Pros: Aesthetics, size, volume control, upgradeable, value
Cons: Not great for rolling tubes, fingerprint-prone
Ah, the WA7 "Fireflies" from Woo Audio. As stunning to behold as it is to hear! This is my first piece of amp/DAC kit that retails for over $1k and well, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I think you people who spend that kind of dough on these things are only slighly less crazy. Here's why:
Test Songs (all ALAC either 16/44 or 24/96):
Limit to Your Love - James Blake - James Blake
What About Me, Kite, Lingus - Snarky Puppy - We Like It Here
Rich Girl, I Want You Back - Lake Street Dive - Fun Machine
The Twilight Zone - Rush - 2112
The Table - Chris Tomlin - Love Ran Red
Make It Mine - Jason Mraz - We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things
Fugue, from Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Benjamin Britten - Simon Rattle and the BPO
MBP running JRMC20 > WA7 + WA7tp* > HE500, RS1i, and T50RP
Sound: Smooth and controlled.
Bass: Thick and punchy. Yes the WA7 is tube-tastic, but that's not to say the low end is a smeary mess. On the contrary, it's quite textured, controlled, and deep. The HE500 low end, which is quite good on it's own, is as enjoyable as I've ever heard it. Kick drums have impact AND decay, and bass guitars are textured and articulate. Check out the crazy subbass on the Blake tune. The WA7 makes my brain vibrate! I should also mention, that with the upgrade Electro-Harmonix tubes in the amp and some GE 5-stars in the power supply, the bass is noticeably deeper, and cleaner. Imagine listening to a beginner attempt to walk a bass line on an 3/4 size upright and then getting to hear a pro play on a full-size. Markedly better all the way around.
Mids: Rich. Well duh! If you're gonna do tubes, you'd better get the mids right. I'll admit that the WA7 presentation isn't exactly neutral, but in this case, the warmer mids are delicious and a delight to listen to! Any and all vocals (from Lake Street to Rush) sound organic and full. Electric guitars and rock organ are crunchy. Even the growls in the trumpet and sax solos on the Snarky tunes are excellent! Once again, I think I have to mention that the upgrade tubes make a difference here. The EH tubes in the amp are a little warmer than the stock Sovteks. Not mushy or muddy at all. Just a little more forward and more lively.
Treble: From my Gustard H10 review: "Clean and clear! Just like Windex baby!" The upgrade tubes affect the treble the most (bass is second) and well, the upper end certainly keeps up with the lower frequencies. Cowbells, cymbals, and violins are come through nicely and never sound fuzzy or removed. Now I will say that the treble is not super-extended, but it's definitely not so rolled off that I have ever felt like I'm missing something. It bears mentioning that according to many, substituting a standalone DAC like a Bifrost or Concero can really add some extra detail in the upper end, but like I said before, the treble as-is certainly doesn't want for anything.
Soundstage/Imaging/Separation: Excellent. The 3D-ness of this little silver box is just awesome. In it's stock form, it's certainly above average, but after adding the tube power supply and rolling a few tubes, the imaging this thing generates is just killer. On 'The Young Person's Guide,' instrument separation and placement is just sublime. Even the RS1's with their smallish presentation, are a joy to listen to! This is certainly a main contributor in the enjoyment of this amp.
Aesthetics/Build Quality/Accessories: Do I really have to expound on the looks? This thing looks like something from Brookstone or the Apple store. Just great. Very healthy weight and clean lines through and through. Plugging in headphones doesn't push it around the desk like the Pan Am used to. Very solid. Also from the Gustard review: "No unneeded text or frills, which if you ask me, is something we should be seeing more of... Nice big volume control[...]" The WA7 looks beautiful on the desk next to the MacBook and I'm quite glad it can back up it's looks with some serious sound!
Qualms: No real qualms, but there are a few things that the potential buyer may want to know. There are limited input options. In a day and age where most new DACs are coming with at least two, if not 4-5 input options, the WA7 doesn't go that far. You can run USB or RCA. That's it. Also, for you tube junkies out there - this ain't gonna satisfy unless you spend the extra $$$ on the tube power supply. The 6C45 is a small family of tube that doesn't offer a lot of variety. This isn't a problem per se, but don't expect to find pages and pages of options if you search for 6C45 tube rolling!
Final Thoughts: I'll spell it out for you: the WA7 is the combo unit to get if you want an all-in-one for under $1k. Add the WA7tp power supply and you've got a setup that rivals plenty of rigs costing upwards of $2000. It looks great, sounds great, and feels great! Like my favorite headphones (RS1s) the WA7 is not the most capable, nor the most revealing, nor the most technical amp/DAC, but I can assure you that it brings a smile to my face every time I power it up! It's just fun! My hat's off to the guys at Woo for making a product that checks off so many boxes.
*Just to be clear, my review was done based largely on my findings using the WA7 with the tube power supply. The stock PSU is quite capable, but I full-heartedly recommend the WA7tp for anyone wanting to get a little closer to an end game setup.