Woo Audio WA2 headphone amplifier review: Woo Audio WA2 headphone amplifier

The Good Best performance we've ever heard at this price point; stunning design.

The Bad Gets extremely hot; no protection for valves.

The Bottom Line The WA2 breathes phenomenal new life into even the greatest headphones on the planet. It may not rise to the greater heights reached by the more costly Woo Audio gear, but at this price point it blew away everything we've ever heard

8.8 Overall

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We don't subscribe to the belief that older is always better in the audio world, or that the only way to enjoy high quality music is from vinyl, through a vintage valve amplifier, with £300 interconnects. What's important is that it just sounds amazing.

Woo Audio hand-build and hand-wire ultra high-end headphone amplifiers using vintage valve amplification. Whether valves are better than transistors is like asking whether dogs are better than trees -- it's down to preference, and ultimately, what sound you're after.

But a headphone amplifier is highly recommended for higher-end headphones, just as a 1080p plasma HDTV is recommended if you're buying Blu-ray discs. The Woo Audio 2 is in the middle of the Woo Audio amp range, and costs around £640 direct from the manufacturer's Web site.

Each hand-built WA2 is as stunningly impressive visually as it is tank-like in its construction. The entirely anodised-aluminium chassis has been meticulously designed and built with care, but does get fiercely hot thanks to the burning-hot tubes. Fatman's iTube 452 came with a removable metal cover to shield you from burns or knocks, but the WA2's tubes offer no such protection.

The Woo Audio 2's fragile valves are unprotected and get very hot

A single 6.3mm headphone jack sits on the front, to the left of a large volume knob and source input controller -- both also cast from aluminium. The tubes themselves come in separate boxes when the amp is delivered and must be fixed manually. It's easy, and allows for an upgrade or replacement in the future. Woo Audio also offers various tube upgrades at the time of the purchase order.

This isn't an amp for your average earphones, as most are designed to be portable and powered by low-power devices such as iPods. The WA2 is geared towards full-sized hi-fi headphones with impedance values between 30-600 Ohms, and it'll handle frequencies between 8Hz-100kHz.

The WA2 loves all your musical sources, with four inputs to prove it

Four pairs of stereo RCA inputs live around the back of the system which can be selected with one of the aforementioned huge knobs up front, letting you wire up a CD player, DVD system, docked iPod and laptop, concurrently.

Seriously, what do you think you're paying £600 for?

Well, since you asked, an integrated valve-based pre-amp -- and a pre-out option if you want to send the pre-amp signal to a separate amp. This is unusual for headphone amplifiers, but with the combination of multiple inputs and the functions of a valve-based pre-amp, you get a glimpse at the bonuses the WA2 offers over similarly priced competition.

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