June's Mic of the Month: Lauten Audio LA-320
I'll never forget the first time I purchased a microphone with a hard case-the sound of the latches flipping up and the case de-pressurizing may as well have been a chorus of angels proclaiming to the world what I felt I already knew: I've made it. It wasn't simply about owning a piece of equipment whose cost merited a hard case, it was that my ears had evolved to the point that I could hear the sonic qualities of a tube mic and the impact it could have on my recordings.
My time spent with Lauten Audio's new LA-320 left me in a state of wistful reminiscence--if only this had existed when I bought my first tube mic! The LA-320 instantly set itself aside from the similarly priced tube microphone I had bought years prior in that inside the Lauten is a full-size dual-triode 12AX7B tube. This was important to me because the 'tube' microphone I had been sold by an associate at a certain big box music store cost me $100 more and was really only a tube microphone in designation. Sure, it had a tube, but it was a micro pentode tube, which hardly has any perceivable harmonic effect. I felt cheated out of what I was assured would be a classic tube sound. Where is that microphone now? Performing its only useful job: adding height to a computer monitor stand.
Lauten Audio waited a long time to enter the budget friendly microphone business because they wanted to make sure their products still met their standards of excellence, and as an enthusiastic Clarion owner, I'm thrilled with the result. The low-mids on guitar and vocals exhibited that characteristic tube warmth without sounding clouded and muddy, while the highs began to roll off around 15k without my source losing life and luster. My mix came out clean and flush with character. This is the budget friendly tube microphone I had once ached for.
The LA-320 is designed with the home studio in mind: a balanced output transformer provides a higher output level, thus calling for less reliance on noisy consumer-grade microphone preamps. While a low frequency rolloff is fairly common practice nowadays, the engineers at Lauten Audio have also elected to include a high frequency rolloff to help compensate for that typical 'square bedroom' brightness that we all love to hate.
Any manufacturer considering a run of low cost tube microphones should take note. Lauten has shown us that affordability doesn't exist in a vacuum (pun intended) separate from quality. This is where professional recording begins.