Upon auditioning Series Black by Lauten Audio—a typically “higher-end” and all-original design-centric microphone manufacturer—I felt as if I might’ve discovered a new subcategory of condensers.
Though budget priced, the series provides a significant value in tonality, far from the typical “budget” microphones I have used in the past. While “no frills,” Series Black mics are thoughtfully equipped with what many modern (e.g., primarily residential) audio engineers will need; filter frequency points were chosen specifically by Lauten’s owner/designer, Brian Loudenslager, to better serve those sheetrock-rich customers.
And, though far from “fancy” or intentionally ornamental, Series Black products aren’t exactly plain, and are definitely not bland. So in truth, Lauten’s “Series Black” moniker is spot-on. Somewhat like Henry Ford’s first factory-built cars, these mics are comparably affordable, relatively well-constructed, useful to most users, free of accouterments, and, well, black.
The Series Black flagship microphone, the LA-320 cardioid vacuum tube studio condenser vocal microphone, comes complete in a hardshell case; its sound is near frequency flat with a rich, full bottom end and the striking warmth gained via a vacuum tube.
The three-model Series Black’s flagship is the LA-320 ($499 street), a cardioid vacuum tube studio condenser vocal microphone. The LA-320 features a 1-inch pressure gradient true-condenser capsule, cardioid polar pattern; dual-triode vacuum tube; transformer balanced output; independent 12 kHz high cut and 120 Hz low cut filters; custom dedicated power supply; tube microphone cable; spider shock mount; and hard case. It is an amazingly lovely package considering the price point, comparable to many tube LDC kits nearly twice the price, and not a single audio peer I introduced to the LA-320 kit guessed the price correctly (not even close).
Lauten’s entry-level LDC, the LA-220, is a solid-state, large diaphragm condenser studio “vocal microphone” ($249 street). The LA-220 features an American-made ultra-low-noise JFET amplifier, 1-inch pressure gradient large diaphragm, and a true-condenser capsule with cardioid polar pattern offering a relatively flat frequency response and a maximum SPL of 130 dB. It is equipped with 120 Hz low-cut and 12 kHz high-cut filters, a transformer balanced output and a spider-style shock mount. Equipped with a threaded base around its XLR input, the LA-220 could be used with a more traditional FET microphone mount, too.
Finally, the LA-120 solid-state small diaphragm condenser (SDC) package comes as a stereo pair ($349 street), featuring interchangeable 17 mm pressure gradient condenser cardioid and omnidirectional capsules per mic, American-made ultra-low-noise JFET amplifiers, 50 and 150 Hz low-cut and 10 and 15 kHz high-cut filters and a transformer balanced output. Both LA-120 mics ship in a notably well-made and attractive hinged wooden box with hard mounts enclosed. Also available for the LA-120 kit is a pair of 10 dB attenuator pad adapters, which boosts the stereo kit’s maximum SPL handling from 130 to 140 dB SPL.
In my own use, the LA-320 held its own (and was actually preferred by more than a few vocalists and musicians) when auditioned next to FET options and relatively similar tube LDC competition in the studio; its sound is near frequency flat with a rich, full bottom end and the striking warmth gained via a vacuum tube.
The LA-220 is a no-nonsense, true LDC workhorse. While the LA-220 seems to lack a certain stylistic character—it is quite flat, after all (as many recordists wisely prefer)—it is equipped with legitimately useful filters. In most instances, especially on vocals and key melodic instruments, the filters sound great engaged all the time—set it and forget it, indeed.
The LA-120 is a great, super-flexible stereo small diaphragm condenser (SDC) kit at a thrilling price point.
My favorite offering of the Series Black line is the LA-120 package. It’s simply a great, super-flexible stereo SDC kit at a thrilling price point. With their high-cut filters, they are malleable, frequency-wise. As a drummer, I have become quite picky when it comes to stereo overheads, preferring a SDC that doesn’t overemphasize mid to high frequencies. Used flat, the LA-120 are generally neutral enough; with the filters, I enjoyed a frequency sculpting tool right at the source. That said, they also shined as a stereo pair above a nice Baldwin baby grand.
In all, Lauten has bookended its high-end leaning microphone range with a “budget” series to be proud of. Though other choices in condensers may be preferable from engineer to engineer, these Series Black offerings are good enough to provide professional grade results in most every recording scenario.