I could hear the hi-res audio siren call beckoning me from across the convention floor at CES this past January. I quickly made my way into the private demo room inside Sharp’s massive booth in the Central Hall of the LVCC. “I’ve got just the thing for you,” grinned David Fisher, Sharp’s senior manager for audio. Talk about a man who knows his audience. When I first feasted my eyes upon the Sharp SD-WH1000U wireless high resolution audio player, or WHRAP for short, I knew I had heeded wisely.
The offer was made to cue up a few of the usual demo tracks so I could see/hear the $5,000 WHRAP in action, but I spied the High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray edition of Elton John’s seminal Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on a shelf below where the unit rested. Bingo! I asked to hear the 96/24 5.1 mix of the 11-minute opening track, “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” and I marveled at the quickness of the WHRAP’s cue-up response and just how freakin’ biiiiig and enveloping the song’s immense ARP synthesizer intro, played by engineer David Hentschel, sounded.
The WHRAP is said to deliver uncompressed high-resolution 96-kHz/24-bit files wirelessly, whether via physical discs or virtual delivery — FLAC, WAV, DSD, home network storage device, etc. On the video side, uncompressed Full HD (1080p) video is to be transmitted wirelessly via the Wireless HD (WiHD) standard and included adapters. Sharp’s philosophy is to eliminate cable as much as possible to avoid potential degradation in the signal chain.
However, one thing the SD-WH1000U won’t support is SACD, despite that format’s nomenclature being emblazoned across the front of the WHRAP itself. A Sharp engineer in Japan confirmed this to me directly via email, noting, “The WiHD does not support SACD transmission, so no sound [will] appear from the connected devices. The WiHD does not support ACP Packet, which is defined in the HDMI Specification to transmit the copy-protect information, so we can’t transmit the SACD contents via WiHD.” (This limitation is also noted in the provided 143-page PDF of the WHRAP operation manual. C’est la vie, SACD.)
While I did appreciate the WHRAP’s sleek, curved front-panel design and dual-layer insulated base (with spiked aluminum rubber feet, no less!), to modify a line from good ol’ Howlin’ Wolf, I’m a back-panel man. And the back of the WHRAP has much to admire, including stereo analog audio outputs both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA), three-input/two-output HDMI, coaxial and optical S/PDIF digital outputs, a wired-Ethernet port, and a USB port. That being said, I preferred using the USB port on the front (more on that in a bit).
In addition to the WHRAP, Sharp also sent me a pair of VR-WR100U Wireless Bridges, one of which was quickly put to use since I wasn’t connecting the WHRAP with a full Wireless Speakers and Audio-compliant speaker setup (a.k.a. WiSA) during my test period. This setup choice was a-ok with Sharp for the purposes of my reviews. If your own speaker setup isn’t WiSA-ready — and many aren’t — each Bridge will run you an additional $999. (More on WiSA itself below.)
I placed the WHRAP on a wooden table just beyond arm’s length of my sweet-spot seat, a late-1950s Eames lounge chair my late audiophile grandfather used back in the day, and plugged it into my power strip — that’s the part of the deal that ain’t exactly wireless, bub. Next, I snapped the WiHD wireless-HD video transmitter onto the back of the unit to make HDMI and power connections a reality. I put the essential yet diminutive WiHD receiver on an open perch on top of my gear rack.
The encyclopedia-sized Bridge went on another table closer to my main gear rack, making sure it sat within the recommended 10-meter range for the WHRAP to wirelessly transmit hi-res audio signals to it via the WiSA interoperability standard.
My current reference system includes a Pioneer VSX-1021-K 7.1-channel receiver and Oppo’s almighty BDP-105 universal player as my source unit. My 7.1 speaker array consists of a pair of towering GoldenEar Triton Ones that serve as my fronts (brief sidenote: my exclusive review of these vaunted Triton Ones will be coming soon to HRAC!), a Paradigm CC v2 for my center channel, a Thiel SS1 SmartSub subwoofer for the low end, and a quartet of Thiel SCS4 bookshelf speakers as my rear channels. Amplification is provided by a McIntosh MC207 multichannel amplifier. The WiHD Bridge connected to the MC207’s L and R inputs with XLR cables. As noted above, the not-so-wireless WHRAP itself was plugged into a power strip via cabling provided by Sharp.
An onscreen menu guided me to recognize all of the channels in my system, and I did so click by click. However, as much as I would have loved to have basked in the full-on surround-sound WHRAP experience — which the WHRAP OSD was valiantly searching to connect with — I had to settle for stereo since I did not have WiSA-compliant speakers in my system.
Brief techie detour: WiSA compliance is most definitely the wave of the future in speaker integration. The WiSA Association is a trade group based in San Francisco that promotes an across-the-board 7.1-channel wireless-speaker standard. WiSA says it operates in the “relatively unused” 5.2 to 5.8 GHz UNII radio frequency spectrum to transmit uncompressed 96/24 HD audio from 2-channel stereo to 7.1 surround, along with system configuration and calibration data. There are more and more WiSA-ready wonders hitting the market every day, like Bang & Olufsen’s BeoLab 18 and Klipsch’s Reference Premiere Series speakers — both of which we’ve reported on here at HRAC — so hopefully the WiSA way will be more ubiquitous as time marches onward.
Now back to the setup plan. I switched between using the Sharp AudioCentral Remote app on my iPhone (it’s also available for Android) and the handheld remote, which I found ergonomically pleasing enough to the degree that I wound up using it quite instinctively, especially when perusing menus to cue up various tracks and folders, depending on the source. Once the blinking red light finally turned blue on the Bridge, it was Music time!
Now that the system was up and running, I was like a kid in an audiophile sweets shop, pulling item after item off of my physical and virtual shelves to see if the WHRAP could deliver the goods. Spoiler alert: It could, and it did. I brought out every configuration and format I had at my disposal: Blu-ray Audio. Hi-res audio files downloaded from HDtracks (FLAC) and Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez (DSD). And even a few regular ol’ CDs and DVDs, just for good measure.
Amongst the first things I cued up was Steven Wilson’s 96/24 stereo LPCM remix of the title track to Jethro Tull’s 1975 masterpiece, Minstrel in the Gallery, which is the lead cut on DVD 1 in the four-disc 40th Anniversary: La Grande Édition released by Chrysalis earlier this year. During the album’s initial recording sessions — as Wilson himself details in his essay in the included 80-page book — rather than having Martin Barre’s lead electric guitar lines double-tracked, the sound from his amplifier was instead fed into a tape echo, and that delayed signal was recorded onto a separate channel on the tape. The raw guitar sound was then panned to one side of the stereo picture and the tape-echo signal was panned to the other. This is heard to colossal effect via the WHRAP after some furious acoustic-guitar strumming about 2-and-a-half minutes into the 8:09 track.
Barre’s headbang-inducing lead line dominates the right channel for the remainder of the song, interweaving nicely with drummer Barriemore Barlow’s recurring, thuddy but resonant cowbell hits and Tull leader Ian Anderson’s signature wafty flute lines. Having grown up with this track via second-hand vinyl and a so-so CD reissue, the clarity I heard in the instrumentation and its placement in this quite fine “Minstrel in the Gallery” was nothing less than startling to these ears — startlingly great, that is.
Next, I plugged the 2014 HDtracks Sampler USB into the slot on the front of the WHRAP and used the app on my phone to scroll to the 88/24 aiff version of “Take Five,” from The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 jazz benchmark, Time Out. Drummer Joe Morello puts forth an absolute master class of cymbal and snare work in the left channel. Because the sound is so visceral and clear on the WHRAP, all you can do is sit back and marvel at the 5/4 interplay between pianist Brubeck’s vamping, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond’s hypnotically bluesy melody lines, and Morello’s jaw-dropping drum solo. If hearing such a precise mix of “Take Five” doesn’t give you a finer appreciation for the jazz artform, nothing will.
Staying with the HDtracks Sampler USB, I scrolled to the 96/24 aiff of Yes’ “Long Distance Runaround,” from 1972’s seminal prog classic, Fragile. The WHRAP really proved its mettle on a song I’ve heard hundreds of times over the years. The late Chris Squire’s propulsive bass lines were deep and true, but it was with Jon Anderson’s lead vocals where I truly noticed some new details. On the first time Anderson sings the word “runaround,” I could clearly hear how he extended the “d” at the end as “d, uh,” enunciating it with the ever-so-slightest of pauses between the “d” and the “uh,” as if in a huff. The phrase “hot color” twice came across as “hot kull-ah,” and I marveled at his stretching of the syllable in the middle of the word “tiiiime” at 1:41 of the track. Anderson’s high alto tenor is one of the most unique in rock, and the WHRAP brought out even more of his individualistic vocal style.
Then it was DSD time. I couldn’t think of anything better to cue up than the Super HiRez 2.8Mhz/64fs stereo version of the Marquise Knox Band’s incendiary set at the 17th annual Blues Masters at the Crossroads event in Salina, Kansas on October 17, 2014. I was privileged enough to bear witness to this guns-a-blazing set firsthand (and first ear), and the intimacy and sheer blues power of Knox’s set came through to such a degree on the WHRAP that I was instantly transported right back to the church pew I was sitting in that very day, especially on spine-rattling cuts like “Throwing Away the Key” and “Clock on the Wall.” Damn, can Knox play the blues — and damn, did the WHRAP ever deliver here.
I was a bit bummed out when I had to remove the Sharp SD-WH1000U WHRAP and VR-WR100U Wireless Bridge gear from my signal chain and pack it all back up for transport across the country for other ears to enjoy. I loved the WHRAP’s flexibility and ease of transition from format to format, not to mention its overall
top-shelf hi-res audio playback. The $5K price tag — $6K if you’re a non-WiSA speaker person and require the Wireless Bridge — may be a bit daunting for some, but the consistently high hi-res audio performance kept my ears tremendously satisfied. I hereby deem the WHRAP to be most worthy of the HRAC Approved stamp of approval. WHRAP it up, Sharp, I’ll take it!
VR-WR100U: $999 each