Review: Lauten Audio Atlantis FC-387
Greg Walker gives this oversized FET condenser some problems to solve and finds a new and indispensable studio companion.
Lauten Audio has been around for a while now and is building a reputation as makers of useful, high-quality studio tools. The Atlantis FC-387 is a FET design with a big physical presence and ambitions to match.
FET condenser microphones were developed in the 1970s as a solid state ‘improvement’ on the older valve-based designs. They featured lower signal-to-noise ratios, were less delicate, and were cheaper and easier to build and service. The Neumann U47 FET became the flagship model of this type of microphone for a reason and many a great record has been made with it. The fact that its most commonly cited professional application these days is as an outside kick drum mic does, however, flag some of its limitations. While the tube U47 has gone on to become the most lusted-after and frequently ‘cloned’ microphone in the world, its FET sibling has taken a rather more subdued path to semi legendary status. While other microphone manufacturers such as AKG, Peluso, Microtech Gefell and Audio-Technica (amongst many others) have released FET models over the years, none of them have developed anything like the studio reputation of the old Neumann model.
MIND THE GAP
With the Atlantis FC-387, Lauten Audio has brought a fresh FET microphone to the marketplace that raises the bar by introducing some intriguing new features to this class of condenser. The mic has been developed with considerable input from US producer Fab Dupont and this collaboration has paid off nicely.
To begin with, it needs to be noted that this is a big, and I mean big, microphone. The Atlantis weighs in at a chunky 1.06kg and at 140mm by 65mm is every bit as physically imposing as a long-body tube U47. A standard Konig & Meyer boom stand can barely extend out at all without getting dragged floorwards by this beast, so be prepared to purchase a heavy-duty stand with a decent counterweight if you have ambitions of hanging this thing above a drum kit. The mic is finished in a ‘Champagne Cerakote’ ceramic, ships in a lovely timber case, comes with a well-built shockmount featuring a nifty swing-lever tightening mechanism and a felt dust cover for off-duty protection is also provided.
The oversize 38mm capsule and the longer body size mean placing the Atlantis in front of a singer is a satisfying experience. The physical presence of this mic pretty much demands a good performance. The amplification circuit utilises a custom-wound transformer design that, as we shall see, delivers results that are far from characterless or clinical.
Most notably, the Atlantis sports two unusual features accessed via three-position switches in addition to the more common polarity selector (omni, cardioid and figure-8). The first of these extra switches offers Lauten’s ‘Multi-voicing’: a choice of Forward (F), Neutral (N) and Gentle (G) tonal voicings. These are not simple EQ settings but involve different impedance conversions and head loadings with complex effects on the various polar patterns. The resulting microphone characteristics and tonal emphases are markedly different to each other and Lauten proudly boasts with some justification that the Atlantis is three microphones in one. Lauten has set itself apart from the competitors here, and in some ways created its very own gap in the market.
NEED TO KNOW
Lauten Audio Atlantis FC-387
Large Diaphragm FET Condenser Microphone
MORE OR LESS
Perhaps less striking but still quite significant is the three-position gain switch. The middle position is neutral or you can opt to cut or boost gain to the capsule by 10dB. The cut is a fairly standard feature on many mics but the boost is much more unusual and allows the user to not only boost low output sources but also to push the input circuitry of the preamp downstream. More gain structure options means more ability to shape a source’s character and the gain boost allows for some interesting saturation and distortion possibilities. Combining the voicing and gain switching capabilities of the Atlantis means a great many tonal effects are available, and experimentation can lead to wonderful and quite unique results not readily available via other microphones.
The Atlantis had not long been out of its box when I roped it into some session work on a singer-songwriter project. Its first job was actually one of the most challenging applications to be found in my studio, namely recording my old double bass. This is a slightly banged up but beautiful instrument left to me by a friend who sadly passed away and, despite a tone that is annoyingly hard to capture in recordings, it will continue to be my instrument of choice. It sounds good in the room but when recorded lacks clarity, especially in the upper frequencies. I’ve used absolutely every mic and mic placement under the sun to try and get this bass to shine, including very expensive, through to very cheap condensers, ribbons and dynamics and many combinations of the above. In every case I’ve ended up with a tone that is warm but lacks presence and often ends up needing a lot of EQ and compression to help it along. I plugged the Atlantis into my go-to preamp, the Retro Powerstrip, placed it about four feet out in front of the bass pointing around where the neck meets the body, set it to omni in Forward mode (to capture more of that elusive definition) with no gain modification, said a quick prayer and hit record. Listening back, my jaw nearly hit the floor as I finally heard the sound I’d been chasing all this time. Nice chunky bottom end and lower midrange complemented by a clear and defined top end. The sound had a cohesion and integrity to it that I’d never heard from this instrument in this room before… hallelujah!
From this experience I immediately understood that the Atlantis FC-387 was something that could reach into sonic corners where other mics perhaps couldn’t and I was very keen to hear it on more sources. This ability was later confirmed for me when the Atlantis also delivered excellent results on my two other ‘problem’ instruments: the high-strung arch-top guitar and the Chinese violin.
Over the following days and weeks the Atlantis and I covered a lot of ground. Could it do a nice earthy piano sound? Tick. Could it capture the energy and the subtleties of a valve amp played at volume? Tick. Male and female lead and backing vocals? Tick, tick. Acoustic guitar? Percussion? Strings? Tick, tick, tick. Okay, you get the picture. Everything I tried it on came up really nicely and I always felt that I was being given something extremely usable with a consistently pleasing sonic signature centred around a sweet lower midrange, whether that be ‘wood’ in an acoustic guitar, or percussive thump in that old double bass.
The physical presence of this mic pretty much demands a good performance.
The Atlantis is not a transparent mic nor does it aspire to be one. It definitely has its own colouration and tonal signature in all three voicings. The sound of the Atlantis FC-387 is thick, rich, gutsy and characterful and there’s none of that metallic zing that plagues the sonics of many a cheaper condenser on the market. There’s a realism that the Atlantis delivers which, to my ears, makes the whole process of recording very satisfying. Where you need that realism, the Neutral setting and a gentle gain structure deliver a lovely meaty tone with full-spectrum detail but no harshness. Where you need old-school body and depth, you can roll things off a little via the Gentle setting and get some ribbon-like smoothness. If you need crunch and attitude, the Forward and +10dB settings really take you there.
The mic takes EQ and compression well and multiple overdubs stack very nicely without any exaggerated tonal build-ups. I really like the omni polar pattern on this mic too. It seemed to represent my room in a very flattering way while the cardioid kept things fairly tight and focussed. The figure-8 delivered excellent side-lobe rejection and a more noticeable proximity effect which can be handy on certain sources.
On vocals the choices available for tuning the mic to the singer worked really well and I could as easily record a soft indie-folk male singer as I could a sassy female soul voice. Another big tick in the box is this mic’s ability in drum room applications. I captured a fantastically energetic sound with all the stops out (Forward tone, +10dB gain) using the omni polar pattern and just needed a little kick and snare to get a great overall drum sound that sat perfectly in the mix.
DESERT ISLAND MIC?
Lauten has done much more than offer a viable alternative or update to older FET designs. It’s basically re-invented the large diaphragm FET condenser as a super versatile studio beast, replete with some extremely handy tone-shaping features that give the Atlantis FC-387 tremendous range as a recording tool. While it is a great all-rounder, its characterful tones are really enhanced in context with other contrasting mics such as valve condensers and dynamics. I’m extremely reluctant to return the review mic as it’s very quickly become a favourite here, and time and again has proved to be the archetypal ‘tool I didn’t know I needed’. The fact is that the Lauten Audio Atlantis FC-387 is a genuinely great-sounding microphone that, with its robust tones and versatility, is perfectly adapted to 21st century digital recording.