Review: Warm Audio WA-87 R2
The second take on a studio classic, this sleek new design packs the internal specifications to cope with all manner of tasks. Let’s get it warmed up
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Offering astonishing sound per pound, Warm Audio’s first ’87-style FET condenser mic, the WA-87, raised eyebrows upon its launch in 2016. It was of course designed as a giant-killer copy of the legendary Neumann U 87, arguably the most recognisable large-diaphragm condenser microphone of all time. This revision of the WA-87 aims to bring the copy even closer to the classic model in terms of performance. However, Warm Audio has altered the appearance to give it a new sleeker profile and a unique look. It’s a brave move. Time will tell if this helps or hinders the mic’s appeal, especially with those who demand vintage authenticity.
Altering the familiar dimensions of the ’87 solely for aesthetic gains or as a nod to modernity could be viewed as foolish if it didn’t improve performance. But Warm Audio claims that it actually brings the R2 closer to the cherished Neumann sound, so the new look should only deter those who favour style over substance.
Speaking of style, the microphone comes with its own modish wooden storage case to help keep it free from dust and moisture, as well as to protect the casework when the mic is not in use.
Our review sample features the classic nickel colour finish, though the new microphone is also available in black. You also get both a shockmount and hardmount, and a flight case is available as an optional extra.
Like the original WA-87 (and the U 87), the R2 features three polar patterns – cardioid, omni and figure-eight – as well as a switchable 80Hz high-pass filter and a switchable -10dB pad. The capsule remains the same as used in the original WA-87, as it’s a faithful replica of the historic Neumann design; the WA-87-B-50-V is a reproduction of the original dual-backplate K87 capsule.
Improvements have been made to the custom-wound CineMag output transformer, with slightly increased output level and superior frequency response compared to the earlier model. New high-bandwidth polystyrene and film capacitors from Wima and Nichicon are employed, as well as a NOS (New Old Stock) Fairchild transistor.
Now encased in a nickel-plated brass body larger and stronger than before makes this mic heavier than its predecessor, while the new rounded head-basket creates more space around the capsule for what Warm Audio says offers “a more pleasing sonic signature”. As per the classic design, the ’87 employs a gold-sputtered membrane, while the R2 boasts NOS Mylar, a polyethylene film that’s incredibly light and responsive.
Although the WA-87 R2 is considerably less expensive than both vintage and brand-new Neumann U 87s, the present microphone is clearly a quality product. Anyone unfamiliar with a genuine Neumann would be hard-pressed to tell which was the more costly microphone; the build quality is first-class in both cases.
Looks like we got a shoot-out
Neumann’s U 87 appeared in 1967 as a successor to the visually almost identical U 67. This was the period when solid-state technology was beginning to replace ancient thermionic devices as tiny transistors took over from comparatively large valves. Launched in 1960, the tube-based U 67 was in itself a replacement for the legendary U 47. Original ’67s are now highly prized.
The WA-87 R2 has an illustrious Neumann history to compete with, then, so it’s useful to have an almost 60-year-old U 67 on hand to perform some side-by-side comparisons. With both microphones fully warmed up and acclimatised to room temperature – important, as even solid-state microphones work better when not pressed into service straight from a cold cupboard – we begin with a simple spoken-word test.
Familiar voices are an excellent indicator of a microphone’s character, especially in terms of tonal balance and accuracy. Our first impressions are positive, as the R2 is obviously voiced to sound natural, with no artificial brightness. With the cardioid polar pattern selected, a super-smooth midrange comes to the fore in classic ’87 style. Working close to the mic accentuates some low-mid warmth – a product of the proximity effect – that will be flattering to most voices, highlighting a chesty quality reminiscent of broadcast studio tone.
Placing the R2 in front of an acoustic guitar, the 80Hz filter is engaged to discourage bottom-end boom while a pass is recorded. This process is then repeated with our U 67 in exactly the same position, again with a high-pass filter in use. The difference in tonal characteristics couldn’t be more obvious. While the classic U 67 has a rather dark tone, the R2 is noticeably brighter but not in an over-hyped way. In many ways, the WA-87 R2 is much better suited to this particular instrument, sounding more richly detailed and dynamically nimble. This is an impressive result, as the more open sound of the R2 is preferable to all who hear it.
Two further passes are recorded with omni-directional and then figure-eight polar patterns selected. The omni pattern produces a similar tone to the cardioid pattern, albeit with added studio ambience, but switching to the figure-eight pattern seemingly boosts the treble response. This has the effect of making the attack of the plectrum plucking the strings crisper, though it comes at the expense of naturalness.
Of course, we are not always after a natural tone and the brighter character of the figure-eight pattern will be flattering to drums, for example. With this in mind, we place the WA-87 R2 a few inches above a snare drum to compare the cardioid and figure-eight responses, with the figure-eight pattern proving preferable.
The more naturally textured and even-handed response of the cardioid polar pattern makes the WA-87 R2 ideal for creative EQ treatment, as there are no unwanted resonances that plague some budget mics. Boosting 16kHz from an EQP-1A sounds supremely sweet and sparkling, adding air to voices and a lovely zing to acoustic guitar.
High SPLs will not trouble the mic, so using it close to electric guitar amplifiers or kick drums won’t damage it, while its bottom-end weight makes it ideal for mic’ing bass cabinets; engaging the -10dB pad is advisable on extremely loud sources to prevent overloading the internal electronics.
Warm Audio’s R2 version of the acclaimed WA-87 is sure to be a popular choice for home producers and professional studios alike. It’s a wonderful all-round workhorse that captures source sounds accurately and cleanly, while its low-noise performance is another strong selling point.
The revised look is bound to divide opinion but the classic sound characteristics will impress all but the most clone-centric types. We find the WA-87 R2 an extremely attractive microphone. Its unique style should be applauded.
Anyone looking for a top-class large-diaphragm condenser microphone should put the R2 on their audition list, especially if you want a smooth and detailed midrange more than the artificial excitement of brighter models.
Do I really need this?
Revisionist history is quite the thing these days. Some long-established companies offer authentic versions of established classics while others attempt to clone those units. Recently we’ve noticed several historic designs reimagined for modern times, with useful features not found on original units. While the WA-87 R2 doesn’t offer anything in the way of extra onboard user-control, the revised shape is designed to help achieve a more convincing U 87 sonic signature.
Midrange clarity allied to a firm and extended low-end response has always been the defining character of U87s of all vintages and the R2 nails it. It’s neither obviously bright nor overly warm, instead offering a remarkably flat response with bags of filigree detail throughout the broad midrange. An impeccable all-rounder, the WA-87 R2 is perfect for vocals yet it’s equally at home recording delicate strings or beefy bass instruments.
- Custom CineMag USA output transformer
- NOS Fairchild transistor
- WA-87-B-50V capsule
- Nickel-plated brass body
- Cardioid, omni and figure-eight polar patterns
- -10dB pad and 80Hz high-pass filter
- Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
The legendary U 47 is given a Warm Audio makeover with both valve and FET-based options. We loved them enough – the tube-based model especially – to hand them a coveted MT Excellence award.
Neumann continues to produce the U 87, which even at this price is still less expensive than some vintage used examples. If authenticity and pride of ownership are high on your priority list, this is the one to save up for.