I'm not sure exactly when it was that vintage became cool, or maybe it has always been cool and I'm just late to the party, but as soon as it did, people started to copy it. In the fashion world stressed jeans started to appear. These are just a brand new pair that has been battered and teased to look like old warn in jeans for the sake of style. In our world of music and all things high tech the goal is that vintage sound or tone but without the vintage headaches of poor reliability and instability and often massive investment.
At the NAMM show back in 2016, I was lucky enough to get to sit down and interview Al Schmitt and Steve Genewick while on the Mix With The Masters booth. One of the final questions I asked Al was "What advice would you now give to the you starting out all those years ago"? Al's answer was simple, "Collect microphones", as back then in the 60's what we now call the desirable vintage Neumann and Telefunkens were new and selling for $300 - $400. Fast forward to 2018 and if you can find, one even in reasonable condition you are going to be looking in the region of $12,000 and if you want a pair (notice I say pair not matched pair) prices just skyrocket.
This is where Warm Audio and the new WA-47 Tube/Valve Condenser microphone enters the conversation. Other than their first products the Tone Beast mic pres, Warm Audio have based their product range on bringing out new versions of older, classic desirable gear that is priced so that us mear studio mortals can afford it. This is not to say that they have merely copied word for word so to speak old designs and had their product built in China for a fraction of the cost of UA or EU production, far from it. The team at Warm are, I believe trying to update classic gear, make it reliable, repeatable and somehow after all that make it affordable to you and me.
Warm Audio WA-47
Recently Warm Audio has moved into the recreation of classic studio microphones and there are none more revered than the U-47. Other than the styling which is classic 47 there are five main aspects of the new WA-47 which help it to sound like a $10,000 vintage model.
The driving force behind any mic is the capsule. The WA-47 features a custom made reproduction of the vintage k47 style capsule that was used in the original 47 microphone, which has been designed with the same pick-up pattern and frequency response. The Warm Audio version of the k47 is manufactured by an Australian capsule manufacturer who's precision and repeatability allows them to achieve the vintage sonics of what is clearly one of the most important parts of any microphone.
Tube Or Valve
A Slovak Republic JJ 5751 vacuum tube or valve as us Brits like to call them is a lower gain, low noise valve that forces much of the sonics of the capsule and transformer to be heard more significantly than some higher gain tubes may allow. Warm say they auditioned 4 different valve brands but fell for the JJ 5751. The frequency response of the JJ 5751 and the way it contributes to the circuit is tonally smooth and vintage in nature. Just the thing you want in a vintage sounding mic.
The WA-47 uses an American made TAB-Funkenwerk (AMI) transformer made in the USA with large core laminations imported from Germany. This transformer helps provide the silky smooth top end, and the full bottom end that anyone who had used a 47 mic has come to expect.
The WA-47 uses a polystyrene coupling capacitor for an uncompressed top-end response from the capsule. The rest of the components are Wima film capacitors as well as an imported Solen French capacitor on the output, driving the output transformer.
One component of a tube microphone that is often overlooked is the cable that connects the microphone to its power supply. When auditioning the WA-47 and other tube microphones Warm say they learned quite a bit about 7 pin cables and how the shielding and wire gauge size can drastically change the sonics of a tube microphone. The cable supplied with the WA-47 is made by Gotham Audio in Switzerland. Using this cable increases top end presence and the overall size of the recorded image in the stereo field by reducing phase shift which can be an issue in poorly built cables. Gotham Audio cables are expensive and boutique by their very nature so it's addition to the overall package should not be overrated.
The WA-47 In Action
I have been working on a simple acoustic song for the past couple of days and wanted to try the WA-47 for this project. So what you hear in these examples have been recorded with the WA-47 straight into my Audient console with no EQ or Compression. The only processing you hear is a little reverb from Exponential Audio R4 set to a vocal plate and large hall for the percussion. You are hearing the instrument, voice and tone of the microphone and that is it.
As you can see from the image below the Acoustic Guitar was recorded just above the sound hole pointing slightly down about 12 inches away from the body of the instrument.
Below are the audio files for each of the elements in the track so you can hear exactly how recordings sound using the Warm Audio WA-47. I have also included a final mix.
So the question you are all asking is, "Does it sound like a "real" German 47 mic"? And the honest answer is, "I don't know". Not the answer you wanted is it? Let me 'double-click' on that last statement a little more. Firstly I have never recorded using a real U47. I have heard plenty of recordings done with them but I'm quite sure these will all have been processed in some way.
Second, how do any of us know what a real 47 sounds like? Back in the 60s when the originals were in production, component tolerances were sometimes +/- 20% at best, which meant, even if you were to find two old mics with consecutive serial numbers, which is a common way today we define mics as "matched pairs", the chances that those two mics would have sounded the same the day they come off the production line would be at best slim, and that they sounded the same today, well, I think you have more chance of winning the lottery. Which you would have to do to be able to be able to afford a matched pair of U47 mics.
The question should really be, "Is this a great sounding valve (yes valve) mic"? And I am very pleased to say the answer is yes and I would like to think the recordings back this up. When used on acoustic guitar the recording sounds open and bright but not thin on top and the bass end if full but not boomy.
The vocal sound is natural with again a sweet top end that allows definition in the lyrics yet the body of the voice is rich in harmonics.
Instruments with a strong attack like percussion sound great and the valve helps to ease the hard edge of the sound and gives even shakers an even tone.
The WA-47 becomes an even better option when you find out that the MSRP is only $899 USD. Making the WA-47 a serious contender in the already crowded field of fixed polar pattern valve/tube condenser mics. If you are shopping for a new mic for vocals and instrument work, you should check out the Warm Audio WA-47 at your local dealer. I think you will be very glad you did.
You can find out more about the Warm Audio WA-47 and their other hardware products on their website.