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Linestage/headphone amplifier

+ power amplifier

Wow Audio Lab

Manufacturer: wOw AudiO LabOratory Limite
Price (when reviewed):
• „titanium” version - 32 900 PLN (set)
• „polished aluminum” version - 37 900 PLN (set)


udio shows are not a perfect place for sound quality assessment. Anybody who attended at least one of them realizes that. Unfriendly room acoustics, many people walking around and wanting something all the time – these are problems every exhibitor has to face. But still there are some, not many, presentations successful enough, for an experienced listener to draw correct conclusions about sonic character of presented systems/devices. Usually such presentations are organized by experienced exhibitors who really know what they are doing, and who have a nose for finding particularly good sounding products.
There were few rooms during Audio Show 2014 where I spent a very nice time in, truly enjoying presentations in comfortable conditions. We awarded best of them. Two of the awarded belonged to Moje Audio, and among awarded brands one could find: Trenner & Friedl, Reimyo, Trilogy, The Funk Firm and others.

Now, couple of month after the show I would add one more room to the awarded pool, also organized by the same distributor. The one I have in mind hosted a system with fantastic Albedo Aptica loudspeakers, Lumin S1 player, and two amplifiers used interchangeably: Crayon Audio CFA1.2 and Wow Audio Lab L1/M1 set.
This rig offered wonderful sound and it looked equally well. For me this factor – the looks of the systems and its elements – is very important during shows. After all this is a place where one can first of all SEE audio devices. And when one comes across a product (products) that look like those of Hong Kong's Wow Audio Lab, one will surely want to listen to them in a more suitable environment later.

Srajan Ebaen wrote in his review that devices made by WAL reminded him of those made by American company Boulder, because of similar shapes of their casings and some similarities between the ways these are done (although American devices are much, much larger). Srajan also noticed some technical affinity to Australian Burson Audio Timekeeper amplifier (more HERE). I think he's right and I would add also some similarity to Ayre Acoustics devices of the R line. I can see some similarities in the general internal layout, and in similarly atypical dimensions of these devices – depth is larger than width (240 x 357 x 96 mm | WxDxH) and also despite of relatively small size they do weight quite a lot – preamplifier weights more than 10 kg , and amplifier almost 14 kg.

L1 and M1 are the only two products of this company at the moment, although I know that they have been working also on D/A converter for more than a year now. Company was founded already in 2010 and it took them almost three years until they started their first production. I am pretty sure that perfecting the design of the chassis took quite a significant part of this time. These enclosures are made of solid blocks of 6061-T6 aluminum, same one that is used by aircraft industry. It is interesting to know that Jeff Rowland (see HERE and HERE) and French Metronome Technologie (see HERE) use exactly the same type of aluminum for their products. It is a high quality, aircraft grade type, appreciated also by audio industry for its unique mechanical properties, one of them being a very good resonance and damping characteristic. This might also be a reason for Japanese masters of, for example, Acoustic Revive to use it.
The aluminum blocks are caved and milled to make room for the all electronic circuits – Ayre does exactly the same thing for their products. The chassis made this way offers outstanding resonance damping properties and also excellent EMI and RFI shielding. Another interesting fact – this type of aluminum is used also to make frames for some high end bicycles.

These devices sport two large linear power supplies and fully discrete amplification circuitry (based on transistors). L1 sports one chassis with two devices in it. There is a linestage with JFET input section and bipolar transistors in the output section, but there is also a high class headphone amplifier that shares JFET input with linestage but has its own MOSFET output. L1's specification suggests that the headphone section should be able to drive most headphones. All sections work in class A. Power amp sports bipolar transistors working in class A/B.

There are three RCA inputs. Large, blue display provides information about current volume and input. To make usage more convenient manufacturer delivers a small remote control. It allows user to control volume, select input, set balance between channels, plus start/stop “mute” function.
Both, preamplifier and power amp, have on/off switches placed next to power inlet on the back of the device. So since access is limited it might suggest that users should leave these devices on all the time. That might not be a very “green” solution but it surely is a purist one.

Recordings used during test (a selection)

  • Bach Rewrite, wyk. Orzechowski, Masecki, Adamus, Capella Cracoviensis, Universal Music Polska | Decca 375 457 5, CD (2013).
  • Sonda2. Muzyka z programu telewizyjnego, GAD Records GAD CD 023, CD (2014).
  • Ed Sheeran, X, Asylum | Atlantic/Warner Music Japan WPCR-15730, CD (2014).
  • Helen Merrill, Helen Merrill with Clifford Brown. Singles box, EmArcy/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCM-9336/8, “Limited Edition” 3 x SHM-CD (1955/2014).
  • John Coltrane Quartet, Ballads, Impulse!/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCU-40001, Platinum SHM-CD (1962/2013).
  • Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems, Sony Music Labels SICP-4329, CD (2014);
  • Patrick Noland, Peace, Naim Label naimcd065, CD (2002).
  • Paula Cole, Courage, Decca B0008292-02, CD (2007).
  • Royal Blood, Royal Blood, Warner Music UK/Warner Music Japan WPCR-15889, CD (2014).
  • Tears For Fears, Songs From The Big Chair, Mercury Records/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-40071, Platinum SHM-CD (1985/2014).
Japanese issues available at

Insert delivered with the Bach Rewrite album, recorded by Capella Cracoviensis for Decca, reads:

In this joint recording instruments determine interpretations of the music, they stimulate different approach to the original material. Piotr Orzechowski plays Rhodes Mark 1 electric piano from the late 1970ties. („Bach sounds great when played on electric instruments, but this one is truly special” – he said), Marcin Masecki plays Wurlitzer piano, also from 1970ties.

Jerzy Hawryluk, Bach z prądem w: Bach Rewrite, Orzechowski, Masecki, Adamus, Capella Cracoviensis, Universal Music Polska | Decca 375 457 5, CD (2013).

This album contains a very special performance of J.S. Bach's Concertos… , a performance executed with electric pianos instead of harpsichord. Musicians that played them were known for their slightly anarchistic approach to the classical music – musicians were Piotr ‘Pianohooligan’ Orzechowski and Marcin Masecki.
Introducing quite modern instruments to the classic orchestra using period instruments might seem quite suspicious. It is not a matter of nonchalance, nor just art for art's sake – it is a perfect example of a sonoristic interpretation of music that seems to be pre-defined, and thus contributing something interesting, refreshing to the canon.
The album was recorded in Lutosławice, in Krzysztof Penderecki European Music Center, by composer's favorite producer, Ms Julita Emanuiłow (I had a pleasure to see her working a few times and even helped her set microphones once or twice), and Mr Leszek Kamiński, one the top rock and pop music producers in Poland. A result of their work is great.

By a system including Wow Audio Lab set, this recording was interpreted in a way that I recognized later in every other recording I played. The electric instruments (insert includes pictures that suggest that these instruments used tubes) are gently favored against orchestra. Concertos… were recorded with pianos placed in front of the orchestra and yet they still seemed to play the main role. Listener perceived it in this way because the reviewed set delivered very rich, warm and deep sound. It seemed to emulate an EL34 based amplifier. Not any EL34 amp, but a very good one, nice sounding, inspiring.

This rich, powerful sound of electric pianos was a result of a lower tonal balance of this amplifier. This was not the only reason but one of the important ones. Whatever album I decided to play it delivered rich, powerful sound. It never offered a particularly analytic performance, as such elements as selectivity and resolution were never most important, leading ones. Probably that's why some recordings that, when played with very open sounding amplifiers seemed bright or flat, this time sounded in a very interesting way. It was so due to tonality that was set bit lower then usually, but also due to powerful bass with slight emphasis on it, and a gently rounded treble. These three elements constituted together: richness, power and vividness of the sound.
This was obviously some sort of deviation from neutrality but a nice one. If you like to search for small details, nuances (not necessarily musical ones) you won't find them with this amplifier. Wow Audio Lab does not comply with such expectations, but if offers a unique naturalness of the sound.

I started with classical music, although in an “electrical” flavor and it sounded in a very interesting, “dense” way, but also acoustic instruments, especially small ensembles recorded without large compression sounded amazingly well. Like a Patrick Noland's piano on Naim's album Peace, or Ed Sheeran on his X. The latter is known to all Hobbit fans, because he performs a song played at the end of Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (dir. Peter Jackson, 2015). His album combines samples, live instruments known from rock bands and a sound of acoustic guitar. And it is the latter that sounds in a most natural way. Our reviewed amplifier presents it in a fantastic way, adding also a beautiful, close presentation of Sheeran's voice. The sound is clear but also rich and warm.

Because that is exactly how this amplifier sounds like it is able to do an amazing thing – it makes recordings that usually sound a bit harsh (for different reasons), sound much better, like Cohen's Popular Problems for example, or Helen Merril's singles recorded with Clifford Brown. It will also deliver a low, powerful, bass with slightly rounded leading edge, but quite a precise decay phase.
This device tends to homogenize presentation – it shortens a decay phase, delivers more of instruments' acoustics rather than room's acoustics. So it “transports” performers into our room rather than take us to the performance. A richness and palpability I mentioned before are more convincing due to this way of presentation. Listener does not perceive that as a artificial warmth of the sound, nor as enlargement of the phantom images, but rather as a very intimate presentation that is intended only for him.

Despite the fact that it is not a very resolving amplifier, and that it adds additional weight to the presentation, it doesn't force this type of presentation. When one plays a vivid recording amplifier will not change that and will do its thing next to this leading attribute of the particular recording. While listening to the Tears For Fears Songs From The Big Chair album with unforgettable opening tune Shout I did not hear a boomy bass. This amplifier played this album in a bit warmer way with tonality set bit lower than usually, but it did not add more “air”, more openness to the music as many other bass-pushing, warm sounding amplifiers did. It was simply a very good sound, I truly enjoyed it.
I also enjoyed a lot the sound of recently released Sonda 2. Muzyka z programu telewizyjnego album, that includes music from the 1980ties used for Sonda TV show. A company, New Sun, that did a mastering of this material coming from multiple composers, musicians and production did a really good job as the sound throughout the whole album seemed consistent. But it was still easy to tell the difference between John Fiddy and Andrzej Korzyński, Krzysztof Duda and Arp Life, and how all these differ from Klaus Weiss. Wow Audio Lab amplifier did not lose those differences and added some richness, warmth and palpability to the sound that made listening to this album even more enjoyable.

The headphone amplifier in L1 should easily drive any model of headphones including the most difficult ones to drive I know – the HiFiMAN HE-6. These, if not properly driven, sound bright and harsh. L1 itself offers warm sound with hefty bass and has no problem with driving this load. It resulted in a creamy, deep sound. L1 offered also a fantastic sound when partnered with Sennheiser HD800. The main difference between this device and Bakoon HPA-21 is a closer, richer and warmer sound of the former. There is less ambiance and more of direct sound. I think it might be exactly what some music fans are looking for. With WAL listening to the music via headphones will be a very intimate, personal adventure into world of music.


The already cited Masecki said about his play on Bach Rewrite:

These concerts were written for harpsichord and orchestra. Harpsichord is not an instruments that over orchestra, so I decided to keep this concept – I wanted to have more of orchestra and less of solo instrument. It's not a cantilena with accompaniment.

Anybody who witnessed at least once a harpsichord playing with orchestra is aware of that. This is exactly how, this instrument sounded like in Haendel's Messiah played by Capella Cracoviensis in Congressional Center ICE (Dec 21st 2014) – it was rather quiet and yet clearly audible.
It was the first concert I attended in this very special place (more about ICE concert hall HERE) and it was a spectacular experience. Hall's acoustics is fantastic – warm, rich, and yet allowing instruments to sound very clearly. Harpsichord's sound was very clear even though it played quietly. Organs played by Jan Tomasz Adamus, a director and conductor, delivered much louder, more powerful performance.

Wow Audio Lab's system with L1 + M1 does exactly the same. It emphasizes rich, dense sounds, takes smoothness to the next level, and enriches what is already rich. Since the tonal balanced is set quite low amplifier offers a lot of high quality bass, which makes music sound more serious, fuller.
This amplifier is capable of delivering a good performance from almost any recording, although a powerful rock played by Royal Blood sounded a bit bland, emphasizing a compression introduced to the recording by its producers. Small bands, electronic music, vocal music – these are type of music that should really shine with this amplifier.
An amazingly good addition to this set is a headphone amplifier that, as one might say, we get for free, as a bonus. If one likes its sound character there will be no need to buy a separate headphone amp even for the top cans like Audeze LCD-3, or HiFiMAN HE-6.

Both devices use exactly the same casings, milled from 6061 T6 aluminum blocks with nicely milled edges. They were designed using CAD, and produced using advanced CNC machines. Two finishes are available: anodized natural aluminum and (less expensive!) „titanium” version. There is a characteristic pattern on top covers, slightly different on L1 and M1, and side wall of the latter were milled in a such a way that they look like radiators. In fact whole casings are used to radiate the heat produced by active elements. The devices sport aluminum feet with a rubber ring on bottom. Similar feet are manufactured in Hong Kong also by Ayon Audio. All information on the casings is placed on stickers – no engravings. This is the only elements that does not quite fit, beautiful otherwise, aesthetics of these devices.

Aluminium 6061 T6

Aluminum type 6061 is an alloy of three main elements: aluminum, magnesium and silicon. There are also additions of: copper, zinc, manganese and titanium. These additional elements make up to 4% of the alloy. There are few tempered grades of 6061 and the most popular ones are: T0, T4 and T6. T6 is solutionized and artificially aged.

Preamplifier's front side seems to be a more interesting one (it is so for most preamplifiers I know). There is a nice blue display, that allows user to check volume level and active input, a volume control knob and headphone output (6,3 mm large jack). Device allows user to choose a name (like CD, DAC, or DAT) for each input, that is stored in device's memory. On the back panel there are only three sets of RCA sockets – two of them are inputs, one is output. High quality RCA sockets come from CMC. Manufacturer recommends a proper break-in time for this device. A new device should play for 100 - 200 hours before it spreads its wings.

WAL is surely not one of these companies that make a beautiful casings for their devices and then fill them up with low quality elements. On contrary – most of the elements that one finds inside are the top ones available on the market (except for NOS elements). One can find there Rifa and Nichicon capacitors, Dale resistors and other, top quality elements. Even PCBs seems to be of high quality with their thick, golden tracks.

To look inside one has to unscrew bottom plate of L1. One will see the elements are fixed to the back panel of the device. What's more – a headphone section is larger than preamplifier's. Both sections look like a top class designs. Both sport separate power supplies with Shottky diodes and multiple filtering capacitors, powered by a secondary winding of a large, toroidal transformer, that is shielded in a separate chamber. Volume control is executed by an integrated resistor ladder Burr Brown PGA 2311, that is powered by another, separate power supply.

On the front of M1 there is a single blue LED that indicates that device is on. It is placed in a small milled space almost centrally – a similar solution to the one used by Ayre Acoustics. Back panel sports two pairs of gold-plated speaker posts with plastic nuts, and an input - a pair of solid RCA sockets. Since speaker posts are placed in a small recess they are not accessible for spades – one must used speaker cables terminated with banana plugs (manufacturer mentions that in a manual).

Also power amp's circuit is sort of „who is who” of audio industry: Toshiba, Snaken, Nippon Chemi-Con, Dale, Rifa and other. Input circuits are placed on small PCB that are plugged via pins to the main PCB. Transistors on these PCB are bound with copper bands – I guess to even temperature levels between them. Sanken transistors drive bipolar Toshiba transistors working in push-pull configuration (two pairs per channel of 2SA1943+2SC5200). All electronic circuits are placed at the back of the device, a large toroidal power transformer is placed in the front, in a separate chamber sealed with additional cover. Each channel gain stage sports its own power supply, with a separate secondary winding; a protective circuit has its own power supply.

Specifications (according to manufacturer)


Frequency response: DC -1 MHz/-1,5 dB
Gain: 15 dB
Input impedance: 22 kΩ
Maximum input level: 4,5 Vrms
Maximum output voltage swing: 30 Vpp

Headphone amplifier
Frequency response: 10 Hz – 300 kHz/-1,5 dB
Gain: 16 dB
Input impedance: 22 kΩ
Maximum input level: 4,5 Vrms
Maximum output voltage swing: 75 Vpp
• 5,2 W/32 Ω (with protection disabled)
• 4,6 W/64 Ω
• 3,5 W/120 Ω
• 2,1 W/250 Ω
• 1 W/600 Ω

Dimensions: 240 x 357 x 96 mm | W x D x H
Weight: 10,8 kg


Power (RMS/8 Ω): 2 x 100 W
Frequency response: 10 Hz – 150 kHz/-1,5 dB
Gain: 27 dB
Input impedance: 22 kΩ
Dimensions: 240 x 357 x 96 mm | W x D x H
Weight: 13,4 kg


EmArcy Records/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCM-9336/8

Medium: 3 x SHM-CD | Limited Edition
Premiere: 1955/Dec 10th 2014

Born in 1930 in New York, Helen Merril is a jazz vocalist, who's carrier has spanned six decades. She has recorded and performed with some of the most notable figures in the American jazz scene. She recorded her first record (Helen Merrlil, Dec 22-24th 1955) featuring legendary trumpet player Clifford Brown. This album was produced and arranged by Quincy Jones.
The newly released 3-disc Japanese box Hush includes singles release to this record. Each disc comes in a separate carton mini-LP cover. These come in a single box with addition insert. These are SHM-CDs. Portal „AllMusic” classifies this album as “a classic bop”.
Originally this album was released by EmArcy, a division of Mercury Records, and this re-issue was released by Japanese division of Universal Music Company, Universal Music LLC. Discs markings are: EP-1-6103, EPI-1-6104 and EP-1-6105. There is a picture of the singer made especially for the cover of this album. Three discs include all original 7 songs from first release of Helen Merril. There is no bonus material.


People that listen to Nat „King” Cole’s album released by Analogue Productions (as hybrid SACD/CD) are often disappointed by how bright and harsh his vocal sometimes sound. It is even more obvious in stereo version than in mono ones. People who listened to Nat at the time when his albums were actually released, or not much later, got used to his vocal being warm and rich. But the material obtained from mother-tapes and released without correction tells us a different story. People who remember his voice from “good old times” listened to it via radio, or from vinyl records played via single speaker. None of this audio systems really delivered much treble at all.

Most of the material recorded at that time, i.e. in the mid-50ties sounds brighter, with more sibilants, with more forward sound. This is exactly how a vocal of Helen Merril sounds like on a discs from reviewed box. There is nothing wrong with that. What is important is richness of the sound, depth of the soundstage, multiple layers of music, and a beautiful tonality caught on the tape. Remaster combines resolution with richness of the sound – such combination is usually attributed to analogue mediums. It offers a great insight into recording, but ta the same time this wonderful sensation of a music's presence in our room.
It is a beautiful release offering a high quality sound. It might be exactly what many might expect, as it won't sound “warm”, but it will sound “real”.

Sound quality: 8-9/10



- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE

- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE

- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE

- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
System I
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
System II
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

System I
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
System II
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4

- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One