The Warm Audio WA73-EQ is a one-channel British microphone preamp and three-band equalizer. It's a hand wired and assembled 1U rack mountable unit that offers a mix of classic design and modern functionality. At its core, it's a recreation of the iconic Neve 1073 preamp/EQ, a unit that's synonymous with the distinctive 'British sound' coveted by audio engineers around the world. The WA73-EQ supposedly provides the look, feel, and sound of a $1,800 Neve 1073 for just $799. Let's find out if it lives up to the hype.
Key Features of the Warm Audio WA73-EQ
The front panel of the WA73-EQ is home to a variety of buttons and knobs, all of which add to the unit's elegant aesthetic.
There's a mic input on the front of the unit, in addition to the back of the unit. You can connect the mic input on the back to your patch bay and reserve the front mic input for other uses. For example, you may use it to record the output of a DI box or plug in a microphone that you've rented.
There's a variety of switches that allow you to enable different features on the WA73-EQ. The unit includes a +48V (phantom power) switch to power condenser microphones. When phantom power is engaged, an LED beside the +48V button illuminates.
The Polarity switch inverts the polarity of the signal. If you're recording with more than one microphone, and additional WA73-EQs, you can toggle the Polarity switch to minimize phase cancelation. You'll end up with in-phase recordings that sound punchy and full.
The Tone button on the WA73-EQ changes the input transformer configuration from a 1:2 (step up) turns ratio to a 1:4 (step up) turns ratio. This causes the transformer to produce more color and deliver additional impact.
When the Tone button is engaged, the WA73-EQ has an input impedance of 300 ohms, and when disengaged, the input impedance changes to 1200 ohms. The user manual recommends using the 300 ohms setting (punchy, aggressive, and thick) for dynamic and ribbon mics. In contrast, you can use the 1200 ohms setting (open and natural) for dynamic and condenser microphones. Try both settings to see which option suits your recorded material the best.
The Line input switch engages the TRS line input on the back of the WA73-EQ and disables the XLR microphone inputs. If you're running a signal from your DAW into the WA73-EQ, you'll want to make sure that the Line switch is engaged. The same goes for if you're running a signal from a piece of line-level hardware, like a synthesizer, through the unit.
Engaging the Insert switch lets you insert an outboard compressor or EQ into the middle of the WA73-EQ's circuit. The device is inserted after the input transformer and initial gain stage, prior to the WA73-EQ's equalizer. For example, you can connect the Send jack on the back of the WA73-EQ to the input of Warm Audio's WA-2A Tube Optical Compressor, which is a popular vocal compressor.
Then, you need to connect the output of the WA-2A to the Return jack on the back of the WA73-EQ. These connections should be formed using unbalanced 1/4" cables. Now you'll be able to punch the WA-2A in and out of the WA73-EQ's circuit using the Insert switch.
If you own an electric guitar, or other devices that produce an instrument-level signal, you can plug them into the WA73-EQ's instrument input jack. To enable this feature, press the Instr switch on the front of the unit.
The built-in preamp provides a massive 80 dB of gain, and is controlled with a resistor-stepped gain switch. As you turn the gain knob, it firmly clicks into the next position.
It's possible to cut low-end from the signal running through the WA73-EQ using a hi-pass filter set to 50, 80, 160, or 300 Hz. A blue stepped switch controls the filter's cutoff frequency. When turned completely counterclockwise, the filter is disabled. You can use this feature to eliminate low-end rumble when recording dialog and vocals.
Within the WA73-EQ, there's an inductor based 3-band EQ. Each band is controlled by a UK-made Blore Edwards dual-concentric switch potentiometer. The outside part of the potentiometer (the ring) controls the band's center frequency, while the inside (the knob) controls the amount of gain applied.
The low band uses a low-shelf filter and allows you to boost or cut at 35, 60, 110, or 220 Hz. A bell filter is applied by the mid band, letting you boost or cut at 360, 700, 1600, 3200, 4800, or 7200 Hz. Finally, a high-shelf filter is used by the high band, which grants you the ability to boost or cut at 10, 12, or 16 kHz. If you'd prefer to bypass the EQ, simply toggle the EQ button.
The Output knob controls the level of the signal leaving the WA73-EQ. Below the Output knob there's an LED meter with values that include -20, -8, 0, +8, +20.
On the back of the unit, you have a ground lift switch that can eliminate unwanted hum and buzz. It does this by disconnecting the audio signal ground from earth or chassis ground. This feature is most useful for troubleshooting ground loop issues, helping you identify and fix the root of the problem.
The WA73-EQ has a solid build. Its thick-gauge casing, large power supply, and UK Carnhill transformers contribute to its heftiness. The transformers found in the WA73-EQ are custom reproductions of vintage '73-Style British preamp transformers. When pushed, the WA73-EQ's preamp produces sweet saturation.
To top things off, the unit uses a fully discrete balanced signal path. A discrete signal path uses separate and identifiable components, which is different than an integrated circuit, which uses a single chip that houses tiny components. The benefit of a discrete path is that it allows for more control over the design and can be tailored to create a specific sound; many audiophiles argue that this results in superior sound quality.
Common Uses and Applications of this Preamp and EQ
The WA73-EQ, with its range of features and functions, can be used in a variety of studio applications. You can use the high-gain preamp to record soft vocals captured with a Neumann TLM 103 or aggressive performances tracked with a low-output dynamic mic, like a Shure SM7B. With 80 dB of gain, you may not need to use a Cloudlifter to get a clean signal from your low-output mics. The warmth and color the preamp imparts on sounds makes mixing recordings a breeze.
The EQ section is just as flexible, allowing you to shape your sound in a variety of ways. The high and low-frequency shelves are musical and can add a nice sheen or warmth to your tracks. The midrange control can also help bring out the detail in vocals or guitars.
When mixing, you can use a pair of WA73-EQs to add some character to your drum bus or shape the tone of individual tracks. For example, you may want to use the high-frequency shelf to add some sparkle to overheads, or use the midrange band to bring out the thump in a kick drum.
Furthermore, the WA73-EQ's connectivity options extend its versatility. The balanced TRS line input can be used to warm up a live synth or an already recorded track, even with the EQ bypassed. The insert point with separate send and return jacks can be used to incorporate additional outboard gear into your signal chain, offering plenty of sound-shaping opportunities.
Assessing the Sound Quality of the WA73-EQ
The WA73-EQ has a warm and colorful British sound that compliments pop, rock, metal, and hip-hop vocals beautifully. It works wonders on DI guitar signals, making budget electric guitars punch well above their price range. When you run drums through the WA73-EQ and drive the preamp gain, the saturation results in percussion that sounds beefy and impactful. If you're looking for warm analog flavor, the WA73-EQ delivers.
Seeing as the WA73-EQ is a Neve 1073 emulation, it makes sense to use the Neve 1073 as a reference for sound quality. If you're interested to hear how the preamp in the Warm Audio WA73-EQ stands up against the Neve 1073, the following video provides a side-by-side audio comparison.
To me, the differences are quite subtle. One thing I noticed is that the upper midrange of the WA73-EQ sounds a little harsher than the Neve 1073. Additionally, the top-end of the Neve 1073 sounds slightly brighter and more open than the WA73-EQ. Despite these differences, you'll have a hard time convincing me that the $1,000 price difference is worth it.
Keep in mind that two Neve 1073s won't necessarily sound identical. The age of each unit, component tolerances, and various other factors come into play. As a result, an emulation built with different components can come close, but won't sound identical either. However, the WA73-EQ does a great job of capturing the warm British essence of a Neve 1073, which I think is most important.
The Unique Design of this Preamp and EQ: A Closer Look
The controls on the Warm Audio WA73-EQ are laid out like a Neve 1073 with some minor differences. Most notably, the order of the EQ's controls are reversed. On a Neve 1073, the controls from left to right are laid out as follows: high-shelf filter, midrange bell filter, low-shelf filter, low-cut filter. On the Warm Audio WA73-EQ, they're laid out from left to right like this: low-cut filter, low-shelf filter, midrange bell filter, high-shelf filter.
Most people are used to using EQs with low-end controls on the left and top-end controls on the right. As such, I think that Warm Audio made the right choice by reversing the order of the Neve 1073's EQ controls.
The WA73-EQ uses a Neve 1084's frequency selection options. Due to this upgrade, users can sculpt their sound with more precision than a Neve 1073. This makes the WA73-EQ a versatile tool for both recording and mixing.
One of my gripes with the design is the size of some of the text on the front faceplate. The text surrounding the preamp, low-cut filter, EQ knobs, and below the Output knob is very small. In a dimly lit studio environment, I believe many producers will need to strain their eyes to dial in the WA73-EQ's parameters.
Build Quality and Durability of the Warm Audio WA73-EQ
In general, the WA73-EQ feels like it's built with solid high-quality components. There's just the right amount of resistance when pressing buttons and turning knobs. The WA76-EQ weighs 8.9 lbs which is substantial for a piece of 1U rack-mounted gear. When holding it in your hands, the device feels well-built and sturdy.
The biggest downside of the WA73-EQ is the build quality of the knobs in the center of the potentiometers; these control the gain applied to each EQ band. They're wiggly and turn too easily for my liking. You don't get the type of resistance that you'd expect from a quality knob component. In comparison, the frequency selection ring around each EQ knob is built like Thor's hammer, emphasizing the flimsy nature of the EQ knobs.
Pros and Cons of Investing in this Preamp and EQ
With 80 dB of gain on hand, the WA76-EQ can handle a wide range of input sources. It offers the warmth and color associated with the iconic Neve 1073, along with additional Neve 1084 EQ options. You can also insert outboard gear into the signal path and leverage the power of your other hardware. Other than the knobs nested within the potentiometers, the WA73-EQ is built like a tank. The only other minor drawback is the size of the text on the front faceplate.
Value for Money: Is the WA73-EQ Worth It?
The fact that the WA73-EQ provides all of the features and vibe of a Neve 1073 for less than half the price is remarkable. To top it off, it delivers some additional functionality not found on a Neve 1073, like Neve 1084 EQ options. Looking at the market as a whole, $799 is a very affordable price to pay for a professional quality preamp of this caliber. Overall, the WA73-EQ provides incredible value.
Warm Audio WA73-EQ: Final Verdict
The WA73-EQ is well-suited for serious home studio enthusiasts and professional audio engineers working in commercial studios. It's a magnificent piece of hardware, but I wouldn't recommend it to brand new music producers.
New producers should allocate their budget to purchasing a pair of headphones, an audio interface, studio monitors, a MIDI keyboard, and acoustic treatment for the most notable production gains. Afterward, they can start looking to purchase specialized gear like a WA73-EQ.
In comparison to the sonically-neutral preamps found in most audio interfaces, home studio enthusiasts will love the flavor that the WA73-EQ brings to the table. It delivers a rich sound that you'll want to start applying to every vocal and guitar that you record. The built-in EQ and option to insert a compressor give you the ability to capture recordings that sound controlled and polished the moment they appear in your DAW; this cuts down on the amount of mixing you need to perform.
Professional audio engineers can purchase multiple WA73-EQs to multi-mic drum kits and tackle other comprehensive recording tasks. Since each unit costs $700, it's not unreasonable to load an entire rack with these preamp/EQ combos. Sure, it's a significant investment but it's much cheaper than loading a rack with Neve 1073s. There's also a 2-channel version called the Warm Audio WA273-EQ that's perfect for processing stereo recordings.
The Warm Audio WA73-EQ is as a must-have mic preamp and EQ, especially if you record a lot of vocals, guitars, and drums. Despite its flimsy EQ gain knobs, its otherwise robust construction, rich sound, and budget-friendly price make it a worthwhile investment. Whether you're a home studio enthusiast or professional audio engineer, you'll love the sound and user experience that the Warm Audio WA73-EQ provides.