I recently borrowed a demo set of the Lauten Audio Black Series microphones. I have been a big fan of the company's Signature Series mics and was excited to try the new Black Series LA320 tube mic. At first glance, the LA320 does not scream sophistication. It has a humble but sleek body, and it appears to be well built, but it's not a flashy look. It comes in a metal flight case, which holds the mic, shockmount, power supply, and cables — a very convenient and classy package for a mic at this price point.

All looks aside, the LA320 performs like a sophisticated microphone. I first used it to record some vocal overdubs. It sounded clear and warm through a Universal Audio Apollo interface running a Unison 1073 preamp model, with no compression. I enabled the mic's high-pass filter, as I always do, unless I am recording a source with a low fundamental. I did need to pull the gain up to 50 dB, more than I would expect with a tube mic, but the singer was about 10'' away and singing on the quiet side. Nevertheless, the signal was clean — a good sign of high signal-to-noise ratio.

I next moved on to a mandolin overdub and repositioned the LA320. The instrument was by no means high quality, which typically ends in a chintzy sounding mandolin track. However, this mandolin sounded quite good through the LA320. As this mandolin was on the bright side, I considered using the LA320's high-cut filter, but decided against it. Later, when mixing, I was glad I left it off, as the high frequencies sat nicely in the mix as I lowered the mandolin volume to blend it in.

Lastly, I tracked a dobro solo over the song with the LA320. In repositioning the mic, I noticed how versatile and easy to use the shockmount is — a small but important detail. I pushed the gain up another 10 dB to make the preamp sizzle a bit, and the signal remained clean. The dobro shined through the LA320 with Nashville-esque quality. I added a Universal Audio LA-2A emulation to compress the signal slightly and was super impressed with how the track turned out.

The next time I pulled out the mic was for a full band session at FM Recorders in Oakland, CA. I set up everyone in the live room, including the vocalist with an LA320. The mic sounded great through a custom-rebuilt API preamp and a Purple Audio MC77. The drums were on the opposite side of the room and bled through just the right amount to give the track a nice roomy vibe without overpowering the vocals.

The final context in which I tried the LA320 was for drums, in tandem with a pair of Lauten Audio LA120 small-diaphragm condensers [Tape Op #116]. The LA120s were used as overheads, and I put the LA320 about 12'' in front of the kick. The three mics together sounded full and complete. The LA320 gave the kick an articulate but warm sound, and picked up the low end of the snare sufficiently to complement the overheads. The mic's high-cut filter was very useful for sculpting the sound.

All in all, I find the LA320 to be a well-rounded and versatile tube mic at a great price-point. The sound is clear, accurate, and warm. If you are looking for an affordable large-diaphragm condenser with a big sound, the LA320 is a solid choice. Its versatility will give it a place in your mic locker for years to come. I'd even suggest buying two for stereo mic'ing just about anything.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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