Warm Audio WA76 by omnialinx
I had been lucky enough to pick up Warm Audio's WA76 from an online pro audio distributer a few days after they got them in, which was also -not so coincidentally- a few days before they sold out of them; along with almost every other online dealer. That wasn’t all that surprising considering all the chatter online from many a Gearslut’s excitement about the incredibly (unbelievably, astronomically, ridiculously) low price on Warm Audio's take on one of the most coveted pieces of gear to ever have existed. I know I was. There has been many a discussion online about how Bryce Young (Warm Audio’s designer and owner) managed to keep the price tag so low so there is no need for me to get into what has now become a rather redundant topic. It is respectful as much as it is ingenious and I salute him for it. I hope only for the best for Warm Audio, especially after having owned the WA76 for over a month now as well as the WA12 for over a year. I use them both on every project.
To begin I have a small home studio where my colleague and I do video and audio production, covering everything from cleaning up conference speeches to recording live punk shows to documentaries to singer songwriters to political commercials to jazz and metal bands. It is my second job and part time. I have been involved in pro audio for over a decade (as well as toured nationally many times in bands for many years before) and also have worked and interned in a few professional studios. Mostly I am a musician who does audio engineering as a passion. I have owned one clone Hairball Audio 1176 made by a friend as well as used many of the UA revisions in countless studios for over a decade. I have also built a few clones (G-SSL, CAPI,) as well as modified 90% of the gear in my racks (most bought with the intention of being modified sometime in the future). I am currently gathering the very last materials for a stereo set of clone API 312’s as well as putting the final touches on a set of Five Fish Audio X-12’s. So while not an expert by any means, I know how to solder and have a basic understanding of what components can do to a piece of audio equipment.
Only a Gearslut knows the almost ineffable feeling of bliss I felt as I played-back an acoustic guitar solo I had just tracked using an AT-4047 into a (modded) CL-7602 through the WA76 (on it's second day in the studio) and realized I would barely have to touch up the track; it fit into the mix perfectly. The rewards of a decent room, good mic placement, and quality gear producing tight tracks is a high junkies can never obtain; it is reserved for us sluts. It was hard not to smile at the 3 dimensional euphoric audio nirvana being created, as the guitar floated like a wave across the monitors and came into the mix perfectly. It ‘fell/filled’ into the mix. There is a depth and density being created after the audio goes through the WA76’s juicy analog circuits (and Cinemag input and output transformers) that resonates with the deeper slut in me; the one that really only wants high end gear. It is this beautiful multidimensional effect that can really make a track blend or stick out in a mix, and that is what the WA76 does. It is the magic it performs.
The WA76 can be pushed pretty hard with a 20:1 ratio high output/fast release setting or added as a barely discernible hint with a nice 4:1 ratio low input/low output fast attack/slow release setting and in either it works fabulously. Compared to some of the other legendary dirty-girty hardware comps like the DBX 160 or the Urei la2a, the WA76 is more of a subtle sounding compressor, but by no means is it transparent. It is definitely a character compressor. It has mojo. Although not always obvious, take the WA76 off a track and you will immediately notice there is something dramatically missing. A hole has opened. Now don’t get me wrong when it’s in “all button’s in”, balls to wall, smooshing and gooshing, and crushing without blushing mode you will definitely notice it, since it is at a state of such phenomenal sonic awesomeness that Buddhist monks in Timbuktu would walk miles barefoot in the snow to bow to its beautiful black and silver (and orange) glory as if it was the Buddha himself reincarnated (and yes I can be a little hyperbolic). Otherwise it can sit idly by, taming vocals as if they were lions ready to pounce and for the untrained ear appear to be doing very little at all. Personally I like to drive it mid-way and absolutely love what it does to vocals at an 8:1 or 12:1 ratio with a mid-input/mid-high output and fast attack/slow release setting. It is just enough to let the vocals rise up to claim that upper echelon of the mix and punch their way through that range and/or space reserved for the main focus of the song. The area that is throbbing for your attention. The person who is singing to you. In all honesty it can be really damn hard to not use the WA76 on every vocalist -or in every vocal track- but one must show some reserve in this trait or thus be another schmuck making boring bad mixes and giving the rest of us home/project studio owners a bad name. On vocal tracking duty the WA76 is like the secret service; on top of it and highly effective. It makes me feel safe.
If there is another key instrument where this compressor really glows -other than guitar, violin, drums, and vocals- it is the bass. What the WA76 does to bass tracks is alone worth its ridiculously affordable price. And my god is it easy to use. For instance, I had been working on a 17 track rock mix and had just gotten the drums where I liked them when I realized that the bass had become all but non-existent. Somewhere at the bottom of the mix the bass was hanging by a thread, a jejune and inept noise shadowing the kick like some disabled echo of its former self. Now raising the gain would only raise the volume and what the bass needed at that moment was to be retied into the mix. It needed to be brought up from its depths by the dynamic amplification the 1176 is renowned for.
I had already done some preliminary work with the bass and last I had remembered it had sounded pretty damn good. I promptly patched the WA76 in, quickly adjusted the input, ratio, and output, then sat back and listened as the WA76 performed its magic. Instantly the bass jumped out creating a punchy low end clarity that sometimes can take an impossibly long time to obtain with some of my other compressors. With only a fiddle of a few knobs the bass was raised from its cavernous depths and molded right into place. It wasn’t so high that it felt like some half inflated ball bouncing down the street or a lost feather floating somewhere in the aether but instead had density and force. It had girth. Satisfied with the result I returned my attention to the rest of the tracks and began the sometimes arduous task of summing via a console and daw controller in this hybrid analog/digital world I have created for myself, swearing that the Wa76 just winked at me with its one orange/yellow eye.
Now whether you want the bass to drive its way through the mix like a bulldozer in a trailer park, or to just ride along with the guitars and kick like a Lamborghini on the autobahn; the WA76 makes either task easy. Having a bass go through the DI of a WA12 mic pre with a mid to high gain setting and tone button engaged then sending it through the WA76 has achieved some of the sweetest and meatiest (yet natural sounding) effects I have heard in quite a while. For some driving it this way would actually be a bit too much, but in my experience sometimes too much is just enough for what the track needs (and it’s just awesome for punk or metal) or what ones desired outcome is. One can always “tone” the bass down by lowering the gain on the mic pre (or they can use the output pad located at the back of the comp) and after setting the input a bit higher and output a bit lower, and then slowly easing the attack and release times; treat the compressor like a Lamborghini cruising around in a trailer park. Or (if one was feeling a little wild) one could just as easily raise it to 20:1 and set an even higher input and output and using mid attack and slow release times, send the bass plowing through the mix like a bulldozer on the Autobahn. Either way it’s versatile and highly controllable. And incredibly easy.
In comparison to another clone 1176 the WA76 held its own just fine while also imparting some character of its own. Using a Hairball clone of a Rev. D 1176 to compare the WA76 with showed only subtle differences between the two. Running some metal guitar stems through the two compressors I felt both just did what they were known for and breathed a life or character into the tracks with neither one sounding better or worse. Now I am sure if it had been a Blue Stripe (a notorious mojo having 1176 revision) or maybe a real McCoy UA 1176 Rev. D (although I have read that Hairball’s and Drip’s were just as good with some saying actually better sounding) the differences would have been more noticeable, but unfortunately I don’t have endless racks of such hardware at my disposal in my humble home studio. Whether there are sonic differences hardly matters though, really both could be driven hard or soft and both easily pulled any instrument into the fold to pleasantly ride along with the other instruments in the auditory marathon of mixing. It is worth repeating that just driving a track through its analog gooeyness can really be all that it is needed from an 1176 and the WA76 can provide that just as good as its older brethren, since it too is equipped with Cinemag input and output transformers that tastily impart their classic iron fisted strength into the signal. While tracking guitar both performed exceptionally while taming the dynamic range of some metal riffs that jumped in and out with the distortion in an Opeth like montage of spastic jazzy blackened weirdness (hey if you are gonna test something, test it!) Neither seemed to effect the guitar more than the other with both just adding that glue that makes those on and off distortion parts blend so well. So all in all like many of the other 1176’s the WA76 is no one trick pony, which makes it perfect for the pro/home/project studio but is also a perfectly reasonable option for even the multimillion dollar facility. Yes it is that good.
IV. The wheels on the…
As far as the stereo buss, it’s probably one of the few things I wouldn’t use set of WA76’s for, especially since I have other compressors that were designed for just that and they seem to be doing their job quite well. If not there’s always a large variety of stereo buss compressors to pick from these days (albeit they are usually a little more expensive) or one can just build their own like I had. That all said; throwing a pair of WA76’s on the stereo buss could definitely have a distinct and excellent effect on a song (as long as it doesn’t screw up the stereo image) and I would never dismiss the idea completely. If I ever get another I will be sure to try it.
V. On a desert island with fish net tights
Like the highly respected compressor it is cloned after the WA76 has character, and time has proven that our ears and minds like the effect it has on tracks and therefore like the character it imparts. The mojo it makes. I am pretty sure that if I had to pick one compressor out of my rack that is going to be with me for the next decade the WA76 would be the winner but there would be more than a few sitting in a very close second place. This is also not something I say easily.
The WA76 is also a sexy looking compressor (I am a sucker for black and silver) and I applaud Bryce for not making the thing entirely orange like the WA12 and TB12 as that would have been just a tad too much and I am sure it was probably a little tempting. All the knobs and buttons feel completely solid, and the meter responds very accurately which is something I really appreciate since I can be a visual-aid kind of guy sometimes, especially when I have headphones on and my attention is on the instrument I am recording. The interlocking buttons on either side of the VU work flawlessly with one side for ratio settings and the other set of buttons for the meter. The power button being in the rear doesn’t bother me and neither does the power transformer wall wart (I have a 2U shelf in one of my racks that holds my various wall warts in one spot). It’s not a heavy piece of gear but it has certainly got some weight to it and feels sturdy. It’s enclosure is nicely built and the balanced in and out jacks in the back feel solid like it could put up with the abuse of plugging and unplugging cords for a pretty long time.
So as I am sure you can tell by now I am very happy with my investment and I am sure it will pay for itself if it hasn’t already *edit: it has. It is a great all around compressor that is useful on almost everything (just not all the time) and like the WA12 can hang with the far more expensive gear. The richness in tone that the two units produce together is really something awesome yet distinctly its own thing. Warm is definitely the right word. Bryce I imagine heard this as well and realized it was necessary for him to share this match with the rest of the pro/home studio owning community. I have yet to try the WA76 with the WA12’s older (more mature) brother the Tonebeast (or TB-12) but I am sure it would be a match made in heaven and I am currently putting some change away to pick up a TB-12; since I like the WA12 and the WA76 so very very much.