After "warming up" with various other classic mics – the WA-14 [Tape Op #122] and WA-87 [#119] – Warm Audio brings out their take on that most iconic of microphones, the Neumann U 47. Warm is known for taking well-known audio designs and making them easier, and less expensive, to manufacture without losing the essence of the original. Few of us can afford a mic that costs $15,000 and, if you must have a Neumann then you must buy a Neumann to scratch that itch. But if you want a tube mic within the same family of sonics, you have many other choices, including the new Warm WA-47 mics.
Warm brought out both a tube and FET version of the WA-47 at the same time. The transformerless WA-47jr comes with all the accoutrements of their more expensive mics, including a screw-in style suspension mount and an easy-to-maneuver hard mount. The mic itself has a 70 Hz high pass filter, -10 dB pad, and choice of cardioid, omni, and figure-8 patterns. The tube model has more patterns, but no filter or pad. They share the same 47-style capsule, so it doesn't have any hint of the peaky, bright sound we get from some cheaper large condenser diaphragm mics. The "proper" tube WA-47 is a large mic; it's huge and heavy. Thankfully it comes with a heavy-duty suspension mount, with dual, snap-in metal bands. One thing the manual doesn't mention is the proper set up of the mic and suspension mount. Users new to the big mic game may have a hard time figuring out the clasps and metal bands correctly. You don't want to break your mic and your talent's toes at the same time. The TAB Funkenwerk transformer, JJ tube, and WIMA film capacitors show where the money goes – and it sounds phenomenal, despite the low cost.
The first job for the WA-47 (tube not FET) was for a personal project – my spoken voice over music, which was louder music than typical VO projects. With my own voice I don't want it overly bright, though my voice needs to cut through the music. I also don't want to emasculate the performance by chopping out all the bottom end, even though many of the same frequencies naturally step on the music. The WA-47 beat out my favorite VO combo so far – a transformerless Microtech Gefell M930 [Tape Op #45] through the very "transformered" RND Portico II Channel [Tape Op #82]; full, yet clear, with an extended range that doesn't suppress the music's low end. But there was something about the WA-47's performance that said, "This sounds like what I expect a recording to sound like." My theory is that it isn't so much about the frequency chart as much as it's how the mic responds as it starts to saturate at certain frequencies. A little saturation brings up the highs a bit and adds a certain presence to the lower midrange. Warm writes about trying out various tubes, and their ears seem to have got it right.
I used both mics to record a small band, sans drums, featuring guitar, bass, trombone, and a singer. At first I had the WA-47 on the guitar amp and the WA-47jr on a bass amp. Later, I switched the mics, which was instructive. The WA-47jr was great on the bass – better than the tube for the first song. It was a tighter, more focused tone. Both mics worked fine on the guitar amp, although the tube was smoother, if not as smooth as my usual ribbon mic. I found an oomph factor during the singer's overdubs. The WA-47 (like all 47-style mics) is great on most vocals, and she wasn't an exception. The tone matched her voice like a glove. But when she opened up her volume, the WA-47 bloomed. It was all from the mic, since I was going straight into a clean, yet not sterile, interface pre. When she let loose the mic went right up to the doorstep of tube distortion, yet not over the threshold. An amazing offering of smooth saturation; gravy on top of mashed potatoes. I couldn't ask for a better capture. We added trombone and it nestled comfortably into the song. Smooth and big, yet subtle; even when lowered in volume underneath the singer's verses. You could hear the trombone, but it didn't step on the vocals or anything else. The WA-47jr FET version is a tubeless version. I didn't expect it to bloom on louder sounds, and it didn't. Though it wasn't as smooth as the WA-47, it exuded many of the same sonics.
This is a damned good mic, but how does it sound in comparison to a real U 47? I didn't have a "real" U 47 to test against, but The Kitchen Studios (Dallas, TX) has a pair of Pearlman TM-47s. In their tuned rooms, we used both models on male vocal, bass, guitar, and drum overhead. The Pearlman is a superb mic, and had a more defined low- and high-mid emphasis than the Warm, which had a higher pitched low-mid bump. The Warm held its own, though we could hear more detail in the Pearlman, especially on drum overhead. A Pearlman T-47 is three times the price of a Warm WA-47, but for many of us spending almost $1000 on a mic is already busting the budget. Even if you have all the money in the world, the WA-47 is a great mic. The finished songs from our test recordings were outstanding. While you may think that piling on the tracks of a "character" mic might prove too much of a good thing, it isn't. If you don't drive the mic you get a polite signal that is well balanced and defined, even if it has that 47 low- and high-mid emphasis.
The WA-47 is simply fantastic. For $300, the WA-47jr is a really great mic, and a detailed change from dynamics or ribbons, yet not shrill. Many modern interfaces can deliver all the sonics necessary for a squeaky-clean capture, so much so that the real question becomes how to add back some excitement to a perfect signal. Software is great, but Warm can provide that natural analog saturation going in; tones that we associate with big-budget hardware but at realistic prices. The WA-47 can add a little excitement (or a lot!) to your recordings from the point of capture, and your bank account won't regret it.