Technoids: skip this page immediately. Wavac is firmly, resolutely of the flakey, specs-are-bollocks school of amplifier design. And besides, you won't miss two page in this issue because you really do hate those little 15-watters using rare, probably forgotten, often single-purpose valves, don't you? You simply despise all of that mysterioso-Japanese-valve-guru stuff, eh? You long for the days when everyone had a Quad 33/303, and a pension from the government actually meant something. I gotta admit that I, too, have a deep suspicion of the 300B cult, and - because I think horns suck - I have difficulty dealing with sub-30W/ch amps. But, hey, I'm a mid-band kinda guy, and that alluring sweetness in the voice region sets my heart aflutter. More to the point, Wavac amps are so gorgeous that you'd swear an Italian must have once cut a swathe through the women of Yamagata.
Wavac, alas, calls to mind £15,000-plus audio jewellery, precisely the sort of goodies which bring out the worst in the mean, envy-riddled British anorak. I, for one, have had my fill of hate mail from killjoys who aspire to the lowest common denominator. But, to paraphrase Wilde, I can resist everything bar temptation, and I wasn't going to say "NO" to an offer from Wollaton Audio to play with even the smallest Wavac, regardless of the repercussions. At £2500, the brickbats which will be thrown at me for reviewing something above the £299 glass ceiling should be smaller than the ones being readied for the assault after the Trilogy RC211. Better still, it's an integrated amplifier, so the
Italianism applies to more than the aesthetics, however. The MD-811's layout reminded me of Unison Research integrateds, with a shallow, vertical, wooden control panel, valves positioned in the open on a flat shelf and transformers in a housing at the back - like a mountain range behind a plain, this time Fuji instead of the Alps. Maybe it's some symbolic, Japanese, let's-honour-nature kinda thing. The wholly-Wavac aesthetic details are what cause palpitations in audiophiles at hi-fi shows who see this stuff and wonder why all hi-fi gear can't be as pretty. That back box covering the custom-made transformers is beautifully painted in a crackle-finish charcoal grey, while the entire main chassis is in finely-textured matt gold. The front panel is available in a choice of woods to special order, and it sports only three controls: a huge on/off button with great "feel", and two rotaries with triangular front sections for volume and source select. The unit is compact, as well, at only 10.5x16.5x8in (WDH); it weighs a manageable 37.5lb.
Clean, too, is the back: IEC mains input, three pairs of solid, gold-plated inputs, and two pairs of gold binding posts. As you can see, this unit is almost comically minimalist: no tape loop, just three line sources, no balance, no remote, no mute - purism taken as far as it goes. But it's purism with luxury, for Wavac has a design signature which makes it stand out from the crowd, a fillip which is probably copied all over Japan by Wavac wannabees: curved glass panels to protect the valves. One look, and you know it's a Wavac, much in the manner of no-nonsense meters crying, "Nagra!" But I have to admit to a small shock: the glass just rests there on its little feet; it's not fixed in place. There but for the grace of God does it remain intact, for I took the unit out of the carton not knowing the glass was loose. But I lifted it out with the front facing me, the glass resting against my ample gut. I'm still recovering from thoughts of how it might have slipped off, shattering on the floor.
Thank goodness for the Wavac's Achilles' Heel: every unit should demonstrate one example of sheer stupidity lest we think the designers made something truly perfect. Oh, and the "MD" stands for "Music Dandy", which is too ludicrous even to consider.
Although I am at odds with the 300B cult, I state with awe and respect that you're buying into a legend with Wavac, just as the Croft lets you sample Glenn's genius, or in the manner of older Audio Note amps connecting you to Kondo-san. In this case, it's the heritage of the late and sorely-missed Nobu Shishido, a valve shogun admired the world over. His formula? Adamantly single-ended, with a passion for the fruits of RCA when RCA (like the BBC) had a vast, creative research department which influenced the world of electronics. When RCA valves were radical, ground-breaking. And just plain cool.
Read more about the WAVAC amp on Page 2.