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

Sound

 

DAC/AMP

The first time I listened to the WA8 was when I was in San Francisco visiting the Audio Vision store. I paired it up with the Audeze Sine and that combo sounded really good. At that time is was hard to determine how the WA8 exactly sounded as the Sine was new to me as well. Ever since I’ve returned from Munich in early May, the WA8 has been my daily amp/dac unit in my office though. The headphones I’ve used most are the Hifiman Edition X, the HE-1000, the Edition S, The Sennheiser HD650 and HD800 and the Beyerdynamic DT770AE.

First of all there is a big difference between the two tube modes. The 2-tube mode puts out less power than the 3-tube mode but the sonic character of both settings is quite different. With the 3-tube mode the sound is spacious, layered and rich in detail and timbre. In 2-tube mode this is still there, just in a lesser degree. Three tubes have a wider and deeper sound stage with a better instrumental separation. Bass body in 3-tube mode also is bigger but it is a tad looser than with 2 tubes. The mids in 3-tube mode have a little more body and are a bit more upfront. Both mids are excellent and it kind of depends on the headphone you’re using. Treble in 3-tube is more spacious and rich in detail. I prefer the bass and the general sound in 3-tube mode more as it is more balanced, spacious, rich and layered. With the DT770AE though, I prefer the 2-tube mode as bass for my tastes becomes a bit too big when all tubes come in play.

The WA8 at all times is dead silent, even Nathan would find this impressive. No matter how sensitive your headphones or monitors are, the back ground is black and dead silent. Channel balance is perfect at all sound levels and with any type of headphone. Turning the volume knob is completely silent as well. The WA8 is perfection in a small package. The WA8 isn’t a typically warm sounding amplifier like my La Figaro 339. It actually has the typical clean and clear Woo Audio sound where the tubes just add that bit of smoothness and Woo magic resulting in a romantic, detailed and dynamic sound.

Woo Audio WA8 4

Power wise you might not expect it but the WA8 can handle sensitive monitors, high impedance dynamic headphones and current hungry orthodynamics. The Eclipse does them all effortlessly and makes them all sing, it’s a very easy amplifier to pare up with. Of course some headphones have a slightly better synergy then others but that comes down to personal taste. On the WA8 I myself in example prefer the Edition S over the HE-1000.

If you’ve read my Alo CDM review you might remember me saying the amplifier in the unit was better than the DAC. With the WA8 both the DAC and the amp perform at a very high level and I think Woo made an excellent choice combining the detailed and clean ES9018K2M with tubes. If you however don’t like the DAC implementation of the WA8, you can always use the Line In function (3.5mm) and bypass the unit’s DAC.

Amp

In amplifier only mode, with the AK240 as source, the WA8 to me sounds a little more forward and it loses a hint of smoothness in the mids. There still is a whole lot of detail and the sound is clear, clear and fast. While it often is the case that the amplifier section in AMP/DAC combos is better than the DAC section, the WA8 actually sounds its best as a combo. No need to carry around an external DAC like the Mojo, Hugo, Solo –dB, C5D, etc etc etc. This is one unit that does it all, the DAC implementation in the WA8 is done in a manner that it gets the best out of both the amp and DAC. Sure you can still use the Line In if you really feel like using another DAC, it’s nice to have that option, but I personally prefer the WA8 on its own.

Woo Audio WA8 7

Headphones

The Hifiman Edition X (soon on HFN) sounds really full with great body in bass and mids. Voices are extremely good and smooth while treble is lively and detailed. For me the Edition X sounds the absolute best on the WA8, the richness of the sound is incredible. It’s big brother the HE-1000 needs more power and volume has to go up a little. My favorite amp for the HE-1000 still is the Violectric V281 in balanced mode, the WA8 – while it sounds more than good – just doesn’t manage to get the same level out of this specific headphone, resulting in good bass, treble and mids but they’re not that spectacular. The magic the Edition X has with the WA8 isn’t here for me.

Sennheiser’s HD800 loves tubes and my favorite amp with that headphone is my 300B tube amp. I can easily see why a lot of people love the combination of the HD800 with the Eclipse: Good bass, softer treble and gorgeous mids. The WA8 makes the HD800 very musical and easy to listen to. The HD800 still is a superb headphone but I like it even more on the Violectric. Beyerdynamic’s DT770Pro AE 32 is a classic already and the WA8 in 2-tube mode makes it sound as good as it can. Great bass that isn’t too big and loose (with 3 tubes it is), some thicker mids and treble that is soft and smooth for a Beyer. Incredible sound for a $150USD headphone.

Another budget headphone, the Hifiman Edition S, also sings with the WA8. In both open and closed mode you get such an easy to listen to, musical smooth sound. In open mode the S sounds a lot more spacious but the bass gets a bit looser. In closed mode the sound is more centred but the bass is tighter and faster. Treble is smooth in this Hifiman and it will never offend. Another great match with the Eclipe, especially in 3-tube mode.

Woo Audio WA8 6

The Sennheiser HD650 also is known for liking tubes. In 3-tube mode bass is a bit bigger and looser but the Senn sounds spacious, smooth and romantic. In 2-tube mode the senn sounds a bit more like on a solid state amplifier. My ears prefer the smoother sound, but that’s how I always like my HD650 to sound. I’m repeating myself but this also is a really good combination. The Beyerdynamic T90 is a headphone I love on my 339 with the warmest tube set. On the WA8 it sounds pretty good in 2-tube but I still prefer it to sound even  smoother. Sound stage and depth on the T90 are really good though on the WA8 and the voices and bass are very realistic.

The WA8 doesn’t only perform well with full sized headphones and my Unique Melody Maestro, which picks up any floor noise and his if there is any, is completely silent on the WA8. The volume range even allows you to listen to it at very low volumes and you’ll never hear any imbalance either. Basically the WA8 plays great with all my monitors and that was a nice surprise. It’s certainly something a lot of people will love reading, the WA8 Eclipse is IEM approved.

Comparisons and conclusion on Page 3, after the jump

 NEXT PAGE

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

22 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!

  • Reply December 28, 2017

    Larry

    Hi Lieven, thank you for your thorough, insightful, and intelligent review. Have you had the opportunity to compare any after-market audiophile USB cables with the Eclipse? I’d love to hear your thoughts on if there’s synergy that’s your favorite.

    I’m planning on buying the Eclipse and Sennheisser 800s in 2018 and will start with stock cables to break everything in and get a good sense of how everything sounds. But next I would like to upgrade the USB and headphone cables.

  • Reply August 10, 2019

    Barry

    I’m looking to pair either the WA8 eclipse or the WA11 Topaz with Aeon Flow Closed back. Do you recommend one over the other?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.