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Early Impressions: Woo Audio's WA7tp
audio360.org> > Amps & DACs > > Early Impressions: Woo Audio's WA7tp

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

by Warren Chi & Kevin Venable


Six months ago, we caught our first sight of Woo Audio's WA7tp prototype at CanJam 2013. It was unassumingly dressed in a faux WA7 enclosure, and plainly labeled as a "Prototype Tube Power Supply for WA7 Fireflies."

At first, we didn't think much of it. Surely, this was another gimmick to milk us WA7 owners for more money right? We had already gotten the Electro-Harmonix gold pin tube upgrades... what could be better? What could possibly top that?

When we heard it, and AB'd it against the stock (solid state) power supply, we discovered what a profound difference it made. Fuuuuuuu, this tube power supply was the real deal - enough of a real deal for Warren to reserve the first production unit off the line for himself.

Fast forward to last week. True to his word, Jack Wu's first production WA7tp (the same WA7tp Warren reserved six months ago) was now in Warren's hands. At the same time, our own Kevin Venable received his WA7tp review unit as well. Now you know what this means... time for an Audio360.org write-up!

Here's where the train came off the rails.

Jack Wu suggested that we do an early impressions review in the form of an Audio360 roundtable discussion. Um, okay. What Jack may not have known at the time was that our roundtables tend to be a bit crass, a bit uncensored, and most of all - honest. They're like the drunken sailor edition of an audiophile discussion panel. They are not for the faint of heart.

So we asked Jack if he was sure. Did he really want our initial thoughts in the form of an Audio360 roundtable? He said yes. Well... okay then! All we can say is you got some huevos Jack, some mighty mighty huevos you've got there.

And thus, Kevin and Warren put their scheming heads together. They would each pick three tracks for themselves and the other. They'd evaluate those six tracks using the WA7's stock (solid state) power supply, as well as the new WA7tp tube power supply.

To simplify matters - and because these are only early impressions and not a full review (which will come later) - each one would only use one headphone, their current weapon of choice. Kevin chose his Beyerdynamic T1, while Warren chose his Audeze LCD-X.

They would listen, and then share their views in chat. And short of correcting typos, they would present that exact chat here for your perusal. Here's how it went down.


    Steven Wilson's "Luminol" from The Raven That Refused To Sing and other stories

  • Kevin Venable
    I am listening to Luminol on the stock PSU right now. This is a 12 minute track I doubt we need to get through all of it, lol.
  • Warren Chi
    Nope
  • Kevin Venable
    This track grabs me the most as I switch from the stock PSU to the WA7tp. The cymbal definition seems better and not as harsh. It seems to ring truer in a sense, harmonics are better
  • Warren Chi
    Yes! Harmonics are definitely better. That's something I found to be true in many of our test tracks. Also, it's as if the upper mids have been somehow purified or cleansed.
  • Kevin Venable
    Yes, quite a bit clearer actually, very apparent when the track breaks down to acoustic and lead guitars. Then there are the vocal harmonies. And then the flute pops up like a bang.
  • Warren Chi
    That was a nice surprise, I rather enjoyed that.
  • Kevin Venable
    The breathiness of that flute doesn't really exist on the stock PSU.
  • Warren Chi
    No. I can't really say that the highs are better extended though, but yes, oddly breathier.
  • Kevin Venable
    No the frequency extremes may actually be less extended on the WA7tp.
  • Warren Chi
    The WA7tp also renders the strings much better IMO. The stock PSU just isn't as open, detailed or ethereal as I prefer when it came to the strings.
  • Kevin Venable
    I am noticing that with the sweeping synths in this track. I guess the next big thing on this track is that the bass seems to be better texturally but it doesn't have quite the drive of the solid state supply
  • Warren Chi
    I'm glad you mentioned the bass response. For me, that was the most noticeable change. The bass line is so much tighter via the WA7tp that bass textures come through easily.
  • Kevin Venable
    I don't know. I thought I might like the sharper attack of the stock PSU on the bass, but as the song progresses the WA7tp's rounder and more textured approach works extrememly well. It seems to tie the bass and mids together instead of slamming the bass into the mids
  • Warren Chi
    I like a tighter and somewhat analytical bass in general... so it was fine for me personally. But my worry here is the same as yours I think. The reduction of bass bleed into the lower mids leads to a loss of warmth. It makes this prog rock track lean more to the intellectual side, and not as felt-in-the-loins. Dream Theater fans would probably welcome the change, but I am not sure this is better for rock in general.
  • Kevin Venable
    I actually welcome the change here in this track, but I am very much a Dream Theater fan! Well in sections of the track, in sections it works very well. The bleed was working very well for some bass guitar unison lines with the warmth you mentioned. But when they play counterpoint to each other the slight extra seperation is welcome
  • Warren Chi
    Hey bro, preaching to the choir here. I love it... but I'm thinking stadium rock fans are going to throw up a WTF about this part.
  • Kevin Venable
    I guess that could be true... I would have to jump into some Van Halen or even some Queensryche to really know for sure. And that's something I will get into for sure! For me, on this track, it is working but I think glitch or breaks in the electronic realm might need a bit of that warmth from the stock PSU.
  • Warren Chi
    I can totally see that. I threw a little Haxan Cloak at it with the WA7tp... it just wasn't the same.
  • Kevin Venable
    A subtler thing going on in this track is the feeling of space in the mid range. It changes with the WA7tp, but you don't notice it to start with
  • Warren Chi
    I so know what you mean.
  • Kevin Venable
    It feels like there is more wiggle room between the intruments
  • Warren Chi
    The vocals on the stock PSU were a bit flat and distant, very 2D sounding. With the WA7tp, they seem to have been lifted from the accompaniment.
  • Kevin Venable
    Everything in the mid range is more 3D with the WA7tp. The lead guitar on this track feels like it is soaring through the track. Actually that guitar just gave me the chills... it hasn't done that in months!
  • Warren Chi
    I found that to be the case with one of my tracks as well. Well, it was a mandolin, but yeah.
  • Kevin Venable
    Is there a mandolin on the next track?
  • Warren Chi
    Yup! In fact, Sarah Jarosz is something of a mandolin prodigy.

  • Sarah Jarosz's "Ring Them Bells" from Follow Me Down

  • Warren Chi
    "Ring Them Bells" is actually one of my favorite test tracks. And I gotta say, the WA7tp performed wonderfully here. It made me fall in love with this track in a way I haven't felt since I had to let go of the RSA DarkStar.
  • Kevin Venable
    I actually didn't like this track at all when I heard it on the stock PSU. But with the first few notes out of the WA7tp, I was like this is the same song?!!
  • Warren Chi
    RIGHT?! Again, the biggest difference for me was the low end presentation. With the stock PSU, I enjoyed the warmth of the double bass. But the way the stock PSU made it bleed into the lower mids wasn't sitting well with me. The WA7tp didn't do that at all. There wasn't any droning, and plucks became much more distinct... much pluckier.
  • Kevin Venable
    Much pluckier? LOL
  • Warren Chi
    Pluckish?
  • Kevin Venable
    Nah pluckier works better. I thick it was the overtones that did it for me - it just seemed more alive. The stock PSU may have been a bit warmer in the lower mids, but the WA7tp's upper mids had a sparkle that all these plucked, strummed and bowed strings seemed to need desperately.
  • Warren Chi
    And there was a heavenly resonance in the harmonics right?
  • Kevin Venable
    Yes, and for acoustic guitars that makes all the difference in the world... for me anyway. It is more like I am playing it myself.
  • Warren Chi
    As opposed to listening to a recording?
  • Kevin Venable
    Yeah, it was closer to playing it myself instead of a recording via the WA7tp. Of course it isn't quite the same but the presentation in headphones being close to your head helps that feeling as well
  • Warren Chi
    But yes, alive is the perfect word for it. If "Ring Them Bells" was Pinocchio, the stock PSU animated it. But the WA7tp truly brought it to life - and made it a real boy. The mandolin notes became distinct, and whole, and each one rang out clearly. A definite improvement in my book.
  • Kevin Venable
    The lapsteel in this track is awesome sounding.
  • Warren Chi
    I can't remember, but I think that might actually be Jerry Douglas himself.
  • Kevin Venable
    Ah cool... I find lapsteel to be a hard instrument to listen too on a lot of gear. It sounds too harsh, a bottleneck slide playing like in blues as well. It is quite enjoyable with the WA7tp. My prefered rig for this kind of music has always been my vinyl rig, but this is getting closer.
  • Warren Chi
    I can totally see that. You know what I would love to throw at the WA7tp in our full review? A whole lot of Dobro.
  • Kevin Venable
    Actually that would be cool
  • Warren Chi
    I want to see if it can maintain the harmonic richness without congestion.
  • Kevin Venable
    Yes that would be quite the challenge.
  • Warren Chi
    Did you notice any change in high end extension? I thought I did, but it was very subtle for me.
  • Kevin Venable
    On both tracks so far I actually though the ceiling lowered a bit. But it might just be that the harmonics are filling the space. To be honest I am not sure which it is at this point.
  • Warren Chi
    Hmm, interesting... maybe some trickery with cleaner upper mids then?
  • Kevin Venable
    I think cleaner upper mids all the way up allowing you to here the overtone series better. The Electro-Harmonix 12AU7 aren't really known for good high end extension and that might be part of it too. I will drop some higher end tubes in it for the long term review.
  • Warren Chi
    Okay yeah, that makes sense. I'm totally fine with the highs as they are in the WA7tp by the way... which is not to say that I won't roll... but I definitely do not want to spoil the WA7's smooth and non-fatiguing nature.
  • Kevin Venable
    I find the stock PSU much more fatiguing than the WA7tp now that you brought it up. And that is saying something as the WA7 - even with the stock PSU - is not very fatiguing in general. You don't notice it really until you go back to the stock PSU.
  • Warren Chi
    Yeah... switching back to the stock PSU wasn't very fun to be honest. There was a midrange congestion and grainyness that I didn't pick up on before. I'm much happier with the WA7tp in that regard. We should throw some piano at the WA7tp.
  • Kevin Venable
    Well the next track is Hiromi's Move the title track from her newest trio project disc
  • Warren Chi
    This is gonna be interesting...

  • Hiromi's "Move" from Move

  • Kevin Venable
    This is one of my favorite test tracks for a lot of reasons, but it's one of those very hard and very brittle digital recordings. The performance is amazing though, so I can forgive it, but it can be a bit spikey. The WA7tp seemed to tame it a bit, making it much more pleasant to listen to, while maintaining the instrument seperation and detail that the recording does have.
  • Warren Chi
    I think you're being very kind and forgiving here. In my case, I found that the stock PSU tended to render it in a way that - perhaps - might not be flattering to everyone's ears, and... Oh fuck it, I'll just say it, the stock PSU sucked some hot dead donkey ass on this one.
  • Kevin Venable
    Yes, it actually does. And I am not being kind to myself, I picked this track because it doesn't do well on the WA7 with the stock PSU. The whole album doesn't in fact. And I happen to love the album so I am glad the WA7tp does it much, much better.
  • Warren Chi
    It was flat, hard and devoid of all dat sweet shiznit that makes music sound good. It wasn't completely unlike listening to people playing utensils on a pane of glass.
  • Kevin Venable
    Actually I find that enjoyable but I decide not to put Einstuerzende Neubauten in this review.
  • Warren Chi
    The WA7tp lifted the music off that glass and suspended it in the air for a much more natural sensation.
  • Kevin Venable
    Yes it was quite amazing, the difference.
  • Warren Chi
    I listened to this with the stock PSU twice... TWICE... just to be sure. That's enough for one lifetime. The WA7tp was a world apart for me here. So much cleaner, clearer, and tonally more correct. No, the stock PSU, just no on this track. Note to Woo: Do not EVER use this track to demo a WA7 with a stock PSU.
  • Kevin Venable
    Yes, lol, good point. The WA7tp did give it more a correct presentation. Hiromi plays Yamaha pianos close miked, so you are getting a lot of hammer strike. I believe the stock PSU just doesn't give the harmonics that the WA7tp can. It just gives you a lot of attack. What did you think of the snare on this piece with the WA7tp? I was personally surprised by the playful bounce that is there, that I hadn't noticed on the stock PSU.
  • Warren Chi
    There was a snare? LOL, okay, now I'm just being mean. The stock PSU made the snare really splashy, as if to say the other players didn't like the percussionist very much. By contrast, the WA7tp created a separation in the boundary between the mids and upper mids, allowing the snare to actually be a snare. And not a fart of a snare.
  • Kevin Venable
    I think you really want to move on from this track. I guess no use beating that dead donkey you mentioned above.
  • Warren Chi
    I dig the track, but the stock PSU gave me some PTSD. So yeah, probably best to move on and let the healing begin. Thankfully, I think I've got just the thing. How about some jazz vocals to soothe the soul?
  • Kevin Venable
    Cool.

  • Claire Martin's "Embraceable You" from Too Much In Love To Care

  • Warren Chi
    Okay, so it's more of a standard than jazz, but Claire Martin's got some chops. Plus "Embraceable You" is simply and purely classic. I've got some thoughts on this, but I don't want to lead you to any conclusion... anything you want to say about it first?
  • Kevin Venable
    First the piano on this did much better on both power supplies - as did the vocal which is just gorgeous (probably gorgeous through a tin can on string at that). But at the risk of sounding like a broken beat repeat machine: the way the midrange opened up, allowing the music (and especially the vocals) to just breathe, was pure beauty on the WA7tp. I mean, if gear can swing, this WA7tp can.
  • Warren Chi
    First of all, yes. I loved that there was actually some separation between the piano and vocals with the WA7tp. The stock PSU kept wanting to merge them into one entity at times. It was smooth I guess... and fluid I suppose... but it was !@#$%& annoying. The WA7tp gave the piano and Claire some space so that they weren't getting it on... and the resulting duality was a real treat for me.
  • Warren Chi
    But with regards to the vocals, OMG YES! Totally hit the nail on the head bro! It's like what we were talking about with the flute in Luminol, the WA7tp added a sultry breathiness to her vocal work. I couldn't get over how seductive it was.
  • Kevin Venable
    The rasp and breath of the voice was wonderful. It was much crisper and cleaner on the WA7tp
  • Warren Chi
    Most definitely. Presenting it with less bass bleed, the WA7tp made her vocals pop right at me.
  • Kevin Venable
    I am not sure it was totally a bass bleed issue. I am still trying to sort out what is so amazing about the upper mid range. But sorted out or not, it is very fun!
  • Warren Chi
    Let me know when you find out. I'll be honest in saying that I stopped listening to this track critically about halfway through. The rest of the time, and for quite a few more times after that, I was just enjoying the fuck out of it. Okay, so the piano here was alright? Nothing too amiss?
  • Kevin Venable
    The vocal is so good I kept forgetting to listen to the piano. But that arpeggio that pops out during the vocal break, that just made me very happy.
  • Warren Chi
    LOL, and I thought I had it bad.
  • Kevin Venable
    It's like a waterfall.
  • Warren Chi
    Okay quick, let's move on before people get too into this and make her the new Diana Krall. That would kill it for me, kill it dead.
  • Kevin Venable
    Or the next Melody Gardot... shudder. Well, piano is were I was, and piano is what we get next... a lot of it.
  • Warren Chi
    You lead, I'll follow.

  • Ola Gjeilo's "The Lake" from Piano Improvisations

  • Kevin Venable
    Ola Gjeillo is an amazing pianist with the ability to coax wonderful soundscapes from a solo piano. What I am mostly listening for in these works is balance and tonal integrity... I always thought the WA7 was pretty good in this regard. And it is... but it just got a lot better.
  • Warren Chi
    Lol, Chris (wife) just asked me why I keep mumbling "Hola Jello."
  • Kevin Venable
    LOL. You know, the balance across the frequency range of the WA7 and WA7tp really allows the dynamics on this track to shine, especially microdynamics.
  • Warren Chi
    I really dig this track. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, but I'm loving it. There's a serenity to it that makes everything seem like it's gonna be alright.
  • Kevin Venable
    This track, and all of the other tracks on this album, are some of my favorites. I own it on digital download, vinyl and Bluray surround mix, lol.
  • Warren Chi
    I totally get that. With the stock PSU, it sounded very much like a recording. A good recording, but a recording nonetheless... almost as if upper harmonics were diminished somehow. With the WA7tp, the improved harmonics gave the entire piece a much better sense of presence.
  • Kevin Venable
    This upper harmonic thing seems to be a trend.
  • Warren Chi
    Yeah I think so.
  • Kevin Venable
    Harmonics are like glue for music too. The sense of cohesion is better, even with greater seperation between notes, it still seems to belong.
  • Warren Chi
    So improved harmonics and less bass bleed = more glue and less goo?
  • Kevin Venable
    So buy Woo
  • Warren Chi
    Hey, that's pretty cool!
  • Kevin Venable
    But yes I think that seems to be what we are hearing across the board.
  • Warren Chi
    And WTF, the piano seems to sound, um, more correct in general. I can't say it's a tonal thing, or a harmonics thing...
  • Kevin Venable
    Timbre is better with the WA7tp. And I am not sure how that is possible
  • Warren Chi
    Me neither.
  • Kevin Venable
    But is also seems to be a consensus so far... especially on this and the Newgrass tune.
  • Warren Chi
    Hey, I know we shouldn't really say this, because it's impossible to predict the future... but aren't you a little pissed that your WA7 didn't sound this way all along? Not that we didn't like it, because we did.
  • Kevin Venable
    I hadn't thought about it that way actually.
  • Warren Chi
    Just knowing what it's capable of now... yeah, a little peeved here.
  • Kevin Venable
    Lol, well tube rectifiers make a big difference.
  • Warren Chi
    Apparently!
  • Kevin Venable
    Wait until you put some real tubes in this beast!
  • Warren Chi
    Oh dude, there are already people talking about tube rolling this mutha on Head-Fi... and their units haven't even shipped yet. It's gonna be INSANE! Okay, last track?
  • Kevin Venable
    You want to tackle the last track?

  • Trashcan Sinatras's "Wild Mountainside" from In The Music

  • Warren Chi
    Sure! Speaking of last track, this is the song I want played at my funeral. So it's a literal last track for me. It's my favorite band ever, and the song is hauntingly bittersweet. Here it is, Wild Mountainside, as performed by The Trash Can Sinatras. Is this the only live recording we have in our track list?
  • Kevin Venable
    Yes I guess it is.
  • Warren Chi
    Okay, so we're gonna get to talk about staging here. Let me first say that I have always enjoyed this with the stock PSU. I have no complaints about it with the stock PSU. But fuck me if it didn't get better in terms of wider and deeper staging here.
  • Kevin Venable
    It definitely sounds bigger on the WA7tp.
  • Warren Chi
    The WA7tp brought them out of that smoky cabaret shack and dropped them onstage at the Troubadour.
  • Kevin Venable
    This is the first time I have heard this, and let me say it was a beautiful listen - even on the stock PSU. It's just a well performed song. But there is that openness again, that soundstage, that space between notes as well. I may have to get this recording. Actually I do need to get this recording.
  • Warren Chi
    Unfortunately, 16/44.1 is as good as it gets with this. Linn Records has a 24/96 version taken from the studio masters. But it only covers the studio tracks on this album, and none of the bonus live material.
  • Kevin Venable
    16/44.1 is quite good in this case. I like the sound quality on this just fine. Anyway enough about the song we are suppose to be talking about the... oops got distracted by a harmony again.
  • Warren Chi
    Lol. What? It's all about the music right? Incidentally, the album is called In The Music.
  • Kevin Venable
    LOL! Great way to wrap this up, because that's really what shines with the WA7tp.
  • Warren Chi
    Anyway, I agree, a pretty decent live recording. Another thing I noticed right off the bast was that the stock PSU tended to smear some of the harmonies here... whereas the WA7tp opened it up. The WA7tp lifted a veil for me, and let the guitars and each vocalist have their own layer. I know these guys, and much appreciated that.
  • Kevin Venable
    Yes I heard a bit of the smear as well also a lack of distiction between guitar notes especially some of the hammer on or pull offs.
  • Warren Chi
    Okay Mr. Guitarist with the guitar terminology... not a jargon contest here...
  • Kevin Venable
    It was just what jumped out at me when I switched power supplies - how much better those techniques translated.
  • Warren Chi
    Kidding! Do we wanna repeat how it's more breathy? Lol.
  • Kevin Venable
    Or how open the upper harmonics are? Lol.
  • Warren Chi
    Or how the bass doesn't bleed as much? Lol.
  • Kevin Venable
    Haha, I think the main thing is to stress how enjoyable the music is. I have been listening to the WA7tp day in and day out for 3 days while my reference rig sits idle.
  • Warren Chi
    Damn! And your verdict so far?
  • Kevin Venable
    The combination of the WA7 and WA7tp make a stellar first foray into true reference level amplification. I love the musicality of it most of all. It isn't threatening my reference rig. But at 1/3 the price I am glad it isn't. I can say however, that for the price, I don't think anything else I have heard comes close.
  • Warren Chi
    To all of that, I would simply say +1. And to think, this can be had for as little as a $400 upgrade. I'd tell everyone who already has a WA7, that they only THINK they know what their WA7 is capable of. The WA7tp adds a world of improvement, more profound than the switch from Sovteks to EH Gold Pins. I'm glad I bought it, and I would easily recommend it. Easily. So, time to get back to listening? What are they talking about in the main chat? Oh, vinyl.
  • Kevin Venable
    Vinyl!!!
  • Warren Chi
    Dammit, I lost you at vinyl.
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