Joe

About Joe

Joseph Colmenero is an Emmy nominated recording engineer based out of Brooklyn, NY.

Warm Audio WA76 review and sound samples

To say I’m a fan of the classic 1176 limiter would be an understatement. It’s my desert island studio compressor, my go to squash box. I’ve even built two for my home setup.   When I heard I could get a clone for $599.00, my curiosity was peaked since It cost me more to make one. So, the Warm Audio WA76 had to get an audition.

UA Apollo in PT Mode for Hardware Inserts

UA Apollo in PT Mode for Hardware Inserts

Build:

The WA76 replicates the familiar look of the originals. The chassis is all black with the exception of the orange Warm Audio coffee mug logo and the model and setting printings. Layout is the same, with the two big knobs, two small knobs, two chunky switch assemblies, and single lamp lit VU meter.

The biggest change with the WA76 is the power supply, which is a “lump in the line” external power supply; a cost saving idea for the design and preferable to a wall wart that has the transformer on the plug.  The rear has the DC in for the power supply, In and Out XLR and TRS connectors, and a switch for a 23dB pad for when you are running a pre really hot in front of it. Controls and meter in front are all laid out just the same a any other 1176. The input and output knobs have step detents, which will make it easy for recalls. The Attack and Release have a center detent. Ratio buttons work just like the, meaning, you have the option of 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1 ratios to choose from with the expected ability for All Buttons In (British Mode), no ratio (1:1 for just driving the transformers) and any combination of 2 or 3 ratios. Meter switch assembly is the same as well: GR, +8, +4, and OFF.

Sound:

They have decided to model the WA76 after the Urei 1176LN revision D. The rev. D is regarded as the most favorable of the 1176 revisions. It’s just in the place of after including a lower noise and distortion circuitry and just before changing the output amplifier to a class AB (push pull) amplifier. This means it has just the right balance low noise and saturation; clean but not too clean.

Urei used the UTC O-12 input transformer; you can find these used for upwards of $200. Warm has found a solution in the Cinemag CM-2511 microphone input transformer. It’s not a replication of the UTC but is widely used for many clones. The specs are similar with the SM-2511 having a more modern bandwidth. The output transformer is also Cinemag. Everything else is the same discrete circuit with a class A output so it would be expected to be a ballpark replication of the sound of the originals.

I wouldn’t want to do a 1:1 comparison of the limiter with originals, clones, and replicas because they are all so wildly different on what they say is the 1176 “sound”; a problem that has risen from years of tinkering and refurbishing and just plain differences of opinion. I do know what to look for when using a FET limiter and that is near brick wall control of a signal. 1176 just has that added mojo because of its saturation from the 1108 pre amp and the distortion shimmer from the FETs. It will put vocals on your forehead, turn guitars into drills, and set drums on fire.

I’ve included some clips with broad idea of the settings. The most unique choice was “no ratio” setting for the kick drum for added mids. The kick was recorded with a D112 inside and about a fists distance from the beater.  A towel was thrown inside as well to dampen the sound. As a result, you get a very good attack but not much body or tone. Driving the input of the WA76 did nicely to resolve that. Another find was combining 8:1 and 4:1 for a program depending sounding behavior for a very slow guitar strum.

Impression:

Every studio should have a FET limiter and the Warm Audio WA76 is among the best choices with a price that set to make it a no-brainer acquisition.

Specs:

  • True to the Classic 1176 compressor in design and performance
  • Completely discrete signal path
  • Modeled after the D revision
  • Utilizes USA made CINEMAG input and output transformers
  • Supports the famous “all buttons in” ratio setting
  • Ultra fast attack time
  • Class A line level output amplifier
  • Input impedance – 600 ohms, bridges-T control (floating)
  • Frequency Response ± 1 dB 20 Hz to 20kHz
  • XLR and TRS inputs.  XLR and TRS outputs
  • 55db of gain
  • Less than 0.4% total harmonic distortion from 50 Hz to 20 kHz with limiting
  • Signal to noise ratio is greater than 74 dB at +25 dBm
  • EIN -104.1 dbm
  • Attack time, 20 microseconds to 800 microseconds
  • Release time, 50 milliseconds to 1 second
  • Meter provides dB gain reduction and dB output
  • Internal power supply, external 24v AC power transformer
  • 19″ Rackmount chassis, 2U
  • 1-year warranty

New Gear: Novation Bass Station II

bass-station-ii-blog-header

The guys at Novation were kind enough to send their new Bass Station II. The Bass Station II is a revival of their classic from 1993 but with modern technology; “better, faster, stronger”. Its a digitally controlled pure analog signal path with 2 main oscillators, a sub oscillator, noise generator, arpeggiator, 2 LFOs, 2 Filter types, flexible routing, and 128 slots for savable patches. First impression, taking it home, was the bass was huge! I have a 2.1 speaker system and this thing could move some air. The oscillators can create a strong dominating low end but is not sloppy. You can get down to very low tones without breaking up; it stays defined and focused.

bass-tweakign

Exploring the features, the Bass Station II offers more than what you would expect from a monophonic synth at its price point. So, I offered a challenge to myself and set off to make an entire track with just the Bass Station II’s synthesis. Though it is more voiced to create bass sounds, I discovered within it drums, leads, cymbals, swells, SFX, pads, bells, and of course solid bass. Not once did I have to use the included power supply. The USB connection worked doubly-duty on bus-power and MIDI I/O. For the main stabbing sound i wanted to stack several different patches in order to make a super tight and collect a solitary element. I opened a MIDI channel to record the line, quantize, and send it back into the Bass Station II. This freed my hands to audition sounds and perform a Low-Pass filter swell to lead into the main rhythm.

live9screenshot

Using the Bass Station II’s MIDI I/O to stack different patches

The internal clock built in is extremely stable and accurate. The arpeggiator and synced LFOs stayed in time with no drift. Novation has successfully contributed to affordable analog synthesis with the smart additions of USB-power and MIDI, advanced arpeggiator, powerful routing, the ability to make and store and trade presets, and most importantly a sound that can compete. Included in this article we have provided a link to download the Ableton Live 9 session that was used for this demo.

SBS Designs S1

The hardest thing about having NS-10M Studios, aside from an exhausting listening experience, is picking the right power amp.  I had a chance to demo an SBS Designs S1 for a few weeks and found it interesting how big of a difference a power amplifier can make on your speakers.

SBS Designs operates out of New Jersey and was founded by Craig Bernabeu in 2001. They do HiFi installations and have their own amps, isolators, and a unique tube processor. Their line of amplification includes the Series M mono block amplifiers and the Series S stereo amplifiers. For the last few years SBS Designs Series S have been making replacing the power for studio main monitors like Augspurgers. The S1, as recommended by SBS, is for tweeters, compression drivers, and bookshelf type speakers.  Performance specs are 65 watts per channel @ 8 ohms, Class AB output with a 10 Hz-100 kHz frequency response. I decided to give this one a try over the 125watt S2 and the 275watt S3 because my current amp is a Bryston 2B.

SBS Designs S1 on Desk

The front of the panel has to steel hands (presumably to protect the power switch or to help carry in out of racks), a nice big power switch, and 3 pairs of LEDs to indicate output level: Ready, Active, Max Out(clipping). The rear is surprisingly clean and simple: a really big heat sink, two XLR line inputs, knob-less gain pots, recessed banana connectors for speaker out, AC input, and a reset button for the thermal/current sensing circuit breaker. The circuit breaker is a good idea since, to have amp be suited for a recording studio environment, it is without a cooling fan or a built limiter.

SBS Designs S1 Rear

Getting it out of the box and racked was easy enough. The unit itself weighs just a bit over 15lbs and the handles on the front help keep it steady while I screwed it in. Turned it on and started listening to music. The highs on the NS-10s opened up quite a bit and the bump on the 2kHz crossover smoothed out. With earlier NS-10s this would probably prompt a user to do the tissue trick but since my pair are the studio version its not a problem. I turned on a few go to tracks that I am most familiar with and noticed things like distortions, reverbs, and noise that I hadn’t noticed before. The response from mid to high revealed detail that I was previously missing. This would probably be due the 10 Hz-100 kHz frequency response and 100v/us slew rate giving it greater definition and transients. The lows were much tighter than the Bryston. The NS10M Studios, being a closed-cabinet, need high wattage and damping to get more out of the lows. Engineers will go with an amp that is 100watts or more per channel to get the lows to come out more and make sure the signal is above distortion. An SBS Designs S2, which is 125watts per channel @8ohms, would better drive the low end. Hooking the S1 up to a less stubborn speaker like the ProAc Studio 100s or Alesis Monitor1 MKII that have a ported design will give a complete sound from low to high. For my personal use the S1 worked just fine since I listen to the NS-10s at a strictly whisper quiet level and with these high end amps you don’t have to worry as much about low level distortion burning your voice coils.

At the end of the three weeks of using the SBS Designs S1 I came to listen more to my NS-10s. Mixes were translating and I could work long hours without fatigue. The S1 gave me more detail and a comfortable listening experience than my current amp, which by comparison sounded like it had holes in the upper-mids and sluggish overall. I would recommend an S2 for NS-10 users to get the detail on top and the wattage for the low end.

Moog Sub Phatty Demonstration with Nolan DeCoster


Moog was generous to loan us a prototype Sub Phatty for a week. Right away we had to turn it on and see what it could do. A knob-per-function layout was quick to reveal a robust LFO section, 2 versatile and rich oscillators, a sub-octave square-wave oscillator, a noise generator, and a Multidrive overdrive circuit.

Just to satisfy my nerd-curiosity, I broke out the ole’ oscilloscope to see the sweeping and evolving harmonics in action. A simple sine wave will quickly reveal the added 2nd and 3rd harmonics as you add more and more of the Multidrive to the signal. It beautifully turns saws into razor blades.

Nolan, being that his desk is not too far away from mine, couldn’t stay away from it. We were left with only one option; to make a full track using only the Moog Sub Phatty and document the results. So, off to the empty warehouse space in 20 degree weather to spend 3 hours creating. Equipment used was a Zoom H4n, Ableton Live, KRK Rokit 5, Canon 60D and, of course, The Moog Sub Phatty.

As an added bonus for anyone reading this blog we have included a link to download the Ableton Live session. Enjoy!

 

-Joe

Kooley High Rooftop Performance

Hailing from the dogwood heavy hills of North Carolina, super-group Kooley High arrived on the scene in early 2007. Two sturdy producers (Foolery and The Sinopsis), three intelligent and witty emcees (Tab-One, Rapsody and Charlie Smarts) and one keenly crowd-aware DJ (Ill Digitz), the group’s collaborative works have resulted in numerous features with Kid Daytona, Skyzoo, King Mez, Homeboy Sandman, Phonte and others.

Before hitting the stage later that night Ill Digitz, Foolery, Tab-One and Charlie Smarts dropped by for pizza, soda and rooftop antics.

Notes About the Recording:

The performance was recorded with Logic onto a USB external hard drive using a Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2. For monitoring we had a QSC K10. Microphones were Electro-Voice N/D 767s. Files were transferred to Pro Tools and mixed.

The Electro-Voice N/D 767 is the mic of choice for live hip-hop vocal since they are designed to handle vocalists who tend to “cup” their microphone. Electro-Voice VOB (vocally optimized bass) technology reduces proximity effect and muddiness associated with close proximity capturing. The result is an incredible clarity, balance and level before feedback.

DJ Ill Digitz’ setup comprises of an Apple Macbook running Serato Scratch Live, a Rane TTM-57SL, and a Technics 1200. This is all he needs to make it to multiple gigs in one night with a fast setup and tear down time. He also has some impressive skills as a scratch DJ.

Warm Audio WA12

Joseph Colmenero

ProAudioStar.com

06/12/12

Warm Audio WA12

There are so many ubiquitous terms in the audio industry: bright, brittle, beefy, fat, punchy.  For those who like to make a discussion more frustrating, you can say brown, purple or green. Perhaps the king of audio adjective is “warm” – saying something is “warm” can mean a broad spectrum of audio qualities. Is it with less high end, lower added harmonic, slow slew, head bump, tape, tube, transformer, saturation…the list goes on. But overall, the dominant meaning of “warm” when referring to do audio is how much it reminds you of vintage analog. That sound you can’t seem to get with your IC preamp and your icy DAW environment. Naturally, naming your audio company Warm Audio will bring with it a certain level of expectation.

Warm Audio currently makes one product: the WA12 Discrete Mic Pre. The design is based on the classic API 312 mic amp module. Many companies like BAE and OSA have made clones for 500 series racks and can cost around a grand. WA12 is at a very reasonable $449 US. What’s more impressive is the guts of this thing are top notch. It’s completely discrete with dual custom wound USA made Cinemag transformers and a 1731 style opamp (the ones used in the original 312). Even though it follows the 312 schematic, it’s important to note that the WA12 is certainly it’s own thing.

Ok so what do we have here? Open the box to a half-rack sized chassis with a blood orange colored face. From left to right, the front layout is a ¼” input, switches that read HI-Z, +48V, PAD, POL (polarity), TONE, a gain knob that goes from 29-65 and a POWER button. Each button has a corresponding red LED as a helpful reminder that the switch is depressed. On the rear: a combo jack for microphone input, two balanced outputs (one XLR and the other TRS) and the 24V AC external power supply input (included).

It was interesting to find out that you can power the unit with the Golden Age Projects PS-AC4 power supply. This way you can have one power supply for several WA12s or GAP PRE73s. You can also use this so you can use different country’s outlets.

In use:

When I took the WA12 home I had a few voiceover jobs lined up. We had a few scripts to go through with the male talent, with each requiring a different character voices. I plugged in my AKG C414 ULS, and right away I noticed that this pre has loads of gain. Voiceovers require a quiet mic pre that can boost up the level of conversation volume performances.  A few clicks of the great feeling gain knob to about 9 o’ clock and I was in a good place. The sound was very solid, the low end was tight and low mids around 200-300hz were especially sweet and not boxy.

I played with the tone button a few times (when something is labeled “TONE” how could you resist?). It’s not a feature on any other 312 clones so I was intrigued. Seemed to boost the gain a few db, give the audio a beefier low mid and smooth out the esses in the voice.  Taking a look at the manual showed me that the “TONE” button changes the impedance from 600 ohms to 150 ohms. This is really cool! You can get up to +71db of gain for ribbon mics and you can play with loading to get another flavor of tone and saturation.

Next, I tried out the direct in with a bass guitar with EMG active pickups. Hitting the HI-Z button turns off the back combo input and sends the front instrument jack into the entire preamp circuit, transformers and all. I like to play my instruments wide open and I kind of wanted to be able to bring the gain down even lower. I had to put in the pad and bring the gain all the way down. Maybe an output control would be nice so as to experiment with driving the sound. The sound was very solid and detailed. It handled each note with balance and I was impressed with how much it made me notice the sonic texture of my fingers on the strings. With the TONE engaged the sound gets much more sub lows, and I could really feel the difference from my subwoofer. This would be perfect for synths.

Pros:

  • Loads of gain with low noise (perfect for ribbon mics)
  • Tone switch gives a whole new flavor
  • Great value for what it costs
  • Delivers on it’s name sake
  • Power compatible with the Golden Age Projects PS-AC4
  • TONE!!!

Cons:

  • No band pass filter
  • Couldn’t seem to attenuate enough for active instruments
  • I find wall warts annoying

The Warm Audio WA12 is a really great value for $449. This is a great take on the API 312 design. You get an all-discrete vintage sounding mic pre with custom U.S. made transformers. It’s quiet with loads of gain and has that sweet “TONE” switch. I would suggest following the WA12 with something like a compressor so you can find that sweet spot in the gain without clipping your recording input.

LANGEVIN DUAL VOCAL COMBO

Joseph Colmenero

ProAudioStar.com

03/09/12

Since the late 80’s Manley Labs has been manufacturing some of the best tube equipment for studio and HiFi.  Around 1992 they wanted to put some of their best designs into solid-state gear. In order to keep the Manley Labs brand associated with mastering quality vacuum tube gear they acquired a 1940s company called Langevin (LAN-jeh-vin). J. Langevin and James Lansing created the Langevin Manufacturing Corporation after working at Western Electric. Their designs are still highly sought after today.

Manley’s own original designs and some remnants of J. Langevin and James Lansing’s have been incorporated into Manley’s line of solid-state audio equipment. Manufactured in Chino, California includes the Dual Mono Mic Preamp with EQ, All-Discrete Pultec EQP-1A, Stereo ELOP Limiter and the DVC; which is a combination of the dual pre with the ELOP.

The Langevin Dual Vocal Combo is a dual channel strip that occupies 2U rack space. It has a thick brushed-aluminum face with a French raspberry color. The unit’s features are a minimalist’s toolbox starting with two transformer-coupled Class A Preamps with 50db of gain for the microphone input about 40 for the instrument input controlled with a knob labeled “Input Attenuate”. A unique feature is how the phantom is engaged with a locking switch that needs to be pulled out; a very simple and much appreciated forethought toward microphone safety. The EQ section gives you +/-10db of Low and High shelving with selectable frequency centers at 40Hz or 80Hz and .8kHz and 12kHz bypass-able with EQ IN/EQ OUT switch. The limiter section can work in dual mono or stereo link; selectable with a singular switch between the VUs. Just three controls: Reduction, Gain and Bypass. The VU meters can be switched independently to Meter Output or Gain Reduction. Each side’s layout is mirrored except the EQ; which confused me a few time at first.

The connections on the back of the unit are XLR for Mic in Balanced Line out, TRS 1/4” for limiter in, preamp out and unbalanced line out, AC and a set of grounding terminals for chassis earth ground. The preamp out gives you a tap right after the EQ.

First I recorded a Taylor acoustic mic’d with an X/Y stereo pair of AKG 451s. The preamp didn’t offer enough gain and I had to use the limiters gain to give me an extra boost. The pre was soft in the highs but strong in the mids. Limiter was too much to use for a finger picked acoustic but when I switched over to recording electric guitar direct it made for a fun and funky squash.

Day 2, I used the DVC to record drum room and grand piano. The drum kit was a 4-piece maple Yamaha studio and for room I used a pair of U87. The preamp provided plenty of gain the EQ rolled off the high very smoothly around 8kHz. Drum rooms ran through the limiter exactly imitated what I would usually do with a pair of LA-4s. Compared to the LA-4s the sound still had a bit of edge but with a much wider bandwidth and less distortion. The stereo linking on the limiter worked perfectly for the room pair. Later in the day I put it on our Yamaha C5 using the same U87s. The sound was surprising upfront and focused. I didn’t use the limiter since it wasn’t necessary.

Bass guitar direct was possibly the best instrument match for this unit. The preamp was clean and the EQ retained the tone of the instrument while the limiter held on to the dynamics even when switching between free-stroke, picking and slap playing styles. I wasn’t thinking much about the unit when tracking bass, which for me is a good sign.

Lastly with a Vocalist, I recorded a very throaty roots reggae singer. He has a very bursting vocal style. The microphone was an ADK A 51 TC with the mic pre gain at about noon and around 2db boost @ 12kHz. Limiter was showing me around 3-5db of gain reduction on the VU. I typically use a Urei LA-3A. The limiter on the DVC worked really well to capture his blasts of dynamics. The overall sound was solid and I was very happy with the smooth EQ and the lightning fast limiter.

Pros:

Transformer-coupled preamp, vintage passive style EQ. Limiter is the same as the more expensive Manley ELOP just without the tube output stage. Great on Bass and Vocals

Cons:

No HPF. Pres may not offer enough gain for quieter mic sources.

The verdict; from what you get with the limiter alone the Langiven DVC is an incredible value. To me the ELOP alone was the key feature of this unit. The preamps have a vintage feel to them; warm overall with a solid midrange. The DVC is a solid unit for tracking vocals and direct instruments.