Have you ever read a review in which the writer goes into all the details of a really versatile and esoteric piece of gear, only to find yourself entirely lost? Because the Warmenfat is such a unique Swiss Army Knife-like tool, we are on the verge of writing such a review, so rather than bog everyone down, we are going to skip like a stone across the surface and hopefully create an accurate picture of just what a great little "thing" this is. To sum it up, the Warmenfat is a small, 2 watt, Class A, tube guitar amplifier that has a number of jacks that lead in and out of the circuit at different points, allowing the user to do all kinds of different things with it.
Guitar/Bass/Keyboard Amplifier: You can easily use the Warmenfat as a regular guitar amp with pre and post gain knobs. The high-gain switch chooses between triode and beam tetrode tube operation. The sound is excellent and really lets the instrument shine through, but if you slam the pre level and hit the high-gain switch, you can saturate into T. Rex-type fuzz. The tone is killer, neither Fender nor Marshall, but not foreign-sounding either. It actually sounds a bit like a Carr Mercury [Tape Op #39] in some instances. At 2 watts, it is an ideal in-home recording amp, giving the Z.Vex Nano [#34] a run for the money.
Tube DI: Using the custom transformer to balance the signal, this option lets you use the pre/post gain controls and high-gain switch to dial in all tones from clean to fuzz. We tried an unbalanced output into an API preamp, and we also tried the balanced output direct to an A/D converter (the latter was a bit hot at high-gain settings, but sounded great and freed up a preamp). The speaker output of the amp is still available in this configuration, and plugging a 1/4'' cable into the speaker output actually deactivates a circuit that makes for a grittier, brighter guitar sound. The sound was totally usable and warm - not scratchy like so many DIs with distortion. There is also a direct output before the gain controls, so you can split the signal as you can with conventional DIs and hit an amp, etc.
Tone/Distortion/Fuzz Pedal: Using any of three outputs (each with their own sound and features) in line with your guitar pedals, as part of your effects loop or before the amp, gives you pre/post/high-gain controls, and the amp can be overdriven for a fat, low-end fuzz. We drove my old RCA tube PA head with the Warmenfat, and I ended up playing T. Rex riffs for way too long. Three outputs? Yes, each with its own sound, and tone-nerds will dive into using each of them - or as we did, blending them! That old RCA head has three inputs, so I took all three outputs from the Warmenfat and had a blast blending the range of sounds. And don't forget you can send these outputs all over the place while recording, for ultimate Swiss Army Knife versatility.
Reamp/Tube Processing Tool: Generating a hi-Z signal with our Reamp V.2, we sent a prerecorded drum machine into the Warmenfat and eff'd with it. It sounded great as a normal amp coming through a 12'' Celestion speaker, but even more intriguing was going straight out of the Warmenfat straight back into a converter (using the balanced output). There was significantly less low end, and a cool sounding crunch overall that blew away every distortion plug-in I've ever tried for this trick. Anyone who's used the Thermionic Culture Vulture [Tape Op #45] will know what a joy it is to be able to get usable and great-sounding tube distortion into a signal without having to go through the seemingly endless set up of a full re-amp situation.
Microphone preamp: With the right converter cables, you can plug a dynamic microphone into the input of the Warmenfat and go straight into your converter from the balanced output, giving you the gain controls of the amp to create a mic preamp that can be run clean or overdriven hard. It's a pretty great sound - definitely not super-hi-fi - but at lower gain settings, it's really soft and warm and totally unique. Tom Waits would probably be into this for vocals. Also, if you have a source with enough signal, you can use yet another input for, say, snare drum. Both of us were thinking, "I'd totally use this on so-and-so's voice."
Subkick/sidekick microphone: Without power to the Warmenfat, a speaker connected to its speaker output will act as a microphone, sending signal to the balanced output. Many of you will have done this with a speaker on a kick drum to get a huge sub signal, but with the Warmenfat, you benefit from having a custom transformer providing the needed balanced signal. We didn't get to use it for this, but the option just puts the versatility over the top.
I can't help but wonder why any other guitar amp can't do all these things, and perhaps some of them could with some tinkering. However, it is the creator of the Warmenfat who lies at the reason for this unit's versatility, and his name is John McCormack, owner of an old-school electronics shop in Sacramento, CA <www.rainbowelectronics.net>. John's longstanding and deep knowledge of electronics got him playing around with small tube-amp designs and eventually led him to tap the circuit of the Warmenfat to allow for all these different uses.
We can't stress enough that it really does sound great in all of these applications. We work together in some well-equipped studios, and I still look at the Warmenfat and think it'd be a great tool for fuzzy tones and esoteric uses. And, if you're someone who is starting off in a home studio or just doesn't have a ton of gear yet, the Warmenfat might be the best $500 you could spend. ($500 direct; www.warmenfat.com)
-Allen Farmelo <www.farmelorecording.com> & John Garcia