“Are you ready to be Woo’d?” read the display illuminating the window of Addicted to Audio’s freshly-minted Sydney-side retail store. The occasion? Jack Wu, the “Woo” in Woo Audio, had journeyed from Brooklyn to Newtown in support of his down under distributor.
For those unfamiliar with the brand, Woo Audio make an extensive range of tubed-up headphone amplifiers for which Addicted to Audio’s founder George Poutakidis had arranged an after-hours listening session for anyone curious enough to stop by.
The event had all the hallmarks of a low-key head-fi meet but with an added twist. Taking place on a busy high street with neighbourhood locals in the midst of Sydney’s long-established Thursday (late) night shopping, this particular headphone listening session was augmented by several walk-ins spying the action through Addicted To Audio’s fully glass-fronted store.
Across two listening tables was laid an (almost) complete range of Woo Audio products: a pair of WA234 monos (AU$25099), a new WA5 LE w/ outboard PSU (AU$5899), a WA6 (AU$1099), a WA2 (AU$1949), a WA22 (AU$3149) and a WA7 ‘Fireflies’ (AU$1649). Providing source material was a familiar selection of DAPs from Astell&Kern and an 11″ MacBook Air running Audirvana+ v1.X. Poutakidis’ memo about v2.2 + iOS remote had yet to arrive.
Headphones to hand were both plentiful and à la mode: the high-end, high-priced HifiMan HA-1000 and Abyss AB1266 drew the most interest, as did a prototype of Enigma Acoustics forthcoming electrostat-hybrid Dharma. Also on offer were MrSpeakers DAR-KO award-winning Ether and a coupla Audezes.
Jack Wu spent considerably time walking me through the latest version of his handheld WA8 tube amplifier which I first saw/heard in 3D-printed form at last September’s New York Audio Show. “This is a VERY different beast to even the W8 that we showed two weeks later at RMAF ’14 ,” says Wu.
A year and four iterations later and Wu’s battery-powered portable is nearing completion. Sort of. The in-built DAC is currently undergoing serious revision and so appeared in Sydney as an outboard device whilst Wu finishes up the voicing. The chip now being used is the Sabre 90182KM designed specifically by ESS Labs for lower power draw devices such as this. This DAC circuit will ultimately make its way back inside the WA8.
As was evident to those attending on the night, the WA8 is coming market in either black and silver metal finishes with a tempered glass separating the three pencil tubes from curious fingers and accidental knocks. Wu tells me that the production version will feature a slightly shorter, screw-less window.
The enclosure’s obvious size constraints are what apparently made the W8 the single most challenging product to date for Wu and his team. “Even more so than the WA234 monos!”, he exclaimed grinning.
Wu continued: “The biggest hurdle was getting the output transformers down to size for which a thinner, highly conductive metal that permitted fewer windings was used.”
In case you hadn’t guessed it already, the WA8 is an all-tube affair and NOT a hybrid design. A pair of sub-mini Russian power tubes, the details of which Wu won’t publish until launch, work the business end of the amplifier. The driver tube is a 6111 which users can switch in and out of the circuit using a micro-controller card inserted into a slot located along one side. Trying this feature for myself, I noted that the HiFiMan HE560’s 90db sensitivity demanded juicing from the full trio whereas the 98db HE400S did not. Inverting the micro-controller card took the driver tube out of service for a zippier, cleaner take on Eat Static‘s belting Dead Planet on the more wallet-friendly ‘phones. If you don’t find that ingenious, at least admit it’s another interesting point of departure from the competition.
Refreshingly, Wu is under no illusions as to the impracticality of using a heavy, bulky portable amplifier on the morning commute. “It’s for when you go on holiday or want better sound on the desktop at the office,” he says. Know that the W8 is bigger and heavier than the ALO’s Continental Dual Mono. In meeting on-the-go protection needs the WA8 will ship with a California-made leather carry case that apes the look of an old-time junk trunk.
Production on the Woo Audio WA8 is slated to begin in October with retail pricing expected to land somewhere between US$1500 and US$1700.