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Lewitt LCT 540 SUBZERO

Lewitt LCT 540 SUBZERO

5 5 out of 5, based on 2 Reviews

The Lewitt Lct 540 Subzero is a high precision large diaphragm microphone with impressive specs and a very musical sound. It offers a lot of helpful features without breaking the bank and is capable of capturing images that are true to the source and larger than life at the same time.

4th January 2018

Lewitt LCT 540 SUBZERO by Dezibelzebub

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
Lewitt LCT 540 SUBZERO

I was looking for a low self-noise, high sensitivity microphone and came across LEWITT’s LCT 540 S. I had the pleasure to use one of their older LDC’s (I think it was the 640) in a studio a few years ago and I really liked its sound. After hearing some sound examples on I gave this one a shot and ordered one.

.) Appearance:
The microphone comes in a very sturdy protective case and has some kind of special-ops feel to it. Inside, the Microphone and the utilities reside in a foam bedding and I would definitely trust this case enough to tour with it. Included is a shock mount and a pop filter that connects to the shock mount via tiny magnets. I was sceptic at first, but it does in fact reduce plosives significantly. What it does not, is help keeping the performer at the same distance, the only downside I could find.

.) Sound:

Eager to hear it in action, I quickly hooked it up and let my wife have a go. (she mostly does audiobooks and voiceovers).
After she read a few lines I had a smile on my face. I know describing sound is very subjective, but what immediately came to my mind was: crystal clear without sounding sterile. The sound just had a natural beauty to it, I was deeply impressed.

Eager to hear it on other sources, I invited a friend who plays the violin and placed him in my recording space.
Since I wanted to capture the whole sound of the instrument, I placed the mic a bit further away than usual.
From the tiniest nuances in string noise, to the overall tone, the image the Lewitt captured was just magnificent. My friend, who has loads of experience had the same reaction as me when I played it back to him. He had a big smile on his face.

I told him about the impressive specs and low self-noise, but he was just like: “I don’t care! It sounds great, that’s all I need to know.” But he also had a funny Idea: “Let’s record my wristwatch, and see how quiet your mic is.”
We decided to put the mic in my guitar isolation cab, together with his watch and just cranked the preamp on my trusted Grace m101, which I consider to be very quiet.
And as you may have guessed, I got some pretty cool samples out of it. Not only the ticking, but the tiny mechanical movements in between came to life. I will definitely record some quiet stuff in the future, just for the fun of hearing it loud afterwards.

.) Functions:
Besides a Low-cut at 80 and 160 Hz, and a 6 or 12 dB PAD the LCT 540 S offers a Key lock function to keep your settings from being changed unintentionally, a clipping history which tells you if there was clipping during the recording and even a clever Auto Attenuation mode which engages the appropriate PAD when the incoming signals gets too hot. It communicates by changing the colour of the logo.
So, some minor but very thought out details, that make recording live easier.

.) Conclusion:

It seems the guys at Lewitt cooked up a very musical high precision instrument that will make a great addition to my arsenal. I definitely want a second one soon. To double the fun, and also to record in stereo. After all, I have two ears, and both of them are very happy with the 540 S.

So, 5 out of 5 from me!

  • 6
25th April 2018

Lewitt LCT 540 SUBZERO by microwave

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
Lewitt LCT 540 SUBZERO

When I received the Lewitt LCT 540S I wrote on my website that if this microphone was to be tortured by Torquemada, his hooded henchmen would not extract a whisper of self-noise from it. I think that what I meant to say is that the LCT 540S a very, very quiet microphone. It’s predecessor, the LCT 550, had a record breaking noise floor approaching theoretical zero, and just a bit more than that in real world performance. For engineering this one Lewitt had to build a bespoke measurement instrument, so some may be excused for thinking that in many real life recording scenarios, this would be a case of audio engineering making a baby with metaphysics - but after using it for a while I reached the conclusion that having all that low noise capability on tap is a benefit even when you are not completely aware of it. You might not use it all in a given situation, but it’s there and it makes sure that you have a safety net that will allow you, for instance, to use plenty of compression when mixing without nasty surprises.
My two LCT550s have become my to go condensers for instrumental and foley recording - like all of the upper end Lewitts I have tried they have that elusive combination of neutrality and slightly larger than life rendering, and are, of course, spookily quiet. The LCT540S is all that – just a bit more of everything. The “S” in the name originally standed for “Subzero”, a moniker that had to eventually be withdrawn because of copyright issues.
I didn’t carry out any scientific comparisons on how the LCT 540S compares to the 550. Judging by ear, I would say that they sound very similar, with the LCT 540S sounding perhaps a tiny big “bigger”, but we’re talking minutiae. All the qualities of the Lewitt upper end family are there: a lovely crispness that doesn’t become shrill even with difficult instruments like strings or the Appalachian dulcimer I recorded for these examples, that subtly larger than life, tridimensional quality they impart on the source and the ability to capture a lot of detail whilst still sounding musical rather than clinical.
As for the low noise, it’s hard to tell how much quieter the LCT540S is in respect of the 550, so I’ll leave that to people with the necessary instruments and a so inclined mind. I’ll just say that with both of these microphones I’ve been able to do creative recordings that would have been impossible before they had entered my studio life.

It’s almost pointless to state that in order to make use of this low noise capability you will need a high quality preamp with plenty of clean gain, otherwise the preamp’s noise floor will completely undo the work of the microphone. Of what I have here what worked best at high gain levels are the preamps from the Metric Halo ULN-8 and the Millennia HV-3C. Other pres work well for “normal” duties, indeed the LCT540S neutral character tends to project the voice of the preamp more than other microphones, but cranking them way over their comfort zones invariably ended up drowning the source in a sea of white noise, made even worse by any compression applied in post.

The LCT 540S is a cardioid microphone, with low cut filters at 160 and 80Hz, two pad choices (-6 and -12 db), some Lewitt only features like the possibility of engaging an automatic attenuation system, an integrated clipping indicator and even a clipping history mode.
Like the other family members it's super solid. It comes in a military grade case with a semi circular suspended mount, a soft padded pouch and a portable double mesh magnetic popper stopper that, unlike others, actually works.
All LCT 540S are checked at the factory to make sure that they are within the specified tolerances, which means that if you buy two they will be matched paired without having to pay extra.

At the beginning of the year I was hired to score and record the soundtrack for Luigi Lo Cascio’s adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, which debuted at Palermo’s Teatro Stabile in February and will be touring Italy next year.
Because time was very tight with this particular project we agreed that the score would be mostly electronic, so that changes could be made during rehearsals in Palermo without me having to re-book musicians and fly back to London to record again. However, it’s always good, with in-the-box scores, to add some extra layers of reality ear candy, so I used the LCT 540S to record some atmospheric sounds for layering over the samples and synths based cues.
One trick that I used before for theatre and contemporary dance scores is to record the sound of an unamplified stylus on a vinyl record (for which I used my pair of Lewitt LCT 550s very successfully in the past). This works well when further messed up with reverbs and delays to provide a background of otherworldly oddness.
One of the cues required underlining some transitions in time with the ticking of a metronome, which sounded objectively a bit plain both as an idea and in practice, so I added an extra effect by dragging a bolt attached to a thread over a stripe of coarse sand paper and drenching the resulting sound in reverb: a sound that was barely audible before recording became a huge aural ocean.
When I turned the Metric Halo ULN-8’s preamp up to record this, despite my supposedly well sound proofed instrumental booth I could hear noises from the car park behind my garden, a good fifty meters away, together with bird songs, home appliances hums and what was possibly the passionate cry of some lascivious bugs enjoyng a moment of exctasy. This audio voyeurism conjured up images of Harry Caul, the central character of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, a film that should be required viewing for all audio voyeurs.

I also had a chance to try the LCT540S on spoken vocals. The voice overs had been recorded in another studio in Rome, but I ended up having to to redo one since the text had undergone some last minute changes.
This was a piece of guerrilla tracking, done in a small changing room, which are invariably very boxy and reflective since they tend to be full of mirrors. With coats hanging behind the actor and a few cushions placed between his head and the mirror in front of him I tried to tame it as much as possible.

Vincenzo Pirrotta is one of the top actors of Italian theatre. He has a very warm voice, with overtones galore throughout the register and a crazy range. The LCT540S captured it very beautifully, with both the low chest resonance and the sparkly upper end perfectly in focus.
I asked Vincenzo to speak much closer to the microphone than normal in order to pick up as little room reflections as possible. This brought up the plosives so in every take I had at least a “p” that came up louder than I would have liked but you can’t blame the microphone for that…
I normally add a bit of compression when tracking speech but I got worried that it might emphasize the room reflections so I just kept the level slightly lower than normal.
Here’s an extract of the finished take, mixed with the background music and effects.

When finally back in my little studio boudoir, in order not to bore you with samples of crackling vinyl and slithering fastenery, I gave a call to my extremely talented friend Sheila Durkin who is recording, in bits and pieces, an album of her songs at my place. I asked her if she was up to doing a track using the LCT 540S for everything, together with über multi instrumentalist Johnny Be, who would add some overdubs with his Appalachian dulcimer.

Sheila’s guitar is an old nylon string contraption that is definitely not a breeze to record, but she is used to it and as many players she feels uneasy on a new instrument. It sounds very low-mid centric and can easily end up coming out muddy or even boomy.
In the past I've recorded it with a pair of Audio Technica ATM450s, which worked ok as they don’t have a whole lot of bass, but I always had to put some eq on them for clarity and to unlock the congested mid frequencies.
Moving the LCT 540S around on headphones whilst she was playing I pointed it a few centimeters more towards the neck (rather than the sound hole) than I normally would and I engaged the 160 Hz filter. Suddenly, it sounded just right, so this is how it was recorded – and how it stayed in the mix. Mic filters can sound quite crude and I wouldn’t normally use such a steep one on the way in – I’d rather use a sweeter filter to get rid of low frequencies when mixing, as it’s easy enough to remove them but much harder to put them back should you change your mind. Anyway I trusted my ears on this one and it worked off the bat, as you can hear. I was also really impressed by the mic’s really great transient response.
As we recorded with one mic, I asked Sheila to do the guitar track separately whilst humming the melody to keep track of where she was. You can hear some gentle humming in the guitar part but it adds character to the whole.
We tracked without a click - the fact that Sheila is a crack rhythm guitar player able to nail a whole take without drifting even slightly also helped to make the session smooth and relaxed…

Using the LCT540S for sung vocals was a revelation, Sheila has a husky voice and I thought this Lewitt might sound analytic rather than warm but it proved me wrong by capturing a glorious take that left everyone elated. There’s everything: detail, weight, dynamics. The only undesirable guests were a few mouth artifacts, an inevitable side effect of such a precise microphone, but easy enough to get rid of.

Unlike Sheila’s guitar, the Appalachian dulcimer is a lovely instrument, but with a lot of treble resonances that can become harsh at times, so I normally use one or two ribbons on it. I placed the LCT 540S further away from it that normal (about one meter), and the recording came out really smooth and perfectly balanced.

Here is the mix of the whole song (© Sheila Durkin 2018). There’s a bit of buss compression (UAD Neve 33609, which is great for this kind of track) and the vocal and guitar are treated with the Ocean Way Studios room reverb and EP-34 tape echo. The vocals have a UAD LA-2A Silver to ride the peaks and the dulcimer goes through some UAD Space Echo, old tape crinkles and all.

At around 650 Euros the LCT 540S is not cheap, but it can easily be seen as a high end microphone with a mid price tag – so in that sense it’s not expensive either. Even disregarding the almost preternatural low noise performance it’s a great microphone that you should be able to use on just about anything. It is fabulous on instruments and vocals, and the excellent transient response would also make it a very good microphone for percussion.
Those looking for a first “serious” studio mic might also consider some arguably more versatile alternatives, for example the pretty fantastic LCT 640 TS, which is not as quiet but sounds very similar and has multiple polar patterns, stereo capability and more.
However, if you often record quiet sources, foley, or acoustic instruments that benefit being tracked from a distance and want something among the very best available for that application, it’s a simple choice.

Attached Thumbnails
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