I remember standing at a Laundromat several years ago and seeing a picture of the original Woo Audio WA7 on my iPhone. This was just a simple photograph, no explanation of exactly what it might do and no photograph of the original, tubeless linear PSU that, ideally, you kind of hid away so that only the unusually pretty little WA7 would appear. I do recall that it indicated that the sleek aluminum and glass cube with two small vacuum tubes had a 24-bit/192kHz capable USB input, two main outputs, a 1/4” TRS socket for larger headphones and a 3.5mm mini-socket for IEMs with a giant volume control that hypothetically accommodate anything, given the right set of tubes, from a pair of JH Audio JH 13 Pros to a pair of HiFiMan HE6s. In any case, I wrote to Woo Audio and arranged to review one, which I did with great pleasure and eventually bought one of my own to use at the office with an older 17” MacBook Pro with a third-party SSD, and—after experimenting with music processing applications—a combination of iTunes and Audirvana Plus. I actually had done extensive side-by-side comparisons in a much better system and decided that I preferred the sound of Pure Music to either Amarra or Audirvana Plus; plus Amarra had been a nightmare to support even when it still cost $1,000.00 and required that I insert a special key in one of the USB ports to give one the impression of having a “professional” application. Perhaps most significantly, since this was a multipurpose machine and I couldn’t leave the screen saver turned off all the time, Audirvana Plus just worked better than any other application with other applications while still providing better sound than iTunes alone.
Fast forward several years. I have moved on from that job to a contracting position at a big Silicon Valley company that begins with the letter, “G”. I’ve also moved from provincial Menlo Park to a studio apartment in San Francisco proper to be closer to my then girlfriend. Most of my real audio gear was in storage (including a lovely Transrotor Fat Bob S and SME V that, despite many markings to the country, wound up with its box dropped from at least three feet off the ground onto concrete, sideways, making about $15K worth of top-notch analog playback gear into $500.00 worth of scrap metal and spare parts). I needed something to listen with late at night before I fell to sleep, so I got a new 13” MacBook Pro with a Retina display passing the modified 17” MacBook Pro along to a software developer friend of mine and adding the now-available WA7tp “tube power” supply to the WA7 Fireflies and running a three-meter AudioQuest Carbon USB cable from the 13” MacBook Pro to the WA7. I also upgraded the power cable going to the WA7tp to a short Stealth Swift with copper blades and switched from using my Moon Audio Blue Dragon Beyerdynamic T70p headphones with a pair of Audeze LCD-2.2s using the Silver Dragon cable from Moon Audio. Between the tube power supply, which added a substantial amount of “air” and spaciousness to the sound of the WA7 Fireflies, and the planar magnetic headphones, I got much better sound. Sadly, I could not take this fantastic arrangement into the office because of company policies, which is fine, because—as I said—I needed a good “late night listening” rig anyway.
Now I’ll leave out a lot of deeply personal details related to that job, which I greatly enjoyed, and say that I moved just one apartment down the hallways so that I could have my whole stereo and all of my records and CDs, etc. out of storage and available once again to me. Because I was still working at company “G” and had a much better headphone amp (the Woo WA6-SE) in my main system, I opted to sell the WA7tp/WA7 (with the additional linear PSU) and save the cash for some future replacement that might better work at the office. Sadly, I had to terminate my contract at that job rather abruptly because of excruciating knee pain leading to the need for a partial knee replacement. In the greatest of hopes that I would return to work soon, I bought an open box Chord Mojo, which was all the rage, and several short USB cables to drive it from my 128GB iPhone 6S so that I could just carry my music hardware with me, even had an old pair of Ultrasone Edition 8s upgraded to use the latest version of the Moon Audio Silver Dragon cable after experimenting with some less expensive headphones, and really thought I was done. Although my recovery time expanded from about 90 days to ten months during which the girlfriend of five years more or less vaporized and I found another position at big company with an office in the Silicon Valley where they very politely allowed me to use a 13” MacBook Air running Audirvana Plus as a music processing application and library manager (so bye bye iTunes) I had picked up with the recently-released Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse, a Moon Audio Black Dragon USB cable, and my old reliable Blue Dragon Beyerdynamic T70p’s terminated with a Furutech FP-704 (G) 1/4” TRS plug as my “at the office” audio system. I had picked up the very pretty Firestone headphone stand from Massdrop and, because of its battery, a simple walwart-style power supply was all the WA8 needed to keep running 24/7. I found that running all three tubes sounded best, subjectively, with my Blue Dragon T70p’s and that, in many ways, the WA8 sounded much warmer and richer than that WA7 particularly before you add the WA7tp. So that’s when I decided to carefully put away my age old Locus Design Polestar USB cable and drop in the Moon Audio Black Dragon USB Cable. That was also around the Audirvana Plus added TIDAL HI-FI support so I got a constant supply of new CD-resolution music playing through this lovely amalgamation of gear. I still occasionally bought high-resolution downloads, like 24/96 Aqualung by Jethro Tull, to rock up some energy in the afternoon.
I did briefly consider upgrading the headphones to, say, the Audeze LCD-XCs but was assured that they would be too heavy to wear all day, all I really didn’t want to invest in a second pair of Fostex TH900s, so I just stuck with Blue Dragon T70p’s and that was where the idea of trying out the Black Dragon USB cable came from and cost me under $100.00 my relatively short run. Again, I would say that the WA8 Eclipse DAC/amplifier (which does up to DSD128) have an overall richer, rounder sounder to it. Yes, it is more expensive than the the WA7, but it does so much more in such a small box and can run completely off of batteries for five hours or more, making in the perfect match for my 13” MacBook Air (although in practice I leave the the walwart plugged in and let the battery “buffer” the power so to speak). Of the three colors you can get, black, space gray, and gold, I choose space gray because it looked the most neutral and pretty much perfectly matched my MacBook Air. I can’t tell how much joy the WA8 brings me and knowing that I ever needed to work in another office some day, I just use one of the 2-3 Thunderbolt to USB adapters that Apple makes and use my 128GB iPhone 6S to drive the WA8 for a few hours is incredible. I did sell my Mojo to a friend and I picked up an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red to replace it, for use with the Edition 8s, when I really want to be as portable as possible and let the iPhone power both itself and the headphone DAC/headphone amp (the Dragonfly Red). It actually sounds excellent within its limits, but its no WA8 or WA7, nor did I expect it to be. If you have the room, and portability doesn’t matter, I would say the WA7 with the WA7tp will give you the best, most neutral sound for your money; but if you want the most flexible offering Woo Audio has, and you don’t need a pair of 300Bs to drive the mighty Abyss, it’s really hard to go wrong with the WA8 Eclipse. I give it my highest recommendation, and use it almost all workday long, so I do get to hear it a lot, and I know from whence I speak.