The Tone Beast is the flagship tone shaping discrete pre-amp model of Warm Audio. To me its orange color implies that it would be a guitar effect unit but it’s actually a pre-amp with benefits. The front does have a pre-amp section with a mic and a 1/4″ input. Including phantom power, hi-z, pad, phase and hpf (@80Hz) options. The Tone control section has a discrete amp selector, impedance switch, transistor bypass switch and a transistor selector. The output section has pots for gain and saturation. The backside has balanced TRS and 1/4″ ins/outs as well as receive/send 1/4″ ins/out to use it as an insert effect.
More than just a mic pre-amp
As a mic amp it sounds rather clean in neutral mode. When adding more gain and saturation the sound gets saturated of course. For vocals it can help sweeten up the mid frequencies and lift out the mix a little. I don’t have a guitar so I didn’t try the hi-z input. I did try out some guitar samples though and the unit gave the guitar sound a bit more body and presence, just like you can do with a voice. The gain stage is 71dB and I noticed that near the maximum gain stage the noise gets noticeable.
I’ve tried to find out the differences between the op-amps and transformators, but to be honest, the differences are quite subtle and it really depends on the audio source which sounds better. And that is of course the whole point. Being able to choose the coloring of your choice.
The most time I’ve spend using it as an insert effect hooked up to my DAW. Since the pre-amp is discrete it can be really interesting to color plugins. First try was a kick drum from your basic digital kit and the coloring was indeed working. Even more impressive was the fact that the dynamics of the kick didn’t suffer. There aren’t any plugins that I know of that can do this the way Tone Beast can. Even when you increase the saturation and get a more distorted sound the dynamics were kept. Interesting stuff if you’re into hardcore and hardstyle. And I can imagine that if you want to get a very crispy snare this unit can be of assistance into giving it more body without losing dynamic content.
Next was an experiment with a very digital sounding softsynth, NI Absynth. Overdrive may be nice when you are into industrial type of music but in more subtle mode it actually can help sweetening those nasty digital artifacts. This is a well known trick and I, myself, have been using low voltage tube mic-pres for ages for this special purpose. Tone Beast to me outperforms this quite significantly. I do wonder though how they stack up against high voltage tube pre-amps. Even when they are in the different price range.
My last experiment was to use the Tone Beast as a gain stage for a Fairchild compressor plugin from Universal Audio. This is a reasonable emulation of a Fairchild compressor. But it’s not the real hardware. However, with the Tone Beast you just can color the audio a bit more to make the emulation sound more convincing like it would be hardware because you are partly using discrete hardware.
Although I got nice results with coloring in the digital realm I don’t think it is the holy grail for those who are working ITB. But it surely can help you get that extra bit of leverage coloring sound to give the track some more depth. That also means you probably would need a second unit and enough ins/outs available to hook it up. As to hooking up there is no hassle since it has all the connections it should have.
The point of products like these are that you don’t miss them if you never used them. But you might miss them if you have used them. If you dig the coloring, it does that just right.
The blue led is rather bright. At the backside the power connector for the adapter doesn’t have a clip to attach the cord to keep it from getting pulled out.
This versatile unit that is reasonably priced and goes from subtle to not so subtle. Some setups will benefit from dual channels, so I hope they are working on a stereo version.