So far, most of the headphone amplifiers that have graced these pages have been portable, budget items; the same very definitely can't be said for this brushed-steel behemoth, the WooAudio WES Electrostatic Headphone Amp and, dangling insouciantly next to it, Stax's SR-008 Mk2 Electrostatic headphones. According to audiophile reviewer Steve Guttenberg, you're looking at "state of the art sound for a tiny fraction of the cost of a system built around speakers."
Electrostatic drivers are the key elements here, promising far lower distortion than standard dynamic drivers. Unfortunately you can't just plug them into your iPod; they require special electronics, such as the WES amp; the up-side is a system that can reveal unheard detail in even familiar tracks.
"Keith Richards' guitar wizardry lights up "Sway" like never before, and I'm hearing a sense of depth and space around Charlie Watts' drum kit for the first time. I feel like I'm hearing a band live in the studio, not a recording. Quiet details, such as subtle reverberation in the mix are newly audible ... Amy Winehouse's Back to Black uncorked heretofore unheard details of the brash electric guitars contrasting against lush orchestral strings. And Amy cooing in my ears like never before tops off the experience" Steve Guttenberg, Home Entertainment
Of course, when an self-confessed audio-addict says "tiny fraction", that might not mean the same thing to budget-minded you and I. In fact, the WooAudio WES amp comes in at $4,990 (just $4,500 if you pre-order) and the Stax headphones at $2,410. WooAudio expect to begin shipping each hand-built WES from October this year.