CanJam NYC 2022: Woo Audio and Abyss

Woo Audio, makers of tube electronics, are known for designing great-sounding and great-looking amplifiers intended especially for driving headphones. At an AXPONA a few years back, I became fond of their smaller-scale products such as their WA7 Firefly, a cube-shaped headphone amp/DAC/preamp now in its third generation.

At CanJam, Woo unveiled a preproduction prototype of the WA23 Luna, a combination headphone amplifier and preamp. Woo Audio's Jack Wu (the Wu behind Woo) explained that the idea was to offer a top-tier product smaller than their WA33 flagship, which is a single-ended, fully balanced headphone amp and preamp, which was also on demo at CanJam. The WA23 has a different look, with brass controls. Most conspicuous (and cool-looking) is the brass volume control knob, with quality you can see and feel. In keeping with this tube amp's old-school approach, the volume control is based on a potentiometer, an Alps RK50. Other user adjustments include a level switch for high or low "input strength" and a wide range of impedances to pair with a wide range of headphones, 8 ohms to 600 ohms, dynamic or planar-magnetic (but not electrostatic). The outboard power supply design is still being finalized, I was told.

The WA23 comes with 2A3 power tubes, 6C45 driver tubes, and a 5U4G rectifier tube. The WA23 is equipped with two pairs of RCA inputs, one pair of balanced inputs, and an XLR preamp output pair. Headphones connect at front via a single stereo 4-pin balanced XLR input or a 1/4" jack. The source was a laptop feeding native hi-rez tracks into Woo's WA11 Topaz DAC, ahead of the WA23.

Abyss Diana Photo

I listened briefly with a couple of pairs of Abyss's planar-magnetic headphones, first the Abyss AB1266 Phi TC Reference, whose earpads almost hover atop your ears, and then the new Abyss Diana TCs, which are more my style for aesthetics, with Fibonacci side-hole pattern said to tune both sound and comfort. The Diana is the "thinnest boutique headphone in the world," the Abyss website says. The Diana TC 'phones have specified sensitivity of 90dB/mW and impedance at 69 ohms.

I went old-school classic with "Cheek to Cheek" from the 1956 recording Ella and Louis. Armstrong's gravelly voice and vibrato contrasted as much as ever with Ella's silky-smooth, rounded perfection. Because of the quiet backgrounds, their vocal performances seemed to emerge from 3D, flesh-and-blood humans.

Next, I moved to the 47-ohm, 88dB/mW Abyss AB1266 Phi headphones. Liang recommended an early live track of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," just for fun. Soundstaging was remarkable: The organ was distinctly placed at a distance upstage from the singers. The vocals and their signature harmonies were emphasized, sounding pure, clear, and natural. This rendition was spare compared with the cut's famously elaborate (and expensive) studio production. I also sampled some outtakes and alt-takes from that studio session. While the tape was running, Brian Wilson (I think) in producer mode called out various parts to be played: the piccolo, which sounded sweet and smooth, not shrill; and Fender bass, which displayed plenty of punch and bounce. Good vibrations, good listening.

A guilty-pleasure conclusion to my audition, the rapidfire beats of Fatboy Slim's "Rockafella Skank," showed good, quick bass and much of the full-throttle energy the track should have.

Paired with either of the Abyss headphones, the new Woo provided addictive, neck-and-neck with my favorite combo from the show, coming up soon.

Woo's Mike Liang told me the WA23 Luna was "almost finished." He expects it to hit the market in May or June this year. The MSRP is slated to be $8999.

tonykaz's picture

A person can do DAC sound quality evaluations with these devices..

Hewlet Packard and Tektronix made top level gear like this, now Blue Collar folks can own top levels of outstanding performance made right here by people that answer the dam phone. ( both of them in NY, of all places ) ( and not costing a quarter Million like some 33.3 players ). These people are brilliant !!!

Tony in Florida

ps. I love the Diana too.

Julie Mullins's picture

Yes, lots to enjoy here! And what a contrast between the two pairs of Abyss headphones on demo.