilities of the Ferrum team, one that gets increasingly "Cygnus X-1 Book II"-esque as you probe the Hypsos and find that this is no mere power accessory, but is designed and built as “an audio component of its own.”

Who else makes an audio power supply that’s a hybrid of linear and switching, ranges from 5 V to 30 V, comes with a screen and knob, and a host of special features? Onboard, there’s a list of devices from brands ranging from Arcam to Wadia with pre-configured voltages for each. There’s active feedback to avoid deleterious effects from DC cables; there’s on-the-fly “sweet spot” voltage seeking and compatibility with the Apple TV remote. If that’s what Ferrum does with a power supply, imagine what they’d do with a DAC.

Ferrum Wandla DAC

Ferrum’s Wonder DAC

Wandla (say “VAAN-dla” for the correct Polish pronunciation) is a Sabre-based 768/32 DAC housed in Ferrum’s characteristic clean black box with a square badge on the left that—in the spirit of the brand name and its 'Fe' logo— is meant to evoke rusted iron.

About the size of an open paperback, it’s smaller than you’d expect from the photos, and at 4 lb, about as heavy as you’d expect. At the back, you’ll see the digital audio inputs (AES, coax, optical, USB-C), HDMI (ARC, I2S), and the XLR and RCA stereo analog outs. And, because this is a preamp as well, there’s an analog in. There’s a standard DC plug for the included switching power supply and a special Hypsos DC plug. (Note, there is a choice of digital filters too, but we didn't go into those for this first look at the Wandla.)

Connect the included 24 V power supply, and the Wandla goes through a nice little warm-up/sunrise sequence and then presents a clean, readable, eminently pokable touchscreen.

With the stock power supply, the Wandla is an incisive, detailed DAC with a slight leanness up top, leaving you unprepared for the brutality of the bass drop. The speed and depth of Wandla's low-end brings clear delineation between even the most subterranean notes of Billie Eilish's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. Bass of this quality reminds you that halting low notes with conviction is a lot harder than getting them going, and it's fun to listen to familiar recordings and hear the bass lines contemplating the quote, "it's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end."

Adding the Hypsos PSU really brings this DAC home. The increased body to the sound is apparent long before the thunder rolls in. For example, the steely strum of the opening of Khruangbin's "Texas Sun" loses some of its scratchiness and grows plumper with the resonances of string and guitar body. These highs also get silky smooth but without losing any attack. Once the rest of the band comes in, it's a done deal: The Wandla DAC is Wandla+Hypsos. The extra PSU is no mere option. If your budget is tight, think of it as a $3,995 DAC that lets you buy it in two installments: You pay $2,795 to get a good DAC and later pay $1,195 to turn it into a great DAC.

Ferrum WANDLA DAC/Preamplifier Ferrum HYPSOS Power Supply
$2,795.00 $1,195.00

Those Who Wandla Are Not Lost

Gautam Raja, our content manager (seen below, swanning around the Upscale video studio), took the Ferrum Wandla DAC and Hypsos PSU home. We picked him because he is the guy who has an external clock on his network switch and got called a "clown" on YouTube for using AudioQuest Fog Lifters under his cables ("I also use them to display my balloon animals," he retorted, utterly unashamed of the depths of his audio depravity.) Here's Gautam's Wandla story, in his words.

Ferrum has been on my radar ever since I watched Grover Neville's video on the OOR headphone amp, and really liked what he said about this Polish brand's sound. While I often try different DACs from the store, my system is built around the Schiit Yggdrasil "OG," the now-discontinued model that uses the Analog Devices AD5791BRUZ multibit chips. For my system and my tastes, the Yggy, as it's fondly known, is my favorite DAC. But it is not the best DAC I've heard.

For example, when I bring home one of the uber-DACs from T+A, Berkeley Audio, or Chord, I am startled by how quiet they are. I hit 'play,' and the sound seems to come from absolutely nowhere. I feel self-conscious and pretentious when I use the phrase "black background," but there's no better term for what these DACs bring. My colleague Joel Bennett describes it this way: "It's as If someone took a vacuum cleaner to the sound and sucked out everything that's not pure signal." This doesn't mean these DACs sound clinical, but their sonic attributes are set against the perfect, dead-silent backdrop.

Normally, I don't like to recommend equipment for specific genres, but the Wandla's attack and bass make it an absolute EDM monster.

Apart from being in my budget, what the Yggy does really well is bring a naturalness and harmonic richness in a way that some people call "grit" and others call "plankton". I once heard someone call it "tape crunch." If a great DAC takes you to the jazz club and treats you to the joy and immediacy of live instruments, the Yggy remembers the cigarette smoke. If you're in the studio, with all that silence and separation between each musician, the Yggy lets you feel (not hear) the thrum of the equipment.

However, once that grit or plankton or chum or whatever you want to call it, carries down into the bass, you get a low-end that's a little bloomy, and doesn't let as much light in through the gaps. Even with the stock power supply, the Wandla's bass made me instantly jealous, but its mids and highs were too light for me and even a little shouty up top.

Note, though, that I have the lithe, airy Lumin U1 Mini as a streamer. It works perfectly for me in a main audio system that culminates in large T+A transmission-line speakers with a lowish 86 dB sensitivity. In the wrong hands, the bass on these can turn to sludge, so the speed and agility of the Lumin are crucial. If you have an Aurender streamer, with its much warmer tonality, I suspect you'd be able to live with even a stock-PSU Wandla for a long time.

Once I connected the Hypsos (above), the Wandla made total sense to me as a DAC. It's cleaner, smoother, and more detailed than the Yggy; the transients are punchier, and, as mentioned, it has way tighter bass. With the extra PSU, it brought the mids and highs closer to the Yggy's weight and emotion. Ultimately, I prefer the richness the multi-bit Yggy brings for my umami-loving, fatty ribeye-consuming soul. Those of you who like cleaner eating would be much happier with the delta-sigma lightness-of-touch of the Wandla.

Normally, I don't like to recommend equipment for specific genres, but the Wandla's attack and bass make it an absolute EDM monster. I usually don't do this because if you like certain sonic qualities, they apply to all music. Good attack helps voices and violins as much as it does techno snares. Good bass is as relevant to a big-bodied acoustic guitar or double bass as to an 808 or bottom-dwelling track on Ableton Live. But, if you're into electronic dance music, the Wandla is that rave partner who is always ready to bring in the sunrise at 180 bpm.

To sum up, I would unhesitatingly recommend the Ferrum Wandla (+Hypsos!) for, say, PrimaLuna or any gear that's on the warmer, richer side, especially if you don't want to risk the sound getting overly gooey. If your system is neutral, cool, lean, or bright, I'd be more careful and recommend talking to one of our resident clowns* first.

*Hey, if being pickily passionate about what you do makes you a clown, welcome to the Upscale Audio circus!

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