Warm Audio - On component choices, aesthetics and building affordable gear.
Warm Audio are a company that has been getting a lot of press and fans since they first started off in 2011 . They create gear that tips its hat to many classic designs that have become essential tones for engineers and artists, and at a price that doesn't break the bank. Since releasing the WA76, a FET style compressor in 2014, (something that looks an sounds a lot like the 1176) they have become massively popular and have followed up that success by creating units like the EQP-WA and WA2A, as well as some microphones and preamps. All these units (along with the rest of their range) allow lovers of analog gear to have access to the feel of these classic sounds that all too often were out of their reach either price or availability wise.
From our tests at Gearshoot, we have been really impressed with how close Warm Audio have got many of their pieces of gear to some of the original classic designs that we have available in the shootout library. We've included their gear in a number of our shootout reviews of the classics because we thought it was useful to hear for yourself how new type versions compare to the originals. We have also found that the Warm Audio range is some of the most searched and 'shot out' analog gear in the library whether it be against analog gear or plugins.
With all that we thought that it would be useful to have a chat to them to learn more about their general approach to gear, and also ask some deeper questions to help understand how they go about designing a new piece of gear based on a classic design (and components).
So here is Antonio Anzaldua from Warm Audio to help us understand more.
We noticed the name CineMag popping up a lot in your decisions for the transformers you use in your gear.
Why do you pick CineMag Transformers over other brands and what kind of sonic character can we expect in your gear from this choice?
We believe David Guerin is one of the world’s foremost experts on audio transformers and his designs are uncompromising in quality. In circuits such as you'd find in the WA12 and the WA76, there's quite a bit of "mojo" already because of the components we use. Cinemag transformers pair well due to their clean and open sound. You still get that classic transformer sound like you'd hear from a vintage console, but with a bit more clarity in the higher frequencies than other transformers typically provide.
Could you shed a bit of light on what the “Tone” Button on some of your mic pres does?
We know it is a change in impedance - but how does this affect the sound and what would some possible utilisations of this be?
The "Tone" button, to me, is the secret weapon of our preamps. It drops the input impedance from 600 ohms to 150 ohms which is closer to the impedance of a vintage console. With a condenser microphone, pushing the "Tone" button will add gain but not change the sound too much. The magic happens when you're using dynamic microphones! You'll have an increase in gain of about 6dBs as well, but sonically you'll get more low end and generally a more detailed signal. I absolutely love how this sounds on your stereotypical Shure SM57 in front of a guitar cab or a snare. Really fattens things up and gives recorded sources more depth.
In the Analog (as well as digital realm) engineers and artists alike throw around lovely little words like warmth, glue and openness………. How do you, as gear designers decide what the characteristics of words like these mean and quantify them in circuit designs? (You must be succeeding in this as words like these always seem to pop up in your walls upon walls of reviews).
To me, a lot of the terms like mojo, warmth, and glue mean the same things. Some of these can be misnomers, meaning different things to different engineers. I look at these descriptions as how circuitry rounds out harsh transients, tames high frequency information, and sometimes adds THD and clipping. In essence, it's sort of a light "compression" happening on these peaks of a sound wave and technically a loss of that detail (though this "loss of detail" sounds very musical to our ears). This can be achieved with transformers, tubes, NOS Jfets, and even capacitors. Openness I'd say is high frequency clarity or lack of warmth. Engineers tend to think of analog tape as being the tool that graced old records we know and love with "warmth" and "mojo". While it's true, these records were recorded to tape, they also had many other pieces of gear in the signal chain that contributed more to the sound such as the vintage consoles, broadcast compressors, tube microphones, and old RCA ribbons they used. In the age of digital recording, these other pieces of gear have a more important role than they used to; bringing the "mojo" back to a sterile, transparent, digital mix!
Some of the massive popularity of your gear could also be attributed to the aesthetic and visual design of the gear - If you see it in studio photos or a video there is no mistaking what a piece of Warm Audio gear looks like - especially the super bright orange preamp line.
What drives the aesthetic choices you make for you gear. Was it a conscious decision to make them so visually striking?
We are glad you like the look of the units! When the company started the orange color was simply picked because it was "different" and looked somewhat retro. After creating a few products we decided we wanted to deviate from the all orange color and make the WA76 look like a vintage 1176, after all many users have wanted to own a real 1176 for much of their careers but couldn't justify the cost. After the WA76 was released, many people loved the sound but also the similar look it had to its vintage counterpart. From that point on we decided to make other products that looked similar to vintage products as our customer's clearly liked this.
Recently you released the very well received EQP-WA, based on the EQP-1A.
What kind of testing was involved in re-creating such a legendary piece of gear and was there a specific unit that it was taking inspiration from? Was it hard to get the very particular Pultec style curves happening and working like a Pultec?
Our EQP-WA is very similar electrically to the vintage Pultec EQP-1A, the way it uses the inductor based EQ, as well as the 2x tube makeup with a high voltage tube amplifier. It's also transformer balanced in and out as the original was, with CineMag transformers. We did remove the interstage transformer from our circuit design and made up for the additional gain needed by hot-rodding the tube make-up stage to have a little more gain. Other than this the design is very similar to the vintage model.
We didn't run a lot of extensive tests against a vintage unit during the design phase, but we have compared them now. In the design phase we sent the prototypes to several respected engineers to get their opinions and the conclusion was that everybody loved it so we knew we had a hit.
Since the EQP-WA was released we have now compared it more carefully to a vintage model. To our ears the EQP-WA sounds a little tighter on the low end and is a little more "modern/clean" sounding, but overall general tone is very similar.
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Showcase of some Warm Audio Gear - EQP-WA, WA76 and WA2A
Pultec Style Equalizer: EQP-WA
'76 FET Style Compressor - WA76
'2A Optical Style Limiter
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