The Lauten Horizon is a cardioid tube mic with a shock-mounted, large-diaphragm capsule and a two-step pad. The mic ships with a shock mount, a hard mount, a power supply, and a 20 ft Gotham Audio cable with double Reussen shielding and Neutrik gold-pin connectors-all fitted snugly into a rugged aluminum case. It's an attractive package, and the mic itself is quite stunning visually, with a sexy conical body (think U 87) and a lollypop-style head. In a sea of mid-range microphones that sometimes seem engineered to look cooler than they sound, the Horizon is just funky enough while maintaining a classic style. Everything about the mic is solid and very attractive. My only reservation is regarding how the mic threads into the mounts; it's not terribly smooth and takes a little work to seat properly. It's a minor complaint, and overall the whole package feels very high-end. The -10/-20 dB pad switch is a key feature, because the Horizon's output is intentionally quite hot. Brian Loudenslager, founder of Lauten Audio, explained that, in part, they were aiming to help people recording with lower quality preamps, such as those often built into consumer-grade interfaces. The reasoning is that with a hotter signal off the mic, you'll rely less on the preamp to get things up to proper recording levels. Somewhere between the hot output of this mic and the headroom of a consumer-grade preamp, there is a good match that will conceivably reduce the noise and distortion sometimes inherent in lesser preamps. It's good to see a mic designer address these issues. The sound of the Lauten is what I would call "toppy", meaning that it accentuates the upper frequencies where the sibilance of a vocal lies, and there's a familiar harmonic richness to the top end that I associate with other tube condensers, like Ela M 251s and U 67s. Compared to an AKG C 414 or a Neumann U 87, the Horizon was noticeably brighter on male vocals, cutting through the mix more, but not in an annoying way that would require a lot of de-essing. On upright piano, just inside the open top lid and through an API 512C preamp, it was exceptionally bright-ideal for cutting through a mix dense with guitars, but perhaps too bright for other applications. I hung a pair of the Horizons at knee level as stereo drum mics, about 4 ft in front of the kit, and was very happy with what the mics did with the cymbals. Again, it was the brightness without harshness that helped liven up the sound of the drums as I brought those tracks up into the mix. With the Horizon on the outside edge of a guitar amp speaker (which I was combining with an MD 421 on the center), I was able to capture the dark tones nicely, but again got a surprisingly present top end, too. You're probably getting the picture of how I think the Horizon could fit into a wide arsenal of mics, bringing a very usable upper presence to the sonic pallet-the perfect foil (no pun intended) to a dark ribbon mic, for example. And if you don't have a tube mic in your closet, the Horizon will deliver that harmonic richness that is so particular to tube mics, without breaking the bank ($720 street). For someone with limited mic choices, the Horizon could be a great complement to an SM58, SM57, or other dynamic mic, offering a very different and equally usable sound. If you're in the market for a condenser mic in this price range, I would give the Horizon serious consideration, as it delivers a sophisticated richness that I associate with mics many times the price. ($799 MSRP;

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

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