business since 2004 Woo Audio was founded by Wei Wu and his two sons. Their
mission then and to this day remains, to fulfill the desires of the most
demanding audiophiles by designing and handcrafting high-end audio equipment to
delight both the listener's eyes and ears. With over 40 years' of experience
building amplifiers and other electronic products Wei Wu came to the conclusion
that a simple design would sound the best. As a result, his philosophy is based
on simplicity of design, both electronically and esthetically. Simplicity
also means cost-effectiveness, so it is hardly surprising that Woo Audio has
earned a reputation for building products that satisfy even the most demanding
music lovers all coming in at a very reasonable price. It was quite interesting
to note that on their website the following was found:
"Everything Should Be Made as Simple as
Possible, But Not Simpler" -- Albert Einstein
Pretty smart fellow that Einstein and when you consider he did all that theorizing before the onset of computers well that in itself is even more mind-boggling. Speaking of creative people, Wei Wu is the company’s chief engineer with Zhi Dong being the co-engineer and mastermind behind all those elegant case designs. Then there is of course Jack, who, in addition to his technical responsibilities, is the public face of the company. It is through Jack that I was able to arrange this review.
Actually I first discovered Woo Audio quite by
accident, when searching for tube amplifiers via the internet. Luckily for me I
found a link to their product lineup where I was immediately struck by the sight
of the beautiful WDS-1 DAC and the WTP-1 CD transport. The fact that they were
priced at only $1199 a piece, not bad for a high end product, quickly grabbed my
immediate attention. Currently my system sports an Oppo Digital BDP-95 universal
player ($995 when new). The Oppo is a great all around disc player that can do
Redbook, SACD and DVD Audio as well as being a Blu-ray player. Having quite the
reputation for being "a giant killer" among the world of CD players I
thought it quite interesting to see how well this combo from Woo Audio would
stack up against it. Doing my due diligence by reading through the Woo Audio
website and looking over all their tube power and headphone amplifiers
beforehand I had a strong hunch the WDS-1 and WTP-1 would do just fine. Happily
that proved to have been a wise educated guess on my part.
Ok so the WTP-1 is not a Blu-ray player, I have a separate room/player for that, and reads only Redbook discs but honestly most of my friends have Redbook only CD's anyway. SACD and DVD Audio sadly just never did seem to take off with the mainstream public. As for the WDS-1 it was made to go with the WTP-1 but can also be used with other makers’ players as well. What this combo from Woo Audio has that others may find lacking is a volume control, allowing one to eliminate the need for a preamplifier from the audio chain. Simplicity is good as it puts less between the recording and you. The more that is in-between the more things might change and the more expensive it can get. Think not only the preamplifier but an extra power cord, interconnects and even maybe the need for a larger power conditioner to allow for that extra equipment. Come to think of it when you consider the cost of my $5000 Aesthetics’ Saturn Calypso preamplifier maybe these products from Woo Audio are actually much cheaper than those players who lacking a volume control are in need of the expensive of a separate preamplifier.
The following review was mostly done bypassing
any preamplifier in an effort to display the capabilities of both products from
Woo Audio. The WDS-1 comes with two settings, one for "slow" the other
"sharp", my preference was for the slightly extra detailing that came
with the sharp setting, and was how most listening was performed. You will of
course want to experiment with each setting as your tastes and room may very
well vary from mine. Connections between the player and my amplifier were
accomplished in balanced mode using Acoustic Revive XLR cables.
WTP-1 Technical Data
There are four digital displays with matching buttons on the front panel to control CD operations. On the rear panel are outputs, one each, for S/PDIF coaxial, TosLink optical and XLR AES/EBU. If you are looking for the on/off switch you just might be in for a surprise. It is on the top front left hand corner. The WTP-1(transport) and WDS-1 DAC from Woo Audio can either be placed side by side or stacked one onto the other if the optional feet and AC umbilical cord are purchased. Once done turning on the WTP-1 activates the WDS-1 simultaneously, hence the reason for the location of the on/off switch to be on the top corner and under the feet/weight of the WTP-1 when stacked on top.
WDS-1 Technical Data
Let The Music Begin
As long as we are dipping into songs from yesterday it seemed like a good idea to play something from the Grateful Dead’s album American Beauty [Rhino R2 74397]. On "Friend of the Devil" we are treated to a spectacular listening experience with Jerry Garcia on guitar/vocals and David Grisman playing Mandolin. Again set on sharp the presentation was vivid and full of all the minute details this musical experience had to offer. It is time to talk about bass and "Truckin'" was a good place to start as the song geared down into those lower regions with the help of both guitars and drums. When playing this track it is good to turn up the volume and let it take you for a ride you can feel in your chest. I am not talking about some overly hyped up exaggerated bass notes but just good rock and roll feel good music grabbing at you with tight clarity.
Moving now into a more laid back jazz mode it was time to place the CD Jazz on the Row, a 2007 Sampler CD [2007 San Jose Jazz] into the transport. With twelve difference performers recorded there it was difficult selecting only a few as all were so very good. The vocals of Nicolas Bearde on "Can We Pretend" put me in the state of mind to grab for a nice glass of wine to sharing with close friends or perhaps just my wife and myself. The Woo audio transport and DAC were able to convey a level of emotional content one would want from a jazz selection without missing any of the inner details of the musical event. To feel the performance without missing out on the physical features of the individual playing of instruments was indeed a great joy. This duo did nothing to stand in the way of allowing a double bass to emotionally express itself without the loss of the finer texturing of notes that they defined so sharply. Please do not get me started on Kaye Bohler "I’d Rather Go Blind" as here vocals were simply magnificent with an ample sense of air around her voice. When she sang the music filled the space between my loudspeakers giving me a sense that the loudspeakers had disappeared. You know how some songs just get you involved well this duo from Woo Audio never failed to take me there as song after song took hold of me and never let go. The WTP-1 and WDS-1 sounded so good that I quickly forgot the preamplifier had been taken out of the loop.
There are two things that matter a great deal in the NFL, speed and size. Also like the NFL they may not be the only things worthy of discussing but still many audiophiles find this on their list of must haves. One reason to purchase my Magnepan 3.6 speakers is that they offer up a healthy plate of both. The CD Polyphonic Dialogues [2L63] from 2L featuring Joachim Kwetzinsky on piano was spectacular as it displayed both ample quantities of speed and a true sense of the instruments lifelike size. Could this combo rock? You bet it could and switching over to the Rolling Stones Get Yer YA-YA’s Out [abkco 90052] proved it to me. Here the band sounded true to form on "Sympathy for the Devil" as a good sense of pace made one want to move with the music. The width of the soundstage and depth of soundscape on "Honky Tonk Women" was refreshing. You got a good sense of the distance from the stage to individual layers within the audience. This was very impressive indeed. Sometimes equipment reviews come along that get me lost into feeling good about the music rather than searching for technical reasons as to why. That’s how this reviewed ended up which is a testament to both the gear from Woo Audio and of course the music itself.
2L has some very good recordings and many like the Polyphonic Dialogues mentioned above are SACD Hybrids and therefore can still be played back with the WTP-1 reading just their Redbook CD tracks. Another SACD Hybrid CD is the String Quartets [2L71] album. Here an excerpt from Ludwig van Beethoven’s "String Quartet in E flat major, Op, 74 "Harp" highlighted some of the Woo Audio’s strongpoints. Soundscape width and depth were immense with layers of musicians pinpointed clearly within the performance. As it did with vocals there was a sense of air around instruments adding a sense of realism to the performance on hand. String instruments exhibited good inner detail as even small vibrations became clear and the slow decay of notes took me that much closer to the sound of a live performance. This music from 2L and the two components from Woo Audio was just an incredible match exhibiting how good each truly are.
Woo Audio and my McIntosh MC2102 Tube Power Amplifier
Yo-Yo Ma & Friends Songs of Joy & Peace [Sony Classical 88697-24414-2] has a wide selection of various performers and musical styles each accompanied of course YO-YO MA on Cello. The MC2102 by its very tube amplifier nature took some of the sharpness off the music in exchange for that midrange magic many of us so dearly love. On "Here Comes the Sun" the vocals of James Taylor took on a deeper sense of depth and dimensionality plus a little warmer tone as well. The sound of the Cello had a smaller club feel to it bringing the performance closer to me. There were many ways that made me prefer pairing the Woo Audio duo with my tube amplifier and hybrid tube preamplifier. Perhaps that is because Woo Audio is so heavily into tube products and it would seem only natural they should use their own tube gear to voice this setup. Either way they were still a welcomed addition to my system used with either my solid-state or tube power amplifier and with or without a preamplifier. The harmony of the trio from the Assad family on "Familia" sounded far more in tune with each other than I had remembered. Again some of that sharpness eased back a bit but only in exchange for more of a life like overall tonal quality to both instruments and vocals. That exchange for you will prove to be a personal experience but one I doubt will disappoint you whichever way you choose to go as these are quality products from Woo Audio.
Renee Fleming on "Touch the Hand of Love" gave a proper sense of distance between her and the backup singers. Towards the end of the song the long decay of her voice hanging in the air to slowly trail off left me sitting there in awe. But what about the bass man, the bass, could it still give you that good feeling even with tubes? For that answer I moved over to the Santana CD Supernatural and the song "Maria Maria". Here that old familiar feel it in your chest bass seemed close to tight as ever. Perhaps it was backed off a bit but that was a product of the tube amplifier and not the players. When reinserting my solid-state amplifier for a moment the bass did tighten up a small notch. The opening guitar sequence from Everlast’s "Put Your Lights On" sounded truly masterful as he so lightly touched upon those chords giving one a sense of the delicate nature to his performance while his husky vocal style remained the same adding a nice contrast to the event. Once again none of the "fun" aspect of the performance was lost here with this dynamic duo from Woo Audio and the tube amplifier.
Obviously by now you must have understood just have well received these two products from Woo Audio were welcomed into my home. If you have a CD only system, which mine is not, then a preamplifier might be something you care to do without. This alone justifies these two products as an outright steal of a deal. Please understand there are better players out there but it will cost you dearly and you just might not think their differences worth all that extra money. While not finding them extraordinary in any particular area they were very highly rated across the board without any noticeable glaring weaknesses. These products would do well placed in a high-end audio setup or connected to a computer if desired. However you decide to use this setup I would think you will "Enjoy the Music" as they are both quality components from the design team at Woo Audio. A definite high recommendation is in order here.
The Listening Environment
WDS-1 Digital to Analog Converter