In terms of its history, Lewitt Audio might not be quite up there with the likes of Neumann (90-plus years) or AKG (70-plus years), but this Viennese company is punching well above its weight in terms of innovation.
In just a decade, it has produced world-class microphones for both studio and live use including the multi-award-winning LCT range – an outstanding set of studio condenser mics, most of which we’ve reviewed – the MTP live range, the DTP drum microphones and the DGT digital range.
What separates Lewitt from a huge number of other companies producing microphones is the company’s philosophy to avoid treading old ground to simply recreate classic designs and instead, be innovative and forward-thinking, not to mention keeping a close ear on the needs of its growing user base.
There’s the design, too; whether it’s the distinctive white of the LCT 240 PRO or the recognisable grilles on most of the large-diaphragm mics, Lewitt Audio’s microphones certainly stand out from the vast crowd.
Roman Perschon is the company’s founder and CEO and he started Lewitt Audio partly out of frustration with the big-company politics of the old guard of microphone manufacturers and partly out of a love for design.
“The story of Lewitt is for me a very personal one,” he begins. “It started with me as a teenager building my own speakers and driving my parents and neighbours nuts! I ended up working for AKG, but I have always liked music and I also really like designing products. I thought to myself that there should be better sounding, cooler, more versatile and prettier microphones out there – I wanted to do something different.
“At the time, there were a lot of global players releasing products over a regular cycle: submitting a new version of an old classic. And then there were a lot of companies basically trying to copy these, trying to find that classic sound from the good old days, so I wanted to do something different: new, innovative and cutting edge.”
Roman began assembling a team of people to fulfil his vision, initially made up of friends and friends of friends… “I went from building my own speakers to designing Lewitt microphones on scraps of paper,” he laughs. “I was blessed back then to find a handful of dedicated people and really capable people who wanted to join in and that was the start. When we started, we were very nerdy in a way, but as the microphone is the first tool in the audio chain, this is where the magic has to happen. We looked at all the parameters you could design in microphones and, actually, it can be overwhelming. There are so many parameters on a technical level that might not be meaningful for the users, but we narrowed it down to offer user and reasonably focused options. Back in the day, it was just a handful of people here in the company, but we had a million tasks to excel in. It was a crazy time!
“We very much focused on recording microphones at the start,” he explains, turning his attention to the main LCT range. “We also introduced very nice and capable live microphones, but the recording microphone market gave us the room to manoeuvre, to introduce innovative circuitry, acoustics and design.
“Looking back, it was a very hard market to go into. No one was asking for a new microphone company and being in the recording environment, it’s a very conservative area – people use what they like to use and also we didn’t want to follow the vintage or classic designs. So we wanted to do our own designs and we needed to be persistent in order to get to a point where you succeed with it.
“So the LCT line was designed and produced when we started the company, basically with innovative features and state-of-the-art circuitry. Obviously, at the beginning, we had limitations and throughout that decade we have been fine-tuning products and everything we have learnt is in a new product – to be revealed in 2020.”
Roman continues: “Today, I am in the very lucky position that I have a fantastic team of people around me who help me to do very complex projects. We are now truly a family of musicians, technicians, engineers and, first and foremost, microphone obsessives.”
That family approach is something that Roman is keen to maintain, even as Lewitt grows as a brand; he never wants the small-company focus to be lost, no matter how successful his products.
“The company is in a sweet spot now,” he says. “We are not a huge operation where all the good ideas get swallowed up in meetings and the corporate structure. But at the same time, we are not a boutique company, so we can do complex projects and we have the knowledge and skills to master engineering challenges.”
Lewitt Audio is based in Vienna, initially in a small office but now in much larger premises with glorious rooftop views over the city. And Roman is very much aware that his company should make the most of such creative surroundings.
“It isn’t just about R&D and product design but networking, too – and connecting with the community,” he says. “We are now benefiting from that early effort as we are very much a user-focused company. We have a lot of recording musicians and engineers visiting the company and it gives us the opportunity to really learn and be in touch with people who use our microphones on a daily basis and learn about their needs and possible things to innovate, and that in return makes for better products.
“We really enjoy these conversations with the audio community whether it’s here in Vienna or on a global scale. We are in touch with many high-profile endorsees and engineers and are working with them all the time. We also implement a lot of their feedback in our products.”
As Roman hinted at earlier, this feedback – plus a decade of learning and design innovation – has led to a new Lewitt Audio product, as yet under wraps, that will be announced (and reviewed in these pages) next year.
Roman won’t say too much about it at this stage, but does reveal: “Actually the idea came from the very first day of Lewitt Audio, to create something with technology that is so versatile that basically the user has all the options at hand. We had this impetus to create a flagship product with this versatility to cover all the sounds you want to have. It’s been a decade in the making and a lot of fun to create and bring to reality.”
Despite Roman admitting that “there are a lot of interesting areas we could go into”, the company will be focusing on this new product in the foreseeable future. But he does add: “As for the next decade, it’s hard to say – there are definitely a lot of interesting opportunities out there!”
Science versus creativity
When it comes to the design of Lewitt’s microphones, it’s very much a meeting of ideas and science and whether the two can work together to come up with a no-compromise solution. CTO Christian Walter and head of product management Moritz Lochner explain the process.
“I have been here for seven to eight years, very nearly from the beginning,” Christian explains. “We had the LCT series and I was partly involved in that range. I am an electrical engineer, so I am involved in the electronics but also the acoustics and software. I also specialise in getting the measurements, the specs that we have to give to the customers. What you publish is what the customer expects, so you can’t make any mistakes with that.”
Moritz adds: “Chris is the engineering wizard here and he is responsible for where a lot of our technical advances come from. Because Chris is a brilliant engineer, it’s cool, as there might be an idea and he will very quickly say: ‘Yes or no, it can be done!’ I might sit in a room and think of a concept or we might have a strategic roadmap or might have something we have always wanted to build, but then it’s the start of a lot of collaboration.”
“It’s more that technology by itself is not very useful to anybody, because it is just technology: a possibility,” Christian explains. “The key thing is what can you do with the technology to fit the customer needs. Maybe I know something that I think can be useful, but then we need to discuss how this technical possibility can be useful to the customer and create a feature for them. I don’t know all that the user wants and Moritz doesn’t know about all of the technical possibilities, so we each share potential ideas… or maybe it ends up in the bin! Mostly we can do it, but fortunately, he never comes in and says he needs a flying microphone or something like that!”
Moritz: “All of our designs are built from the ground up, so Chris has also designed a lot of our measurement equipment which keeps things very flexible. We have a lot of freedom, because we are not building clones or copies, but what we believe the customer wants. It’s all about what the customer wants and we can build it.”
One aspect that sets Lewitt Audio aside from some microphone manufacturers is its ability not only to design microphones, but to measure them so that the quoted specs of each model are as accurate as possible and the quality control of all of the microphone lines remains high.
On top of a full anechoic chamber at the company factory in China, Lewitt Audio also has a range of custom-built devices in Vienna that measure factors such as high SPL, wind and also vocal plosives by way of a pop-tester device with a big speaker to replicate the airflow created by certain vocal sounds. There’s also a laser meter to measure vibrations so that dampening can be adjusted and a shaker to simulate microphone-handling noise. Essentially, then, the Lewitt team can replicate typical (and atypical) microphone use scenarios and adapt designs accordingly.
Daniel Keller is Lewitt’s senior acoustic engineer: “I do all of the acoustics testing, so it’s all the pattern measurements, the pop tests and the handling noise – when you touch a microphone, you don’t want it to be very noisy.”
With Daniel’s microphone-vibration noise tests, for example, he uses a custom-built shaker. “It gives me acceleration in a particular axis,” he explains. “I have the head of the microphone clamped securely and all of the vibration goes into the microphone’s body and then I see how much vibration ends up in the soft suspension part of the microphone, so that tells us how much dampening needs to be put into the suspension to reduce it and kill all the handling noise. It means that when you touch the microphone, you don’t get that ‘boom boom’ noise.”
Daniel also employs a laser system for further vibration tests: “This has another shaker on the ground and the laser measures the velocity so you can see the resulting resonance. We also have the microphone output signal, so we can tell how much noise is being produced by the vibration and movement. It is really for microphones which aren’t designed to go in a shock-mount, so we have to decide how to design the capsule and if we get a softer rubber with more internal damping, which cuts down the damping and then the noise.”
Another important test is how much noise emanates from the microphone itself. For this, Daniel has a special tank-like box with true sound isolation in which he places the microphone to test it.
“It’s aimed to be zero-dB SPL in there,” he says, “and the microphone is in there and everything is sealed. I have 60dB of damping acoustics and when the microphone goes in there, I can listen through my headphones to what the microphone sounds like in isolation. We use this to give the self-noise figures on the mic-spec sheets.”
Daniel demonstrates further tests for plosive effects using a large woofer system that moves air in a way that simulates (dramatic) vocal plosives, and finally, a sine sweep test in the office’s partial anechoic chamber to measure the frequency response of mics on test.
“Along with the self-noise figure, we have the frequency-response measurements, front and back, on every single microphone we produce. So when you go to our specs, you can trust them, as we measure them all.”