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Desktop Amps item created by monsieurguzel, May 7, 2010
Pros - Sound Quality, Build Quality, Value for Money
Cons - None
I got the 10% percent discount and free shipping November promotion. The Woo Audio WA6-SE needs no introduction, Woo Audio has the products and the path to the summit of head-fi on lock. This amp looks great and it kicks butt, like a Shaolin master from Wudang mountain. I'm throwing my Schiit in the garbage can, just kidding, I'm keeping my Vallhala 2. Too early to critically compare the two amps, the WA6-SE needs more time to bloom. I am very familiar with the sound of the Schiit Valhalla 2 with stock tubes. Straight out of the box and head to head with a well used Valhalla 2, the WA6-SE is a significant step up in overall sound quality. The rectifier in the picture above is not the stock rectifier that came with the amp. The reviews on the stock rectifier the Electron Tube 274B are mostly bad so I got a better rectifier with mostly positive reviews. The Valve Art 274B, it looks almost identical to the stock rectifier. A closer look reveals larger black plates and glass enclosure, the Valve Art 274B has more mass than the stock rectifier. It was a cheaper upgrade for now, I'm going to wait awhile before I roll tubes and upgrade the power cord. I know from experience that "burn-in" time is required with amps. On the Woo Audio web site there's a "Woo Audio Amplifier Comparison Chart" under FAQ. According to team Woo, the WA6-SE is rated four out of five stars in six sound quality categories. The highest score is 30 stars, the WA6-SE is 24.5 stars total. Dynamic response is the WA6-SE's strong point, 4.5 stars out of 5 stars, judged by Woo. Absolutely a step in performance over the Schiit Valhalla 2. The dynamic response of the Valhalla 2 is not even close to the dynamic response of WA6-SE. I still have love for Schiit, I'm going to keep the Valhalla 2. I love the euphonic mid's of the Valhalla 2. The initial sound of the WA6-SE confirms to my ears what other reviews say about the sound characteristics of the WA6-SE, the sound is on the solid state-ish side of tube, the other side being the warmer maple colored side of tube.
Source: Sony Play Station 1, DragonFly by AudioQuest
Headpones: Grado Labs GS1000e, HiFiMan HE 400
Interconnects: AudioQuest Golden Gate
Power Cord: GadKo hospital grade power cord, UL listed 15 amp 14awg wires, (I think listening sessions after midnight sound best)
Sophia Princess 274B mesh plate rectifier, expanded stereo width, improved instrument separation compared to stock rectifier. I also purchased a pair of Westinghouse fat bottle 6FD7's but I still have them boxed.
Pros - Can drive anything I threw at it with ease, it's looks, ease of use, tube rolling options
Cons - Heavy, 2 separate units rather than the typical 1.
First off, this is my first review of an audio product. I have talked with Mike from Woo Audio (Hifiguy 528 on Head-fi and Hifi Insider on YouTube) on numerous occasions and he offered me the opportunity to review the Woo Audio WA6SE. Of course, I jumped right on that.
Gear used with the WA6SE:
PC running Foobar2000 and Spotify Premium
Cambridge Audio DacMagic
beyerdynamic DT990 32 ohm
Fostex T50RP (a couple of my variants)
Because this is the first thing you encounter when getting the amp. I saw pictures of the WA6SE online before receiving these and always thought the unit with the tubes on it was the amp and the unit next to it was just a DAC, I was wrong. The WA6SE is a 2 unit amplifier, they have the power supply separate from the amplifier components completely. The unit I received is the black version, it comes in a silver version as well. I really like the minimalistic approach they took on the fronts of the units, it has “Woo Audio” engraved into the front of both units, the on/off switch on the power supply, and two ¼” outputs on the amplifier unit, one for low impedance and one for high impedance. The matching knobs and form factor between both pieces eases my OCD for everything matching in my chain. If I didn’t know better I would have guess this amp would cost $1500 easily just based on it’s looks, but Woo sells it for $1190. The massive rectifier tube on the power supply is really something to look at. Once you turn the amp on with the dial on the power supply, the blue LED power indicator starts blinking for probably 10 seconds until the tubes heat up, the tubes begin to glow, and you, you get excited.
I got the large package with “Woo Audio” stamped on the side in big letters from the FedEx office. I couldn’t tell if the box was full of bricks or if the amp REALLY weighed this much, it turns out, it’s the latter, it weighs a ton. The box has many pieces of Styrofoam to hold the units in place during shipping, the tubes are all individually separated so there is no damaged done during transport, they really care about getting this to you safely. The amp units are SOLID. They feel like they are a solid piece of steel, unbreakable.
Sound, this is the part you're paying for after all, the rest of the package are just perks. Well, I can tell you that the WA6SE does not diasappoint. At the time of receiving the unit I was used to the sound of my Bottlehead Crack w/Speedball upgrade, my Gustard H10 was acquired while I had the WA6SE on loan, and I used an Asgard 2 very briefly as well, so my view of the WA6SE is going to be based off of what I had heard from these other amps.
First impressions are that the soundstage is opened up just a tad wider on all my headphones than they were on the Crack or any solid-state amps I use, the bass decay is quicker so it made that effect. The overall clarity of music just seemed to improve, the change was like driving around in the fumes of the city and then finally hitting an open country road, refreshing. If you are expecting to improve the bass response, or bring out the mids of your headphones, or extend your highs, etc., experiment with the available upgrade tube options. In stock form, It is quite clear that Woo had one objective, not to let any equipment get in the way of hearing the music properly; the amp does just what any amp is meant to do, amplify the source. It does not add any flavor to the sound, it gets the signal to your ear as cleanly as you could ever imagine without adding any "warmth" or "coldness" to the sound, the way it leaves the DAC is the way it gets to your ear.
What can it power? Well, I did not use it with anything that demands loads and loads of power like the HE-6, but the T50RPs I used with it were driven very well, which is surprising for a tube amp in this price range. They are the equivalent to about 600 ohms, which in a planar is very high because planar magnetic drivers are hungry for power, if they are under-amped the lows will become extremely distorted. The Bottlehead Crack could not power the T50RPs well at all, and the WA6SE did it with ease. The WA6SE can even power the TH600 well on the "Low" impedance setting without any hiss noise or interference at all. Dynamics really shine with the WA6SE, the bass decay is so quick and everything was nice and tight, no bloat anywhere.
I could call this a reference amp. If you really want to tell if other amps are adding any 'flavor' to your music, pick a pair of headphones and A-B with the WA6SE, changes will stick out like a sore thumb. Listening to the TH600 on the WA6SE and then the Gustard H10 made it clear that the low end of the Gustard is slightly emphasized, and the soundstage is a little smaller. The decay of the bass is about the same between those two, but the clarity of the WA6SE is slightly better. The Bottlehead Crack would be a better comparison. They are both tube amps, they are both big, they are both great with dynamic headphones, and both create a very nice clear sound. Why would you buy the WA6SE over the Crack? Well, firstly you don't have to assemble the WA6SE, the Crack comes in a kit. Secondly, the crack may need to be replaced later on if you ever decide to buy headphones that demand more power, it is not end-game material unless you plan to stick with a Sennheiser HD600 forever. Buy the WA6SE and you will never need another amp. It will handle everything you throw at it, and not even break a sweat.
Pros - Superb in all respects
With the upgrades, especially the Blackgate caps (now a collectors item), and the Sophia Princess rectifier, and Tung Sol 6FD7 or Raytheon 6EW7 tubes, the WA6 SEm is one of the best SE amps there is with all types of dynamic phones. Get one - you'll love it.
Pros - Clarity, transparency & soundstage
Cons - Price
I recently had the opportunity to listen to WA6SE on demo for 2 hours at the comfort of my home and this is my take on it.
The DAC is DACport and the headphone used is LCD-2 Rev 2 if anyone is interested to know.
The actual amp consists of 2 separate units; one is the actual tube amp while the second unit is a separate power supply to the amp. The 2 units would then be connected via a power supply umbilical cord. I have not actually listened to its predecessor, the WA6, before; as such I am not able to comment on the differences in sound signature or power. However, with a separate power supply added in this SE version, it should not be a far stretch to think that the sound produced by WA6SE would be both more powerful and cleaner. The amp looks very handsome and muscular in live. I had the silver set, and it looked a very sophisticated and well crafted piece of machine. The volume pot is very smooth and there are no blemishes on the body. It is indeed very finely crafted by Mr Woo.
I have not heard many tube amps as I am more of a solid state sound signature kind of guy. The general signature of tube amps seems to be warm and mellow. The WA6SE has quite a black background. When I was listening to LCD-2 on it, I did not really pick up much noise or hum in the background. The WA6SE did not sound as warm or mellow as I expected it to be. Sure, it was slightly warm, but it was not to the extent of being very warm, nor was it so mellow that it was only suitable with tracks with low PRaT. If anything is to go, I personally feel that WA6SE is a little bright with a tinge of warmness, which is a funny thing to say about a tube amp.
Soundstage is excellent on WA6SE both on width and depth. It is relatively wide and I could hear staging in layers. Imaging is also very good. Before listening to WA6SE, I expected the transient of tube amps to be rather slow and mellow sounding. The WA6SE changed this notion; in fact, WA6SE is just 2 steps behind the Burson HA-160 that I own in terms of transient. It was quite a funny feeling, and I had to double check just to make sure that the headphone was plugged into WA6SE instead of Burson. WA6SE actually impressed me on the energy that it is able to churn out. The decay of WA6SE sounded like midway point between Burson and a Little Dot MK III I listened to a couple of months.
Clarity is present in abundance and the slight warmth was actually a nice complement. WA6SE also scored quite high in transparency as I expected the warmth to slightly curtail it, but that was not the case. As mentioned earlier, the energy and speed that WA6SE actually made my music sounded crisp and clear, and that was something I clearly had not expected prior to this audition.
Bass on WA6SE extended low, and the bass details is quite detailed. Impact is also quite impressive, yet the decay on the bass is just nice; it did not linger too long as other tube amps nor did it behave like a solid state's short decay. In short, for me, the bass impressed me as I expected it to be slightly loose, but it was clearly not the case.
Mids has always been the stronghold of tube amps and I am very happy to say WA6SE excelled on this front. The timbre and texture is excellent. Vocals sounded natural, full and lush with a tinge of emotions especially on female vocals. If there's one defining feature that I have to comment about WA6SE, it is the mids that I totally enjoyed.
For me, the treble on WA6SE is quite a funny beast. As I mentioned earlier, WA6SE sounds a little brighter than the few tube amps that I have heard. So, treble extension on WA6SE is very good, in fact, it is better than the few tube amps I have heard. However, this also means that music that is a bit "hot" in treble might be more revealing on WA6SE than other tube amps. On the flipside, WA6SE also provides a little sparkle that is missing in most tube amps.
Concluding what I heard on WA6SE, I could be forgiven for mistaking WA6SE to be a hybrid amp. But it is not; it is a tube amp. I am usually a solid state guy but I had a thoroughly enjoyable time with the WA6SE. It has a relatively fast transient, yet has that warmth that is lacking in most solid state amps. I was especially impressed with its mids and soundstage. If I were to consider a tube amp, the WA6SE would be very high on that list at this point. That is how highly I rate this amp.
Pros - Dynamic, powerful, and warm
Cons - Keeps me up at night.
After trying many amps, I had the opportunity to buy this one used at a great price. One listen and I knew it was the amp for me. The sound just feels right, it is dynamic, warm and fast, and makes everything in my library sound just a little bit better. Quality is off the charts, and looks are beautiful. Paired with a Sophia princess Rectifier, the glow alone is hypnotic, add the music and you can listen all night (I sometimes do).
8 months later and I'm still blown away by this amp. The honeymoon never ended. I went through several amps and a dozen cans before settling on the WA6SE, DT990/600, and Grado GS1000. My musical needs have been met and I haven't felt any need to upgrade. This amp, is just so sweet, the airy soundstage, coupled with fast, crisp dynamics, and the warmth that Sophia adds... just great. I may still be tempted to try other headphones, but my search for the perfect amp has ended.