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Wattson Audio

Manufacturer: ENGINEERED SA
Price (in Poland): 2643 € (+ VAT)

Contact: Avenue des Sports 28
1400 Yverdon-les-Bains



Provided for test by: AUDIO ATELIER


translation Ewa Muszczynko
images Wojciech Pacuła | Wattson Audio

No 218

July 1, 2022

WATTSON AUDIO is a brand owned by the Swiss company ENGINEERED SA. WA was founded in 2019 and specializes in digital audio sources. Its first product was the EMERSON file transport. We are testing its latest device, an audio file player called MADISON.

WITZERLAND SEEMS TO BE WAKING UP from sleep which it fell into some time ago. I mean audiophile Switzerland, home to many high-end brands. Perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit, but even if I am, it's not much. It's because even though we kept hearing about new products from companies like GOLDMUND, PIEGA, FM ACOUSTICS or SOULNOTE, not to mention NAGRA, the excitement coming from new solutions disappeared somewhere, replaced by everyday "business".

And it wasn't until the introduction of the already mentioned Nagra's company new generation of products, the strong comeback of the darTZeel brand, and most of all the powerful global market entry of CH PRECISION with truly innovative products, that the high-end scene of this small country gained some breath and put itself back on the map of world press attention.

All the companies mentioned above offer "high end" products – expensive, very expensive and extremely expensive ones. With this "awakening", however, much more affordable devices have begun to reach us. They are still not cheap; however, against the backdrop of the stratosphere in question, that's how they should be treated. Those are, for example, Merason, whose DAC1 we reviewed in February this year (more HERE) and Wattson Audio, presented by us in Poland for the first time.

And this is probably even more important – we get audio products designed and manufactured (!) in Switzerland, which offer great technical solutions, original engineering and won’t ruin our budget. And this is, for me, the "second" breath of the Swiss audio scene. The really important one.


THE WATTSON AUDIO COMPANY WAS CREATED in 2019 out of – as its founder, Mr. ALEXANDRE LAVANCHY, wrote me in an email – "the passion and experience gained over nearly 20 years by the Engineered SA company in the service of many high-end audio brands." And further:

Combining advanced technology and audiophile tradition in a purist and pragmatic manner, Wattson Audio offers a range of high quality expressive products. This innovative approach breaks new ground in music reproduction. Wattson Audio products are conceived, precisely designed and manufactured in the canton of Yverdon-les-Bains in the heart of Romandie, Switzerland. The company relies on a network of close partners to reduce its environmental impact and dynamically support local economy.

The aforementioned year 2019 is when the first product was created, but it was not until 2020 that the Wattson Audio brand was registered. Although it seems to be a newcomer on the audio market, the people behind it have many years of vast experience in the field of digital signal processing. It just so happens that its predecessor, ABC PCB Sàrl founded in 2005, was a subsidiary of Anagram Technologies. And AT was known for its excellent upsamplers and D/A converters that could be found, for example, in players and DACs of such companies as SOULUTION or Audio Aero.

In 2015, ABC PCB Sàrl changed its name to Engineered SA and, as we can read, placed "a strong emphasis on its engineering experience and expertise in electronics."


A few simple words with…

Owner, designer

⸜ ALEXANDRE LAVANCHY on a selfie photo taken for “High Fidelity”

WOJCIECH PACUŁA Tell us a few words about yourself, please.
ALEXANDRE LAVANCHY I'm an electronic engineer and I was originally involved in the instrumentation industry. I got involved with audio in 2000 (all the text effects have been added by the Editor – Editor’s note), when I took a job as a development engineer at Sonosax, a company known for its recorders and mixing consoles. A few years later, I was hired by a new company that was designing equipment for various high-end companies. Today that company is called Engineered SA and I've been managing it since 2019.

WP Who set up Wattson Audio?
AL The Engineered company gradually gained fame and worked for many prestigious brands. This gave us a chance to learn a lot of skills, and a desire to create our own products started to grow in the team. Although I am officially a manager, Wattson Audio was born out of the will of Engineered employees and a few of its close partners.

WP Who is the main engineer in the company?
AL As I said, it's a team effort and each person makes a significant contribution. Three software engineers work on different elements of Wattson products: the control software, streaming interface and mobile app. I deal with the overall vision and development of electronic circuits.

WP Who designed the file transport section?
AL The streaming interface is authored by Engineered. It's probably the most time-consuming project we've ever done. We started working on our first streaming interface in 2010. Since then, we've been constantly improving it and adding new features. It's a never-ending job!

WP The board features two shielded modules – what is inside?
AL These are the main clock oscillators. We have shielded them to reduce electromagnetic interference.

WP Where are upsampling and LEEDH volume control carried out?
AL LEEDH and upsampling are performed in a dedicated circuit used for signal processing. This is the SHARC DSP processor from Analog Devices. If you take a look at the photo, it's the big square chip to the right of the oscillator cover.


The WATTSON AUDIO MADISON IS a complete audio file player with digital inputs and a headphone amplifier. Ethernet files are sent via a standard RJ45 connector, and this is the only way to transfer them – the Madison does not offer a wireless link. There are two digital inputs, both S/PDIF: RCA and TOSLink.

There is no USB Audio input here. I don't mind, because file decoding is provided by the internal transport, but some may consider it a "lack", just like the lack of a USB port for external media. The Madison only plays files from streaming services and NAS drives. It can play PCM files up to 32 bits, 384 kHz and DSD256; it is also Roon Ready and supports Tidal, Qobuz, AirPlay, Internet radio and UPnP.

All the sections have been prepared independently by the Engineered team. The file transport is also available for third parties – it is called eRED-MOD. Digital signal from both the transport and digital inputs is asynchronously upsampled – no details on that are given by the company. It is known, however, that the algorithms were originally developed for very expensive Anagram Technologies upsamplers; the upsampler cannot be turned off. D/A conversion is performed by two Wolfson Microelectronics WM8741 circuits, one per channel, in a balanced mode.

The device is one of the smallest products of this kind, although its housing is extremely solid. It has been milled from a piece of aluminum. It is a pity that instead of feet it has only glued silicon "rubber bands". The device has a distinctive look and you can see that it is not accidental. I am almost sure that it was developed by a specialized industrial design group. The manufacturer calls the look of its products "retro future".

It can be described in this way because of the curved side panel and the knob integrated into it. The knob is both a volume control and a button. It is a volume control because the Madison uses another Swiss company's patented process, LEEDH PROCESSING, which allows one to digitally lower volume (more about LEEDH HERE). There are red LEDs around the knob. They indicate the volume level, but in an intelligent way – by turning on and off after a while.

⸜ FUNCTIONALITY Compared to other players in this price range, such as the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge, the Madison is functionally very poor. There is no display on which we can read the input signal parameters, it lacks USB inputs and outputs, and the headphone amplifier is unbalanced. There is no MQA decoding, and the device is controlled via iPhone only.

However, I think this has all been well thought-out. There is no USB input, because only file transfer from a NAS guarantees a top level; one exception are built-in eSATA drives, but this is not the case. As Alexander told me, control is soon to be available for Android devices as well – for smartphones, as no tablet version is planned. Also in the near future, the Madison is expected to decode MQA files and offer Tidal Connect.


˻ THE WAY WE LISTENED The WATTSON AUDIO MADISON audio file transport stood on the top shelf of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition Mk II bookshelf. I placed ACOUSTIC REVIVE RPI-5005 pads underneath and put the Verictum X Block passive EMI/RFI filter on its power supply.

The transport was connected to the Internet via my system consisting of a SILENT ANGEL N16 LPS dual LAN switch, with two modules connected in series, powered by a TIGLON TPL-2000A cable and a TIGLON TPL-2000L LAN cable; more on that HERE |PL|. It was compared to the C/A converter section of the AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF EDITION SACD player and the MYTEK BROOKLYN BRIDGE file player.

I did not use the internal volume control during playback. The transport was powered by the HARMONIX X-DC350M2R IMPROVED-VERSION cable.

Albums used in the test | a selection

⸜ MILES DAVIS, Kind of Blue, Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music Entertainment COL 480410 2, FLAC 24/192 (1959/2013).
⸜ ART BLAKEY, Moanin’, Blue Note/Tidal, FLAC 16/44,1 (1958/2014).
⸜ STEPHAN MICUS Winter’s End, ECM Records/Tildal, FLAC 16/44,1 (2021).
⸜ ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM, Stone Flower (CTI Records 40th Anniversary Edition), CTI Records/ Tidal, FLAC 16/44,1 (1970/?).
⸜ KINGDM, Your Love (feat. Soran & Reo Cragun), Capital Records/Tidal, FLAC 16/44,1 (2018).
⸜ YELLO, Touch, Polydor 27194851, FLAC 16/44,1 (2009).

⸜ JIM HALL TRIO, Blues On The Rocks, Gambit Records 69207, CD (2005).
⸜ ALISON MOYET, This House. Limited Edition Picture Disc, Columbia 657515 5, Maxi SP CD (1991).
⸜ LAURIE ANDERSON, Bright Red, Warner Bros. Records 9362-45534-2, CD (1994).
⸜ TORD GUSTAVSEN TRIO, Changing Places, ECM Records/Universal Music K.K. UCCE-9185, SHM-CD (2003/2008).
⸜ RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, Californication, Warner Bros. Records 9362-47386-2, CD (1999).

⸜ FILE PLAYER Testing the Madison as a file player, I listened to it, in fact, somewhat surprised by the choices made by the engineers – choices related to sound. I know that these are almost always driven by technology and the selected circuit solutions, and that listening experience is not usually number one factor on the list.

That is why every time I hear devices from different but equally good companies, based on an engineering design method and sounding extremely different, I say to myself that measurements and theory are one thing, while practice is something completely different. Let me explain: the Wattson Audio player sounds significantly different from, for example, the FERRUM or MYTEK players I reviewed some time ago. It also sounds different than products from SILENT ANGEL and MERASON, although it shares some of its musical DNA with the latter.

The reviewed device is extremely smooth, dark and – there's no way not to say it – "analog" in its expression. And I have just realized that I wrote about Soulution products based on Anagram Technologies upsamplers in a very similar way. Products costing twenty times more...

What I got with the Madison was sound that was saturated and credible, but credible with its color and depth, not with details and selectivity. There is not a lot of "detail" in its sound, understood as details popping out of the mix, drawing attention to themselves. I know, audiophiles love such a presentation, that is one sparkling with details. Maybe not all of them, but, as a group – yes, they do. We will not get that with the Swiss player.

And this is true regardless of whether we listen to the sophisticated realization of MILES DAVIS's Kind of Blue or ART BLAKEY's Moanin’. It will not bring out the singing details of STEPHAN MICUS's Winter’s End. Instead, it will do the opposite of what many people expect from an audio device –show the incredible music recorded on these discs. I know, it seems illogical, because music is built on information, and details are representative of such information. However, nothing in audio is linear.

For let's listen to the opening sequence of ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIMA's Stone Flower (CTI Records 40th Anniversary Edition), let's play the soundtrack to the movie Venice, written and performed by HANIA RANI, and we will see what I mean. The percussion on the first track, the extra-musical sounds of the grand piano (upright piano?) that make up the landscape of the Polish artist's recordings, it was all alive with Madison, it was natural.

The device is dark on top, it will not "sparkle", but maybe that is why all the tracks I listened to from files sounded nice, pleasant and pretty. They were not deprived of information, because resolution is an especially strong point of this device. Dynamics on a macro scale was smoothed out and the panorama was focused between the speakers. You have to be prepared for that, too. However, it sounded so organic and engaging that one could quickly forget about those compromises.

⸜ D/A CONVERTER What I wrote about above was even more audible with CDs, when the Madison worked only as a digital-to-analog converter (RCA input). The sound was then remarkably dense and incredibly tangible. RED MITCHELL's double bass, in Good Friday Blues, a piece composed by him, by the way, from the JIM HALL TRIO album Blues On The Rocks, was powerfully dense and dynamic, for this scale dynamic is superb.

It was even better on Speechless, the opening track of LAURIE ANDERSON's Bright Red album. The rhythm played on the snare drum, supported by the foot drum hitting from time to time, was great, almost hypnotic. The sound was closed between the speakers, I've already mentioned this, but when the chorus entered after the first minute, overlaid by a long reverb, space opened up, mainly into the depth.

The DAC reacted a bit nervously only after the full band entered, when the compression applied to both the vocal and other instruments increased significantly. The sound was then shallower and not so tangible. This is the problem of the recording, to a large extent. However, it is worth knowing that something like that happens. It is interesting that when the Madison operated as a complete file player, high compression was not such a big problem, perhaps because CDs sounded more open and their dynamics was higher.

The Swiss DAC, because we are still talking about this function, plays through the RCA input in a more open way than as a complete file player. I missed the saturation and depth of sounds a bit then, because, for example, ALISON MOYET, played from the maxi single This House, sounded great as long as she sang the verses. Once the choruses came in with the strong, bright-sounding drums, Madison shrunk the back of the sound stage and moved the foreground away from me.

And now – it is a manifestation of good resolution, that is how these recordings were produced. But it is also the case that expensive devices can add even more information to it, so that we perceive the given recording as an artistic expression, an author's version etc., and not as a mistake. So, no matter how good the reviewed DAC is, and it is really great, it is not a device that could replace D/A converters costing PLN 20,000 and more. On the other hand, in its league it is exceptional, offering a beautiful set of features.

⸜ HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER The headphone amplifier in the reviewed device is an additional element. It cannot be used without a D/A converter, so we can only talk about a DAC/amplifier system.

I pretty quickly determined that this is not an amplifier with too much current capacity. Planar headphones like the HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 sounded nice, but I could also hear that the device was on the verge of overdrive. It was better with the Audeze LCD-3, but still lacked dynamics and "breath", i.e. freedom of decay. That is why it was such a pleasure to listen to a few discs through dynamic headphones, primarily the Sennheiser HD800.

I have the impression that the device was listened to with similar designs and that it is intended for such designs. The sound of both the above-mentioned maxi single by Alison Moyet and TORD GUSTAVSEN TRIO album Changing Places, released in Japan on a SHM-CD, was really very nice. I wouldn't expect any exceptional refinement or resolution, it's not the case. But I had no problem listening to several discs this way, with pleasure.


THE MADISON BY WATTSON AUDIO is a device that can be used both as a complete file player and as a DAC with an external CD transport. It is most compelling in the former role. It shows the company’s unique view of music, which becomes an uninterrupted sequence, a dense transfer rather than a collection of sounds with the tested device. That's why I used the word "analog" to describe it. There is bass in it, there is density, there is fluidity.

As a DAC it is more open and transparent, though it still retains much of the density we've been talking about. It shows the events in a more direct way, so we get more details. Dynamics seems to be higher, but mostly on the macro scale, as on the micro scale it was already great before. The sound is shown between the speakers and can go far behind them. However, the class of recordings is then differentiated quite strongly. This is good, as this is what we demand from high-quality equipment. Compared to a complete player, however, it gives a slightly different picture of events, for which we need to be prepared.

And, finally, there are the headphones, or rather DAC/headphones. This set, with dynamic designs, gives us most of what I heard with files, i.e. calmness, relaxation and density. The dynamics is calmed and the width of the "soundstage" – as we are ultimately talking about listening through headphones – narrower than in external headphone amplifiers. All this, however, is done with taste and attention.

This is probably the best and shortest description of the sound of the tested device. It sounds best as a complete file player. There is experience in its sound, which cannot be bought, as it has to be gathered over years of work. There are no cosmic leaps, no trips to neighboring galaxies. Instead, there is fullness, calmness and music. And there is our award ˻ RED FINGERPRINT ˺.


MADISON, THE FILE PLAYER BY Wattson Audio, looks modest. It is small, and its surface is covered with gray paint with reflective particles similar to mica. However, the device is well thought-out both mechanically and electrically.

The cabinet is made of an aluminum element milled from the bottom, to which the bottom panel is bolted. There are few elements on the front panel – no indicator of the type of digital signal reaching the inputs, let alone information on the files being played. This is an example of a solution known as a "black box" in which all communication is done via a control application. In this case, these are Apple devices only with the iOS operating system. Android and Linux are out (for now).

˻ FRONT AND BACK At the front we find a 6.3 mm TRS headphone jack and a volume knob that also serves as a switch. Around the knob, red LEDs are arranged in a semicircle, indicating volume change (in a row) and its selected level (a single diode). This is a simple and convenient solution. Next to them there are four other LEDs of the same color, indicating the selected digital input or going into "sleep" mode. It is commendable that the idiotic (from the technical point of view) blue color has been abandoned.

At the back we find two digital inputs for audio signal – an optical TOSLink and electrical RCA (both S/PDIF) as well as an RJ45 socket through which the device communicates with an Ethernet network. Analog signal is sent out via a pair of balanced XLR sockets and a pair of RCA sockets, all made by the Neutrik company which shares its place of origin (Switzerland) with Wattson Audio. All the jacks are solid and gold-plated, including the headphone jack.

The only element that disappointed me were the feet, or rather a lack of them. Tiny silicone pads which quickly came off had been attached to the screws holding the bottom panel.

˻ POWER SUPPLY Let's add that on the side we have a 5 V DC power socket. It is quite solid, although it cannot compare to Lemo sockets, etc. Its advantage is that you can use a better, linear power supply in the future. The one the device comes with isn't bad, either. The company calls it "medical grade", but it's nonetheless a small switching power supply. Even in its case – and perhaps even more than usual – the choice of a power cord, which it should be resistant to RFI noise and interference, is important.

˻ THE INSIDE The electronic circuit is assembled on a single multi-layer board, bolted "to the back"; accompanied by auxiliary boards. The file transport module is mounted on a separate board. It is usually purchased from an external company, but in this case it was made and programmed in-house.

From the transport and digital inputs (RCA is preceded by a matching transformer), signal is transmitted to a large Analog Devices DSP circuit and then to shielded circuits preceding the actual converters. This is where the LEEDH volume control and upsampling algorithms are stored. The D/A chips are Japanese WM8741 Wolfson Microelectronics circuits. Until recently, audio manufacturers would stop making products where these chips were used because they were dramatically in short supply. Today the situation is going back to normal and perhaps that is why Wattson Audio does not care about these problems.

Next to the analog outputs there are multi-core ICs. Large amplifying circuits also operate at the headphone output. On the board we can also find a lot of components that take care of power supply voltage, separate for each section.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)

Playback: DSD256 & PCM up to 384 kHz, 16–32 bits
File types to be played:
• MQA (upcoming)
Upsampling: YES
Digital inputs
• RCA, TOSLink (S/PDIF): PCM 44.1 kHz–192 kHz, 16–24 bits
LAN input: SFP | 1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR-A): typ. 124 dB
THD+N (0 dB FS): typ. 0.001%
XLR output level ⸜ 4.2 V rms | RCA output level ⸜ 2.1 V rms
Headphone output: 2 x 100 mW/32 Ω, 2 x 25 mW/150 Ω

Power consumption: 50 mW (idle) | 4.5 W (playing)
Dimensions (W x H x D): 174 x 185 x 47 mm
Weight: 1050 g


Reference system 2022

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

  • HARMONIX TU-666M "BeauTone" MILLION MAESTRO 20th Anniversary Edition |REVIEW|


Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC