A warm new take on an old friend
By Alex Hawley
Warm Audio released the WA-87 in 2016 as the company’s first venture into the world of microphones. It quickly earned a reputation for its sound and affordability. Building on its knowledge and success in the years following, Warm Audio has revamped the original design with the recently released WA-87 R2, which introduces a range of component upgrades, physical modifications, and an improved output transformer, all while managing to maintain its affordable price point.
A Bit of Background
It may not come as a shock to learn that the WA-87 is inspired by the iconic Neumann U 87, a studio staple that’s been in production since 1967. It’s one of the world’s most recognized studio workhorse mics, known and loved for sounding suitable on nearly any source.
The Neumann U 87 was designed as a solid state version of the U 67, replacing its tube amplifier with a FET/transformer design. The original U 87 (produced through 1985) used a K87 capsule or a slightly modified version of the U 67 capsule (K67, also known as K870). The K87 capsule’s dual backplates were electrically insulated from each other and therefore connected to the amp circuit via four wires instead of three. Outside of this, the K87 and K67 are said to be acoustically identical.
The Neumann U 87 Ai revision came out in 1986 and is still in production today. It added a DC-DC converter to produce a 60v power supply for the capsule, which enabled the swap back to the original U 67 capsule. This resulted in an improved S/N ratio, more dynamic range, and a hotter output. While the revision was not intended to alter the microphone’s character, many believe that it did rather significantly. Vintage U 87 mics in good working condition have also become harder to come by, and that scarcity is reflected with a steep price tag that puts it well out of reach for most working musicians and engineers.
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The WA-87 R2 is inspired by the vintage 1967-1985 era U 87, not the Ai version currently in production. It’s a large diaphragm FET condenser microphone with a transformer-coupled output. The nickel-plated brass body features three switches: polarity (cardioid, figure-eight, and omni), a -10dB pad, and an 80Hz highpass filter. While the design is easily identifiable, the body itself is a bit more substantial than that of a U 87, and with a flashier finish. Singers will surely be impressed, but it can also be a bit more cumbersome to work with due to its size. It ships with a wooden box case, shock mount, and mic clip.
The WA-87 R2 introduces a range of component modifications from Warm Audio’s first design, including a NOS Fairchild transistor and high-bandwidth polystyrene and film capacitors from WIMA and Nichicon. The custom-wound Cinemag USA output transformer has also been upgraded (CM-13113 vs. CM-2480 in the original), which yields an increased output level and improved frequency response.
In addition to the component changes, the head basket and body have also been updated. The head basket is larger and more rounded in shape, which adds additional space around the capsule; the body is larger, heavier, and stronger (the nickel-plated brass is also new in this edition).
The capsule (WA-87-B-50V) remains unaltered. Inspired by the classic K87 design, it’s a four-wire terminated, dual-diaphragm, and dual-backplate capsule. The diaphragm is 6-micron thick with a gold-sputtered membrane and NOS mylar, sourced from a high-end supplier in Australia.
Three 87s walk into a room…
While I stand firmly in the camp of always evaluating microphones based on their own merits (not leaning too heavily on comparisons), I couldn’t resist the urge to set up the new WA-87 R2 next to its U 87 inspiration for a shootout. I have the privilege of recording with Neumann U 87 mics daily here at Coupe Studios, where we have both vintage and Ai models in our locker.
I didn’t have any prior experience with the original WA-87, so I’m approaching the R2 with fresh ears. After using it side-by-side with both U 87 Ai and vintage U 87 specimens, I was overall quite impressed with its performance. I recorded the trio of mics on voice, piano, and acoustic guitar. As expected, the U 87 Ai was the brightest of the three, with a nice airy sheen around 10 kHz. The high-frequency bump on the vintage U 87 falls slightly lower, closer to 8 kHz, and feels a bit more rounded and natural to my ears. So, where does the WA-87 R2 land in comparison to both Neumann mics? To my surprise, I think that it was the warmest of all three. I anticipated it to fall somewhere between the two microphones tonally, but I feel as though its high frequency presence was slightly less pronounced than that of the vintage U 87. Of course, vintage microphones generally have more variance from mic to mic, but this was my observation compared to both vintage Neumann models at our facility. For reference, I found that if I boosted the WA-87 R2 by about +2.5dB @ 8.5kHz, it bridged the gap quite nicely. The WA-87 also benefits from noticeably less noise.
While I found the WA-87 R2 to be slightly more rounded than the vintage U 87, I still found its overall response to sound natural and far from dark. The midrange sounds detailed (perhaps ever-so-slightly pulled back), and it has a pillowy low end. Vocals are one of my favorite sources, as it’s balanced through the sibilance range and tends to blend into a full mix effortlessly. It may not be the ideal fit for every voice, but it sure did justice on every vocalist I put it in front of.
I wouldn’t hesitate to put the WA-87 R2 in front of virtually any source—overheads, percussion, piano, you name it. The only issue I consistently ran into was the solidness of its provided shock mount. I noticed the threads of the mic’s base plate don’t begin until halfway up, making it difficult to secure more than a rotation or two around the shock mount. I never felt entirely confident that it would hold up in more demanding placements.
Overall, I would describe the WA-87 R2 character as smooth, especially when compared to other condenser mics in the same price bracket.
Warm and Cozy
Warm Audio never ceases to impress me with the quality it can provide at such affordable prices. With or without the ‘87’ reference, this is a beautifully rich and detailed large diaphragm condenser with the ability to hold its own as a studio workhorse.
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