Brian Loudenslager (left), Founder of Lauten Audio, with staff at their Milipitas, California facility

To find out more about Lauten Audio microphones, click here to visit their website.

Lauten Audio Flipped the Microphone Industry on its Head by Listening to Engineers’ Needs and Building in Flexibility for Any Situation

If you can, take yourself back to the state of pro audio in 2004, particularly as it pertains to microphones. Brian Loudenslager, Founder of Lauten Audio in Milipitas, California, and Trent Thompson, President of Lauten Audio, speak about that era as a time of stagnation for microphones. Producers and engineers commonly used classic mics like Neumann U87s and U67s and AKG C414s, but with modern signal chains that didn’t exist when these microphones were made. At the same time, the desktop music production world was taking off, making DIY production more attractive with early-stage USB audio interfaces. It was the era of the original Avid Mbox, and DACs just didn’t sound as good as they are capable of sounding today.

Meanwhile, microphone manufacturers were not innovating to solve the problems of the day—at least, that’s how Brian saw it. A self-professed metalhead who played drums in a number of bands and explored various creative career avenues in his life, he was working in the early 2000s as a sales rep for an ODM (original design manufacturer) that made microphones for many large brands that are still active today. Brian was surprised at how routine and uninspired the creation of new microphones had become. The brands were using “off-the-shelf” capsules and circuits and just making minor tweaks to come up with a new mic model they needed for the next NAMM or Musikmesse trade show.

“The further I got into this kind of stuff, I felt slimy; it was a little bit soul-crushing,” Brian says. “But I also realized nobody was using the potential of these manufacturers. They could have made anything you wanted to make.”

Lauten Audio’s components are no longer “off-the-shelf.”
One of the problems Brian noticed was that mic-makers were building what they thought people needed, rather than asking what they actually needed. So his creative juices started flowing, and he began talking to different friends and connections in the Los Angeles area about making his own microphone. One of these friends whom Brian had played in bands with, Mike Terry, had become a successful engineer for Foo Fighters, The Eagles, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and many others. He needed a mic that had something like a U67 character, but that you could put on a kick drum, a snare, etc. and not worry about it taking hits from drum sticks or high SPL.

“Mike is a real stickler,” Brian says. “You can’t fool the guy. If he doesn’t like something, he’ll tell you it doesn’t sound great.”

That first project became the Horizon LT-321 large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone, and Brian founded Lauten Audio in 2004.

Taylor Hawkins with his Lauten Audio Horizon LT-321 large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone.

Encapsulating Physics
With the Horizon, Lauten Audio established the core of its design philosophy. While other mic manufacturers were trying to copy vintage models or make non-distinct models with a rotating selection of the same off-the-shelf parts, the Horizon was designed from the ground up to meet the needs of professional engineers. However, as Lauten Audio was just getting started, the Horizon still used an off-the-shelf capsule as a starting point for experimenting with diaphragm materials, backplate spacings, and other tweaks. Soon, Brian wanted to explore making his own capsule too.

“I was very interested in the pressure gradient of capsules and that kind of thing, but my knowledge of it was fairly general,” Brian says. “I realized that you need a physicist to really understand how this stuff works. But we're in pro audio. We're not huge. Most of us are not multimillion-dollar conglomerate companies that can afford to hire a bunch of Ph.Ds.”

Fortunately for Lauten Audio, Brian had worked at IBM with Dr. Charles Chen, Ph.D., a physicist and programmer. Brian was able to bring him into the company as a partner in order to work out the mechanics of designing their own original components.

“He really understood what it would do if we changed the whole configuration of the capsule,” Brian says. “He could take all these theories and write his own code, so we could get a pretty good idea if we do something to a capsule, what it’s going to spit out on the other end so to speak.”

Lauten Audio’s original 38mm capsule, shown here from an Oceanus LT-381 mic.

Computer simulations help the process, but don’t always precisely predict how real-world components will sound, so after about three years of working with prototypes, Lauten Audio finished its original 38mm capsule. This capsule is used inside the popular Eden LT-386 multi-tube microphone and the Atlantis FC-387 multi-FET mic, as well as the Oceanus LT-381, which sadly had to be discontinued because components critical to its sound stopped being produced.

Around that same time in 2007, Brian met Trent, who was a recording engineer and a new sales engineer at Sweetwater Sound.

“I fell in love with Brian’s microphones, because he was doing something totally different,” Trent says. “I grew up in a traditional studio with access to a bunch of fantastic, classic microphones, which sounded awesome in a classic signal chain (console, to tape, back to console again, etc…). That signal chain didn’t exist outside of a studio though.

The Lauten Audio Oceanus LT-381 dual-tube/FET hybrid extra-large condenser microphone.
“With Brian’s stuff, I could just plug it straight into an interface, and it sounded like music… like it had gone through that signal chain. It totally changed the way I thought about recording.”

With the invention of its own capsule based on engineers’ recording needs, a second piece of Lauten Audio’s design philosophy had been fulfilled, which is to fix signal problems at the mic, rather than in the mix. Or as Trent says, “less fix, more mix.”

Early Successes: the Oceanus and the Clarion
Lauten Audio’s pursuit of making original microphones that solved recording problems at the mic stage was almost unheard of in the 2000’s, and since Brian was moonlighting with his own company while still working for an ODM that built for other brands, he eventually focused solely on Lauten Audio to avoid stepping on toes.

Brian says that in the beginning, “the goal wasn't to make the microphone that's gonna be the most popular necessarily. It was to make the microphone that we thought was creative and sounded cool and different.”

One of the company’s most creative early efforts came in the form of the Oceanus LT-381 dual-vacuum tube and FET hybrid extra-large condenser mic, which stood out for vocals but was equally suited for many other purposes, such as pianos and drum overheads. It incorporated an “essentially mono block amplifier going into a phase splitter, which is a transistor, and then outputting through a tube,” Brian says. “There's still nothing like it to today. It was not very forgiving, sounded beautiful in big studios, but it was always a difficult microphone to build.”

The Lauten Audio Clarion FC-357 large-diaphragm FET condenser microphone.
Component obsoletion forced the unique Oceanus into early retirement, but another somewhat early Lauten Audio mic, the Signature Series Clarion FC-357 large-diaphragm FET condenser is still going strong. That mic represented the company’s first time addressing the home studio recordist. This was now the Avid Mbox 2 era, and they were testing the Clarion through boxes of that class, where “everything was so… I don’t want to say harsh or bright, but digital back then just wasn’t good,” Brian says. “We all know this; we’ve heard it with our ears. So we built that microphone with a tamer top end and with a +10 dB gain switch [which also has a -10 dB pad], so we could rely less on the preamp that sounded really crappy and reduce the noise floor. It gets to that ‘done’ point faster, and we’ve carried that philosophy through to the rest of our stuff, which helps the recordist solve problems at the source and finish faster.”

Fab Dupont with the Lauten Audio Atlantis FC-387 Multi-voicing FET microphone.
Discovering Atlantis with Fab Dupont
The next step in Lauten Audio’s problem-solving at the microphone stage came in the form of Multi-voicing, which is a trademarked Lauten Audio term. Brian had some notable help in its development, which first appeared in Lauten Audio’s Atlantis FC-387 extra large-diaphragm condenser microphone. The popular model fits three distinct FET circuit path voicings within a single enclosure, with a switch to select the Forward, Neutral, and Gentle voicings. Respectively, those three settings smooth out highs for a bold, present sound, naturally balance the character of mids, and create a warm vintage atmosphere that tames brightness and enriches lows.

This ambitious Multi-voicing mic spawned out of another collaborative effort to give a professional producer/mix engineer the microphone he wanted. In this case, Brian was at a trade show with producer/mixer Fab Dupont, and asked him what kind of microphone he wanted. “That was one of the best questions I ever asked anybody,” Brian says. He and Fab both wanted to address the fact that more and more poeple were working with desktop audio interfaces like the Universal Audio Apollo or the Focusrite Scarlett series, and wanted the mic to sound great through them in various scenarios.

Lauten Audio Atlantis FC-387 Multi-voicing FET microphones being burned in before testing.

But Fab and Brian struggled to find a single answer. Fab wanted two kinds of microphone characters, while Brian wanted another. So Fab asked, “why can’t we just put them all in the same microphone, instead of three? Fab didn’t think I could do it,” Brian says. “He told me later, ‘I didn’t think you’d make a microphone I liked.’” Yet Brian accepted that challenge and soon sent Fab a prototype that began a multi-year exchange of FedExing prototypes back and forth from Lauten Audio’s Silicon Valley facility to Dupont’s Flux Studios in New York City.

Arooj Aftab’s “Mohabbat” won a 2022 Grammy award for Best Global Music Performance, and features a Lauten Audio Atlantis microphone on vocals.

After perhaps a hundred or more cross-country trips, the Atlantis FC-387 finally took its final form. “Fab used to say it’s the microphone with the most expensive FedEx bill in history,” Brian laughs. “But that’s why it turned out so well, because he didn’t believe we could do it, and we did. And the Atlantis is becoming kind of a staple nowadays.”

The Lauten Audio Eden LT-386 multi-vacuum tube large-diaphragm condenser with Multi-voicing.

Eden: The Garden of Vocal Delights
Lauten Audio took the Multi-voicing concept of the Atlantis a step further with the Eden LT-386, which instead of FET technology, places three distinct vacuum tube microphones inside a single enclosure. The Eden again offers Forward, Neutral, and Gentle settings, but with the warm character of aged EF806 tubes.

Title track from the Maren Morris Humble Quest album, which used Eden microphone on the vocals and acoustic guitars.

The microphone has become a prized tool for artists and producers, especially for use on vocals and acoustic guitars. For example, all the vocals and acoustic guitars on the 2022 Maren Morris album Humble Quest, produced by Greg Kurstin, were recorded through an Eden. The same goes for the 2021 Jordan Davis and Luke Bryant hit, Buy Dirt. Sam Ryder, David Crosby, and Colin Hay also count Edens within their mic collections.

Title track from the Jordan Davis Buy Dirt album, which used Eden on the vocals.

It’s not just singer/songwriters who have embraced Eden. Rappers gravitate toward it as well. For example, Cardi B recorded her vocals for “Bodak Yellow” through an Eden, and the Curren$y/Harry Fraud 2020 album The OutRunners was all Eden for the vocals. Other notable users include French Montana, Megan Thee Stallion, Too $hort and Snoop Dogg to name a few.

Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow,” featuring an Eden mic on vocals.

Customer Service: It’s Just an Uber Away
Another aspect of the company philosophy is to treat everyone as you’d want to be treated, whether that’s with business partners or customers. Trent and Brian take pride that Lauten Audio is a very accessible company to its customers. They either pick up the phone or call you back. And they’d rather believe the customer than doubt them when it comes to repairing or replacing product.

Brian says he picked up the importance of going out of your way for customer service from observing the two giants in the music retail space. One of them was Chuck Surack, Founder of Sweetwater Sound, whom Brian saw shake hundreds of people’s hands while visiting the retailer’s campus in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The other was Hans Thomann, Managing Director of Musikhaus Thomann, who interrupted a conversation with Brian to personally deliver a new audio cable to a customer who needed assistance.

Component painting at the Lauten Audio facility.
“Seeing successful people like that be so customer oriented helped me understand that the customer really is the most important part of a business, period,” Brian says.

As such, Lauten Audio tries to go out of its way to take care of customers. Trent tells one particular story of an engineer in Los Angeles who called after 7pm one night, freaking out because the tube in his Eden microphone went out in the middle of a recording session. The only solution was finding another Eden owner in the area who was not using the mic at the time, having them pull a tube, and then sending it over to the other studio with an Uber driver so the engineer could resume work. They then sent a replacement tube to the other user.

Quality Control Freak
Lauten Audio’s Signature Series microphones all utilize the company’s own precision-crafted dual-diaphragm large capsule designs: a 35mm capsule in the Clarion and 38mm capsules in the Atlantis and Eden—some of the largest mic capsules in the world. Hand-tuned, “one-of-a-kind super transducers” developed by Dr. Chen and his brother. The company also tries to source as many custom, quality parts from local or semi-local suppliers, including transistors sourced nearby in Silicon Valley and the USA-made custom wound output transformers. Lauten Audio’s Signature Series of microphones also receive their custom ceramic Cerakote finish at a local paint shop just up the road from Lauten Audio.

Hand painted with care at the Lauten Audio factory.
This obsessive focus on quality comes from Brian being a self-described control freak. Lauten Audio now manufactures and tests most of its products in its own facilities. However, in the company’s early days, Brian spent time in factories to learn how microphones were produced by doing the job himself. “The workers thought I was insane,” he says. “I was told more than once that no one had ever come into the factory to do what I was doing.”

That quality control aesthetic extends to this day and includes testing every part of every product before shipping. “We test every single part to the Nth degree,” Brian says. “Even our most affordable microphones. We test every single one; we don’t pull one out of 10 to test. It's checking the capsule and screws. It's making sure the body is tight. Does every cable work? Does every power supply and switch work? And most importantly… does it sound good? That's why we have a very low fail rate in the field. We have a very good reputation for taking care of our customers, but also for having a great-quality product.

The flower of the Black Series, the LA-320 twin-tone tube condenser, shines on vocals, guitar, drums, and more at an accessible price.

The Black Series and Synergy Series: Affordable Flexibility
Lauten Audio’s Black Series—LA-320, LA-220, LA-120—and Synergy Series—LS-308, LS-208—are the company’s affordably-priced condenser microphones for multiple uses. Even though their price tags are lower, Trent says they still adhere to Lauten Audio’s core design philosophies.

“Make It Rain” from Heavy Load Blues by Gov’t Mule, which used a Lauten Audio LS-208 on vocals.
“Making a Fire” from Foo Fighters Medicine at Midnight album, which used Lauten Audio LA-120 microphones on hi-hat and bottom snare, LA-220 microphones as drum overheads, LS-308 on toms, and Clarion in front of the kit.

“We believe that recording should be easy,” Trent says, “so if we build something, it should simplify your life. Everything we make is designed to excel on something, but they have to sound great on just about anything.”

So for instance, all of these microphones have lowpass and highpass filter switches for making quick adjustments at the source. “Is it too bright? Flip a switch,” Trent says. “You want more of a ribbony sound, but with the detail? Flip a switch. You need something bright and articulate? Flip a switch. The end goal is to keep you moving, and making music versus changing out mics. ”

The Lauten Audio LS-308 side-address condenser mic with 270 degrees of off-axis rejection being finalized.

The LS-308 instrument mic and LS-208 end-address mic both have off-axis sound rejection so that they narrowly focus on a source. For instance, Trent says you can mic a guitar amplifier with an LS-308 directly in front of a drum kit, and you essentially won't hear the drum kit. Both microphones take 135dB of SPL without a pad while also retaining 135dB of dynamic range, making them ideal for miking amplifiers, drums, and other loud sources. They were meant for poorly treated acoustical spaces, as well as live handling, and the LS-208 has become popular with podcasters, broadcasters, vocalists on the road, and YouTubers like Denis Daily who often don’t have acoustically treated studios. It’s also become popular for rappers to take into the control room and record vocals sitting on the couch with their crew, because they want that camaraderie in the studio. Brian says it works because you only hear the vocalist, and not the outside noise.

Lauten Audio LS-208 high-SPL, front-address, noise-rejecting large diaphragm condenser microphones lined up for testing.

While the Synergy Series and Black Series microphones are accessibly priced, they have also been showing up on big-name projects. For example, Darrell Thorp engineered Foo Fighters’ 2021 album Medicine at Midnight using LS-308s on toms, LA-120s on hi-hat and bottom snare, and LA-220s as drum overheads.

While many like the LA-220 for vocals and instruments, they are also used often on drums like kick and toms, where recording engineers can quickly dial in a punchy sound using the filter switches. It’s that flexibility and quick tone adjustability that engineers appreciate handling at the mic stage rather than at the console. For example, recording and mix engineer Nic Hard recently used LA-220 mics on all the toms for Snarky Puppy’s album, Empire Central (to be released Autumn, 2022). The album was recorded in front of a live studio audience using 26 Lauten Audio microphones to capture 19 musicians simultaneously.

The first single off Snarky Puppy’s album, Empire.

Central (to be released Autumn, 2022), “Trinity.” To record the album, engineer Nic Hard used 26 Lauten Audio microphones to capture 19 musicians simultaneously in front of a live studio audience. Many of those microphones are shown here.

Testing time for the versatile Lauten Audio LA-220 large-diaphragm FET condenser mic.

“Our design philosophy applies to everything we make,” Trent says, “Maybe you bought an LA-220 as your first vocal microphone, but if you need to throw it up on a pair of drum overheads, it better not suck! We make sure to build microphones that solve problems, but sometimes the problem is it’s the only microphone you have left, so it better work on anything.”

To find out more about Lauten Audio microphones, click here to visit their website.

All pictures in this article provided by Lauten Audio.