Woo Audio WA5 integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier Page 2

There's no peace in my cubbyhole when Nina Simone begins to sing. She disturbs me. The slave-chant beat of "Be My Husband," from her Pastel Blues (LP, Philips PHS-600-183), strips away my ego to let me feel her soul and mine, and the American history we both share. If any other song better plumbs the depths of the male-female African and American experience, I haven't heard it. The WA5-O/93 marriage revealed, without mercy and in full color, the abyss of shame and dehumanization Simone tapped into with her art. (This song was written by Simone's husband and manager, Andrew Stroud.)

If you know a female singer who shows us our damaged psyches better than Simone does in a song from Hair, "Ain't Got No—I Got Life" (45rpm 7" single, RCA 1743), please tell me about her. "Ain't Got No" turns the pages on one painful memory after another. Every time she sings "Ain't . . . " it hurts the cells of my chest. The DeVore O/93s and Woo WA5 sucked me perfectly into the dark worlds of Simone's sentiments. Her marriage was bad, but the marriage of DeVore speakers and Woo amp was all about fidelity.


Finer than frogs' hair: Focal Elear headphones
I have more recordings by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash than any others. While I decipher Dylan on some Old Testament religious level, I receive and understand Cash on a more direct, intravascular level. The physical sound of the guitar and bass on his recordings reaches my bloodstream and speaks to me more directly than do his richly toned voice and unusual lyrics. Cash albums tell me right away how good my audio equipment is. If my system transmits his cell-level physicality, if it delivers rich, full tones and a tall handsome body (the one June Carter loved), then I like it—it's a great system.

I listened to an early pressing of Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar! (LP, Sun LP-1220), an album originally released in 1957, first with the Orangutan O/93 speakers ($8400/pair), then through Focal's new Elear headphones ($995). Powered by the WA5, both transducers conveyed solidness and physicality, and showed me the raw simplicity of each song. But the Focals went a step further than the DeVores: They took me to 706 Union Avenue, in Memphis. The Elears parked my white '55 Cadillac and escorted me inside Sun Studio, where Sam Phillips handed me a pair of headphones. Then, right there in the control room of my mind, I experienced the Man in Black and the Tennessee Two—guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant—in all their hard-driving glory. The songs were about women, trains, and prison, and through the WA5 and Elears they felt physical—like whiskey runnin' through my veins.

Compared to the DeVore O/93s, the Focal Elears recovered more detail, reduced the noticeability of LP surface noise, and let the high frequencies open up. Bass became stronger and more perfectly formed. The most obvious thing about the WA6-Elear sound was how evenly the musical energy was distributed. Johnny Cash just rolled into my head, easily and directly, with zero sonic distractions. The Roksan Radius 7 turntable and tonearm with Dynavector DV20XL cartridge made a feast of the midrange—colors and textures blossomed in abundance. Life was good.

The Woo WA5 with Focal Elears is a top-top-level combination of amp and headphones that should make any headphone aficionado extremely happy.

Audeze LCD-4 and LCD-X headphones
I never really enjoyed the Eagles, or Cat Stevens, or "Sweet Baby" James Taylor—I'm too much of a Chicago tough guy for that. But a pipe organ and a choir in a cathedral turn me into a rosy-cheeked choirboy every time.


Listening through the Woo WA5 and Audeze's LCD-4 headphones to Suite du premier ton, by the master of the French baroque cantata, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676–1749), in a recording by soprano Mady Mesplé and organist Gaston Litaize (LP, EMI C 065-12589), I felt fully engaged and high-spirited, but with overtones of melancholy. With the Woo and Audeze's flagship 'phones, the air of the church of Notre-Dame de Caudebec-en-Caux was deep and rarefied—and dark. The chief difference between the LCD-4s and the Audeze LCD-Xes is that the latter's sound is more brightly illuminated: the LCD-Xes deliver more energy from 2 to 5kHz. Nevertheless, the Woo WA5 made the LCD-4s sound at least one shade lighter and noticeably more focused than they did with such headphone amps as the Pass Labs HPA-1 or Audeze's own The King. The WA5 made the LCD-Xes sound more articulate than ever, and the LCD-4s more as I imagine they should sound.

Woo-Zu Magic
Zu Audio's Soul Supreme floorstanding speakers are always ready to generate some smooth talkie glide, especially with directly heated SETs. The Souls play confidently on only a few watts, with an easy-flowing, wide-open vivo that eludes less-sensitive floorstanders.

In his recording of Franz Schubert's Impromptus, D.935/Op.142, the difference between pianist Wilhelm Kempff's long slow notes and his short quick ones was marvelously attention grabbing (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 139149 SLPM). At every musical turn, Schubert seems to be saying, Look what I can do with some fanciful ideas and a whole piano keyboard! Impromptu 4, Allegro scherzando, is a rollicking, moody spring dance through the piano's middle and upper registers. The WA5 and Soul Supremes promoted each note and each sequence of notes to the level of a marvelous occurrence.

The best thing about a fine audio system is that it makes simple things like guitar strummin' and audience clappin' extra enjoyable. My eBay-bought LP of Hot Tuna (RCA LSP-4353) arrived, and its wide-open sound kept me riveted on the New Orleans House concert space and the goings-on therein.

I thought the digitally remastered Hot Tuna CD was rich and smooth rolling, but in "Hesitation Blues" and "Uncle Sam Blues" the LP was so much better that I laughed out loud. The LP was way more open, unmuffled, and dynamically charged. On vinyl, the air in the New Orleans House was transparent instead of the CD's mere translucence. Through the magic Woo-Zu system, Kaukonen's strumming textures and singing, and the room ambience, felt sonically enhanced; applause sounded surprisingly real, and I could make out words spoken by people in the audience.


As I said, I'm biased toward affordable, lovingly engineered audio creations made by family businesses with traditional artisanal values. The Woo Audio WA5 is exactly that kind of product.

Also . . . I've just checked J. Gordon Holt's Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary," and he doesn't define transcendent; the Woo makes a strong case for its addition: transcendent is the word that best describes the WA5's succinct, intimate, nonmechanical handling of music, as an amplifier for loudspeakers or headphones.

As a speaker amplifier, the WA5 kept me focused on motion and momentum in music better than did the legendary Western Electric 91A mono amp or my reference integrated, the Line Magnetic LM-518IA. The Woo couldn't match the vivid, hypertextured midrange of either of those amps, but in turn, neither of them could match the Woo's almost incomparable liquidity. It powered the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a minimonitors, the DeVore Orangutan O/93s, and the Zu Soul Supremes with stunning clarity. High frequencies were extremely refined and open. The WA5 beat my reference First Watt J2 amp in purity and openness, but not at rumba, samba, or mosh-pit polkas.

As a headphone amp, the WA5 exceeded Audeze's The King, Linear Tube Audio's microZOTL2.0, and Pass Labs' HPA-1 in most parameters, and especially in spatiality, clarity, and transparency. Maybe bass was better through The King. Maybe the midrange was more colorful through the microZOTL. Maybe the HPA-1's octave-to-octave tonal balance was more perfect. Maybe the Pass could slide and stomp better. But—because the WA5's impedance, power, and gain are all adjustable, it could drive less-sensitive, higher-impedance headphones (such as Audeze's LCD-4s) in a more satisfying fashion than any other headphone amplifier I've heard.

If, like me, you're an aspiring headphone connoisseur, get you to a CanJam and try the Woo Audio WA5 with your favorite headsets. It may be the last headphone or speaker amp you'll ever need.

Woo Audio
2219 41st Avenue, Suite 502
Long Island City, NY 11101
(872) 222-9667

The Audio Guild's picture

Actually "Be My Husband" is a feminized version of a prison work song called "Rosie."

Alan Lomax made a recording of it in the field back in the '40s.


Was surprised to hear it pop up some time back in the David Guetta song "Hey Mama."



bushido's picture

Interesting name. From Wikipedia: Wu Wei,is an important concept in Taoism that literally means non-action or non-doing. In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu explains that beings that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way.

Do you think Woo had that in mind when naming the device?

robrider's picture

It's a bad design throughout. 6SN7's driving 300B's is flawed. The 6SN7 can't drive the 300B properly. Get the cheaper WA22 which with decent tubes sounds better than the WA5 and has a decent balanced design. Or wait for the WA22SE when Woo might show they've learnt from previous designs.

davehg's picture

I own both the WA5 and the WA22. While the WA22 sounds great with balanced sources, the WA5 easily bests the WA22 using a range of headphones, from LCD3 to Sennheiser HD650 to HiFiMan HE350. The WA5 is more extended, more dynamic, and more tonally pure than the WA22 (both were using NOS tubes and upgraded 274b rectifiers). The WA22 is very tube finicky - it sounds very different using different tubes, whereas the WA5 is more consistent.

My experience with Woo amps is extremely positive - I've also owned the 6SE. Woo customer service is fantastic and quick - they upgraded my WA5s. The WA5 also drives a pair of ProAc Super 50 Tablette Signatures to loud levels, and they sound wonderful. Having a world class headphone amp that can play speakers too is bonus.

The XLR input it for convenience only, not truly balanced on the WA5. The WA22 also has XLR inputs and is a fully balanced design.

Not surprised at the measurements, nor discouraged. While I look for great measuring gear, my experience with SET and triode tube designs is that they usually measure poorly - case in point my prior Air Tight ATM3s which if memory serves were adored by Dick Olsher whereas JA labeled the measurements as "broken".

YMMV but the WA5 is my "off the merry go round" headphone amp.

Leotis's picture

Checked out Mr.Reichert's "Flesh and Blood" article. Appears he knows a thing or two about tube amp design. Seems he likes the 6SN7 with the 300B. Some other people appear to believe anything that isn't balanced topology is junk... Oh well.
Was wondering if any other tubes were rolled for this review. Reichert recommends GE 6SN7GTB for his amp design. Does that recommendation hold for the Woo also. I put the Takatsuki 300B and the VT231 Tung Sol 6SN7GT in my WA5 and it smokes the stock tubes. Would like Mr Reicherts impressions of the WA5 with some premium tubes if possible.