Review: Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse – The New (trans)Portable King

Disclaimer: I met up with Jack Wu at High End in Munich just last month and at the end of the show he allowed us to take one of the units that were present at the show with us for review. Big thanks!

 

Wooism

It wasn’t that long ago that I featured the gorgeous WA2 in our Picture Post series and during my stay in San Francisco I fell in love again when my friend was so kind to get his WA22 out of storage and unbox it for me. I obviously have a love-hate relationship with Woo Audio, it’s actually more of a love relationship as I like almost all of their amps. Almost, except for one: the WA7 Fireflies. It just doesn’t do “it” for me but so many other it does. Must be me.

WA8

According to Woo Audio, the WA8 is the world’s first battery-operated vacuum tube amplifier with DAC. I guess it all depends on how you look at things but some of Woo’s colleagues don’t really agree with that statement. Do I care if it’s the first or the sixth amp? Not really, I care more about how it sounds and I wouldn’t worry about who was first.

The Woo WA8 is a transportable DAC and amplifier combo that delivers a desktop quality sound. While we’ve said that before, I have to admit that the WA8 is doing so on a whole other level. If you would let ten people listen to the WA8 without telling them it was a small transportable tube amp(/dac), at least eight would think it was a full sized desktop unit. And a good one for that matter. Also one that powers anything in my collection, from the dynamics to the orthos, 8 to 600Ohm, IEMs or full sized headphones: everything goes just as good and just as easily. Woo calls it: “The most compact high power all-tube amp”. The WA8 however isn’t a portable unit but Woo never claimed so and they even advise against using it in closed bags and back packs. With its 1.1kg it’s a bit heavy for on the go anyway.

Woo Audio WA8 2

The DAC inside the WA8 only accepts USB(2.0) but it does so all the way up to 24bit/384kHz. Before I saw the specs of the WA8 I was afraid the DAC-chip wouldn’t be the best but I was very happy to see Woo chose the ESS Sabre ES9018K2M, a very popular and top quality chip I happen to like. In order for it to work you have to install a special driver on Windows operated pcs, but getting it to work in Foobar2000 over ASIO was extremely easy. The USB receiving chipset in the WA8 is the XMOS xCore. While the WA8 officially doesn’t support DSD, I have managed to get DSD working over DoP

Next to that the WA8 has one 3.5mm (1/8″) analog input that of course bypasses the WA8’s DAC circuit (the line-in has priority over the USB-in). The WA8’ amplifier uses one matched pair of 6S31B and one 6021 subminiature tubes. (Just like the ALO CM but more on that later). You can either choose to run on two or all three tubes. It’s a sort of gain switch but it has quite the impact on the sound as well. Most of these miniature tubes are calculated to have a 10.000 hour lifespan but Woo rates them at 5.000h of life. Unlike the CDM where tube rolling is extremely easy, the tubes in the WA8 are harder to replace. The tube compartment can be replaced when one of your tubes pops, but you have to buy a new module from Woo Audio and they’ll send it to you together with the “how to” manual.

Battery wise the WA8 uses a Rechargeable 3400mAh Lithium-ion battery but that won’t give you more than 3 to max 4 hours of playtime. I know this isn’t a lot but again, this shouldn’t be used as a portable unit. Mine is plugged it most of the time. When charging the unit while it’s in use, the casing gets very hot, it is a Class A amp (Transformer coupled) after all. Some people were complaining about the ALO CDM running hot, but the Eclipse unfortunately gets just as hot. The Eclipse operates via external DC power or “off-the-grid” battery operation. Advanced technology provides steady and pristine power to the vacuum tubes and the DAC. So even when the WA8 is charging, the power is drawn from the batteries for “cleaner” power.

The eclipse comes delivered with a 12.6v premium quick battery charger, a USB 2.0 cable and a Pelican carrying case with custom foam inserts to provide maximum protection. I love the case and it protects the gorgeous WA8 on my daily trip to work and back home like no other. (water-resistant, crush-proof and dust-proof)

The normal Woo Audio WA8 goes for $1799

Woo Audio WA8 3

Looks & Build

We all know Woo makes gorgeous amplifiers and their build quality is one of the very best. I haven’t seen a single Woo amp that wasn’t perfect. In fact one batch of WA8’s was only very recently postponed as Woo didn’t consider the cases to be up to their level. Bad news for the waiting clients but I fully admire Woo for doing that.

My review unit has been used during several shows and it has a light scratch on the back but apart from that it’s perfect. Every connector, seem or switch on the WA8 fits perfectly and the volume button is so very smooth to turn. On the front of the unit on the left side you’ll find the battery level indicator (5 mini LEDs) but the most attention is drawn to the three tubes that are safely stored away behind a 5cm wide glass compartment on the right. On the right side of the unit you’ll find one 3.5mm SE headphone output and a 6.3mm output. No there’s no balanced. On the left side of the unit you’ll find the power switch, the USB input and the analogue input. On top you have the selector and the ventilation for the tubes. On the back of the unit there’s nothing to see and on the bottom there are two thin rubberish feet so that the case won’t scratch the table. Or is it the other way around?

I mentioned before that the Eclipse is heavy and it really is compared to the portable gear you’re used to. But as you shouldn’t see this as a portable unit but a transportable one, the weight actually is quite ok. I take it home with me each day after work and sure my bag is a little heavier (1.1kg) but it doesn’t bother me one bit. Even while doing it daily, taking the WA8 out of its sleeping place is magical. The unit just oozes quality, the case feels smooth and turning volume button is a pure pleasure. Precise and smooth, just how I like it.

There are a few things I want to point out before you start using your WA8. When you power the WA8 on and off there will be a pop, it’s that simple. The loudness of the pop will depend on the headphone connected and the volume it is set at. I fully advise removing your headphone before you turn it off and after you turn it on. Drivers are safe, ears are safe. All is good. Before you plug your headphone in or out you also have to make sure the volume is set to zero. And before you switch from two to three tubes or back, you must turn off the unit as the circuit needs to reset. I’m repeating this because there are people who obviously didn’t do all that and then complain afterwards. So be warned.

Sound, on page two, after the click

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Specs

All-tube design (not hybrid)

Class-A, Single-ended Triode transformer-coupled

Tubes 6S31B x2, 6021 x1

Selectable two- or three-tube operation

In-house Nickel core, OCC Single Crystal Copper output transformer

Frequency response: 20Hz – 30kHz, -3dB

Max headphone output 350mW

ESS SABRE Reference DAC (ES9018K2M)

XMOS xCORE-AUDIO asynchronous USB compatible with Mac, PC, Android and iOS devices

Hi-res music playback up to 24-bit/384kHz

USB (Type-B) digital input, and 1/8″ (3.5mm) analog input

1/4” (6.3mm) and 1/8” (3.5mm) headphone outputs (8-600 Ohms)

Up to 4 hours of battery playtime, 3400mAh rechargeable Lithium-ion battery

Five LED battery indicators

CNC-milled aluminum enclosure, available in anodized black, space gray, and gold

Dimension 6.69″ (L) x 3.6″ (W) x 1.69″ (D) / 170mm (L) x 92mm (W) x 43mm (D)

Weight (amp) 2.4lbs / 1.09kg

250mW @32Ω 350mW @50Ω 180mW @120Ω 120mW @300Ω 80mW @600Ω (3-tube operation)

Sound, on page two, after the click

 NEXT PAGE

Review: Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse – The New (trans)Portable King
4.6 (92.5%) 16 votes

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650.

20 Comments

  • Reply June 10, 2016

    Barun C

    Nice writeup Lieven. WA8 seems more like a compact desktop system to me. CDM is a much better companion than WA8 for people who are travelling all the time and who like to pack in a compact, minimal manner.

    I prefer using the Resonessence Labs Concero HP for my trips all the time, as they are convenient, small and can even be powered from a mobile phone.

    • Reply June 10, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you, it was a tough but fun review to do. I agree that the WDM is a lot more portable but the WA8’s sound just is better when comparing the DAC + AAMP

      • Reply June 12, 2016

        Lucas Kramer

        Hey Lieven, this is completely unrelated to this review, but I remember reading in one of your Cosmic Ears reviews that you owned the CE1. As someone who has never owned a CIEM I was wondering what your views are on it. The current IEM I own is the RHA MA 750. In your opinion is it worth it getting the CE1?
        Cheers,
        Lucas

        • Reply June 13, 2016

          Lieven

          You know, I personally would save up for the four driver. Not that the one driver is bad, because compared to a universal 1 driver it will be better but if you do go custom, go custom good. You’ll want to upgrade with the CE1, not that soon with the CE4

  • Reply June 11, 2016

    Steve K

    “I fully advise removing your headphone before you turn it off and after you turn it on. Drivers are safe, ears are safe. All is good. Before you plug your headphone in or out you also have to make sure the volume is set to zero. And before you switch from two to three tubes or back, you must turn off the unit as the circuit needs to reset. I’M REPEATING THIS BECAUSE THERE ARE ACTUALLY PEOPLE WHO OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T DO ALL THAT AND THEN COMPLAINED AFTERWARDS. So be warned.”

    Hey thanks for that comment you made at the end there (see caps above). Maybe you should do everyone a favour, and tell your friend to add that to the user manual, because not everyone has the time to read your review or do extensive research. Obviously, it would help a lot of people out there to do the right thing if it was spelt out clearly in the user manual.

    • Reply June 11, 2016

      Lieven

      Reading my review should be mandatory 😉

  • Reply June 12, 2016

    Mister test

    Testing 231

  • Reply June 12, 2016

    dale thorn

    I did a WordPress login first, then loaded Headfonia, but it still doesn’t seem to know who I am, and it wants all the info. So let’s see what happens:

    • Reply June 12, 2016

      dale thorn

      Oops – I can’t find an Edit button for my comment.

  • Reply June 25, 2016

    Eugene Van Praag

    What does “remove your headphone before you turn it off and after you turn it on” mean? So, does it mean: don’t pull the headphone unless the unit is on, but feel free to plug it in whether the unit is on or off?

    Am I being dumb, or confused?

  • Reply September 15, 2016

    Robin

    Hi Lieven. I just bought HD800S. Which pairing will be best? This WA8, CDM, La Figaro 339, Hugo or WA22? I like to hear Jazz and normal Pop.

  • Reply December 16, 2016

    Ivan

    Thinking of getting the Utopia to pair with the WA8 but your review says the Edition X pairing is great and magical. I believe proper matching is more important than getting the absolute best. Is the X with WA8 sounding better than the Focal?

    • Reply December 21, 2016

      Lieven

      I haven’t tried the Focal on the WA8, Sorry

  • Reply January 6, 2017

    Jared Crandall

    FYI. I’ll be testing the WA8 out on the Focal Elear soon, but for now I have been using the 64 audio a12 and I think the 3-tubes doesn’t sound good with the a12s, so I switched to the 2-tubes and am much more happy.

  • Reply January 9, 2017

    Griffin Cui

    This review is not accurate, the stock tubes do not drive CDM near its potential. The DAC of CDM with Mullard tubes almost sound as good as my McIntosh D150. The bass performance out of CDM with SE846 and Messdrop TH-X00 is awesome, anymore bass will give you a headache!

    • Reply January 11, 2017

      Jacob Morley

      Good bass or awesome because it is near overwhelming?

  • Reply February 27, 2017

    Victor

    Hi Lieven, how would you compare the WA8 with WA6SE with Kingrex UD384, I’m thinking of getting WA8 as an all in one if the sound is even better. Using mostly Spotify and Tidel on mobile device with a few headphones like Audio Technical W3000, HD650. Any advise?

    • Reply February 28, 2017

      Lieven

      I don’t have the WA6SE here with me but while it’s a good amp it’s not as spectacular as say the 339 or Auris HA2-SE. For the HD65O i would recommend a good OTL like the 339 or Crack. The Auris is also very nice but will clear the hd650 up. The WA8 is a really nice amplifier/dac combo and I think I talked about the HD650 in the review.

  • Reply March 25, 2017

    Greg from Richmond VA

    I made a decision to go with the WA8 after reading multiple reviews, but your review put me over the edge. I received mine yesterday via FedEx, signature required. Naturally since this little brick of advanced tech costs as much as top end large screen tv! I must admit that I was skeptical that Woo could equal the sound of the WA7 DAC/AMP/DC Power combo in something this small. Right out of the box, I was impressed by its sheer heft. I figure it’s mostly the battery and transformer, but wow, how do they get all that into such a beautiful case!? Ok, my ears were ready to be disappointed. I fired up my favorite album for comparison. I’ve heard Mumford & Son’s 24bit-96khz FLAC album on more da/amp/headphone configurations that I can remember. So I had a pretty good idea what a good reproduction might sound like. Ok, 3 tube mode (default out of the box) and off we went, pumping “Only Love” into my HD800s. “Hmm ….. That’s new”, I thought to myself. “I’ve never heard that first 10 seconds of that bass buildup before Marcus vocals kick-in.” Then it hit me like a warm summer breeze. Wow! This is amazing! I sat with a big, wide grin on my face for at least 10 minutes before I actually started thinking about what I was feeling. Then my type A kicked into high gear. “I gotta hear how much of this DAC vs. Amp is”. So I did a quick reconfiguration by unplugging the USB and connecting my Schiit Gumby using the 3.5mm port. “OK, same song, different DAC!” I mumbled. This has got to sound better, as my Gumby has been the best $1250 I’ve ever spent on hifi gear. Hands down, just behind my HD800s. But, you know what? It wasn’t better. It was actually less dynamic, less instrument separation, and an overall disappointment. So I don’t know if it’s the fact that Jack Wu knocked it out-of-the-park with the pairing of his DAC/AMP, or if it’s a Schiity mismatch, or just simply sacrificing the quality of the circuitry that connects the 3.5mm jack to the tube amp. Regardless, I knew right away that the incorporated DAC with this AMP, in this dense, beautiful, magical, brick of silicone and metal was my new best friend! Being able to detach from my home office desk and have an audiophile setup in my backpack, to take anywhere & anytime I want. I don’t know how long this little beauty will hold-up under the routine of packing, unpacking, connecting, disconnecting. Being a paradigm shifting piece of technology, with a growing customer base to test its limits, the verdict is still being deliberated. I hope that the 1-year warranty won’t leave us first adopters high & dry if (when?) somethings goes south. I guess I’ll cross that bridge if I ever face it, and hope that Mr.Wu’s commitment to quality and customer satisfaction will shine strong if/when product weaknesses arise. But for now, I’m savoring the sweetness of my new WA8 and can’t wait to discover my music collection all over again!

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