Woo Audio WA2 headphone amplifier/preamplifier

Reinventing the wheel?

It seems that lately many companies simply want to throw the passion and emotion out of the high-end audio gears. All the specifications, latest chips, clever solutions are advertised as a peek of the audio technology. Most of the time these are only paper tiger writingsthat mean nothing in a musical world.

It's well known that high-end audio industry manufacturers (not only tube based) are riding on a few inventions that are almost a century old. Some claims that they reinvented the wheel while others, that I respect for this dearly, are finding clever solutions that can build upon the tradition and heritage. I'm not saying that those companies are not inventive. They're just not pretentious and over-hyped when it comes down to the basics and roots of their valve based products.

Meet Woo Audio

Woo Audio is one of the companies that build their respect and recognized approach to tube based headphone amplifiers, preamps and other products in the world of the biggest audiophile society. Diving into the vast ocean of the Head-Fi community, they stand out in their quality products and excellent customer supports. In Head-Fi, you can find the hardest critics any many friendly supporters and audio pals. If a company motto is quality, to respect their customers, to open relationship and to support headphone based community, they'll have to push it hard to fail within this virtual high-end audio structure. I've seen many companies come and go, but there are few of them that keep up the good spirit of quality and simply make great sounding products.

Woo Audio is one of them. O.K. you won't find 100% cult of following, but even those who might not hold tubes close at their hearts, they will tell you good things about this company. Their commitment to great sounding products is stellar and something many of present companies should look upon.

WA 2 design

It's hard to pinpoint the appearance of WA 2 to any typical design school. I would have to say that they manage to incorporate their recognized appearance within the whole Woo Audio line. It might strike you at first with its industrial (specially in silver anodized versions) appearancewith  a moment more in the space and profanity of Bahaus design. It captures aesthetics. Many owners prefer black anodized version, but I'm a hard follower of silver based design. It simply radiates a unique energy that harmoniously extend timeless appearance of tubes in a fashion of Kondo, Robert Koda etc. I don't like some of the contemporary over-designed tube based components. It's a fact that we're dealing with technology that have strong roots in the past century and somehow this gracious aura can be quickly killed by a nonsense of modern urge of bling (what is bling?. My taste refined over the years and opinion I share might be uncomfortable for some. Let me just use the analogy of colors’ and houses. In past decade many rebuilt or new houses are coloured with a pain striking colors. Some journalist called this phenomenon a color terrorism. I wholeheartedly agree with this remark and found over-designed amplifiers in the same league. Thanks God for Woo Audio's sense of style and appearance.

Tubes'R us

Admittedly I'm sucker for them, yet never in the account of loosing great sound for just being a tube based something. There are numerous products out there cashing on that premise at large. Being just tube based component gives no warranty for great tube sound. It takes knowledge, experience and trained ear to combine everything and make it right for a true great sounding musical amp. You can do your own research about time spent into designing some of the tube based legendary products. It's relatively easy to build a working tube preamp, but it might drive you nuts to refine it into art for critical ears.

Tubed to the bones

WA 2 is completely tube based, including the rectifiers. This ensures soft start and long life of the incorporated tubes. I admire Their clean construction and wise implementation of electronic design. WA2 opens an entrance into tube rolling universe. You can spend sleepless hours crawling the Internet for some esoteric or hard to find tubes to enrich your needs of specific sound, but I'll stay on the so called safe side of original set of three tube pairs that came within package. Regardless of some strong opinions I still believe that the stock set will give you most of WA2 attributes. Wanted more? No problem, just crawl into an unknown territory of tube rolling, but the quest can be both rewarding and distressful.  

Head love

Sennheiser HD-800 might be one of the most lusted dynamic headphones at the moment. Their large drivers create an environment that helps to escape from outside world like few headphones do. They're reminding me often more on clinical tool rather than musical instrument. Fear not, while I use quite a bunch of headphones with WA2, it produceda great result.

Designed as headphone amplifier for dynamic headphones, Woo Audio WA2 is among one of most interesting headphone amps regardless of the price. WA2’s ability to convey the music effortless and in full capacity will embrace your intimate headphone listening space (between the ears :) ) in a way that it's not only hard to forget, but drag you back again and again to your forest of favourite artists.

Preamplifier galore

Jack asked me to give special attention to WA2 preamp feature. I wouldn't call it additional by any means since WA2 never failed to surprise me when used as such.
Preamplifier might be one of the most important links in the Audio system. While there is still primary importance of front end, it's the preamplifier who's basic role is unchanged since the beginning of the Audio history.

Preamplifier can color the sound of incoming signal with every unclever selected part. This is where art come into play, and this is where all the difference lies.
A very good friend who is a musician asked me recently about audiophile's complication with the sound. Do you really hear the difference? He asked me. My answer was a rhetorical one and a question itself?  Do you hear the difference between microphone preamps, mastering, EQ's etc. I replied. He got it instantly.

It's the fact that with years you're trained your ears to hear the difference and no contemporary wise guys will change that. This is universal truth. Your taste is refined over the years if you truly love something and contemplate about it years after years, regardless the beloved subject or interest.

It's the same with audio. There are traps along the way. I’ve seen sometime people started to believe things non-existed, such as placebo and illusion on steroids!  This not only turns away a lot of good hearted music lovers that step closer to high-end audio, but also create a personal psychological trap that can be emotionally lethal.

Woo Audio WA2 is a prime example of musical box. WA2 is not a contender for most sterile sounding preamp (or headphone amp). I strongly doubt that this was the main goal of fine folks at Woo headquarters. WA2 offers organic life emotions that you could almost reach out and grab. This is hard to describe, and I'm trying to stay within the realms of sane. Music simply flows through the guts of WA2. Yes, you can hear the warmness of tubes being there. No doubt and for the non initiaded (phun intended) (??), this is a tube amp. While I heard tube preamps sounding more neutral, they often lacked the true nature of music. Life! Life like character. I'm always willing to loose something of the transparency or brightness (that is in most cases non natural) for the share natural liquidity of the music.

Don't get me wrong please. We're talking subtle here. Subtle can be interpreted in so many ways that will make your mind a Zak Mc'craken day job, but let us not forget that in high-end (and not only) we're paying often a big bucks for a slight changes, that can mean all the difference to some.  

This is the end, my only friend, the end  

Lately, I'm hearing over and over again, how future technology will brings us all the best. Yes, benefits are here, but at what price. Emotional deprivation? I'm typing this review with on my Apple Ipad. And with what? Simple program that force everything out of distraction and yet I admit to enjoy the virtual clicking of the classical typewriter click sound while conducting this text. I love writing and love emotional involvement while doing it. In a same way I'm loving the music for what it represent. Direct emotionally connection with musical message.

Woo Audio WA2 headphone amplifier-preamp is one of the highlights of the year. It's quiet beyond normal noise floor, lifelike musical, soldered by hand, very nicely designed and fairly priced.

Woo Audio again and again promoting the clever solutions and great sounding components. WA2 is no brainer purchase for a true Audio enthusiast. Personal recommendation and a stand out product of the year.  

Technical Specifications:

Headphones impedance : 25-600 Ohms
Input impedance: 100 Kilo-Ohms
Frequency response: 8 Hz - 100 KHz -3dB
Signal/Noise: 95 dB
THD: <= 0.08%
Pre-amp Gain: 10 dB
Voltage: Dual AC operation 110/220V, 50/60 Hz
External dimension: 5½"(H), 13"(W), 9"(D)
Weight: 17 lbs

Standard Features:

Point-to-Point wiring
Two 6AS7 / 6080 [PDF] power tubes
Two 6922 / 6DJ8 [PDF] drive tubes
Two EZ80 [PDF] rectification tubes (6X4 is no longer used)
Pseudo-dual power supply
One pair of gold-plate pre-amp RCA outputs
Four pairs of selectable gold-plate RCA inputs
¼" stereo headphone jack
Full aluminum die-cast chassis, anodized finished
Whole aluminum volume knobs and power switch button
120 watts toroidal power transformer
Individual filter choke and rectifier per channel
Rubycon and WIMA capacitors
Teflon wires
Alps potentiometer and power switch

Matej Isak: text
Mono &amp; Stereo high-end audio magazine
December 2010, All rights reserved