It's been a while since we penned anything about super high-end headphone equipment. Since we're freezing our unmentionables off in London today it seems fitting we talk about a valve amp that's quite literally red hot.
This is the Woo Audio 6 Special Edition -- a high-end $1,000 (£620) valve-driven headphone amplifier, aimed towards anyone who appreciates the advantage of headphones that cost as much as a cheap car. That's us. Our headphone of choice is the £500 wood-encased Denon AH-D5000s, and it's with these we have been testing the WA6SE for the last few months.
What the piping-hot 5.4kg amplifier does to audio is sweeten it up more than a modern alternative. You'll hear plenty of subjective whining that valves make sounds 'warmer' or 'more natural; more analogue', and they do for many people. But the easiest way to visualise the difference is to think that valves are to transistors what vinyl is to digital.
We've loved using the WA6SE, but as with the comparable Woo Audio 2 (which we've also been using as a valve-based pre-amp in a hi-fi setup), we favour it for vocal and acoustic music. For electronic and pop, we preferred the amp inside iBasso's terrific D10.
The one bone of contention we have is with the power transformer. You'll notice in the picture above that this amp is actually in two parts, linked with an oddly titled power-supply 'umbilical cord' (Woo Audio's terminology, not ours). The unit with the single valve, frankly, seems like it could've been replaced more cheaply and efficiently with a solid-state rectifier without any noticable impact on sound quality.
But hey, if you want valves through and through, with admirable performance to boot, this system's well worth considering. The WA2 has the edge in our opinion, but it's still a corker for the price, even if it is questionably cumbersome.
It's available to the UK now from Woo Audio's Web site, where you'll also find the insanely detailed list of specifications. Click 'Continue' for another angle.