Warm Audio WA-47 & WA73 recording chain
By Andy Stewart.
Two of the most highly prized, awesome sounding and prominently featured pieces of gear found in professional recording studios over the last half-century have been the legendary Neumann U47 tube condenser microphone and the Neve 80-series mic preamplifier.
Everything that’s ever been said about these two vintage classics – every fact, every impression, every sales pitch or desire – has been stated over and over, regurgitated by the online throng repeatedly and translated into Swahili to make certain no-one on the planet missed out. There’s nothing left to be said, and no-one left who hasn’t heard it all before.
But recently Warm Audio (from Texas, USA) put out recreations of both these audio doyens – in either a fit of egotistical madness or shameless brand association – and now they’re in my cynical hands for review.
I couldn’t resist. Despite feeling utterly disinterested in contributing yet another page of rhetoric to the endless tickertape parade of throwaway anecdotes that have spewed from the keyboards of the great unwashed the world over, when I heard Warm Audio’s WA-47 and WA73 in combination two weeks ago, I was blown away.
On the WA-47 condenser, specifically, I thought this: “This mic is f**king unbelievable!”
I dunno how many times I’ve said this to myself since, but it’s happened every single time I’ve stepped in front of the mic. Not the most eloquent, insightful assessment of a microphone ever penned, I’ll admit, but the phrase seems unavoidable. I’ve recorded countless times with Neumann U47s over several decades
– both tube and FET varieties – along with U67s and M49s, and various incarnations of 80-series Neve preamps (an 8038 console, 1081, 1064, 1073, 1093 and 1272 modules)
and suffice it to say, the euphonics of both these tools are embedded in my bones. I own a bunch of them myself still and use them every day. But before I even bothered to do a comparison shootout between either of the originals alongside their Warm Audio recreations, the likeness was unmistakeable. Now for some hyperbole…
THE 47TH RECREATION?
The WA-47 large diaphragm tube condenser mic has a sound as big as a house, with fantastic low-end power that supports vocals magnificently. I have been repeatedly astonished by how favourably this mic’s low-end compares to an original Neumann U47. It captures a gorgeous large-scale sonic footprint with a fizz to match. The mic never sounds harsh or brittle.
The combination of its beautifully crafted nickel-plated, solid brass barrel and tripled-layered cage headstock, its K47-styled capsule, Slovak Republic JJ5751 tube and TAB-Funkenwerk transformer all combining remarkably to do that thing original 47s are so famous for: turning sibilance and harsh transients into an immensely pleasurable sound more akin to a compressed puff of talcum powder than a dagger to the head.
This mic, like the legend it purports to mimic, is an experience to perform in front of: visually, sonically and emotionally. Apart from the fact the spider shock-mount cradle could probably grip more confidently around the mic’s girth, I really can’t fault Warm Audio’s WA-47.
At any price this mic is a compelling option (once you set aside your vintage snobbery like I had to) but for the asking price of little over a grand, it is, quite simply, remarkable. You want a ’47 but can’t afford an original (and hey, seriously, who can?)? Well this might be the answer to your prayers. Visually, sure it looks cool, albeit new – and who ever heard of a new looking 47? – but it’s the sound of this mic that really clinches the deal. It will provide you with the sonics you’ve longed to own for years, of that I am certain.
This microphone is not leaving The Mill that’s for sure… not ever.
THE WA73 SINGLE CHANNEL PREAMP
Combined with the WA73 preamp, the sound of this recreated ‘classic’ recording chain is quite breathtaking. On vocals, the WA-47 is already a big, fat, creamy indulgence. With the WA73 preamp driving it, the focus just grows in clarity, scale and detail. I have used the original units that these two Warm Audio devices replicate in combination with some sort of compressor, like a UA176, 1176 or LA-2A far more times than I’ve had a hot breakfast.
Do the two chains compare? Absolutely they do. The preamp has everything familiar to a Neve user: the grey regalia, the iconic red, blue and grey stepped rotary switches that click strongly and confidently, white rectangular buttons and so on. But so do about 20 other replicators that have attempted such recreations in the last decade or more. The sound is what counts, and this is where the guys at Warm Audio have clearly made an effort to distance themselves from the pack.
Internally, the WA73 has a fully discrete signal path, including custom made Carnhill transformers and decent high quality capacitors, all of which are hand-wired and hand assembled in China. Warm’s affinity with the sound of the original Neve preamps is borne out by repeated use. The WA73 is no cynical skin-deep recreation. It’s a genuine competitor with an original Neve preamp module or console, but with one obvious advantage: it’s new.
But the WA73 also has some key ingredients that engineers like me love to see and hear: a decent four-position high-pass filter, a polarity switch, a ground-lift switch (on the back panel), an output attenuator and LED output meter. Having input and output control on the preamp immediately provides for a massive palette of tonal options, as well as control further along the chain, from clean and transparent to downright massacred. Want to sound crystal clear? This does it.
Want to record a hammered vocal that sounds like John Lennon on the White Album? This does that too. Just crank the input, turn down the output and there it is: a bleeding circuit with analogue distortion for days. It saturates fantastically too… dial any amount of it you like to add flavour to any audio signal. Additionally, the WA73 preamp has a ‘Tone’ button that varies the input transformer impedance when engaged. In combination with the WA-47 mic, this switch adds fizz and body, and a tad more volume to the signal, creating a hyper-real, larger-than-life image (a cliché, but true).
Particularly for the price, this preamp/mic combo is astonishing really. I’ve been cynical of recreations of old gear for as long as boutique brands have been pitching them. But now I’ve come to appreciate at least some of them for what they are. These two bits of kit, in particular, could easily set you back around 30 grand if you were mad (or rich) enough to fork out for an original Chrome-Top Neumann U47 long-body, and a racked and serviced Neve 1073 preamp EQ module (you could also get a raw Neve 1272 module but then you’d have to mod it).
For about one fifteenth of that price you can get a combo of a Warm Audio WA-47 and 73. Frankly, when a mic sounds this good (and has nine polar patterns for good measure) there’s no contest. Get two of each and still have enough for a deposit on a house… almost.
This article first appeared in the print edition of CX Magazine May 2018, pp.63-65. CX Magazine is Australia and New Zealand’s only publication dedicated to entertainment technology news and issues. Read all editions for free or search our archive www.cxnetwork.com.au
Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill recording studio in the hills of Bass Coast in Victoria. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for recording or mixing help… Contact him at: email@example.com
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