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Woo Audio 5LE Headphone Amplifier

A Review On: Woo Audio WA5 LE

Woo Audio WA5 LE

Rated # 110 in Desktop Amps
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
Purchased on:
Redcarmoose
Posted · 2470 Views · 1 Comment

Product

Standard Build Woo Audio 5 LE Headphone Amplifier

 

In this day of mass produced equipment it is nice to find a small boutique headphone and headphone amplifier company who are sincerely into it. So how does the selection process work? The big question is which amplifier to have these guys make for you, and why?

 

 I have had tube equipment forever. My first mono amplifier was a gift from my Grandmother, something pulled out of an old early 1960s console unit. In the early 1970s solid state equipment was just starting to be put into use and almost everything had tubes. Everyone wanted the solid state equipment and no one wanted tubes. As children we would collect huge grocery bags of tubes and throw them into the street for the popping sound they made. For the last twenty years there has been a small but ever growing resurgence of interest in tubes because of the warm buttery sound they affect on music.

 

 The romance of tubes is just that, a simple romance. In the early days you had to turn them on and wait for a while until you heard this faint hum, a turn on the volume knob gave you some little crackles then the music started to flow. To some the view of tubes glowing at night is mesmerizing and adds to the experience of enjoying music. Woo Audio has taken the tube technology into the 21 century and made it reliable, high quality and beautiful. The hum and crackles are gone, what we get is just pure romance, and a signature sound which is the essence of pure music. For some Woo Audio equipment may seem unpolished from a design aspect, for others that clean industrial look minus the gold knobs and chrome is right where they want to be. To me the equipment feels really well made and the simple look fits my style.

 

 If you do a little research you may find Woo Audio has a nice customer base here at Head-Fi. How did that happen? It occurred the old fashioned way. A small company is careful and builds a hand full of products, offers great customer support and builds a reputation. This may sound cliche but I figure they really did it with one handmade amplifier at a time. This kind of stuff makes you feel right about making an investment in audio equipment. How many companies do you know of offhand where you get a return phone call or e-mail by the next day at the latest, from the owner? I am no expert in this world of headphones but I have an average amount of common sense. Buying one of these amps is a little like buying a car, you have to look at the wiring. Flip a Woo Audio over and remove the bottom plate cover and take a look. Some amps look like they were made by 5 year olds in finger painting class. A Woo Audio amp looks like a piece of hand crafted art. The design is orderly and all the workmanship is first rate. None of this would matter if the design didn’t come from a master too.

 

So let us guess at why anyone would even want a Woo 5LE in the first place. What does this thing do? What does this thing not do? First off if you have any dream of moving into full range Fostex single driver full size stereo speakers you will want the Woo Audio 5. The LE model does not have speaker binding posts and will not let you plug in electrostatic headphones. If you want to use electrostatic headphones you will want the Woo Audio 5. Single driver full range speakers allow the use of up to 10 watts of power output to drive a highly efficient single driver full range speaker. These have no crossovers and will sometimes use a horn type of enclosure to amplify the bass frequencies. I am into rock and closed back headphones so the LE was the model I chose. I did give Jack at Woo Audio a call and had them custom build a preamp output in case I wanted to use the headphone amplifier as a preamp.

 

So why would someone get the Woo Audio 5LE and not another companies headphone amplifier? What are the benefits of Woo Audios’ other amps? I had always dreamed of a 300b amp. The 300b tube was in use in one of the first amplifiers ever built. The Western Electric 300b tube is so reliable that they were placed under the Atlantic in the first intercontinental transatlantic telephone system. I had read for years about this magic mid range. Every article kept reiterating about this indefinable 300b X-factor! I had never even heard a 300b amplifier before but these audio reviewers were almost in tears. I had to get a taste of the action. Pure music they said.

 

My first amplifier built by Woo Audio was a Woo 3. You PayPal them the money, they e-mail you the confirmation and you wait until you get a Fed-X tracking number. The build time is different for each amplifier and they have been exact on the build time twice so far with me. I loved my Woo Audio 3 but wanted more. So what did I get?

 

A month went by and I read an e-mail that Fed-X had my amplifier at the Fed-X hub. I was able to arrive at work late that morning and showed up to retrieve my two amplifier cases. Woo Audio has now modified their shipping system around special molded foam inserts and uses cardboard boxes. My order was placed at the end of 2008 and they still used wooden crates. Both systems work great. The wood weights more though. Each crate weighed about 40 pounds and had big handles attached to the sides. I threw them in the trunk and off to work I went. On lunch I went home and tried everything out. Upon opening the cases you find all your tubes, one power supply unit, one amplifier unit.

 

* Two 300B power tubes
* Two 6SN7 driver tubes
* Two 5U4G rectifier tubes

 

Also a power supply connection cable, and a set of instructions. You will need to supply your own power cord. I ended up using my computer cord for a long time then made some changes. The amp needs time to burn in about 300 hours before sounding the best. Many here are in disbelief of this phenomenon at Head-Fi. The company who builds the product states it as a reality and I feel I could hear a difference. You can only run the amplifier for 8 hour stretches and the amp should not be left alone. My suggestion is just turn it on and enjoy the ride of your life! I have recently re tube the amplifier and feel stuff should just be left to break-in naturally.

 

Upon my first listening experiences I found the Woo Audio 5 LE to have all the power I could ever use. My reference set of headphones are the 11 year old Sony MDR-CD-870 closed back headphones. I also rotated in my other favorite headphones the AKG-k701 open back headphones. My personal favorite headphones in use with the amplifier are the Flagship Denon AH-D 7000 closed back headphones. A great synergy with the AH-D 7000s seemed to allow me to reach an apex in sound never before obtainable with the Woo Audio 5 LE.

 

So you are reading this entire page and your question is………..How Does It Sound?

 

 It generates an alternate place. A place with grand authority. A place you can visit and stay if you want. There is no ear fatigue even after long 4-5 hour listening runs. Just a big place where the sound stage goes off into infinity. A place where all your old CDs and records become something new. Take something as simple as a bell sound. We hear bell sounds all the time. Now the bells have a shape and a size, a texture along with an inner and outer texture and a decay reverberation quality. Sometimes the sounds seem to actually contain a color and contrast. How could that be? Things sound real when they are recorded real sounds. When they are processed sounds that is when stuff gets crazy. Big warm sublime worlds of perfect tone. A place where drums sound like wood and you can almost touch the snare surface. Another sound cliche here, this thing is causing chills down my spine? A source as simple as a woman singing with a guitar sounds natural as you would think it would sound in real life, nothing more nothing less. It is the simple uncolored tone that we need sometimes in music reproduction. How close do things sound? An easy way for me to put it is that the Woo Audio 5 LE makes things sound very close. Got it? Did I use the audiophile word sound stage yet? No? It is beyond that descriptor.

 

I have no answers for you, I am just this guy with headphones on. I will have to conclude that I really know very little on the subject of headphones. But I do know what sound I like.

 

 The great thing was the immersion factor. That is the only dam thing we are looking for here. All this talk of musical honesty, of truth. It really does not matter at the end of the day if you were swept away in the tide of somebody’s musical recording. There was some trouble in paradise; I now heard my recordings for what they were and what they were not. Some stuff was thin and some stuff was thick as a mountain. After all these years I never thought one piece of machinery could whittle my record and CD collection down to a small pile. Yes, be careful what you wish for as reality is a double edged sword. The rose colored glasses of audio color are ripped, actually slapped off your head and you hear your collection for what it is, beauty marks and warts in all.

 

I have always accepted that no matter what we do a set of little headphone speakers cannot match the visceral gut massage of a great set of audio speakers. I still feel that way but there is again the X-factor, the funny little illusion that is created just next to our reality, that place along with the sense of wonderment that keeps me coming back for more.

 

What do you do to set this thing up? For some it must look like a Dr. Frankenstein tool used for evil. Well, you take it out of the box. The tube sockets are marked on the amp where the tubes go. There are six tubes. I would use a white sport sock around your hands so as to not get oil on the tubes. Variations of glass tube wall temperature due to hand oil pollution diminish tube life. You hook up your turntable RIAA preamp or CD player to the gold platted RCA inputs on the back. The build quality feels equal to the front bumper of a 57 Chevy. Make sure that your headphones are plugged in and the volume knob is all the way left. Make sure the on/off knob is to the left too. Plug it in and you’re off. At night with the lights off there is really something of a show. We are not at the level of the Alaska Aurora Borealis here but considering it is something you are turning on in your living room or bedroom, it’s a show. The 300b tubes {there are two} light up and emit a bright blue glow for ¼ second as everything powers up. There are other types of tube glowing too with the support tubes. The main 300b glow is orange with a faint blue glow going on constantly. There is a slight mechanical feel and sound when the on switch goes on with the power supply unit. Latterly the on and off knob actually has a slight mechanical shake when you turn on the amp! That is just juice flowing though this sucker. It is kind of cool because it reminds you that you are dealing with electrical power here. Electric power has a strange mechanical aspect to it at times.

 

I had read that the Woo Audio 5LE was primarily excelling in reproduction of the middle range of the audio spectrum. It was unarguably a magic middle range enticing me back every night for a personal meet up. I was very happy with what I had. I could have even lived the remainder of my days just the way things were. But……………………………………But there was more. Somehow the Gods Of Head-Fi had more on their agenda for me. More was to be revealed at a time when I least expected it. In come improvements. The second phase in my learning curve was the use of cables. A huge matter of controversy and rightly so as some times results are noted and sometimes it is a wash. In the business of HI/FI you have two groups. The first group are the down to earthies who just will not believe something that cannot be tested and proved in numbers. The second, lighter group are looking between the numbers to a place in the hinterlands where numbers don’t exist. This group gets high on placebo and would soak their amps in water if they thought it would improve the sound. I found myself in the middle of sorts. I tried some pure silver cables my first day with the Woo and found the sound too treble. I had always looked forward to testing power cords, racks, vibrating and counter vibrating rocks and the other grocery bag of fuzzy logic. Really? How could any of the other “little” stuff make a huge difference in my system? All I can say was I was wrong! I was wrong about the Woo 5LE being middle range in reproduction. With the addition of cords and cables the Woo became a bass monster. Not any average monster, but Frankenstein’s bass monster. Skyscrapers of bass. Not everywhere but a blend into the sound stage right where it was to be in nature. I felt bad for what I had previously thought, I did not know truth!

 

So what else do you want? Huh? Well, Woo could get creative and put some new finagled USB in the rear end of the thing. They could start to convolute things and make it one of those 24/96 mono/hybrid desk top coffee makers with a milk foamer for the in crowd. They could make it have more than three knobs. Why? It is what it is. Simple. Powerful. Sleek. Sexy. May I remind you this thing has only three knobs.

 

1} Volume.

2} On/Off.

3} Source.

 

It performs with anything you throw at it. It will show you if your phonostage is thin. It will show you if the grid going to your house is dirty. At the same time it will allow you to live a musical life. What emotion there is in the experience of the human hearing music. Is there any better headphone amp out there? From what I have heard there seems to be small differences. This is really how I feel. Other amplifiers out there are going to have small differences. In this price range somehow stuff starts to get closer together and not farther apart as you may first think. The difference is like the subtle space between notes or the space and decay between the rhythm, but there is something else that is there, maybe it’s the 300bs, a smoothness, a velvety feeling like touching cloth, a softness that I have come to like and be addicted to. Yes, If I had a chance to do it over again I would.  

 

So if you get a chance try one out at the next Head-Fi meet near you. Or if you have a gut instinct just place your order like I did.

 

 

 

Equipment Used In This Review


 
Sony MDR-CD-870 Headphones
AKG k701 Headphones
Denon AH-D 7000 Headphones
 
   

 
VPI Scout Turntable
Clearaudio Aurum Classic Phonograph Cartridge
PS•1 Phono Preamplifier and HC•1b Dual Mono Power Supply by Monolithic
Rega Planet Compact Disk Player
 
 
 
Virtual Dynamics Master Series RCA interconnects
Electra Glide Audio Reference Glide-Reference Standard "Fatboy" Power Cord
Electra Glide Audio Epiphany X2 Power Cord

 

1 Comment:

Great review! I've always had a fondness of the 300b tube after hearing it perform in the Shindo 300b. Such a marvelous sound it produces. I love the tubes the WA5 uses but am torn at the price because I love the Leben CS-300X as well. Which to get?
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