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.
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.
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.
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.
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