What exactly is the WA-2A? It’s a leveling amplifier, a sort of simplified compressor. The controls are shockingly uncomplicated. Most compressors give us individual control over the five major parameters of compression. Not the WA-2A, you get two knobs, output and reduction.
It is an optical compressor. What this means is that the WA-2A is not great at grabbing very fast transients, which, while it needs to be accounted for, helps preserve the sound and feel of material. Furthermore, the nature of the release, and it’s sort of “program dependent” responsiveness, work together to create a sort of compression which comes out rather sounding rather natural.
The result of the devices simplistic controls and optical circuit is that it is very easy to use. Compress until satisfied, and set the output levels as suits your gain structure.
If you’re after a heavily driven tube-sound, I recommend looking elsewhere. My old ART PRO VLA II is easy to drive to heavy distortion. The WA-2A on the other hand keeps it clean, even when driven hard. While wooly distortion can have its place, more transparent compression is eminently more useful in most every situation.
Using the units in standalone mode, or for stereo compression, it’s been hard to go wrong. For serial compression on the other hand, I’ve had a much easier time finding unpleasant settings. Concerning its use as a limiter, I’ve nothing to say, as I have no use for limiting, and no experience to draw upon.
All in all, it’s a great leveling amplifier. It’s simple. It can be driven hard without distorting. And the way it compresses, it levels the dynamic range beautifully, yet you’ll find that the overall shape of the dynamics is maintained. I think these all come together to make it an excellent piece of gear.
Is it better than the original, the reissue, or the other clones? I couldn’t say. However it may do in that regard, I believe it stands on its own merits. If you’re looking for a simple, but beautiful way to control your dynamics, it’s great. However… it’s no replacement for a general compressor. It’s too slow to grab fast transients. Furthermore, there will be times when you want full control, to really shape your dynamics. But if you want a simple way to tame your dynamics, the WA-2A does a great job.