Some people prefer a very specific sound and they use that sound in all their music.
Others like to switch things up.
The Warm Audio TB12 is a preamp that allows for both.
It can give you that warm vintage sound or a more transparent sound, with the switch of a button.
Moreover, you can easily remove the operational amplifiers and swap them out for any other models you like. This means there is no limit to the type of tone you can get from this preamp.
So now we know it is versatile. But what else does it offer?
How is the sound quality? And what kind of tone-shaping options does it feature?
Let’s take a closer look at this great preamp and find out exactly what makes it so special.
Warm Audio Tonebeast Review: Overview And Features
The Tonebeast 12 is a one-channel preamp designed to give you complete and full control over your output. Of course, it’s not limited to just microphones.
It also features an additional instrument input with the special Hi-Z signal path that makes every instrument work well, but especially ones like electric guitars and basses. There’s actually a separate Hi-Z switch for these kinds of instruments.
The main controls also include the standard +48-volt phantom power, a -28 decibel pad, and the high pass filter. There’s also a polarity switch that comes in handy if you’re recording with more than just one microphone.
Then you have an operational amplifier switch which lets you choose between two completely different discrete op-amps. One of them is modeled after the well-known Melcor 1731, while the other one is modeled after the Jensen 918.
Not to get into too many details, but TB12 justifies the word “Warm” in company’s name “Warm Audio.” This is a fully analog piece that provides that vintage-inspired warm tone, both for microphones and instruments. If you are interested in analog stuff but also likes to have other options, then this is the ideal preamp for you.
- One-channel rack-mounted microphone and instrument preamp
- Analog circuitry
- Two switchable operational amplifiers
- Easily removable op-amps that can be changed for any other that you prefer
- Phantom power
- Pad and high-pass filter controls, plus additional tone-shaping parameters
- Up to 71 dB of gain
- LED VU meter
Let’s take a closer look at the TB12, moving from left to right. The main input control section features XLR and 1/4-inch inputs.
Next to those are six switches. The first is the Hi-Z switch that engages the 1/4-inch input on the front panel and disables both front and back XLR inputs and the additional line input on the back. Then we have the line switch that engages the line input on the back panel. Next are +48V switch, as well as -20 dB pad, polarity, and high-pass filtering that gets rid of anything below 80 Hz.
The next section is the tone control. There’s the capacitor switch that lets you choose between “vintage” and “clean” modes. The “vintage” mode uses tantalum capacitors, while the “clean” mode is for electrolytic ones. This way, you can somewhat change the “old school” tone into a more modern one.
When engaged, the tone switch removes a significant portion of impedance and adds a gain boost of +6 dB. Then the output transformer bypass switch gets rid of both the nickel and steel transformers in the circuit, ultimately giving a cleaner and more transparent tone and removing 8 dB of gain. The output transformer switch lets you choose between these two transformers, also helping you change your tone.
And finally, we have the main output volume and input gain knobs, along with the VU meter next to them.
The back side includes another set of inputs, XLR and 1/4-inch, as well as XLR and line outputs, and a pair of jacks for an effects loop. This is another interesting addition, giving you the option to add effects in the signal chain.
It’s also worth noting that you can easily swap the op-amps in the circuit without having to do any additional soldering.
When it comes to the overall sound output, the Tone Beast is a pretty versatile preamp, no matter the application. The choice between the “vintage” and “clean” modes, as well as the option to completely bypass the output transformers, are what make this piece so useful.
However, the strongest point, and something that this preamp is praised for, is the fully analog circuitry with steel and nickel transformers, as well as tantalum and electrolytic capacitors.
These provide a very wide range of different old school-styled tones, especially with the gain and volume controls that add some of that classic saturation to the output. As explained above, this preamp is supposed to replicate the tone of the Melcor 1731 and the Jensen 918 operational amplifiers.
As for direct instrument recording, there are no limitations. Both electric and acoustic instruments perform well, as well as any sort of keyboard. The cleaner and more “modern” tone variants can even make it useful for digital instruments, while the standard components of its analog circuitry are also good for analog synths when not bypassed. Overall, this is one very versatile piece.
Advantages And Disadvantages
- Great tone
- Versatile use
- Great build quality
- A variety of tone-shaping options
- Option to swap op-amps
- It’s a bit large for a one-channel preamp
Warm Audio TB12 Vs Focusrite ISA One
Although Focusrite’s ISA does belong in a slightly higher price range, we have a pretty similar vintage approach when it comes to the tone. The main difference is that TB12 is rack-mounted, while the ISA One is more of a portable channel strip turned into a preamp.
Focusrite’s model is also a single-channel device with both microphone and instrument functionalities. It includes two separate instrument inputs on the front panel, one regular and one that’s DI. On the backside, we also have an effects loop, as well as a slot for a digital card upgrade.
To put it simply, the TB12 offers more tone-shaping options, while Focusrite’s ISA One gives more connectivity functionalities. Yes, it’s technically a more advanced piece, but the TB12 has its own strengths. Both are recommended for vintage tone lovers. But in the end, it all comes to personal preferences.
Warm Audio TB12 Vs WA73
Now we have another Warm Audio preamp on our hands to check out. The product in question is their WA73 preamp, which is also a rack-mounted preamp with just one channel.
However, we have a completely different approach here, despite this also being an analog device. Yes, it’s inspired by some old preamps as well, but this time it’s more of an old “British” type of tone.
As far as the back panel goes, it’s identical in its formation. There are XLR and line inputs, the FX loop, as well as XLR and line outputs. The front panel, however, looks completely different, aside from some fundamental controls.
There are the input gain and output volume knobs, as well as the classic phantom power, polarity switch, and line switch. The big change is the more detailed version of a high-pass filter.
The WA73 has four modes for this feature, setting the limits on 50, 80, 160, and 300 Hz. It’s also worth noting that the gain control is more of a 22-position switch which sets all the necessary gain settings without additional Hi-Z and other controls.
There’s also the separate “insert” switch that lets you choose whether or not you want to include the effects loop in the signal path.
The main question here is the type of tone that you want to achieve. While the Tone Beast is definitely more versatile, the WA73 aims for those classic old British preamp and mixer vibes. As with the previous comparison, this comes down to personal preferences. These are both great professional or semi-professional tier preamps for mics and instruments.
Warm Audio TB12: Conclusion And Rating
Arguably the most striking thing about the Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast is the option to swap its op amps for anything else that you prefer. You can examine countless preamps of all brands and you won’t find this feature very often (or ever).
The two included op-amps are definitely top-notch, but the option to use something else opens up a world of possibilities. Of course, even if you decide not to change things around, this still one very versatile device, both for modern and, especially, for vintage types of tones.
Moving further, the abundance of controls and different tone-shaping possibilities are what make this preamp so special. The high-pass filter, in our opinion, is one of the main features a preamp should have, especially because some great condenser mics lack this very useful control.
If you need a great-sounding preamp with vintage vibes for your studio, no need to look further than the Tone Beast. It might be a bit too large for a single-channel device, but you should definitely not be discouraged by the size. It’s what’s inside that counts and that results in a Musicaroo rating of 4.6 out of 5.