Not many products fall in the category of the WA11 nowadays. There aren’t many portable DAC/Amps in this price segment either, that makes it a bit difficult to find suitable competitors. A few can be found nonetheless. Let’s find out how the WA11 compares to Woo’s own other portable DAC/Amp and the almighty Chord Hugo2.
Woo Audio – WA8 (1,799$)
The WA8 eclipse is Woo’s portable tube amp with output transformers. It offers two different signatures with the 2 and 3 tube modes. It comes with quite a bit less power than the WA11 but also a very different signature. The WA11 also offers you balanced and unbalanced outputs, and also two gain stages, all things the WA8 misses out on.
While the WA11 to me is more precise and dynamic, the WA8 offers a fuller and more relaxed sound, typical of a tube amp. The WA8 has a more fluid bass, with a softer touch to it. Both have excellent layering down low with superb extension. The WA11 though is tighter, faster and punchier.
The WA8 is lusher, fuller and generally more rounded in notes. The WA11 is more precise and has higher resolution. While the WA11 doesn’t break a sweat when driving the K240, the WA8 has to be cranked up quite a bit more to achieve the same levels.
The WA8 creates a deeper sound stage, while the WA11 goes wider. The WA8 has a richer top segment, where notes seem more covered in silk. The eclipse has a warmer tonality, where some vocals especially can sound tubed-up. They carry a lot of weight and emotions.
Personally, I love both Woo’s for their respective use-cases. Whenever I need some tubey goodness in my life, I go to the WA8, if I need the power and precision it’s WA11 time. These kind of choices make this hobby a lot more fun.
Chord Electronics – Hugo2 (2,695$)
The Hugo2 offers a good number of additional features the WA11 doesn’t bring, like multiple digital inputs (coax, optical, Bluetooth and USB) as well as an RCA output and a remote. The WA11 however gives you an analogue input and a balanced output, which the Hugo2 lacks. The Brit comes with higher sample rate support of DSD up to 512 and PCM up to 32/768kHz. The WA11 packs more power with 1.2W (into 30 Ohms) where the Hugo2 “only” brings 740mW (into 32 Ohms) to the table. The Chord offers a few settings and tweaks the WA11 doesn’t bring, like Crossfeed or digital filters. Now that we’ve got this out of our system, let’s see how they compare on a sonic level.
The Chord creates a bigger sound stage, has higher resolution and transports you more into the scene. Where you’re more in the audience with the WA11. The WA11 however has a richer and more organic sound, whereas the Hugo2 is considerably dryer and also brighter. I’ve heard from a few people that they don’t like the treble tuning of the Hugo2. These people might be better off with the Woo, as it’s softer and richer.
Bass has more impact on the WA11 than on the Chord. It’s more bodied and has nicer texture in my opinion. The Woo has a slightly more lifted lower end in comparison, where deeper pitched instruments and singers sound rougher and more powerful.
The Hugo2‘s instrumental separation is even finer than the WA11’s, but their imaging is on par. Both place the musicians with good care in their room. The Chord has slightly more air in its sound, giving it a lighter body. The Woo is fuller and has more weight in its notes, which makes it sound slightly denser and physical.
When we’re looking at micro details the Hugo2 brings them out with more ease, as the Chord is a detail retrieval monster in that regard. The WA11 does also get out impressive amounts of information, but the Hugo2 just manages to display them finer nuanced.
I wish I could connect the Hugo2‘s DAC to the analogue input of the WA11, but since there is no single ended input on the Woo, nor a balanced output on the Chord it’s impossible. What a pity, I bet this combination would be stellar, as I prefer the amp stage of the WA11 over the one found in the H2.
I have been a long time admirer of Woo Audio’s gear, but I never had the chance to really get to know their products at my home. I’ve only met Woo’s creations at audio shows or at friends places. Now that I had the chance to really get to know the WA11 and the people behind it, I’m even more of a fan than before.
The WA11 is one of the rare portable products that really knows how to handle the more complex to drive cans. It brings a performance to the table that’s in the class of desktop gear. Headphones like the Diana Phi or Empyrean I enjoy most when driven by the WA11. It just makes them sound stunning. It is impressive what kind of quality Woo Audio has achieved with the WA11.
The topaz is an impressive DAC/Amp that has been a pleasure to explore. If you’re in the market for an excellent transportable solution that drives any headphone under the sun, you have to give the WA11 a serious consideration. If you can, go to your closest dealer and try it for yourself and let it convince you.
For me it’s one of the nicest discoveries in the recent months and it deserves its spot on Headfonia’s best DAC/Amp list. Woo-hoo!