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Can $2,000 buy bona fide high-end audio?

The Audiophiliac assembles a killer headphone-based stereo system for that amount, with a Woo vacuum tube headphone amplifier, Grado headphones, and an Oppo player.

Woo Audio

You have two grand to spend on a fantastic stereo system. Can your cash get you there? Yes, it can!

In this case, we're talking about a headphone-based system, but I will in the coming months cover speaker-based audiophile-grade systems for less than $3,000.

For the headphone system, I'm recommending the Woo Audio WA6 Special Edition vacuum tube headphone amplifier ($1,050) I reviewed in yesterday's blog, along with Grado RS-1 headphones ($695), and Oppo's DV-981HD SACD/DVD-Audio player ($229). All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail price.

Mind you, the Woo and Grado are hand-crafted in New York, and they are truly stunning designs built to last a long, long time. The Oppo is nowhere as extravagant, but the brand has gained quite a reputation among audiophiles for building budget-price high-performance players (I didn't have time to acquire an Oppo, so I used my Sony DVP-NS90V ($220) SACD/DVD player for most of my listening tests. DVD-As were played on a Pioneer DV-45A.

Steve Guttenberg

First, a word about the W-G-O's sound signature: the clarity and "listenability" made long sessions a joy. The tubes didn't--not even a little--soften the sound or add a mellowing influence. The resolution of fine detail was right up there with the very best I've heard.

"Lies" from The Black Keys' Attack & Release CD wasted no time in telling me what the W-G-O system did so well. The duo's distortion-strewn blues rock was all there, and it was great to be able to play it as loud as I wanted without worrying about disturbing my neighbors.

The W-G-O made it all sound vivid and immediate, as if there was nothing between me and the musicians. Bass went plenty low but never turned flabby.

Neil Young's Greendale on DVD-Audio upped the ante even more. I found the "live," you-are-there quality to the sound highly addictive. Neil's acoustic guitar, in particular, had an eerie presence over the W-G-O.


Oh, and there's no reason why you couldn't use the W-G-O to enjoy DVD movies. Two-channel home theater-in-your-head will be just as amazing.

Just for fun, I plugged my old Sennheiser HD-580 headphones into the Woo, and I have to say, they never sounded better. Nowhere as vibrant as the Grados, but the Sennheiser's more laid-back sound might suit some tastes better than the Grado. The HD-580 is no longer made, but the current model, the HD-650, might be a worthwhile option.