Lauten Audio LA-320 Large Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone
By Phil O'Keefe |
Lauten Audio LA-320 Large-Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone
Are you ready for your first tube condenser microphone?
by Phil O'Keefe
What You Need To Know
- The LA-320 is manufactured in China using some OEM parts. While it's based on some aspects of classic German designs, it's not a re-branded mic or a clone of anything else, but rather a new and original design that incorporates tricks Lauten Audio learned while working on their Atlantis and Eden models.
- The diaphragm is a center-terminated 1" true condenser type with a fixed cardioid polar pattern; the electronics use a dual-triode vacuum tube circuit and transformer-balanced output. The construction uses high-grade parts, including polypropylene capacitors and a 12AX7B tube.
- Two switches mount just below the grille: a highpass filter that rolls off the bottom below 120 Hz (a bit higher than you'll find on some other microphones), and a lowpass filter - a fairly rare option - at 12 kHz. Both filters use a gradual 6 dB/octave curve.
- Lauten Audio rates the frequency response as 20 Hz - 20 kHz, although as with many large-diaphragm condensers, the extreme high and low ends have a far from flat response. The following graph shows the overall response, as well as the effect of the high and low pass filters.
- The package includes an external power supply and 5-pin mic cable, along with an IEC power cable. The power supply measures approximately 3-7/16" W x 1-7/8" H x 6-1/2" L, with the 5-pin mic and XLR output jacks mounted on one end and a power on / off switch and voltage selection switch for international use mounted on the other end.
- Accessories include a nice "camera style case" as well as a shock mount (with European stand adapter insert, so it works with both American and Euro mic stands).
- There's a 1 year limited warranty on the microphone and power supply, and a 90 day warranty on the tube, case, shock mount and other accessories.
- It's cardioid-only, which doubtless keeps the cost down, and to be fair, is probably better suited to the neophyte recordists this microphone is targeted at than a more complex multi-pattern mic. Still, a multi-pattern version of this mic would probably go over very well in the project studio and pro recording worlds.
- There's no pad, but with a maximum SPL rating of 130 dB, you probably won't need one.
I think Lauten Audio may be selling themselves a bit short here. Looking at their marketing material for the LA-320 and based on the price, it's obvious they're targeting the LA-320 towards home recordists, project studios, and those who are new to recording, but this is a better microphone than that might lead you to believe. Plenty of pros will no doubt embrace the LA-320 as a versatile and affordable "utility" cardioid tube condenser microphone.
This is a fine-sounding tube mic. The noise levels are not unreasonable by tube mic standards, and the LA-320 is quite versatile overall. It works respectably well on practically anything that would sound best with a tube condenser mic. Vocals will probably be what most owners will use it for most of the time, and given a suitable vocalist, it's a solid performer. Proximity effect results in a healthy amount of bass boost when working in close to this mic, which you can tame with the high pass filter. There's a minor dip at around 3 kHz that helps with sibilance but can mask enunciation detail a bit with some singers. It's certainly nothing you can't address with a touch of EQ, and this mic takes EQ well.
There's definitely a sense of presence in the upper mids, giving the LA-320 a crisp and articulate sound. The highs are not ridiculously hyped but there is a touch of airiness courtesy of about 3 dB of lift centered in the 10 kHz region; the highs drop off pretty quickly above 15 kHz. Compare that to the effect of engaging the Low Pass Filter switch, which causes the highs to start dropping off above 12 kHz. The difference is noticeable, and it does offer another sonic option that most microphones do not include. I can see it being useful for helping to tame the brightness of some sound sources in some situations (such as taking the extra "zing" out of a too-fresh set of acoustic guitar strings), but in many cases the types of "room" problems it is intended to address could be solved by draping some moving blankets around your sound source and microphones. Regardless, it's an uncommon feature that does have its uses, and its inclusion is appreciated.
As with most things in life, it's not perfect. I'd prefer if it offered a pad, and I'd love to hear a version with multiple patterns, but that would possibly make the microphone a bit too complex for the folks who are looking for their first tube mic - and increase the price, which would defeat the whole purpose of the Series Black mics. Whether this is your first mic or you're adding to an already impressive mic locker, the Lauten Audio LA-320 deserves a listen. It works well as an entry to the world of professional tube condenser microphones, but you'll also be able to continue to appreciate its talents, even as your skills develop and the overall quality of your microphone collection improves.
Lauten Audio LA-320 Large Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone ($799 MSRP, $499 "street")
Lauten Audio product web page
You can purchase the Lauten Audio LA-320 from:
Type: 1 inch dual large diaphragm pressure gradient transducer microphone.
Polar Patterns: Cardioid
Circuit: Vacuum tube with transformer balanced output
Frequency Range: 20Hz-20KHz
Dynamic Range: 120dB minimum
Impedance: < 200 ohms
Max. SPL: 0.5%THD@1000Hz: 130dB
Self-noise Level: <17dB-A
Sensitivity: 14mV/Pa (@ 1 kHz, 74dB SPL)
Special Features: Selectable, independent 120Hz low-cut & 12 kHz high-cut filters
Connector: 5-pin XLR (PSU to microphone) and 3-pin XLR (PSU to Preamp)
Power Requirement: Custom power supply (Switchable 100v to 240v compatible range)
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.