Pros: Excellent tonality; cohesive, organic sound; wonderful pride of ownership (aesthetics and build)
Cons: Slightly less leading-edge transient detail than some; slightly less treble extension than some.
[This is copied from the Music City Meet #3 Pics and Impressions thread, post here.]
A Few Impressions of the Woo Audio WA22
Intro: Mike at Woo Audio was kind enough to lend me the use of his WA22 for the Music City Meet #3 and a few weeks before. As it happened, and to my dismay, I did not get to spend the amount of time with the WA22 that I would have liked to have had-- the non-HF world was pretty crazy for me there for a while prior to the meet. I finally got a chance to sit down and spend essentially an entire day listening to the WA22 and taking notes, so I hope there is still some value in my notes, even if they weren't the result of as many listening sessions as they probably should have been. Many, many thanks to Mike and the Woo Crew for their generosity and support!! From the feedback I got at the meet and afterwards, I'd say that the three Woo amps in attendance (WA7 with WA7tp, WA5, and of course the WA22, all with upgraded tube sets) were overwhelming successes with the guys at the meet-- although the WA5 definitely upstaged its smaller (and less expensive) siblings, naturally befitting its reputation as a truly world-class amplifier.
I kept trying to make time to sit down and type up a more formal review, but other stuff kept coming up and forcing me to postpone, so I'm just going to go with the experiential model for reviewing and provide you with my actual listening notes (with some editing for clarity, spelling, etc). With that in mind, please excuse the rather haphazard 'organization' to the notes below-- I would often listen for something, compare, and then go to something completely different to determine how another parameter sounded, or how the same parameter sounded with very different music.
Note: I am not certain precisely what tubes were sent with the device (Mike might be able to chime in with more info), but there was one Sophia tube, two Westinghouse tubes, and two of something else I managed to miss jotting down...
Personal Preferences: I do want to take a moment to point out my own listening preferences, as I find that to be a crucial (and often overlooked) datum in a review that allows the reader a little better context for determining how one person's impressions would line up with their own. I have found that I tend to value texture, tonality, and transient detail very highly when listening, while I give very little weight to soundstaging (I often cannot place instruments particularly well, probably due to califlower ear from sports). I should also mention that tend to prefer solid state over tubed gear, as a good bit of the (admittedly narrow) experience I've had with tube gear in the past strikes me as a bit too lush at the expense of accuracy, although I do not have the technical knowledge necessary for a preference beyond the sound itself.
When I listen for enjoyment at home on the HE-6, I do so from the Pass Labs F5 speaker amp clone (using the Audio-gd Master 8 as preamp). When I listen to basically anything else, I use either the HP out on the M8 (balanced when possible, SE when necessary) or the SE HP out on the Hilo. Although, to be frank, I didn't even have my setup functional for about a month prior to listening due to various digital gremlins and the aforementioned other time constraints.
Also, there will be some test tracks used that many of you probably will not be familiar with, and probably would not care for much. Understand that although it might seem utterly random which track follows which, there was a logic in the moment of tracking down some quality I was attempting to better understand. And the tracks I used were generally ones I'm very familiar with-- while Kind of Blue would have certainly been a better reference for many Head-Fiers, it's not an album I've listened to enough to be able to use as a critical listening tool-- yet, anyway. A few tracks were just oddball picks in the moment (like the Daughters track) based on something I was trying to better delineate.
Frequency Preferences: I believe Tyll would describe my tastes as tending towards the slightly bright side, but I don't hear the cans I particularly like (HE-6, T1, T5p, LCD-XC, ASG-2, etc) as being bright, but as being more accurate than headphones with (to my ears) a more veiled or 'laid back' approach. I find a lack of treble extension and articulation particularly distracting, and it often decides which headphones I keep and which ones I don't. The midrange is crucial for nearly every type of music, of course, but I particularly gravitate towards gear that nails the tone and texture of guitars (electric and acoustic), as most of the music I typically listen to is guitar-driven. If something can't do guitars well or sounds wrong to me (like the HD800), I generally find I can't move past it. With bass, I prefer (again) texture and tone over emphasis for the sake of emphasis, and dislike it when an overemphasized bass affects the midrange (as it generally flabs-up the guitar sound that I love). I do, however, appreciate a punchy bass when called for. I occasionally listen to bass-heavy music, but not often.
So, did the WA22 wipe the floor with the less expensive Master 8? No, and neither did the Master 8 show up its tubed counterpart. Had I been a WA22 owner reviewing and comparing the Master 8, I think I would come away wishing the WA22 had a couple characteristic strengths of the Master 8, but I would have not felt compelled to make the change. Similarly, there are a few qualities (that seemed especially strong on several tracks) of the WA22 that I wish my Master 8 had. Ultimately, as was probably reiterated ad nauseum in the notes above, I strongly feel that one's preference between these two comes down (as it so often does with excellent gear) to taste. I suppose if I had to greatly oversimplify and tag the comparative sounds of the WA22 and M8 with pithy labels, I'd say the M8 is generally more technically accurate, while the WA22 is generally more spiritually accurate. I realize 'spirituality' is a poorly defined concept in this context, but it's the closest I can come in a bumper-sticker summation. And frankly, as something of an avowed solid state guy personally, I think it is very high praise to say that the WA22 is absolutely on the same level as my beloved Master 8 in many ways, and actually better in some.
I hope this makes sense, and helps someone to a better understanding of some of the differences between the Master 8 and WA22. I very much enjoyed the (embarassingly truncated) time I got to spend with the Woo Audio WA22, and would again like to thank Mike and the guys at Woo for allowing us to check out their beautiful amp!!