When listening to music through headphones I do not feel like a spectator, I feel like one of the musicians. This feeling of being on stage and part of the performance takes me back to my days as a performer. The emotional response I have differs from the one I have when listening to my stand up two-channel rig. However having the option to mix things up at home, certain artists and genres I prefer to listen to over headphones exclusively. You know when you want to play air-ukulele only headphones will do. However I’ve never really considered headphones to be in my personal definitions of hifi solely on the way they present the performance. If that thought angers you, don’t fret as I am about to have my fragile ideology torn apart from those perspectives further ahead.
The fellas from Woo Audio had quite the room at Capital Audiofest. One riddled with listening stations offering access to all tiers of their amplifiers. I walk around snapping pictures. The exhibit is busy with listeners and what could be a budding queue outside of the entry, I stake out the big-boy rig near the door and wait my turn.
Nothing warms up a volume knob like nine shiny tubes. Woo Audio‘s new WA33 is crowned as such: four 2A3 power tubes in matched quad, four 6C45 driver tubes in matched quad, and one 5U4G rectifier tube. Twenty watts are on tap as stare into the machined aluminum chassis that sit before me. Knobs are a plenty, the same with front facing outputs. Quarter inch, 4-pin XLR, and dual 3-pin XLR’s. This dual connectivity is new to me, but makes perfect sense. The Abyss AB-1266 planar headphones on the stand in front of me have dedicated lines for each channel. Looks impressive, now let’s get to listening.
Enter the beast mode. Woo’s new WA33 fully balanced tube headphone amp/preamplifier and Abyss’ AB-1266 Phi Deluxe planar headphones, all nourished with restructured bits from a murdered out (aka black) Woo WDS-1 DAC. Right out of the gate, the bass on Deadmaus’ “GISH” is ultra-muscular and almost making me queasy. It’s in my head like none other, and giving me infrasonic flashbacks. I spin the volume dial clockwise for more. I’m glutenous for this kind of delicious punishment. Distortion at these volumes remains somewhere lost in oblivion. I could die right here, but only as long as it’s a slow death and I’m allowed to listen a while longer.
Moving on, I search for familiar sound with Buena Vista Social Club’s “Chan Chan”. Extended and rich with texture, I chuckle out loud at how spacious the Abyss Phi’s are presenting this insightful production of music without sacrificing it’s delicate attributes. Furthermore, the noise floor is remarkably dark. I pause the music and urge the volume knob higher to get a peek at it. It’s up there, but no where I’d ever dare venture. Spinning the knob back to the left, I enter again at somewhat sane levels, and continue on listening. The resonances of “Cachaito” Lopez’s bass were right there in front of me, nestled in between nine glowing tubes. I can see it.
The ubiquitous “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits, mostly a laborious listen these days due to it’s never ending presence at audio shows, even now comes with open and welcoming ears. It’s the best guitar I’ve heard at the show. This system rivals large speaker systems in almost all categories except the staging of cymbal crashes, fizzy top end tones, and the seismic nature of living scale bass instruments. Could I live in this state of being? Probably.
Woo Audio WA33 Headphone Amplifier / Preamp (starting at $7,999 USD)
Woo Audio WDS-1 Digital-To-Analog Converter (a steal at $1,199 USD)
Abyss Headphones AB-1266 Planar Headphones (Deluxe Package at $5,495 USD)
Source: Digital Tablet