Review: Warwick LWA 1000 Head & WCA Cabs

October 1, 2014

WARWICK IS KNOWN FOR ITS BIG SELECTION OF sinuously shaped exotic basses, each representing a unique alternative to the more prevalent Fender-style formula. The company was an early adopter of exotic woods and active electronics, and has developed a singular approach to bass building, whether in its state-of-the-art German production facility or in Chinese factories. Warwick has long made a full range of amps, but its reputation was more instrument-oriented until the release of the Hellborg Signature Series, which made a big splash with its 2007 debut. In addition to the ultra-high-end components and slick design, the Hellborg Series introduced the bass world to the engineering mind of Swedish virtuoso Jonas Hellborg. Since then, Hellborg has been an integral member of Warwick’s engineering team. As he puts it, “Amp design is an intuitive process for me. I design gear that I’d be happy to take on a gig.”

Given Hellborg’s personal investment in his designs, the LWA 1000 and its accompanying lightweight cabs gain an immediate dose of credibility. Warwick has been a late entrant into the ultralight Class D/switchmode power supply (SMPS) game, and after talking to Hellborg, it’s clear why. “I think the technology is just beginning to mature now. The first few generations of Class D/SMPS modules were designed for program (broad-spectrum or PA) material—a source that’s dynamically even relative to the big amplitude swings of bass. The latest designs have better dynamic response and more stout power supplies.” The LWA 1000, then, is the lightweight amp that Hellborg had always imagined: powerful, packed with useful features, and losing little to much heavier Class AB alternatives.

SVELTE & SEXY

The inevitable initial impression of an amp is purely aesthetic. Its look informs our expectations of its sound, fair or not. With the LWA 1000, that look is sleek and sophisticated. The LWA would be as at home on the shelves of an audiophile stereo shop as it is perched atop a bass cab. The burnished wood side panels, high-end knobs and switches, and clear front-panel text combine to convey a favorable no-nonsense impression. The LWA looks like a serious piece of kit.

The chassis size and footprint are also nonstandard, which is fine considering this head will never live in a rack. Kudos to Warwick for making such efficient and elegant use of the available front-panel space. This feat is particularly impressive when one considers the two-channel design, which necessitates that each parameter, from gain to the master volume, appear in duplicate. Warwick decided to go with a two-channel preamp from the feedback it got from the many pros who helped Hellborg refine the head through the development phase. Whether a bass player doubles on bass guitar and upright, bass and synth, plays two basses on a gig, or simply wants two distinct sounds with a single bass, there’s no denying the utility of a two-channel design. As a frequent doubler on bass and synth myself, I can attest to the practical usefulness of the design, which allowed me to do away with my slightly tone-sucking A/B box and also allowed for one source to continue playing while I switched to another (like when I had a pad or arpeggiation going on a synth and wanted to play bass on top).

I rarely use much of my amps’ onboard EQ, preferring instead to vary my technique or use a bass’s tone control for big shifts from bright to dark. Nevertheless, some stages demand a little frequency nip here, a tuck there. Elaborate EQ circuits that include parametric filters and complex one-knob contours are great when used appropriately, but more often than not, I observe players actually doing more harm than good with all that knob twisting. That’s why I dug the LWA’s thoughtful but minimal EQ design. It delivered exactly as expected, with well voiced shelving bass and treble filters and broad-Q midrange peaking filters. A built-in compressor (one for each channel) offers further control over tone, and the JFET-based circuit is handy and transparent, increasing the compression ratio and make-up gain as the knob is turned clockwise. Further plaudits are due Warwick for including two mute switches with indicator lights and a clever footswitch that goes between the bass and the amp but allows for channel switching if a trs cable is used between the switch and the head. All in all, the LWA’s construction and design are thoughtful and rugged, exuding quality and reflecting the real-world experience that Hellborg brings to the table as an engineer and designer.

The LWA is not overstuffed with features, but it’s also not lacking for any of the important things that matter on gigs. In addition to the aforementioned front-panel goodies, out back there’s an effect loop and DI output with PRE/POST and GROUND LIFT switches. Since it utilizes an SMPS, the LWA is able to contend with mains voltages from around the globe. The LWA’s power supply is of special note, as Hellborg sees it as one of the key contributors to the LWA’s success. His design is fully regulated, ensuring there’s a consistent reserve of power on tap to contend with high-amplitude transients. Hellborg perceives that the advances in regulated SMPS represent one of the big facets of the technology’s maturation.

SLICK & SOPHISTICATED

I played the LWA on many gigs, from little casuals to a few big stages. I also used it with a variety of cabinets, from the LW-series cabinets on review to an Epifani 1x12 and 4x10, as well as a Bergantino HT 322 2x10 + 1x12. I also used a large array of instruments, including a Fodera NYC 5-string and Fender P- and J-Basses, and synths including a DSI Mopho x4, Roland JX8P, Moog Slim Phatty, and a Korg MS-20 mini. I list all this out because (a) I know a lot of you, like me, love to geek on gear and (b) because it’s a good example of just how broadly useful the LWA is.

In practice the LWA provided exactly what was needed for all the above settings and basses. That it did this while weighing as much as the average gig bag is remarkable, especially considering that I played a good deal of synth through the amp. Synthesizers, especially when being used for bass lines, are capable of consistently intense output that exceeds the bass guitar for strength and low-frequency content. If any source exposes the upper reaches of an amp’s operating parameters, it’s a synth. That said, the LWA never felt weak or out-of-breath. If anything, some of the test cabinets were less pleased with my big booty-ful keybass parts than the amp.

The LWA is loud and precise, with lightning-quick transient response, a simple-but-effective EQ, and tons of preamp headroom. It’s an especially transparent amp; those looking for added fur, color, and texture should probably include an appropriate effect in the signal chain, because this amp is all about clean power. The compressor is smooth and transparent and proved especially useful with the synth, which occasionally needed to be tamed to mix well onstage. There is little to fault about the LWA, frankly. It accomplishes all it was intended to, and it manifests this vision with visual panache and Teutonic solidity. While it may have been a long time coming, the Warwick LWA 1000 should be a major new player in the crowded lightweight-amp game.

A DAB OF CAB

Full disclosure: I was way more pumped to put the LWA 1000 through its paces than I was its accompanying lightweight cabs. I’ve tested so many cabinets over the years, and while there are clear standouts, it’s also not as dramatically stimulating an experience as plugging into a new amp design for the first time. All that said, the new pair of cabs from Warwick are well matched to the LWA 1000, especially for the sort of medium-volume gigs where the LWA is probably going to find the most use. The 4x8 is quick and throaty, with a punchy wallop. On its own, it’s not capable of huge, pillowy lows, but when mated to the 1x12, things get much thicker instantly. The highs are well controlled, though Warwick uses a 3-way switch for tweeter management instead of the more common continuously variable rheostat. Both test cabs had an 8Ω nominal impedance, with the 408 rated at 600 watts and the 112 at 300 watts of power handling. When the LWA sees a 4Ω load, it outputs 1,000 watts. In most situations, I didn’t notice that the amp seemed to exceed the cabs’ power handling, but when I really pushed the volume with propulsive, spiky B-string playing or a synth, I could begin to hear them break up. [Warwick responds: “Our 1x15 cabinet is more appropriate for loud gigs.”] Mind you, this was at volumes that far exceed the appropriate level for the average medium-size gig, but it’s something to consider.

SPECIFICATIONS

WARWICK

LWA 1000
Street
$800
Pros Excellent dual-channel flexibility; stout power supply; transparent tone
Cons None
Bottom Line A simple, effective, solidsounding tool that’s ideal for doublers.

WCA 408LW CE & 112LW CE
Street
$699 each
Pros Lightweight without neo speakers; sounds punchy and full
Cons Power handling not quite up for a cranked LWA 1000
Bottom Line A pair of punchy, lightweight cabs that mate well with the LWA, provided you don’t use it at full volume.

SPECS

LWA 1000
Power rating
500 watts into minimum 8Ω; 1,000 watts into 4Ω
Input impedance 1MΩ
Tone controls BASS: ±12dB @ 100Hz; LOW MID: ±12dB @ 800Hz; HI MID: ±12dB @ 3kHz; TREBLE: ±12dB @ 10kHz
DI output XLR with PRE/POST and GROUND LIFT switch
Power amp topology Class D
Power supply Switch-mode
Output jacks One Neutrik Speakon
Weight 6 lbs

WCA408LW CE & WCA112LW CE Cabinets
Full-range speakers 408LW, Celestion custom ceramic 8" drivers; 112LW, Celestion custom ceramic 12” driver
Tweeter Neodymium
Impedance
Power rating 408LW, 600 watts; 112LW, 400 watts
Warranty One-year

Made in China
Contact warwickbass.com

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