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My Review of the Woo Audio 5

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by davidmahler, Feb 8, 2011.
  1. DavidMahler Contributor
    A little over a month ago, I contacted Jack Wu and asked him I would be able to audition one of his amps.  I was happy to find out that he actually had a demonstration Woo Audio 5 that he’d be willing to ship to me.   You don’t need to be around head-fi’s forums for more than a day to know that Woo Audio is one of the most beloved companies of tube headphone amps.  And yet up until this point, I had never owned a Woo Audio amp. Aside from the adoration, I’m very appreciative of their clean and user friendly website.   I’ve always thought (though from a far) that the looks of the amp line were a step above most brands without being flashy.   But meanwhile I had never heard any of Woo Audio’s amplifiers on my home rig. So yes, I was extremely excited and eager to get the amp into my home.

    I will name the high quality amps which I have spent a lot of time with in my home for a point of reference:
    TTVJ Millett 307a
    Apex Pinnacle
    RSA B52
    Manley 300B
    Single Power SDS XLR (I owned it for a very brief time and I was one of the unlucky ones who sent the amp back for repair and never heard it again)
    SOURCE: MSB Platinum DAC III
    Keep in mind that each amp listed above has tremendous strengths and reason for praise.  Also keep in mind that each amp listed above is a tube amp.  So where does that leave the Woo Audio 5?
    For me, the Woo Audio 5 is the best buy in the market of high end tube headphone amplifiers.  It can power any headphone and it can power any headphone well.  It has a beautiful lush sound but it is exceptionally detailed without being harsh in the treble region.  This (not LE) version also functions as speaker amp (an attribute which I have not yet tested).  The version I was loaned is a stock version with Teflon tube sockets and I have been using the stock tubes except for the preferred Sofia Electric 300b tubes. 
    What I noticed instantaneously after powering the amplifier was that the mids (and particularly the upper mids) were presented in such a way that was extremely beneficial to many of the flagships released in present times (ie Sennheiser HD800 and Beyerdynamic T1.  Specifically, the mids had great depth and a feeling I would call round and extended openness.  Now that is just a self-invented expression which if I were to clarify I would say imagine the bass to be rock you throw in a body of water.  The ripples of this action can distort very quickly if there is any sort of current or activity.  With the Woo it felt that midrange was extremely open and well connected to the bass, even more so than most amps. The treble region was exactly as I had wanted it.  On the scale between extremely bright and extremely warm, the treble was slightly closer to the warm side.  This is an attribute I think serves an amp which has an openly and eve midrange.  Sometimes I have found amps add a tad extra treble to clean up the clutter of the bass and mids.  This is clearly not necessary with the Woo Audio 5.  While I would call the amp warm, it is not slow, but rather rich and beautiful.  The amp is dead quiet when matched with the appropriate impedance level to each headphone.  The HE-6 is unbelievable out of this amp!  The K1000….a sinch for this amp.  But what really blew me away were the HD800 and T1s out of this amp.  They were beautifully lush and not harsh as they can often sound on a different system. 
    No review is complete without some criticisms, but let me tell you there really aren’t that many and none are substantial enough to not call this a top contender.
    One thing I think would really benefit the amp would be to have balanced ins added to the back panel and a way to use the 4 pin jack for any headphone per the user’s choice. Conversely, I do prefer the HD800 in SE mode (for most music) over the 307a in balanced mode!  The 307a has long been my favorite amp, and with many headphones, it still has this title for me.  But the HD800 with the Woo was on the level of just about any system I’ve heard.
    In terms of sound quality, I have nearly nothing critical to suggest.  If I were to nitpick it would be that with some headphones I preferred a more spread-out soundstage presentation.  But in its own way, this is not at all a criticism.  The Woo’s soundstage is very unique and very rounded.  For T1, HD800 and K701 (headphones which already suggest what some would call a over-compensative soundstage) the Woo’s well defined center and rounded soundstage was my preference.  I found the HE-6 to have a perfect tonal balance on the Woo Audio 5, but I preferred what I perceived as a wider spread of sound on the 307a for this headphone.  I also primarily use this headphone for classical which could add to this preference.  
    I’m sure some will ask me to compare the other amps I’ve had time with to the Woo, but I will (for now) continue to focus solely on the 307a since it was the only amp I had side by side.  As I’ve said there are some headphones I prefer on the Woo, and some that I prefer on 307a.  Which is a better amp all the way round?  I do not know how to answer this because it depends what headphone you are running.  The 307a (which I am using for comparison because it’s the only amp I’ve had in my possession while listening to the Woo) has a more expansive soundstage and an even quicker transient response.  But unlike the Woo, it doesn’t have quite the intimate feel or the close-up immediacy of the Woo’s midrange.  Both amps do different things extremely well.   Keep in mind also, that the 307a has balanced inputs and outputs and that is a feature, which separates it from the Woo.  Simultaneously, an amp which is single ended and better suited to my/your personal tastes of a headphone’s needs will do better than a balanced amp which is not suited to a headphone’s signature. 
    If you’re like me, you feel that many flagships to debut recently in the dynamic-headphone category are bright and need to be tamed by an amp that presents a euphonic sound instead of neutral sound.  For me the Woo is a euphonic audio component.  It is exactly what I was looking for at a wonderful price.
    While this amp has been around for a while, it is new to me and I can only say that it does what it does exceptionally well and for me, I consider that a bargain!
    And the best compliment I can give the amp is that I have purchased it.
  2. vinyllp33
    Great review Dave, it is nice to hear how the Woo compared to the other top amps in your arsenal.

    One thing I find is that while the WA5 does not need a crazy amount of tube rolling to sound good, the 6SN7's can have a profound effect on the sound.

    I know Jack was initially shipping it with the Sovteks which really made it sound almost defective with all their noise and two dimensional presentation. As of late I think he is supplying it with some basic NOS GE's which are quite a bit better. However once I found the right combination it took the amp to a whole different level.

    And yes, the HE-6's seem like they are made for this amp, in theory the K1K jack should not be ideal for their 50ohm rating but many owners, and even Jack, commented that they sound better off the high impedance output so this is ideal.

    Enjoy your new amp!
  3. MacedonianHero Contributor
    Dave you have set the bar very high again with that review! Thanks for taking the time out and sharing how wonderful Woo Audio amps are. My T1s have new life with my WA2. I am totally rediscovering them a year after I bought them.
  4. odyssey
    Thank you Dave for the review on the Woo Audio 5. Because you have had spend time and listened to a fairly wide spread of reputable tube amps. and finally deciding on purchasing the WA5 that speaks much for this amp. Had recently purchased the HE6 and at the moment I am driving this off my speaker amp. while I scout around for my tube amp. and the Woo Audio 5 was short listed. Your review has given me much encouragement and confidence as I am a novice as far as tube amps. are concerned.
    Thanks again and happy listening.
  5. DavidMahler Contributor

    Thanks! The HE-6 are supreme here!  What was the combination you found which you enjoyed?

    Thanks Peter! :)


    I think you will be extremely pleased driving the HE-6 on the WA5!  Thanks for the kind words!
  6. winzzz
    how does it compare with your manley david ?
  7. sillysally
    Well you have only begun to understand what the WA5/LE can do.
    The WA5/LE is very neutral and very source responsive amp. If you team the WA5 with say a Oppo BDP-09 and its Sabre 9018 Dac's you will get a much different idea of what this amp can really do. The sound-stage can be wider and still keep its depth and surround effect, but its all dependent on what tubes you are using and source player.
    The HD-800s do pair nicely with the WA5 but nothing like the HE-6's, the HE-6 are in a different league.
    imo the best 300B tubes for the WE5/LE are the original WE300B's the clarity is excellent. Now drop in a pair of TSRP's 6SN7GT's for bass impact and high range along with a pair of EML 5U4G mesh plates as a anchor to bring out the best from your drive and power tubes.
  8. pigmode
    awesome review. any comments, comparisons to the zana due
    p.s. my keyboard is toast
  9. vinyllp33
    Yes, the combination of the HE-6's with this amp is something truly special; I haven't had this much FUN listening in a long time.
    sillysally does have it figured out tube-wise, no doubts there; Before doing anything else I would find a proper set of matched TSRP 6SN7's, be prepared to pay around $350-$400. However once you hear what they do for the sound, especially with the HE-6's, you will know in an instant that your money was well spent.
    I think you will find the soundstage to be much more layered without being overly exaggerated and you will literally get lost in the sound and textural details, the difference was that dramatic; And I was using some very nice ca.1955 Tung-Sol's previously.
    Next do the rectifier upgrade, the EML's are certainly without peer but you can also find some really nice mid fifties RCA 5U4G for almost next to nothing, they will handily outperform any new production stock tubes that are supplied with the amp.
    The Sophia 300B is a very nice tube, I wouldn't worry too much about those unless you're itching to drop some major coin as an upgrade here will not be inexpensive. I even saw that Sophia now has a new pair of "Royal Princess" 300B that are $1,000 per pair!
    I am certainly not disputing that there are differences in 300B tubes by any stretch, but with the other aforementioned tubes in place you will be quite content. 
    Keep us posted Dave throughout you listening journeys!
  10. debitsohn
    that thing is beautiful. great review. now i have to erase it from my memory so i dont start thinking of how i can afford one.
  11. Clayton SF
    Great review, David. Thanks! It looks like it needs to be parked in a two-car garage. [​IMG]
  12. fdhfdy
    Thanks for the review. I'd bought one if it wasn't that heafty. Postage would be a lot to get it shipped outside of the states. However I like good quality heavy stuff.
  13. joshuachew
    Have you tried the HE6 with any other headphone amps that can drive it like the ALO Studio Six or the Dark Star? How do they compare to the pairing with the WA5?
    Also how does the WA5 pair with the Audeze's? 
    I ask as I am eyeing these and are phones which I own currently (my signature) 
  14. lojay
    David (or anyone who has the experience), how does the WA5 compare with the Pinnacle (or your 307A) in playing rock or jazz music? Do you think the two amps are in the same class?

    Before you sell your WA5, you should really try rolling the 5U4G with a top-end pair of rectifiers such as the GEC U52. It was the single biggest upgrade that improved the soundstage. The (stock) RCA 6SN7 are also a significant limiting factor - once upgraded to the Tungsol BGRP you will see a massive improvement on bass extension and lusher midrange.
    Joshua, I have recently tried the ALO Studio Six with the TH900, LCD-XC and HD800, in a quiet shop for 15 minutes. I can only compare the performance of the ALO to WA5 in terms of driving the HD800. I was not impressed. The soundstage seemed congested. The bass was good. There was something off with the midrange tonality, it lacked naturalness. It seemed to better the stock WA5 (in terms of bass and microdetail) but even the stock WA5 had a more natural tonality and more speed. It suffices to say that WA5 with upgraded tubes is something really special and exquisite and the ALO sounds nothing close to that. It impresses you when you listen to it for the first 5 minutes. 
    I think the ALO Studio Six may benefit from some tube rolling. Despite my comments I do think that the Studio Six is a good amp. But until I audition it more properly I cannot say it is on the same level as the WA5.
    The WA5 + HE6 is my favourite pairing. It is better than the WA5 + WEE + SR009 combo in terms of the attack, the visceral impact and tactility.
    A word of caution though. It lacks the bass of a solid state amp like the Hifiman EF-6 but the WA5 beats the EF-6 in almost every other aspect. The bass is extended and tight but lean. There is more than enough power to drive the bass of the HE-6 but then 300B SET amps are known to have limited quantities of bass so if that bothers you (and you are not prepared to EQ) you might want to stay away from the WA5. 
    My solution is to EQ the bass response. Once that is done, the HE6 delivers earth shattering bass in spades. I have just listened to a recording of a soundtrack from a Chinese war film. The drums sounded utterly palpable and visceral.  
  15. Dubstep Girl
    interesting i've been wanting to buy a WA5 myself for the HE-6, and as a tube amp for other headphones. is it actually bass light? i know the WA22 was lighter in bass than the other amps in the woo lineup and i didn't like it...

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