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

Comparison

This is the part a lot of people have been looking forward to. The two most solicited units are the Alo Continental Dual Mono and the “good old” Chord Electronics Hugo.

The ALO CDM also uses the miniature tubes but the implementation is different. I quite like how the CDM sounds as well and I do think the amp part is better than the DAC so I prefer using it as an amp only. To me the WA8 as a whole sounds better as the amp is great and the high end DAC implementation is top quality. The advantage the CDM has is that it can be run in a fully balanced setup, that you can roll as many tubes as you want yourself and it is really portable unlike the Eclipse. The CDM also pops btw, just like the WA8. The WA8, especially in 3-tube mode is more spacious and sounds a bit wider. Detail level and smoothness are comparable but the Woo sounds richer and more layered with better depth. In other words, the CDM in DAC/AMP mode sounds more solid state like where the WA8 sounds more tube-like. The CDM sounds tighter and has a little more body in the mids which is comparable to the 2-tube mode. The WA8 has more bass body in 3-tube mode. In 2-tube mode however the CDM to my ears has the edge on the WA8, especially in what depth and spaciousness are concerned. Long story short: 3-Tube>CDM>2-tube.

Woo Audio WA8 5

In amplifier only mode both units are pretty close. ALO’s CDM’s bass is tighter but WA8’s bass is bigger. The mids of both amps are really good and the treble is more or less at the same level. The WA8 might have the edge on spaciousness and richness though. Now don’t get me wrong, both units sound extremely good and we’re very lucky to have (trans)portable gear performing like desktop amps. We’re spoiled. When putting the CDM in fully balanced mode its performance only gets better. It isn’t fair to compare an unbalanced setup to a balanced one but if your headphones and IEMs have a balanced termination, then CDM really impresses. In the end that means that both units depending on how they are used outperform the other unit, and on top of that everyone’s tastes and ears are different. So listen and try, and buy what your ears like most, there is no absolute best.

The Hugo of course can’t run in amplifier only mode (but it sort of can run in DAC only mode, which isn’t relevant to this test) and it will just be looked at as a DAC/Amp combo. Both units have multiple outputs but Hugo simply has one 3.5mm SE output more. I still am a big fan of the wide, layered and spacious sounding Hugo. It just sounds so much better than the mini Mojo. The first thing you (logically) notice is how the Hugo sounds a lot more like a solid state amp. The WA8 sounds a tad smoother and warmer with that typical tube richness.  The WA8 also easily runs DSD over DoP while I never seem to get that working on the Hugo. Both units sound very detailed and layering and spaciousness on both is really good. The mids on the Woo have a little more body, even in 3-tube mode. Bass on the other hand is slightly bigger on the Hugo but they both are comparable in tightness and detail. Voices are also very alike but the Woo might present them in a cleaner softer way where the Hugo puts them slightly more upfront. Again both units are really good sounding and they both have their own advantages. It’s very tough to make a call sound wise between these too so I would start with looking at what functionality you need first.

Chord Hugo

Conclusion

The Woo WA8 Eclipse is one hell of a unit, there’s no doubt about that: it looks and sounds great and you really get desktop quality in a small package. Looking at it like that it is absolutely worth its $1799 price tag.

The WA8 is very easy to like with all types of headphones and the thing I like most is that it works best as a DAC/Amp combination. Yes you can still use the line-in if that’s what you want but the WA8 as a combo unit will be the end game for a lot of headphone fans out there.

There’s no real winner when comparing the WA8 to the Hugo and the CDM but there are clear differences. That being said the WA8 Eclipse as a tube amp/dac combo is the best I have ever heard. The CDM is good but the DAC to me is holding it back. If you just look at the amps and the balanced possibility, then it’s a whole other story, but as a combo the WA8 just is the new King. Hugo, which still is very good, is more like a complimentary unit as their functionalities do are different. As DAC/Amp combo both sound very good and it will depend on what type of sound you like most.

Oh my, we’re so spoiled.

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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?

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