Review: Warm Audio WA-1B

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Review: Warm Audio WA-1B

Words by Lewis Noke-Edwards

Warm Audio WA-1B | Studio Connections Australia | RRP: Enquire for pricing

Warm Audio is popping up in more and more studios around the world. Making a name for themselves with supremely affordable audio equipment without a compromise on quality, with a focus on very true-to-source recreations of otherwise unattainable equipment. There’s a certain style of compressor that can be seen in the racks of the world’s best producers, particularly with a penchant for hi-fidelity vocals. Optical compressors can respond with heavy duty compression, doing away with the audible pumping of other compressors. This allow them to grab and control audio like no other, making them a great option for an important source in your mix.

WA-1B Review

The WA-1B is the latest offering from Warm, implementing tubes into this optical compression design. There’s a lot packed into a classic, well-laid out package, complete with Custom-Core Lundahl Transformers.

WA-1B 2

The Warm Audio WA-1B is a tube-powered, optical mono compressor. It has balanced input and output via either XLR or ¼” connectors. The back panel also includes two sidechain inputs for multiple sources, switchable between 1 and 2 on the front panel, or Off entirely.

Warm Audio WA-1B compressor

It has infinite ratio control from very soft 2:1 ratio up to a crushing 10:1, all the while offering a uniquely forgiving compression; it can really take hold of a source without being overly audible. The Attack and Release controls can be toggled between Fixed, Fixed/Manual or Manual, Attack and Release both being controllable independently moving clockwise from Fast to Slow. The warmly-lit VU meter can either display Input, Compression or Output depending on your preference. Finally, the VU meter can be calibrated with a handy knob on the front of the unit.

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Warm Audio WA-1B tubes

Inside, the WA-1B has selected tubes from heavyweights JJ (12AU7) and Tung-Sol (12AX7), with custom-core Lundahl Transformers at the input and output stages. This offers vintage warmth, weight and feel to an otherwise precise, modern feeling and sounding compressor. The WA-1B ties all of this together in a classically styled 2U unit. All of this is hand-tested and inspected in Warm Audio’s headquarters in Austin, Texas.

Naturally, I decided to dime the WA-1B to really put it through its paces. Everything became more balanced, the needle diving like it was going out of fashion. No mud was brought up, no harshness, just the best of whatever signal I sent through it, the WA-1B balancing everything out and holding it firmly in place.

Signals with slower transients like vocals or bass guitar feel refined and forward, retaining every good quality of the original source, but pushing it towards the front of the mix and holding it there. Faster transient signals like drums force the WA-1B to start to show its mettle a little. The quick attack of a drumstick on a snare poking through before the threshold kicks in and the compression begins to take hold; still with a really pleasing result.

Drum rooms or a drum bus can result in a little more audible compression, but it pumps in a musical way, especially when blended in parallel. Fast attack settings can tame this a bit – but why would you? The room pumping between hits makes the drummer’s performance rain down like thunder, the amplified room ambience giving the performance mettle.

The subtle compression that the WA-1B provides can be an invaluable tool for producers and engineers like myself who frequently record vocalists. First and foremost, it can act as a dynamic control mechanism, ensuring that vocal performances remain consistent throughout a recording. It gently reigns in the peaks and valleys of the singer’s dynamics, resulting in a more polished and even vocal track. This level of control is especially important for achieving a balanced mix, where the vocal sits comfortably with other elements/tracks.

WA-1B sound

Furthermore, subtle compression can help bring out nuances in the vocal performance. It accentuates delicate inflections, adding depth and dimension to the recording. This is crucial for capturing the subtleties and emotions in a vocalist’s delivery, which often make the difference between a good and an outstanding performance. I also found that the WA1B significantly aided in managing sibilance and plosives, creating a smoother and more pleasant listening experience – even for completely raw vocal takes. It mitigated harsh sounds and disruptive bursts of air; an invaluable time saver for those of us with limited time in the studio looking to streamline the process of vocal tracking. The WA1B’s subtle compression also maintains the natural dynamics of a vocal performance; preserving its authenticity and emotional impact. There’s a delicate touch that keeps a vocalist’s expressiveness intact while simultaneously softening the blow of unwanted frequencies.

All in all, the WA-1B is an excellent offering from Warm Audio, a company dedicated to providing more access to world-class circuitry that makes the records we know and love sound the way they do. Subtle compression while recording often leads to more refined takes, and another layer of this in mixing can result in a professional, polished sound. The WA-1B allows you to control your audio with stellar results, as even the most extreme settings result in a uniquely musical, usable sound. Optical compression coupled with tubes is a classic vintage design, but the WA-1B’s precise layout of controls allow you to really shape and refine how the circuit compresses. It also allows you to customise what you’re monitoring to make sure the gain is optimal. Heck, even ‘improper’ settings sound great, finding myself wanting a rackful of these comps to go as hard or soft as I want on a bunch of sources in my mix.

For local enquiries, visit Studio Connections Australia.