Posted on May 03 2018
If there is one thing that we have made abundantly clear here at Soul Surplus, it is that aside from our own talents as professional musicians, we rely heavily on real analog gear to properly capture the soul sonics we are collectively known for. In our first Gear Corner write up, John covered many of the synthesizers and keyboards we use. In this article I want to highlight two pieces of outboard gear by a relatively new company called Warm Audio. Warm Audio (est. 2012) has been making a big ruckus over the last few years in the pro-audio world by recreating classic signal processors and legendary studio microphones. Not only are their clones ridiculously accurate, but they are ridiculously affordable as well! The EQP-WA, which is the company’s take on the revered Pultec EQP-1A equalizer, retails at just $699 (an original will cost you more than 5 times that). The WA76, which is Warm Audio’s remake of the UREI 1176 compressor, comes in at just $599. After extensive use of these two units on several of our products, I want to give my honest thoughts on my experience with said hardware.
There is enough to be said about the reputation that the Pultec EQP-1A holds amongst engineers. This tube-designed equalizer is known for it’s incredibly smooth sound, and even more known for its’ ability to simultaneously cut and boost frequencies. The original Pultec is a two-band equalizer with low frequency selections at 20, 30, 60, and 100 hz. The high frequency points on the Pultec are 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, and 16 khz, with the added ability to cut at 5, 10, and 20 khz. Much to our benefit, the EQP-WA has added 3 more frequency points in the low end at 200, 400, and 800 hz, and the ability to cut at 3, 4, 5, 10, and 20 khz. The only other major difference is the size of these units, with the original being a 3U and the Warm Audio replica taking up only 2U of rack space. Although I admittedly like the optics having huge outboard gear (bigger is better, right?), it is definitely beneficial to save space on the rack. Both units sport a pretty light blue finish, sure to make any client ask, “What’s that?”.
As a guitarist, it does not need to be stated that I have a bias towards any gear with tubes in it. When it comes to achieving great tone, I am accustomed to operating simple equalization tasks on my tube combo guitar amps and getting smooth and sonically pleasant results. The EQP-WA gives me the same workflow, along with the same sonic results whether I am recording guitar, vocals, bass, or line in synthesizers. The large black knobs and switches are tons of fun to operate, and it is easy to hear the results after making adjustments. Every bass and guitar stem from the Roady Pack was recorded through the EQP-WA, and having the added 800 hz frequency helped me dial in guitar tones that packed a low-midrange wallop, all without sounding too muddy. Although the Pultec is known for being a sweetening sort of EQ and not a surgical tool, I found myself at times making slight cuts at 3 khz (1 or 2 db) to remove bits of piercing high midrange that is inevitable in any guitar recording.
Recording bass through the EQP-WA is a no brainer. I find myself often selecting the 30 hz frequency, and driving the boost knob. Doing this with a plugin is almost certain to give you a clipped, distorted, and muddy mess. On the EQP-WA, you are delivered a beautifully tight, thumpy rumble that will sit with under any track, and under any kick drum. I recorded the synth bass on “Revelations” from the Roady Pack with this same setting. Recording vocals through the EQP-WA is also a treat. I track most vocalists through the Charter Oak SA538. It’s a tube condenser with a pretty flat response. On the EQP-WA, I am pretty generous on singers with a 4-5 db helping of 12 hz, and the result is a silky yet crisp vocal that is one step closer to sounding finished.
I don’t often find myself using the “Pultec” trick (cutting and boosting the same low frequency) because what is achieved from solely boosting the low end is already sweet enough. I also tend not to make too many low end cuts unless I am trying to eliminate unneeded rumble. To have my cake and eat it too, I would love for the EQP-WA to feature a high-pass filter to enable me to simultaneously boost 200 hz to a vocal (to add body) while eliminating any noise under 150 hz. This, however, is not true to the original Pultec design so it is clear why it is not a feature. This equalizer shines when driven to its limits, and it’s pretty hard to get a bad sound out of this machine. I would surely recommend this to any producer looking to add a versatile, and vintage style EQ to their arsenal.
If you have never used an 1176, the Warm Audio WA76 is a great way to venture into the world of analog FET compression. Coated in the same black finish as the legendary compressor it is modeled after, the WA76 is a recreation of the Revision D version of the UREI 1776. This compressor is a staple in nearly every recording studio across the world because of its lightning fast attack and release times. These ultra-speed parameters make the 1176 perfect for smashing any source, adding a beautiful, colorful layer of distortion to whatever it is crushing. Just like the original 1176, you can engage “all buttons in” mode on the WA76, which sets the compressor at a really high ratio, allowing you to completely destroy your signal (in a sonically pleasant way). Aside from attack and release, there are input, output, and four ratio settings (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1) on the unit. The WA76 does not add or take away from the original 1176 design, so you can expect the unit to behave just like its predecessor. As with the EQP-WA, I often use the WA76 on guitar, vocals, and bass.
Running guitars through the WA76 is truly a pleasure. We guitarists are used to very colored compressors like the MXR Dynacomp (which I use all over the first Smythe Guitar Pack), so an 1176-style compressor is no new territory. The WA76 is incredible for controlling volume peaks to prevent the signal from clipping your converters, while preserving, and even adding depth to your tone. I also record a lot of pop guitars, so needless to say this is my go-to compressor for getting a clean, even, and punchy sound. The secret to great pop tone is avoiding sterility, and embracing color, and even a touch of saturation. This is an arena in which the WA76 is unrivaled (in price range, and amongst expensive, and more celebrated compressors).
The WA76 is not always the most brilliant option for recording bass, but it shines as a limiter right before hitting your converters. It will allow you to dig in and attack your strings without going into the red. However, the most useful feature the WA76 can offer a bass signal is the above-mentioned “all buttons in” mode. Simply press all of the ration buttons in, and dime your attack and release knob to the fastest setting. The distortion that results from the overworking of the compressor is so musical, you would think you’re hearing the bass out of an Ampeg B15! This is yet another example where digital just cannot compete with analog. Every 1176 plugin can simulate the “all buttons in” mode. But at $599 (just a few hundred more than high-profile plugin designers charge for the digital emulation), it’s an easy decision to run your signal through the real deal. I used this setting on every composition from the Black Pack. It gave each arrangement the grungy foundation that was needed.
I have used the Universal Audio 1176LN to record vocals, as well as the WA76. There are some differences in the way each unit responds to certain settings. I find the 1176LN to be slightly faster than the WA76. This could mean that the 1176LN is able to do a slightly better job at knocking down peaks, however I find that I prefer the feel of the WA76 for applying heavier amounts of compression. It has a way of pushing every nuance of a vocal out to the front. The original 1176 is known for its “Dr. Pepper” setting (10 o’clock attack, 2 o’clock release, and a 4:1 ratio) for vocal tracks. Let me be the one to tell you that it works like a dream on the WA-6! This setting has become default for me, and I usually end up working the input knob to determine how much compression I want to apply.
The WA76 should be on every producers wish list. While FET compression is not optimal for every single application, it can get the job done in any situation with the right settings. The EQP-WA and WA76 have created tandem in my studio that has allowed me to explore many different sounds and textures in my productions. Warm Audio has proven that they do not simply make clones. These are tools that stay true to the analog design and sound they were originally intended for.
Be sure to check out our other posts from the Gear Corner as we go in depth on the equipment we use on the daily!
- John Smythe