The Half-Rack 312-esque Preamp that started Warm Audio's stellar analog reign. A MUST HAVE!
I'm one of those guys who reads reviews. Magazine Review, Forum Reviews, you name it. A few years, ago I started hearing a small amount of buzz about a small company called Warm Audio. Having just bought my API3124, I brushed off the claims of the WA12's great tone. I'd spent some serious cash on the API unit, and I didn't want to believe that similar tone could be had for less. Though I do appreciate gear reviews, the reviews on Sweetwater and sites like it don't have any particular shortage of people trying to convince themselves and others that their cash has been well spent. Now, certainly, there ARE many helpful reviews, written by people who know what they're talking about. I like to believe as a career audio engineer/producer, I'd fall into the latter catagory. Further, as it pertains to the WA12, I own both, the WARM AUDIO unit and it's inspiration the API3124 (in the form of the 3124, 4 channel preamp). I hope my perspective adds some knowledge as what you can expect from the WA12.
I don't know if "Clone" is the right word for what Warm Audio has brought to market here. It's an overused word anyway. The API does one thing, one sound, and does it pretty darn well. It's a sound that's great on nearly everything, and quite recognizable to boot. The simplicity of the 312 adds to the reasons I like it. Plug in, set volume, "go to town".
The WA12 is good for these reasons, but also has much to like aside from these factors. I can distinguish them apart by tone, they each have their very own distinct "flavor", BUT they have the same "type" (for lack of a better word) of sound. They're similar. But distinguishable. That said, they're both GREAT sounding, without one sounding "better" (once again for lack of a better word) than the other.
People often don't believe me when I say it (until I work with them on a tracking date) but I tend to plug into my WA12's more often than the API 3124's. Why? Preference.
When I'm "getting sounds" (finding mic placement, gain, signal chain, choosing instrument settings/variable, tuning drums, Eq'ing amps, etc)
Regardless of the source, I find the WA12 more useful, because with its "TONE" switch, it's more like two preamps in one. For my purposes, it gets more mileage based on that fact. The tone switch makes the tone fatter, warmer, and perhaps a bit louder. It sounds like what you'd expect the original 312 to sound like when cranked and padded. So, it's easier to get the more colorful and harmonically rich, "pushed" sound out of the WA12 using more reasonable gain/volume levels. Yes, both have PAD switches, but the "Tone" switch makes that lovely "pushed" API sound without blasting your converters into the stratosphere, causing clipping and undesirable transient murder. I'd say the transients stay more intelligible when using the tone switch for more warmth/oomph as opposed to cranking the original API and using an inline pad (I used to do this often before I bought my WA12's.
Other features keep it on par with preamps well above its price range: Cinemag Tramsformers, High Quality Components, Truely Discrete Signal Paths, etc. The WA12 includes a wall wart power supply, akin to those used in the Golden Age Pre73, and many other half rack single channel pres. The weight savings from foregoing a traditional built in power supply are noticeable, but the build quality of the WA12 is still very solid. The gain pot has a positive feel with detented increments, though it's not an actual stepped pot, I prefer it this way. The stepped pots/switches on my Golden Age Pre 73's come loose frequently, and one or two solder points have come unsoldered at one point. No such misfortune here.
The quality of the WA12 opened my eyes to their fantastic products. I now on multiple WA12's, WA76's TB12's and have pre-ordered their next offering. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to spoil the surprise here, but let's just say another Warm Audio take on an analog outboard classic is on its way to stores In the very near future. I've never been more excited about a single piece of gear in my entire career.
Their products are quality, the customer support is second to none and is handled 100% by their founder/owner, Bryce Young, who it turns out is a heck of a nice guy to boot. No customer service email I've sent to them (I've sent 3) has ever taken any longer than 2 hours to receive an initial reply and he often resolved the issue then and there.
Don't buy a WA12: Buy Two.