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Warm Audio WA12 stereo pair first impressions

December 30, 2013

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For years, I’ve been contemplating whether or not I should buy an external mic preamp or not. With plugins such as Slate VCC that emulate Neves, APIs, SSLs and Tridents, you can get “warm” sounding tracks in your DAW for a fraction of the cost of what you’d be paying if you bought their hardware counterparts. If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning, I wrote a post about the Golden Age Pre-73 and how I thought it’d be a great bang for the buck for those looking to get a coloured sound on their tracks without going high-end. I toyed with the idea of buying one for a while, and I think what put me off was a number of things, mainly that the audio transformer was Chinese, and not something well-renowned like a Cinemag or Lundahl transformer. In addition to that, if I wanted to rack mount it, I’d have to shell out more money just to buy a red rack tray to mount it.

For a long time, I was watching YouTube videos of people that had the Pre-73 and although it didn’t sound bad (in fact, it sounded quite reasonable), I just couldn’t justify buying one. I then started toying with the idea of building an API 312 clone, as the schematics are readily available if you do a quick Google search; but then with my recent guitar pedal building projects being unsuccessful, I didn’t want to spend the money on the components and fail miserably.

That’s when I heard about the Warm Audio WA12. I read forums and people were comparing it to the API 312. This got me interested immediately, and I began researching and finding any bits of audio I could find where it was being used. For months I was contemplating whether I should buy one, and in the end I took the plunge and bought a stereo pair which came with a rack tray.

My first impressions of the mic pre is that it seems to be solidly built. Nothing feels like it’s going to break any time soon, and the components are safely housed in its robust metal enclosure. The pre has a built in direct input for guitars, phantom power (as you would expect), pad button, polarity button, and a tone button which seems to boost the lower mids even more, although it could respond differently with other mics. Although the pre is simple and no frills, the ability to reverse the polarity and alter the tone of your mic on the way in is a huge plus, and not something you see too often on recording interfaces, unless you buy high end. In terms of audio quality, I’ve only tested this out on my voice, but the difference between the WA12 and the built in preamps of my PreSonus AudioBox are quite substantial. The WA12 is quite a lower-mid forward pre, and the sound is quite classic in comparison to the AudioBox which is typically clean and modern. This makes the WA12 a great alternative when you just want to smear your tracks with rich, warm goodness.

Two things I am disappointed with is that; one, there’s no metering on the pre, and two, if you buy a stereo pair like I have, it ships with a QuickLok rack tray which has punch holes that don’t marry up with the WA12 at all, this means you have to do some DIY to the rack tray in order to screw the pres down onto the tray. Besides those two things, I can’t find any obvious drawbacks.

To round things off, the Warm Audio WA12 is an exceptional mic pre for the price, it retails for £349 in the UK, which is a great price considering its spec. If you’re wanting to get away from the characteristically “clean” sound of modern audio interfaces and don’t want to spend £1000s, I seriously recommend this mic pre. I guarantee that you won’t find anything better for the price. I’m looking forward to using this on future sessions and will most likely use it as my go-to mic pre for bass, guitars and vocals.

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