Lauten Audio Eden LT-386 Review

By Justin Pattonlauten_eden

The flagship microphone from Lauten Audio is a real looker. Everyone who sees me extract this monster from its case has the same reaction – oohs and aahs (the case is impressive in its own right, and just pulling it off the shelf primes anticipation)! I’ve drooled over a lot of beautiful microphones online, but the Eden takes the cake. It looks similar to a U47-type mic, but the shock mount design is a radical departure from the elastic spider-web style. There is a clamp that tightens down on the microphone body (don’t worry, fat rubber washers provide gentle contact points) via small hexagonal sockets. The clamp is suspended inside a concentric ring of hefty metal with a very heavy duty threaded socket that looks like it will never strip out. The mount is mostly shiny nickel plating and matches the trim on the Eden very nicely. The rest of the mic is covered with a lovely ceramic coating. It absolutely screams professional – and looks crazy expensive (it’s really not).

I recently had the opportunity to record a couple of different voice-over projects. I began one prior to obtaining the Lauten. For that I decided to try out a mic I’d never used for VO before, but one that had a stellar reputation: the AKG 414 XLS. I spent a fair amount of time trying out the different patterns on the 414 looking for something that seemed to flatter my speaking voice. I also ran it through the Focusrite ISA 430 channel strip using the vintage compressor setting for some extra color and warmth. Though I worked hard on it, the result was not my favorite voice-over sound. I had gotten better results with some of the cheaper Chinese tube mics that were popular in the late 2000s. The 414 just wasn’t a great fit for my voice. Still, it was workable.

By the time the second VO rolled around, I had the LT-386 in my grubby little hands. I ran the Eden straight into my stock Audient iD22 mic pres. It was no contest. The Lauten sounded so much more palatable. The honkiness of the 414 was gone; my voice had a much more natural, comfortable quality with no channel strip tweaking required. The LT-386 has all the character you’d expect from a top-shelf tube mic. With two stages of hi-pass filtering, three selectable frequency responses and three polar patterns, the Eden has plenty of sonic options. I also set up my cheap Chinese tube mic and did an A/B test singing my favorite Punch Brothers melody. Again, the Eden had the clear advantage. It was sweeter and warmer with less harshness. It absolutely sounds like it belongs up there with the very best, most expensive mics I’ve ever used. I’m sure there are voices out there for which the cheap tube (and the AKG) would be better fits, but I expect they’d be in the minority.

Just a little bit more about the three frequency setting options… The switch on the rear of the mic offers “F” for forward, “N” for neutral, and “G” for gentle. I used the “forward” setting for my voice-over, and it was perfectly present. But compared to the AKG 414, even the forward setting was smooth and easy on the ears. Which is actually great. If you’re into warm, smooth and buttery tone, it’s hard to make a mistake with the Lauten. Still, I’ve recorded plenty of sources that could benefit from rolling back the bite even more. For example, sometimes a jazz sax solo can benefit from a bit of extra taming. On the “gentle” setting the Eden approaches a quality similar to my AEA large ribbon mic, which I really love to use on harsh sources and as a room mic. And of course “neutral” splits the difference. This super-useable tweakability is something that other mics just don’t offer. Especially mics that sound like they ought to cost several thousand dollars.

The Eden comes in just under $2500. Yeah, it’s a lot. But not for mics of this caliber. It’s actually at the bottom of the price range for anything approaching this level of quality. In fact, I’ve used a Bock 5 zero 7 ($7595) and I think the Lauten LT-386 would probably be my preference for a larger number of voices and genres. Not that I wouldn’t be very excited to have the Bock in my arsenal – but I don’t have the luxury of dropping close to ten grand on one microphone.

Lauten also makes a great line of entry-level microphones, and there is a lot of Lauten mojo included in those. If the Eden is just too expensive for you, I’d recommend taking a trip to your local mega-dealer and trying out some of the Lauten Series Black options. But if you’ve been around the block and know what you like, you owe it to yourself to give the Eden some serious consideration. I can’t think of any mic that impresses me more than the LT-386 under $10 grand. I just might have to get a second one.

Justin Patton messed around with music technology in high school, researched music technology in college, and currently works as the recording engineer for the Department of Music at Murray State University. He also teaches the Recording Techniques course for students in the Music Business program, using kindred spirit Mike Senior’s book: “Recording Secrets for the Small Studio.”

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Blue-Collar Recording

By Justin Patton

fostex

The Fostex X-18 4-track cassette recorder

Take a look at THAT! Now doesn’t that make your 2016 Christmas haul pale in comparison? That is an exact likness of my first “AW” (as in Audio Workstation). It is not a DAW because, as you can see, there is nothing digital about it. This bad boy recorded on both sides of a cassette tape at the same time (using the stereo tracks from side 1 and the stereo tracks from side 2 simultaneously in order to give 4-track playback). At high speed, I would burn through a 60-minute cassette tape (30 minutes per side) in 15 minutes.

I spent 500 bucks of hard-earned warehouse pay on this recorder when I was about 19 years old. Shortly after that, I got a programmable drum machine (because any time I tried to record real drums it sounded absolutely gruesome). I already had a Shure SM 58 microphone; I was all set (although I did have to run my mic through the preamp section of my Peavey guitar amp in order to get a good, clean signal)!

teac

The TEAC 144 4-track cassette recorder

Here is a slightly more uptown 4-track cassette recorder from TEAC. It has channel EQs and overdubbing capabilities. Priced at $1100 in 1979, it also has the distinction of being used to record Bruce Springsteen’s album ‘Nebraska’. While there haven’t been a whole lot of well-known albums produced on such modest equipment, it would be fair to say a whole lot of TERRIBLE albums have been made on much higher-end equipment.

There’s no denying the allure of multi-million dollar recording equipment. If for no other reason, it makes you feel special just to be in the same room with it. And yes, it can and often does make a difference in perceived sound quality. However, top-dollar fidelity is not the most important element in a recording. Many listeners would have trouble distinguishing between a $10,000 channel strip and a $500 strip. It is an interesting scenario to consider: would Nebraska have been any more highly regarded if it had been recorded at Abbey Road with all the buzzword pieces of famous gear?

Top-dollar fidelity is not the most important element in a recording.

I recall the first time I started using “good” microphones on a regular basis. We had been recording with some $100 bargain mics for several months in the Performing Arts Hall at Murray State University. I’d been dreaming of getting a pair of Neumann KM-184s for just as long. Finally, I wrote a grant request and got half of them paid for by the Provost and half paid for by the Music Department. The pair was about $1800 total. When I set them up for the first time I was expecting the clouds to part and angels to sing. Guess what? They sounded better than the bargain mics – but not nearly as much better as I had been expecting. Were they worth it? Yes, considering that these mics would record hundreds of concerts over the next 10 years (and that the bargain mics tended to go bad after about two years of heavy use). But I was surprised, given all the hype about super special audio gear, how the difference in quality wasn’t nearly as remarkable as I thought it should have been.

lauten_eden                     at2020

Over the years I have had people express a desire to come record in the studio because they needed access to “a really good mic.” Now, I love microphones. And I know the first microphone I’d reach for if I wanted to impress someone with a vocal mic. The Lauten LT-386 does warm and silky like nobody’s business. It’s pricey, but in my opinion it’s worth every penny. If you’re going to splurge a little, getting one really nice vocal mic is a great place to do it. I also have a $100 Audio-Technica 2020 microphone (the dumpy-looking little black mic on the right). It was among dozens of high-end mics in a “shoot-out” by Sound on Sound back in 2010, and it fared very well. It was even the preferred mic for one of the female singers, beating out a $10,000 world-famous micophone standard!

So how does one know for sure that a cheap mic just won’t cut it? Presumably one has used it and found it lacking. But in my many years of recording I’ve found that a stellar vocalist sounds stellar no matter what. Sure, a $2500 mic may flatter her voice in a very pleasing way. But it won’t turn an average song (or average voice) into something magical. The magic has to be part of the performance to begin with, and a cheap mic – used correctly – should still capture that magic. The same is true of most solid, yet budget-friendly, recording gear. Will the better mic provide better results? Most likely, yes. But the cheap mic won’t be the thing that stops the record from going platinum!

slate_comp

The Slate Digital FG-MU compressor

Over the last year I’ve been enjoying using every plugin made by Slate Digital as part of their subscription service. When I joined, the deal was $249 for an annual license. There are dozens of different EQs, compressors, preamps and tape emulators to choose from, most modeled after specific pieces of well-known hardware studio gear costing many thousands of dollars. Of course the software versions cost only a tiny fraction of the real thing. Do they sound identical? No. In an A/B comparison at Sweetwater Sound’s Studio A, engineer Mark Hornsby played a group of people, myself included, a drum mix going through a real Universal Audio 1176 hardware compressor, then through a Slate 1176 plugin. Most of us liked the hardware sound better, but it was really close. As Mark said, there’s nothing stopping anyone from cutting a legit record using only plugins.

Why train in a multi-million dollar facility if, odds are, you’ll be working in an entirely different setting?

Simply put, a multi-million dollar studio has always been a luxury – today more than ever! Since record sales have been tanking for years, it isn’t a luxury very many artists (or their record labels) can afford. Without question, more music (film, television, bands, et cetera) is being made in multi-THOUSAND dollar studios today. Or even on laptops. To make up for a waning clientele, many of the “big boy” studios are teaching recording classes in facilities originally intended for something other than education.

This begs the question: why train in a multi-million dollar facility if, odds are, you’ll be working in an entirely different setting? If one is accustomed to the finer things in life, perhaps it is a luxury one can afford. But if Bruce Springsteen could get it done with a 4-track cassette recorder, we can surely do amazing things for a lot less than we’ve been led to believe! Here’s to more great blue-collar recording in 2017! Happy New Year!

Justin Patton messed around with music technology in high school, researched music technology in college, and currently works as the recording engineer for the Department of Music at Murray State University. He also teaches the Recording Techniques course for students in the Music Business program, using kindred spirit Mike Senior’s book: “Recording Secrets for the Small Studio.”