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Lauten Audio LA-120 V2

Small-diaphragm Capacitor Mics By Sam Inglis
Published May 2023

Lauten Audio LA-120

Lauten Audio’s LA‑120 Version 2 is not so much a pencil mic as an entire box of crayons!

The Black series is the most affordable of Lauten Audio’s three main microphone ranges, but it still embodies their refreshingly different design approach. The LA‑220 v2 large‑diaphragm mic I reviewed last month offers two completely different voicings, and the subject of this review is perhaps even more versatile.

The LA‑120 is a modular small‑diaphragm ‘pencil’ mic. Or, more fully, it’s a set, comprising two mic bodies with pairs of cardioid and omni capsules, along with foam windshields and clips. These are supplied in a smart cardboard box, which has foam cutouts to house all the components. The capsules themselves screw onto the ends of the bodies in time‑honoured fashion, and electrical contact is made using a robust‑looking stud that makes a nice change from the fragile pins on old Neumann and AKG capsules. A pair of inline 10dB attenuators is available as optional extras; if used, these screw between the capsule and the body, raising the SPL tolerance from 120 to 130 dB.

And the versatility doesn’t stop there. Like the LA‑220, the LA‑120 has not one but two filters. At the low end, a high‑pass filter can be engaged at either 50 or 120 Hz, for removing subsonic rumbles and/or taming proximity effect. Much more unusual is the low‑pass filter, which on this mic can be switched in at either 15 or 10 kHz. The bodies are transformerless and present a 200Ω impedance to your preamp. Standard 48V phantom power is required for operation, and the LA‑120 is specified at a comfortable 10mV/Pa sensitivity. Self‑noise is less than 15dBA, which is very decent for a small‑diaphragm mic.

Given that the LA‑120 is only available as a set of two mics, with pairs of capsules, it’s tempting to assume that you’ll be getting a matched pair, but Lauten themselves don’t actually make this claim. In the review set, the capsules seemed to match well tonally, but there was a 2dB difference in sensitivity between the two mics. Once you know about this, it’s easy enough to compensate for it, though life is easier when you don’t have to remember to do this sort of thing.

Tone Questing

I started my testing with the cardioid capsules, and found that to get the best from them, I needed to unlearn some habits. I instinctively think of filters as ‘throwing away’ part of the mic’s frequency response, and thus as something I wouldn’t normally use unless a source is overpowering in that part of the spectrum. That still holds for the high‑pass filter on the LA‑120, but less so for the low‑pass.

With the low‑pass switched out altogether, the LA‑120 has an audibly ‘scooped’ tonality. The published frequency response shows a 2dB rise between 7 and 10 kHz, with another gentle lift around 14kHz. A direct comparison with a Neumann KM84 suggested that the treble boost is actually broader than this, reaching down to 3kHz or so. The sub‑150Hz region was also accentuated on the LA‑120 in comparison. On some sources, this is exactly what you want: guitars with old strings or dark pianos, for example, can certainly benefit from the extra ‘zing’ that the LA‑120 delivers with the low‑pass filter switched out.

At the same time, though, there are other sources where it can all get a bit much. And that’s where you need to stop thinking of the filters as a last resort when things aren’t working, and start thinking of them as a key feature of the mic. The LA‑220 I reviewed last month has a single low‑pass filter option, and although this is described as operating at 12kHz, it transforms the sound of the mic, having obvious effects right down into the midrange. So you might expect the LA‑120’s filters to be equally dramatic, but in practice, that wasn’t my perception; this time round, I never found myself wishing there was an ‘in between’ setting.

I’d suggest that the most universal LA‑120 sound is achieved with the 15kHz filter in, and that’s what I’d default to as a starting point.

The 15kHz filter really only tames the very top of the frequency response. Its effect is often noticeable less as a tonal change, and more as a smoothing out of the prickliness that can accompany very bright sources on bright mics. The 10kHz filter is a lot more obvious, but it certainly isn’t overdone. The slope is evidently pretty gentle, because there’s still plenty of signal visible on an analyser at 15kHz and above; Lauten themselves describe the sound as being like a ribbon mic, but don’t expect a Coles 4038. The 6kHz presence peak that’s visible on the frequency response chart remains largely intact in both filter settings, so the sound never gets soft or fails to cut through the mix. It might seem counter‑intuitive, but I’d suggest that the most universal LA‑120 sound is achieved with the 15kHz filter in, and that’s what I’d default to as a starting point.

All Round

The omni capsules are a much more unusual proposition, though you perhaps wouldn’t know this from the description on Lauten Audio’s website. Company President Trent Thompson told me that they are the same capsule used in an older Lauten model called the Torch, and that they were developed out of frustration with trying to achieve a good recording of a vintage upright piano in Elliot Smith’s studio. Consequently, they stand in contrast to most omni pencil mics, which are designed to be as flat and neutral and, well, omnidirectional as possible.

In general, omni capsules are optimised either for free‑field use, where sound is predominantly arriving on‑axis, or diffuse‑field use, where sound arrives from all directions indiscriminately. A mic that gives a flat response in the diffuse field will show a considerable high‑frequency boost for on‑axis sound in the nearfield, owing to pressure build‑up at high frequencies in front of the capsule. Trent confirmed that the LA‑120 omni capsules are intended for diffuse‑field applications, and the published frequency response thus shows a strong high‑frequency emphasis, since this is measured on‑axis.

What’s interesting and unusual about this, though, is that this emphasis is strongest between 5 and 6 kHz. The pressure‑related high‑frequency boost for on‑axis sound in a typical mic of these dimensions is usually located further up the frequency spectrum: if you look at the response for the Neumann KM183, for example, you’ll see a smooth bump centred around 10kHz. In practice, what this means is that the 6kHz hump in the LA‑120 omni capsule is quite audible, regardless of application. Used on‑axis, close‑up, it sounds very bright, as you’d expect; moving off‑axis or into the diffuse field tames the top octave, but leaves the upper midrange boost intact.

As a result, I found the omni capsules quite hit or miss, because that 6kHz presence is a lot more apparent than it is with the cardioids, and tends to sound peaky. Equally, though, there will be times when they might turn out to be just the ticket for an instrument that’s otherwise hard to capture — such as, perhaps, a particularly dark vintage piano belonging to a cult singer‑songwriter. I don’t think I’d get regular enough use from them to buy an LA‑120 set for the omni capsules alone, but at this price, they could reasonably be considered an interesting bonus feature.

Pound For Pound

Value for money is really the raison d’être of the Lauten Black series, and the LA‑120 definitely delivers. Price‑wise, it slightly undercuts Rode’s established NT55, and competes more or less head on with the sE Electronics SE8 and Sontronics’ STC‑1S, if you factor in the optional omni capsules for those systems. Those rivals are explicitly sold as matched pairs, which is certainly a plus, but neither they nor any other pencil mic that I’m aware of has the LA‑120’s chameleon‑like ability to change character at the flick of a switch. That versatility, along with the quirky nature of the omni capsules, will ensure that it carves out its own niche in the market.


  • Low‑pass filter offers three distinct and useful tonal qualities.
  • Excellent value for money.


  • Omni capsules won’t suit every source.


Why buy one affordable pencil mic when you can have two? The LA‑120 set is keenly priced and offers unusual versatility thanks to its tone‑shaping options.


£434 including VAT.

Synthax +44 (0)1727 821870


Lauten Audio +1 877 721 7018

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