Review: Wattson Audio MADISON Streaming DAC

Review: Wattson Audio MADISON Streaming DAC- The Watttson Audio Madison Digital Streaming DAC exemplifies Swiss precision and sonic excellence, blending a compact design with premium performance.

The Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC emerges as a Swiss masterpiece in high-end audio equipment. Despite being a relatively new player in the audio industry, Watttson Audio carries a legacy rooted in Swiss engineering excellence. With a focus on precision and meticulous craftsmanship, Watttson Audio has produced the Madison, a compact yet feature-packed digital streaming DAC that showcases Switzerland’s reputation for delivering audio perfection. In this review, we explore the Madison’s design, sound quality, and immersive listening experience, highlighting its potential as a standout player in digital audio.

Watttson Audio: A Swiss Legacy in High-End Audio

Though founded only recently in 2020, Watttson Audio carries a rich heritage, hailing from a Swiss circuit design company, engineered SA. Its lineage traces back to ABC PCB, a subsidiary of the renowned Anagram Technologies, known for its digital processing solutions. While ABC PCB served as numerous manufacturers’ long-term electronic development partner, engineered SA took the reins in 2015, inheriting crucial technology from its predecessor. Watttson Audio’s product range extends beyond just audio components, showcasing a commitment to creating practical, feature-rich offerings. Their latest release, the Madison digital streaming DAC, exemplifies Swiss precision and craftsmanship.

Madison: Swiss Precision in a Compact Form

The Madison by Watttson Audio is a high-standard digital streaming DAC with analog balanced output. Despite its slight size increase compared to its sibling, the Emerson, it remains compact enough to hold in one hand. Watttson Audio prides itself on the meticulous Swiss design and production of its products, epitomizing the country’s reputation for precision. Madison’s philosophy embodies Leonardo da Vinci’s famous saying: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” a testament to its products’ thoughtful simplicity.

Features of Wattson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC
● Engineered SA patented streaming technology, Bit Perfect/asynchronous
● Can decode up to PCM 32bit/384kHz, DSD256 (11.2896MHz)
● New Anagram Technology upconversion processing technology, the best in the time field
● Lossless LEEDH processing volume control can be used directly with the power amplifier ●
Adjustable low-frequency response solves the problem of placing speakers against the wall
● Extremely low phase noise clock generator (<1µV RMS, 10Hz to 100kHz)
● Double dynamic difference D/A conversion circuit, using one decoding chip for each channel
● Fully symmetrical analog output stage
● Extremely low noise power circuit, multiple high-quality filter components
● CNC all-aluminum alloy body
● Made in Switzerland, designed and produced in Switzerland

Wattson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC specifications
● Transmission interface
network: 100Mbit/s Ethernet
digital input: Coaxial x1, optical fiber x1
Analog output: XLR balanced x1 group, RCA x1 group
Headphone output: 6.35mm (2x 100mW on 32 ohms, 2x 25mW on 150 ohms)
● Support streaming: UPnP/DLNA, AirPlay, Roon Ready
● Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR-A): typ. 124dB
● Total harmonic distortion (THD+N, 0dB FS): typ. 0,001%
●Power supply: external medical grade 5V DC
●Power consumption: 50mW (standby), 4.5 W (playing)
●Dimensions: 174 x 185 x 47mm
●Weight: 1050g

Design and Build Quality

The design and build quality of the Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC are nothing short of exceptional, embodying the Swiss commitment to precision and craftsmanship. Despite its petite form factor, the Madison exudes sophistication and elegance. Crafted from a single piece of aviation-grade titanium aluminum alloy through CNC precision turning, the unit boasts a sleek, streamlined appearance that epitomizes Swiss aesthetics – simple, refined, and minimalist. Its compact size allows it to fit effortlessly into any audio setup, making it a versatile addition to your audio ecosystem.

The Madison’s front panel is adorned with a 6.35mm headphone output for personal listening, while a multi-function button on the right-hand side facilitates source selection and volume control. Turning to the rear, you’ll find various connectivity options, including digital inputs for network, TOS optical fiber, and COAX coaxial connections. For analog output, the Madison offers both XLR and RCA options. Powering this Swiss marvel is a 5V DC supply through a dedicated transformer, ensuring stable and clean power delivery.

In terms of build quality, the Madison leaves no room for compromise. Each unit is meticulously assembled in Switzerland, a testament to the brand’s commitment to quality assurance. The robust construction and the use of premium materials ensure that the Madison looks the part and withstands the test of time. Its design may be understated, but its build quality speaks volumes about the brand’s dedication to creating an audio masterpiece.

Functionality and Qualities

The Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC combines a range of impressive functionalities and qualities that cater to the discerning audiophile. Let’s delve into its key features and attributes:

  1. Compact Design: The Madison boasts a sleek and compact design, making it an ideal choice for audiophiles with limited space. Crafted with precision from aviation-grade titanium aluminum alloy, it reflects Swiss craftsmanship and a commitment to quality.
  2. Fully Balanced Design: The Madison features a fully balanced circuit design, ensuring optimal signal integrity and minimal interference. This design choice contributes to its ability to deliver clean and accurate audio.
  3. High-Resolution Audio: With support for PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD 256x (11.2896MHz) decoding, the Madison is equipped to easily handle high-resolution audio formats. This capability allows audiophiles to enjoy studio-quality sound reproduction.
  4. Low-Phase Noise Clocks: The DAC incorporates two sets of extremely low-phase noise clocks, operating at 44.1kHz and 48kHz. These clocks contribute to low jitter and precise timing, improving audio quality.
  5. LEEDH Lossless Circuit: The Madison features the LEEDH lossless circuit to ensure sound control and accuracy. This circuit design helps maintain the audio signal’s integrity and allows for precise adjustments, such as compensating for room acoustics.
  6. Analog Output Stage: The DAC’s analog output stage is designed for optimal performance, featuring the latest generation of fully balanced OP amplifiers. The Madison promises exceptional audio quality if you opt for the XLR or RCA outputs.
  7. Digital Streaming Capabilities: The Madison offers versatile streaming capabilities, including support for UPnP/DLNA, AirPlay, and Roon Ready. This versatility enables users to access music from various sources and platforms seamlessly.
  8. Dedicated Control App: Watttson Audio provides a user-friendly control app—Wattson Music for iOS and Wattson Remote for Android. These apps simplify the operation of the Madison and offer additional features like EQ adjustments and indicator light brightness control.
  9. Versatile Connectivity: The DAC features three sets of digital inputs, including network, TOS optical fiber, and COAX coaxial. This connectivity allows users to connect audio sources, such as CD players and network-attached storage (NAS) devices.
  10. Roon Ready Certification: Roon users can enjoy a seamless integration experience with the Madison, thanks to its Roon Ready certification. This ensures compatibility and ease of use for those who prefer the Roon music management platform.
  11. Impressive Sound Quality: The Madison DAC’s sound quality is characterized by its transparency, detail retrieval, and dynamic range. It maintains clarity even during complex musical passages, offering listeners a lifelike and engaging listening experience.
  12. Balanced Sound Signature: With a balanced sound signature, the Madison aims for accuracy and neutrality, ensuring that it reproduces the source material without adding coloration or distortion.
  13. Low Noise Floor: The DAC’s low noise floor enhances the overall listening experience by providing a clean and silent background during quieter moments in the music.
  14. Spacious Soundstage: Madison creates a spacious, three-dimensional soundstage, allowing for precise instrument placement and immersive listening.
  15. Excellent Build Quality: Crafted in Switzerland, the Madison is a testament to meticulous build quality and attention to detail. Its sturdy construction ensures longevity and reliability.

In summary, the Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC is a compact powerhouse that combines exceptional sound quality with various features and functionalities. Its commitment to high-resolution audio, balanced design, and precise circuitry sets it apart in the audiophile world. With versatile connectivity options and intuitive control via dedicated apps, the Madison offers a premium listening experience for those who demand the best from their digital audio sources.

Internal Circuitry and Features

Underneath the elegant exterior of the Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC lies a highly sophisticated and feature-packed internal circuitry that elevates its audio performance to remarkable levels. This Swiss-engineered device adopts a fully balanced design, showcasing meticulous attention to detail.

  1. Engineered SA’s Exclusive Streaming Solution: Madison employs a proprietary streaming solution from Engineered SA, known for its excellence in circuit design. This solution guarantees bit-perfect and asynchronous transmission, ensuring that audio data is faithfully reproduced without timing errors or signal jitter.
  2. Dual DAC Chip Configuration: Madison utilizes a dual dynamic differential mode design with a dedicated DAC chip for each channel. This configuration enhances stereo separation and overall audio precision. The DAC chips are from Cirrus Logic, renowned for their high-quality digital-to-analog conversion.
  3. High-Resolution Decoding: The Madison DAC is easily equipped to handle high-resolution audio formats. It supports PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD 256x (11.2896MHz) decoding, ensuring it can faithfully reproduce the most detailed and nuanced audio content.
  4. Clock Generators: To maintain precise timing and minimize phase noise, Madison includes two extremely low phase noise clocks, each synchronized to different sample rates (44.1kHz and 48kHz). These clocks contribute to the DAC’s exceptional audio accuracy.
  5. Optimized Upsampling: Watttson Audio has developed a specialized up-sampling process tailored for the Madison. This optimized circuit operates in the time domain to enhance signal quality, ensuring that audio signals are delivered in their purest form.
  6. LEEDH Lossless Circuit: Madison incorporates the renowned LEEDH lossless circuit for sound control. This feature lets the device directly connect to power amplifiers or active speakers. Additionally, users can adjust the low-frequency response via an exclusive app, compensating for any acoustic anomalies in their listening space.
  7. Fully Symmetrical Analog Output Stage: The analog output stage of the Madison is designed with full symmetry, minimizing noise and distortion. This design ensures that RCA and XLR outputs deliver the highest audio fidelity.
  8. Low-Noise DC Power Supply: To maintain audio purity, Madison features a high-quality DC power supply. The power supply is designed to keep noise levels below 1µV RMS, measured within a frequency bandwidth of 10Hz to 100kHz.
  9. Versatile Digital Streaming: Madison supports various music formats and streaming protocols. It can connect via UPnP/DLNA, AirPlay, and is Roon Ready. Additionally, Wattson Audio offers its Wattson Music/Wattson Remote app, allowing direct access to streaming services like TIDAL, Qobuz, and airable radios.

This intricate internal circuitry and its feature-rich capabilities position the Watttson Audio Madison as a formidable contender in the digital streaming DAC market, promising audiophiles uncompromising audio quality and versatility in a compact package.

Streaming Capabilities and Apps

The Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC is designed to excel in streaming capabilities, offering a versatile range of options for music playback and control through dedicated apps.

Streaming Protocols: Madison supports various streaming protocols to ensure compatibility with various devices and services. These include:

  • UPnP/DLNA: This protocol allows seamless communication between the Madison DAC and other UPnP/DLNA-compatible devices on your home network. It lets you stream audio content from networked sources like NAS drives or computers.
  • AirPlay: Madison is AirPlay compatible, making it effortless to stream audio content from Apple devices, including iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. This feature enhances the device’s ecosystem integration.
  • Roon Ready: The Madison DAC has earned Roon Ready certification, a significant advantage for Roon music management and streaming software users. Roon Ready devices are guaranteed to work seamlessly with Roon, providing an enhanced user experience for music enthusiasts who prefer this platform.

Wattson Music/Wattson Remote App: To streamline control and enhance the user experience, Watttson Audio offers dedicated apps: Wattson Music for iOS and Wattson Remote for Android. These apps are designed with simplicity and functionality in mind. They enable users to:

  • Access Streaming Services: The Wattson Music/Wattson Remote apps allow direct access to popular streaming services such as TIDAL, Qobuz, and airable radios. This integration makes it convenient to explore and enjoy a vast music library without switching between multiple applications.
  • Control Playback: Users can control music playback, adjust volume, and navigate through their music library directly from the app. The intuitive interfaces make it easy for listeners to find and play their favorite tracks effortlessly.
  • Equalizer Settings: Madison’s apps provide an equalizer feature, allowing users to fine-tune the audio output to their preferences. This capability is especially useful for tailoring the sound to match the acoustic characteristics of their listening environment.
  • Indicator Light Brightness: The apps enable users to adjust the brightness of the indicator lights on the Madison DAC, allowing for customization to suit the aesthetic of their listening setup.

In summary, the Watttson Audio Madison DAC offers a comprehensive suite of streaming capabilities, supporting popular protocols like UPnP/DLNA, AirPlay, and Roon Ready certification. The dedicated Wattson Music/Wattson Remote apps provide a seamless and user-friendly interface for controlling playback, accessing streaming services, and adjusting audio settings. This combination of features and user-centric design ensures that the Madison is well-equipped to meet audiophiles and music enthusiasts’ streaming needs.

Connections and connectivity

The Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC offers versatile connections and connectivity options, ensuring compatibility with various audio sources and systems.

Digital Inputs: Madison provides three sets of digital inputs on its rear panel:

  • Network: This Ethernet input lets you connect Madison to your home network, facilitating network streaming. It enables seamless access to digital music libraries on network-attached storage (NAS) devices, computers, or other networked sources. Network connectivity also ensures access to streaming services and online radio.
  • TOS Optical Fiber: The TOS optical fiber input is designed for connecting digital sources like CD players or compatible audio devices with optical outputs. This input allows for the transmission of digital audio signals using optical cables.
  • COAX Coaxial: The COAX coaxial input accommodates digital audio sources with coaxial outputs, such as CD transports or certain audio interfaces. It provides an alternative digital input option for connecting external devices.

Analog Outputs: Madison offers both XLR balanced and RCA unbalanced analog outputs. These outputs provide flexibility in connecting the DAC to various amplifiers, preamps, or powered speakers. The balanced XLR outputs are particularly useful for maintaining audio signal integrity over longer cable runs and reducing susceptibility to interference.

Headphone Output: Madison features a 6.35mm headphone output on its front panel. This output lets you connect headphones directly to the DAC for private listening sessions. It’s a convenient option for enjoying high-quality audio without disturbing others.

DC Power Supply: The Madison DAC accepts a 5V DC power supply, which is included with the device. This power supply ensures stable and reliable operation while keeping the main unit compact and streamlined.

Network Streaming: Madison supports network streaming via UPnP/DLNA and AirPlay protocols. You can wirelessly stream music from your mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to the DAC over your Wi-Fi network. AirPlay compatibility also enables seamless streaming from Apple devices.

Roon Ready Certification: Madison is certified as “Roon Ready,” making it compatible with Roon’s music management and streaming software. This certification ensures a seamless and enhanced experience for Roon users, allowing for effortless integration into a Roon-based multi-room audio system.

The Watttson Audio Madison DAC provides a comprehensive range of digital and analog inputs and outputs, enabling versatile connectivity with various audio sources and systems. Whether you prefer network streaming, wired connections, or headphone listening, the Madison offers the flexibility and compatibility to meet your audio needs. Additionally, its Roon Ready certification and support for popular streaming protocols enhance its versatility and ease of integration into your audio setup.

Sound Quality: A Masterful Performance

Listening to Madison’s performance, the sparsity of its design doesn’t equate to a cold, hard sound. It offers a dynamic and detailed sonic experience with a neutral tone. It excels in delivering musical nuances, providing clear and natural details. Despite its compact size, it delivers ample low-frequency resonance and maintains balance throughout the frequency spectrum. Madison’s analytical control over music is nothing short of remarkable.

Sonic Control and Emotion

When playing Ed Sheeran’s “A Beautiful Game,” Madison demonstrates smoothness, silkiness, and moderate tonal balance. It doesn’t veer towards harshness, maintaining warmth and refinement, especially in falsetto vocals. The bass is present yet controlled, avoiding unnecessary heaviness. Madison’s sound signature strikes an excellent balance between richness and finesse.

Three-Dimensional Musicality

Listening to “The Scientist” by Boyce Avenue and Hannah Trigwell, Madison’s prowess shines. It delicately portrays the subtlest details, offering a silky and warm performance. The separation of vocals and instruments is exceptional. Strings, male and female voices harmoniously coexist, creating a three-dimensional listening experience that is both relaxed and engaging.

The sound test and evaluation of the Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC reveal its impressive sound quality and performance across various musical genres and listening scenarios.

Overall Sound Signature: The Madison DAC exhibits a well-balanced and neutral sound signature characterized by clarity, accuracy, and a high level of detail retrieval. It strives for transparency and faithful reproduction of the audio source, making it a versatile choice for audiophiles seeking an uncolored listening experience.

Clarity and Detail: When subjected to intricate and complex musical passages, the Madison maintains clarity and articulation. Each instrument and vocal is distinctly rendered, allowing listeners to discern subtle nuances and intricate musical details. This level of detail retrieval enhances the overall listening experience, particularly for those who value precision and instrument separation.

Dynamic Range: The DAC demonstrates an impressive dynamic range, capable of conveying music’s full impact and intensity. Whether it’s the softest whispers or the thunderous crescendos, the Madison handles dynamic shifts with finesse, preserving the emotional depth of the music.

Bass Response: The low-frequency performance of the Madison is noteworthy. It delivers a controlled, well-defined bass response extending deep into the lower registers. Bass notes are tight and impactful, providing a solid foundation for various musical genres, including electronic, rock, and orchestral compositions.

Midrange Clarity: The midrange frequencies are reproduced with exceptional clarity and accuracy. Vocals, in particular, benefit from the Madison’s midrange presentation, sounding natural and emotionally engaging. This characteristic is particularly appreciated when listening to acoustic, jazz, or vocal-centric music.

High-Frequency Extension: The high-frequency reproduction of the Madison is extended and detailed, adding sparkle and airiness to the music. Cymbals, strings, and other high-frequency elements are well-defined and never sound harsh or sibilant. This attribute contributes to an open and airy soundstage.

Soundstage and Imaging: The Madison creates a spacious and three-dimensional soundstage, allowing instruments and vocals to breathe within the sonic landscape. It offers precise imaging, allowing listeners to pinpoint the location of individual instruments within the mix. This sense of space and dimensionality enhances the immersion factor during listening.

Low Noise and Transparency: The DAC exhibits low noise levels, contributing to a black background during quieter musical passages. This transparency allows for a more intimate connection with the music, as listeners can fully appreciate subtle details and micro-dynamics.

Versatility: The Madison’s versatility is evident in its ability to handle various music genres and recording qualities with finesse. Whether playing high-resolution FLAC files or streaming Spotify, it maintains its sonic integrity and offers an enjoyable listening experience.

In conclusion, the Watttson Audio Madison digital streaming DAC impresses with its clear, detailed, and transparent sound quality. It balances precision and musicality, making it suitable for audiophiles with diverse musical preferences. The DAC’s ability to faithfully reproduce audio sources and its spacious soundstage and low noise floor ensure an engaging and immersive listening experience. Whether you’re an acoustic, electronic, classical, or vocal music fan, the Madison delivers high-quality sound to please discerning listeners.

Conclusion: A Swiss Gem

In conclusion, the Watttson Audio Madison Digital Streaming DAC is a shining example of Swiss precision and craftsmanship in high-end audio. Its compact yet stylish design, premium build quality, and versatile connectivity options make it a standout choice for audiophiles who value form and function. The Madison’s dedication to delivering high-quality sound is evident in its balanced design, low noise floor, and exceptional clarity, allowing music enthusiasts to experience their favorite tracks with astonishing detail and accuracy. Its ability to seamlessly integrate with streaming platforms, including Roon, further enhances the listening experience, making it a versatile and future-proof addition to any audio setup.

While the Madison’s price point may be a consideration for some, its performance justifies the investment for those who demand the best in audio quality. It caters to a niche audience of discerning listeners who appreciate its transparent sound signature and spacious soundstage. Ultimately, the Watttson Audio Madison Digital Streaming DAC earns its place as a top-tier audio component, embodying the Swiss commitment to excellence and simplicity in both design and sound reproduction.

Reasons to Buy the Watttson Audio Madison Digital Streaming DAC:

  1. High-Quality Sound: If you are an audiophile demanding the highest sound quality, the Madison delivers. With its high-resolution audio support, low noise floor, and balanced design, it faithfully reproduces music with exceptional clarity and detail.
  2. Compact and Sleek Design: The Madison’s compact and elegant design makes it a perfect fit for smaller spaces or those who prefer a minimalist aesthetic. Its premium build quality adds to its visual appeal.
  3. Versatile Connectivity: With multiple digital inputs, including network, optical, and coaxial, the Madison accommodates various audio sources, ensuring compatibility with your existing equipment.
  4. Streaming Capabilities: Whether you prefer UPnP/DLNA, AirPlay, or Roon, the Madison supports a range of streaming protocols, making it easy to access your music from multiple platforms.
  5. Dedicated Control App: The user-friendly Wattson Music and Wattson Remote apps simplify operation and offer extra features like EQ adjustments, enhancing the user experience.
  6. Roon Ready: If you are a Roon user, the Madison’s Roon Ready certification ensures seamless integration and compatibility with the Roon music management platform.
  7. Transparent and Balanced Sound: The Madison’s balanced sound signature prioritizes accuracy and neutrality, making it an excellent choice for those who prefer a faithful representation of their music without added coloration.
  8. Spacious Soundstage: It creates an expansive and immersive soundstage, allowing you to pinpoint instrument placement and enjoy a captivating listening experience.
  9. Low Noise Floor: The Madison’s low noise floor contributes to a clean and silent background during quieter moments in your music, ensuring every detail is audible.

Reasons to Consider Alternatives:

  1. Budget Constraints: The Madison may not fit everyone’s budget, as it offers premium sound quality and build quality at a higher price point.
  2. Limited USB Connectivity: If you rely heavily on USB connectivity for your audio sources, you may need an external converter, as the Madison does not feature a USB input.
  3. Size Preference: If you prefer larger audio components or require additional features not offered by the Madison, you may want to explore alternatives that better suit your needs.

In conclusion, the Watttson Audio Madison Digital Streaming DAC is an excellent choice for audiophiles seeking top-tier sound quality, a compact design, and versatile streaming capabilities. Its commitment to high-resolution audio and transparent sound signature makes it a compelling option for those who prioritize audio fidelity. However, budget-conscious buyers or those with specific connectivity requirements may want to explore other options in the market.