Woo Audio tease prototype WA8 portable amp at NYAS ’14


NYAS_2014Being a New York local Jack Wu has brought everything – including the kitchen sink – across the East River and into Brooklyn. His room is a U-bend of benched headphone gear with at least five or six listening stations. I try to ignore the $16k flagship monoblocks and make a beeline for one of my favourite entry-level headphone amplifiers, the WA6. I much prefer its sound to the more dapper WA7 Fireflies.

However, this WA6 comes with a side dish. It’s the SE edition (US$1200) with separate tubed power supply. This outboard motor lifts output power from 400mW to 1500mW – a giant leap – and the Doors’ “L.A. Woman” positively grooves behind a pair of Sennheiser HD700.

For almost two years now Wu has been working on bringing this WA6 sound to the portable market. Not an easy undertaking when your stock-in-trade is fragile glass canisters filled with gas. Then there are power constraints to overcome as well as getting the damn thing into a small enough chassis that people will want to take it places.

Michael Liang (left) and Jack Wu (right) of Woo Audio

In a glass display case sits the first prototype of this portable endeavour – the WA8. The 3D printed case is only there to hold the thing together and Wu anticipates he’ll have it housed in a metal chassis by the time he hits RMAF in two weeks; the production version will be aluminium. Wu is also at pains to call it a ‘travel’ amplifier.

Inside, custom output transformers that are “very different to the competition”, according to our host. All tube gain staging is indeed unique. The user can switch up from two to three of the military pencil tubes for harder-to-drive headphones. “It’ll drive pretty much anything except the Abyss”, continues Wu.

Power comes from a 12V DC brick which is also used to recharge the internal battery pack.

The inbuilt DAC is the same found in the WA7 – a TI 5102A – and the digital input is a mini-B USB via which I confirmed digital playback compatibility with a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. For those already packing their own digital decoding the 3.5mm analogue input will suffice.

The price of the WA8 is expected to come in somewhere around US$1500 when it goes into production. No doubt we’ll hear more about it before then.

Further information: Woo Audio

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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  1. Portable tubes? Metal casing or not, I’d be wary of breakage. I’d also be wary of quizzical looks when using it on the train/subway.

  2. Phablets and “portable” dac/amps in our pockets. How much is a hard working man supposed to carry around to satisfy his soul. Or wait, time for one of these companies to start manufacturing audiophile friendly man bags, aka the “audiobag(tm)” with rechargeable batteries, heat sinks to battle the cold winter and a fire extinguisher just in case.
    Seriously though, this room sounded great. So much so that it made my non-audiophile, aspiring DJ cousin force a Woo Audio guy to stop him from destroying their equipment. And in that very mood he went to the VPI room next door and started scratching on their turntables. Hilarious.
    On a separate but related note to portable DACs/amps, have you seen the Fidelio M2L headphones that are apparently equipped with an inbuilt DAC to work with iPhones et al through the lightning connector?

    • Sounds like you guys an interesting time in Brooklyn. 😉

      Not seen the M2L yet. Perhaps there’ll be a pair at RMAF next weekend?