Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast
Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast
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Sound On Sound : Est. 1985
In this article:
Value For Money
In Use
Audio Examples
Readers' Adverts
Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast
Mic, Line & Instrument Preamplifier
Reviews : Preamp
Warm Audio TB12 Tone
Beast $600
500­series Microphone
Preamplifier & Equaliser
Neve’s venerable
1073 preamp and
Printer­friendly version
equaliser are both
now available in
API’s popular
‘Lunchbox’ format. Were they
worth waiting for?
Published in SOS November 2013
Cloud Microphones
Ample tone­shaping
Fully discrete circuit design.
Cinemag transformers.
71dB gain.
In­line Microphone
Do these in­line
mic preamplifiers
mean you can use
a passive ribbon
mic with any
External PSU.
Brightness of the LED level
The Warm Audio TB12 Tone
Beast, based on the classic
API 312 preamp circuit
topology, offers plenty of
tone­shaping options at
a very affordable price. Some
of its basic ingredients, such
as the high­quality Cinemag
transformers and the fully
discrete Class­A signal path,
can usually only be found in
more expensive units, and
few corners seem to have
been cut designing this
preamp. Anyone in the
market for a good­sounding
and versatile yet affordable
preamp should have a look at
the Tone Beast, but it will
appeal most of all to those
planning to explore its
saturation and distortion
Rad Distribution +1 914
523 5247.
[email protected]
SOS Readers Ads
of Second­User Gear for sale
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Neve 1073LB &
1073LB EQ
Photos: Hannes Bieger.
Slate Pro Audio Fox
| Media
Warm Audio's latest preamp offers surprisingly high quality in an affordable
Dual­channel Microphone
Test plots to
accompany the
Hannes Bieger
Originally conceived as a preamp card for the input channels of the company's consoles, the classic discrete design of API's
312 mic preamp has played an integral part forming the sound of rock music, and American rock in particular. API still build
preamps based on the original early­'70s design, and several other manufacturers now offer their own takes on this piece of
recording history, for a number of reasons. First, the 312 offers a great sound, which is meaty and powerful, with
a pronounced mid­range. It's also a very simple design, comprising little more than a pair of input and output transformers
and a single discrete, Class­A op­amp. This means not only that a preamp based on the 312 layout is fairly easy to
manufacture (though one needs high­quality ingredients!), but one could also argue that the original design is almost
begging for modifications and enhancements. This is exactly what Warm Audio, based in Round Rock, Texas, have done:
they've taken the basic layout of the 312, as used in their existing WA12 preamp, and built their own versatile concept
around it, essentially doubling all the important circuit elements for maximum sonic variety. The result is a single­channel 1U
rackmount device they call the Tone Beast.
The format means that, unlike with the original 'bare bones' 312, there's ample space on the faceplate for controls. Indeed,
the Tone Beast comes with all the bells and whistles one can expect from a modern well laid­out mic preamp, including
dedicated switchable mic, line and instrument inputs as well as phantom power, a ­20dB input pad, a polarity switch and
an 80Hz high­pass filter. All switches are accompanied by red status LEDs, a simple but useful feature that should not be
overlooked. This input control section already makes the Tone Beast more flexible than some of its obvious competitors, but
the TB12 offers much more...
Both its Gain & Saturation and Tone Control sections can transform the preamp into a saturation generator, with a sonic
scope ranging from extremely subtle coloration to the wildest fuzz sounds. The stepped gain pot sets the amplification in
a range between +29 and +65 dB. It is paired with an output pot ranging from full attenuation (minus infinity) to unity gain.
This, in turn, allows the amplifier stages to be driven hard without overloading the next unit in the signal path, which opens
up a vast range of tonal options.
In order to explain precisely what the Tone Control section has to offer, we have to peek under the lid and consider what's
inside the unit. Interestingly, the Tone Beast doubles most parts of its signal path, to offer sonic alternatives through the
deployment of different components. Warm Audio have equipped the TB12 with no fewer than three high­quality American­
made Cinemag transformers, one of which is a custom design, tailored to Warm Audio's specification. There's a single input
transformer, but two output transformers can be swapped at the flick of a switch. The first, a steel­core transformer, boasts
a rich mid­range and a tone which can be considered more 'vintage'­sounding, whereas the 50­percent­nickel­core
transformer yields a more linear, transparent response. Both transformers can also be bypassed, which results in an 8dB
level drop but an even cleaner signal.
Following the same logic, the other key ingredients of the signal
path, the op­amps, can be swapped as well. The Tone Beast is
built around two discrete op­amps, but, following the original
312 design, only one is active at any given moment. One, the
x731, is based on the Melcor 1731, a predecessor to API's
famous 2520 op­amp, and this is the more coloured option. The
other, called x18, was modelled after Dean Jensen's classic
918, which is a cleaner and more open­sounding op­amp. Both
are socketed, following API's classic six­pin layout, and in the
operation manual, Warm Audio actively encourage users to
experiment with the many compatible third­party op­amp blocks
for yet more subtle sonic variety.
Cloud Microphones
Audio Examples
Audio files to accompany the
Slate Pro Audio Fox
Dual­channel Microphone
With two channels
and four ‘flavours’
on offer, Slate’s mic
preamp promises
plenty of flexibility.
Does it also deliver on quality?
Neve 4081
Four­channel Microphone
Neve believe that
there’s scope to
bring classic
designs up to date
— and that’s
exactly what they’ve done
here, taking their revered 1081
mic preamplifier as the starting
Radial Tonebone PZ
Acoustic Instrument
James Dunkley is
on the case of the
Radial Tonebone
PZ Preamp.
Drawmer HQ
Preamplifier & D‑A
Can a preamp and
D‑A converter
straddle the pro­
audio and hi‑fi
markets? Drawmer believe it
Studio Projects
Microphone Preamplifier
This hybrid mic
preamp can go
from solid‑state
clean to valve
warmth — and for
a surprisingly low price, too. Is
Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast
The capacitors in the circuitry surrounding the op­amps can be
swapped, too. The 'vintage' setting employs tantalum
capacitors, while the 'clean' option relies on electrolytics. This is
by far the most subtle of all the modifications, and in some
situations it doesn't change the sound much at all, but its effect
becomes increasingly apparent as the preamp is driven further
into distortion. The palette of controls is rounded off by the Tone
switch, which is active on all inputs (microphone, line, and high
impedance). On the mic input, with the Tone switch
disengaged, the input impedance is 600Ω. Activating the Tone
switch sets the impedance to 150Ω, giving an additional 6dB
level boost (increasing the maximum gain to +71dB), which
may be more suitable when recording with a passive ribbon
Finally, and slightly unusually, the high­impedance instrument
signal is fed into the input transformer via a little additional
discrete transistor circuit. This way, instrument signals can also
benefit from the sonic character of the input transformer.
there a catch?
Dave Hill Designs
Europa 1
Microphone Preamp
This novel preamp
design features a
variable impedance
and slew rate —
which opens up a
whole new world of possibilities
from your mic locker...
MC AudioLab TP1tp
Flexible input section: the Tone Beast offers all standard
feature of a microphone preamp, including a ­20 dB pad, a hi­z
instrument input and a high pass filter
Manley MicMAID
Mic & Preamp Switcher
The patchbay
remains the
cornerstone of
most commercial
studios, but using
one to patch mics into different
preamps can be risky —
which is where the MicMAID
comes in...
Although that's it for the on­board tonal tweakery, it's still not all
the Tone Beast has to offer, as there's an insert point into which
external equipment such as EQs and compressors may be
patched. This comes between the op­amps and the output
Value For Money
The Tone Beast feels sturdy, uses quality components and
should provide years of reliable performance. In fact, I find it
amazing that Warm Audio can offer a fully discrete Class­
A circuit with components of this quality, complete with the
various alternative options, in this price bracket. Usually, this
kind of technology can only be found in units costing two or
three times as much as the TB12.
Inevitably, though, a few corners have been cut in order to
make this possible, and while some take nothing away from the
overall qualities of the unit — and while I did not find any real
flaws — there are some points I'd like to discuss. First, the Tone
Beast relies on an external 'wall­wart' type power supply. This is
not a problem per se, and a quality internal PSU would have
driven the manufacturing cost up quite a bit, but most high­end
units employ internal power supplies unless there's good
reason not to, and some manufacturers even take pride in over­
designing them! Secondly, I'm not a big fan of the five­segment
LED level meter: it employs blue, green, yellow and red LEDs,
and the blue one is noticeably brighter than the other ones. In
fact, it is so bright that it makes me feel uncomfortable looking at
the Tone Beast when it lights up, especially in a dimly lit
In Use
T­Rex SpinDoctor
The tone control section boasts plenty of tone­shaping options,
such as the selection of alternative op­amps, capacitors and
output transformers.
Valve Preamplifier
Is a high­quality
valve preamp in a
pedal just what the
BAE 1073 MPF
Dual Solid­state Preamp
There are now
several Neve
preamps available
— but theyre not
always 100 percent faithful to
the original design. How close
does this new contender from
BAE come?
Focusrite Octopre
Quality components: the circuit employs three Cinemag
transformers and two discrete op­amps (classic API 2500 six­
pin layout).
Apart from this minor criticism, the Tone Beast has proven to be a very reliable and versatile preamp over the course of the
review period. It takes some time and effort to get used to all the nuances is has to offer, simply because Warm Audio have
put so many features inside this box, but thankfully the controls are clearly laid out and the labels easy to read.
These days, 'sonic colour' is something of a buzz phrase, and the character that can be imparted by transformers in
particular seems to be in vogue. But while the TB12 has all the ingredients typically associated with such 'colour', such as
the transformers, Tantalum caps and discrete op­amps, please don't think that using any of these options will drastically
change the sound in any given situation. In many use cases these variations remain very subtle, and will only be audible to
the critical listener. How much such nuances matter in the context of the full, final mix will often be debatable. Mind you, I am
not saying this to question the concept of the Tone Beast at all! I simply would like to encourage you to listen closely and
keep in mind that when it comes to saturation artifacts, less can sometimes be more...
The core sound of the Tone Beast is a very present tone with a pronounced upper mid­range. This is not untypical for
a preamp from the extended API family. The 312 might not be the thickest, richest­sounding preamp on earth, but it is
capable of delivering very tight and solid signals which can cut through any mix, and the TB12 certainly navigates in these
waters, too. The contrast between the cleaner configuration (x18 op­amp and nickel transformer) and its more coloured
counterpart (x731 op­amp and steel transformer) doesn't sound like two entirely different units (not that I would have
expected this!), but like two different sides of the same coin. One of them has a more open, sometimes even slightly harsh
top end, while the other is noticeably softer and rounder, and there are plenty of shades in between these two poles.
No matter how you look at it, the Tone Beast offers many means to fine­tune the result and to adapt the character of the
preamp to the nature of the source being fed into its circuits. For instance, some of these features may be used with good
results to round off the edges of an overly bright capacitor microphone.
Valve Microphone Preamp
Can Sicilian
manufacturers MC
AudioLab bring a
touch of
magic to your recordings with
their new boutique preamp?
Eight­channel Microphone
With upgraded mic
amps and A­D
conversion in their
MkII versions, do
Focusrites latest
eight­channel preamps still
lead the way at this price
Empirical Labs EL9
Microphone Preamplifier &
Empirical Labs,
purveyors of some
of the most
around, apply their dynamics
expertise to a mic preamp.
Benchmark MPA1
Dual­channel Microphone
Benchmark strive
to make their
products exactly
that: something
against which the
competition should be judged.
So how does their new preamp
measure up?
Dual­channel Microphone
AEA have tweaked
the design of their
TRP ribbon­mic
preamp, already
something of a
favourite, to create a device
thats much more versatile —
and without compromising on
Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast
The feature that I liked the most isn't even the most
sophisticated of all these options — but it certainly is the most
powerful, capable of turning this microphone preamp into
a hefty distortion box. The vast range of the output pot (which
essentially goes all the way from off to unity gain) ensures that
there are no gain­staging limitations at all. Not only do the
As well as the anticipated inputs and outputs, the Tone Beast
saturation and distortion effects of the TB12 sound great in their
also offers insert slots for integrating other processors in its
own right; as mentioned before, the tonal changes of the other
signal path.
options become more apparent when the unit is being driven
further into the realm of non­linear amplification. Listen to the Minimoog example from the audio files accompanying this
article, and you'll hear how meaty and thick the Tone Beast can sound, highlighting the sonic impact of the output
transformers. When they are bypassed, the signal sounds rather hollow, with a spectrum that reminds me more of a square
wave. With the transformers engaged, by contrast, the signal gets noticeably thicker, sweeter and more valve­like, adding
further to the massive tone of this classic synth bass line.
First appearances can be deceptive, and that's definitely the case here: one should certainly not view the Tone Beast as yet
another microphone preamplifier. Rather, it's a sound machine that can be deployed to great effect in many other areas of
audio production than the tracking stage. For instance, I can conceive of this being a very useful processor for sound
designers, and many people would find the TB12 a useful processor during a mix.
While the Tone Beast cannot compete with high­end devices in every single aspect of its construction, it does a surprisingly
good job, and offers a signal path that's far more sophisticated than one would normally expect at this price. Its character as
a mic preamp might not be to everyone's tastes (because I can't imagine any preamp being the ultimate solution for all
possible uses), but doubling as a saturation generator it offers a vast range of additional applications. These alone will be
worth the price of admission to many people. It doesn't matter which way you look at it, then: the Warm Audio Tone Beast
offers plenty, considering its rather comfortable price tag. A­Designs Pacifica
Two­channel Microphone
Striking a useful
balance between
the transparent
and the
characterful, this
high­quality, US­made preamp
design brings versatility to the
studio and some colour to the
PreSonus DigiMax
Eight­channel Mic Pre & A­D
Presonus combine
their respected
analogue and
digital technology in
this affordable
ADAT­equipped preamp.
SPL Rackpack
Modular Preamp &
Processor System
Performance Lab
have developed an
enviable reputation
for their hardware
products, and now you can
buy more for less with their
modular rack system.
Audient Mico
Other manufacturers also offer preamps based on API's classic 312 topology. For example, BAE produce the 312A
lunchbox module and single/dual­channel rackmount units, and if you don't need all the options of the TB12, then Warm
Audio themselves produce the WA12. A few other mic preamps offer switchable circuit topologies and variable gain
staging. The Universal Audio 710 Twin Finity preamp is a little more expensive, but it offers blending between valve and
transistor amplifiers, and its two gain stages can be driven into distortion. Other preamps well known for their saturation
capabilities include the Roll Music Systems RMS5A7 Tubule and Chandler's Germanium and Little Devil.
Audio Examples
A number of audio files demonstrating the tonal colours that can be achieved using the Tone Beast can be found here.
Published in SOS November 2013
Dual Microphone
With two channels
of mic preamp, a
control, digital
outputs and clean
signal path, the Mico offers
you an awful lot of Audient for
the money.
Universal Audio
Twin­finity 710
Hybrid Microphone
Which is best, tube
or solid state?
When it comes to
investing in a
preamp, thats a
question you may no longer
need to ask...
Golden Age Project
Pre 73
Microphone Preamplifier
This highly
affordable device is
based on the
circuitry used in
Neves legendary
1073. So can you really get a
classic vintage preamp sound
on a budget?
Arsenal Audio R20 &
Microphone Preamplifier &
This new brand by
revered high­end
manufacturers API
is much more
affordable than their
established lines. So there
must be a catch, right?
Grace Design M201
Microphone Preamplifier
Regular readers
will know that our
Technical Editor
isn't prone to
excessive use of
hyperbole — so when he calls
a product "awesome",
"stunning" and "sublime", it's
probably time to sit up and
take notice...
Thermionic Culture
Valve Microphone Preamp &
Is this latest addition to the
Thermionic Culture flock
something for the company to
Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast
crow about?
Focusrite ISA One
Mic Preamp
The ISA preamp
range has graced
recording facilities
the world over —
but this classy single­channel
model is within reach of the
home and project studio.
Synchronia Sound
DIY Mic Preamp System
The DIY approach
to audio equipment
needn't mean
bargain basement,
and if you apply
this principle to high­end
vintage gear it might just save
you a small fortune — without
compromising on quality.
Sebatron VMP
Valve Mic Preamp
company Sebatron
aim to start building
their brand in the
UK with this
'character' preamp.
GLOSSARY: technical terms
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