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.
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.
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.