Warm Audio WA12
Warm Audio WA12
Setting out to distance yourself from transparent and characterless preamps is no mean feat if you’re
attempting to shave off the pennies as well. JON THORNTON says it’s in the name.
elative newcomer Warm Audio from the US
any compromise or corner cutting. To date, the
was borne out of founder Bryce Young’s
company has a single product -– the single channel
desire to put high-end performance into the
WA12 mic preamp — although this is now available
hands of those whose budgets might not
as a rack mountable unit as looked at here or as a 500
stretch to the usual high-end price tags. Having built
series module.
custom designs for a smaller customer base with
You get a clear feel for the intended design direction
deeper pockets for some years, the mission was to
from the name. ‘Warm Audio’ speaks for itself —
11:40 Page
recreate these designs at a lower 1price
point, without
you even plug it in you know that an ultra-
transparent, uncoloured sound isn’t going to be on
the cards. And the ‘12’ is a nod to the electronic
design being strongly inspired by API’s classic 312
preamp. The discrete electronics (not a surface mount
component in sight) are sandwiched by custom
Cinemag transformers on both input and output,
and the whole thing is packaged in a half-width, 1U
box. Off-the-shelf solutions for rack mounting one
or two units are available from third parties and the
casework handily features additional screw taps on the
underside to work with these.
The overall look and feel tends towards the utilitarian,
and while the bright orange front panel may not be to
everyone’s taste, you certainly won’t have trouble
finding the WA12 in a darkened room. The whole thing
is exceptionally well screwed together with no sense
that any corners have been cut in this department. The
rear panel provides a mic input on a combination XLR/
TRS jack socket and balanced line outputs on separate
XLR and TRS connectors, allowing a good deal of
flexibility for a variety of situations. Power is supplied
via an external 24 volt supply.
An additional high-impedance input is available on
the front panel for DI purposes, together with latching
pushbuttons with separate status LEDs for the various
functions on offer. Three of these provide the usual
staples of a -20dB pad, polarity reverse and phantom
power. You also get a switch that activates the front
panel high impedance input (and simultaneously
de-activates the rear mic input). Slightly unusually
the Hi-Z input is routed through the full signal path,
including the input transformer. Finally, there’s the
curiously labelled ‘Tone’ switch. In reality, engaging
this lowers the load impedance of the input from
600ohms to 150ohms. In addition to the expected 6dB
increase in total gain (switching it in gives a maximum
gain of +71dB as opposed to the +65dB on offer with it
switched out), the succinct but useful manual points
out that this may also result in significant tonal shifts
with most microphones and inputs.
Gain is a single stage affair, controlled by a suitably
retro looking knob. It’s not a switched control but a
variable pot, but it does have multiple detents that
to some extent allow reasonably precise steps to be
recalled. This is the first point at which you feel that
the WA12 has had to be built to a price. Still, the
decisions about where money needs to be spent and
where it can be saved without compromising absolute
sonic performance seem to be sensible. The same
decision-making process has also clearly had an effect
in the metering department, as there isn’t any at all
— not even a simple signal present/overload indicator.
Granted, most users will be able to meter with some
degree of confidence at other points in the chain, but
I prefer having at least minimal indication for basic
logical fault-finding/patch checking purposes.
Plugged in and patched up with the usual AKG
C414-XLS as a benchmark reference, and first
impressions are impressive with male vocals. The
WA12 is quiet and very open sounding, yet also
manages to live up to its name. With the Tone switch
off, there’s a definite sense of additional weight
and smoothness to the low end, but nothing that
overwhelms the clarity of the highs and mids that is
very much in evidence. Punch in the Tone button and
there’s a dip in the absolute HF detail, but what seems
to be a slight sharpening of the mid range. It’s actually
quite a nice pairing with the often hard sounding 414,
especially with male vocals.
Switching to a dynamic mic (Beyer M201 close on
a guitar cab) and there’s plenty of gain for a mic not
renowned for its high output level — things sound
very clean and controlled to a certain point. Drive
the output stage a little harder though and you get a
progressive onset of distortion that in its early stages
could be useful for certain sounds. Take things too
far and things can sound nasty, but there’s a definite
sweet spot ripe for exploitation if harmonic distortion
is your thing. The tonal effects caused by dropping the
input impedance are also more pronounced with the
Beyer 201 — there’s the same slight HF dip and midrange sharpening but the effect is more noticeable.
For completeness, I also tried the front panel high
impedance input as a DI for an electric bass with
very impressive results. It compares very favourably
(perhaps unsurprisingly) with dedicated active DIs
costing nearly as much — big sound, plenty of HF
transient detail and bags of weight.
The WA12 (UK£316 + VAT) is, all in all, a very
appealing box. There’s a flexibility to its potential
application that belies its straightforward appearance
and design. In many ways it does exactly what is
says on the tin (although the external PSU means
that is doesn’t ever really run that warm!), and brings
colour in more ways than one to your studio. It’s also
a triumph of function over form — you really do feel
that money has been spent where it matters the most
— and as a result it punches way above its weight. n
Flexible, characterful sound; built like a tank;
External PSU only; no metering.
The WA12 500 Series mic pre features
71dB of gain, custom Cinemag input
and output transformers, the Tone
button, 48V phantom power, 20dB
pad, mic level balanced input and
balanced outputs plus a 2MOhm Hi-Z
input on the front panel.
Warm Audio, US
Web: www.warmaudio.com
Distributor: Nova Distribution, Tel: +44 203 589 2530
Web: www.nova-distribution.co.uk
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