Comparing Gene Lawson’s L251 microphone capsule to Tim Campbell’s CT12 capsule

A comparison of the Lawson 2521 capsule to the Campbell CT-12 capsule
This test should be interesting. The goal isn’t to see how much better one capsule or the other is, but to describe the differences when they are mated to the Lawson 251 tube microphone body. Both capsules have gotten great reviews, so I am thrilled to be able to test them out in a somewhat controlled test environment that removes at least the electronics from the equation. As always though, this type of thing is more a matter of subjectivity than science. At the moment, Tim’s capsule is on its way back from Lawson Microphones, since I wanted to give them a chance to hear it in person too. They mounted it in a new Lawson headbasket and were very helpful throughout the process.

A cautionary note: Gene and Gayle are very helpful and have no problems mounting someone else’s capsule in their own microphones, if that is what the customer wants. Tim is incredibly helpful too. It’s rewarding and fun to work with such great companies! This customer-centric approach is very cool and it’s not something that you’d typically encounter in this industry, especially from a manufacturer. Having said that, you will not save any money over buying a Lawson 251 head assembly and you’ll be the general contractor for several processes that must happen in order to make this work. It is about 4 months or so of wait time from your first contact with Tim, to having Lawson install the capsule in their headbasket at their shop, to  plugging it in. For cost estimates, you’re looking at the cost of Tim’s capsule, plus the cost of a new Lawson headbasket, plus the labor charges to mount the capsule within one (if you don’t get a custom mount from Tim off the bat). Essentially, the total cost is roughly the same as getting a new Lawson capsule head assembly with Gene’s 251 capsule in it.

First impressions and a disclaimer
This post will be developed as the days go on, but my first impressions are that both capsules are remarkable. They are in the same family, but quite different from each other. You have to remember that I’m listening to each one on the same Lawson L251 body, a body designed for Gene’s capsule (obviously), not Tim’s. So, my comments are focused on relative attributes, not some baseline set in stone, “this is the sound and only sound” of Tim’s capsule. You must remember that the amplifier has its way with the signal, too.

If I could say the same thing three times, the third time would go like this: this is how Tim’s capsule sounds on a Lawson L251 body. It can and probably will sound different on a C12, ELAM 251, 414, Gyraf DIY mic, etc. This test is really only useful for those who wondered whether they could ever get a different capsule in a Lawson headbasket and if so, what it would sound like.

Lawson microphone L251 capsule

The Lawson Microphones L251 capsule

Comparative listening: The Lawson L251 capsule
Gene’s L251 capsule is really well balanced in the high and low end and it works beautifully on just about every vocalist I have used it on. I might slightly prefer one mic or another at times, but I’ve never heard a “bad” sound come out of this capsule/mic combo on vocals. It has a very nice high end breathiness that is smooth, not harsh. The low end can be modified by the “L47/L251” switch on the power supply – this switches a bass roll off circuit on, as the original 251 had. As I’ve seen from Tim’s capsule especially, there is a LOT of bass in these CK12-influenced designs! When you use the 47-style capsule with the body, the switch removes the low cut circuit.

Some other places where this mic shines is on acoustic guitar (man!) and room micing a drum kit. Not having used C-12s a lot for drum kit work, I was really surprised at how nicely the high end made the kit pop, but didn’t over exaggerate the cymbals. There was no harshness at all and when I compared the L251 to a 414eb in the same position, the L251 was far more real, had more balls, and also had more “reach” or depth. Maybe that isn’t surprising, or maybe it is. Either way, choices here should be made in the context of an entire mix. I was happy to find that the comparison held up later on as I still found myself going for the Lawson track over the 414eb in this song.

Gene originally had used a MBHO capsule in his earlier versions of the L251, but he makes this capsule by hand now, just like his 47 capsule which has always been made at his shop. There are some design differences in materials at least – this is most easily seen by comparing photos (coming soon).

tim campbell's CT-12 capsule

Tim Campbell’s CT-12 capsule

Comparative listening: The Campbell CT-12 capsule
Tim’s capsule is different, in a very complementary way. It’s really fun to have these different flavors available and the easiest way to describe these capsules might be this: both are in the CK-12 family (as much as my interpretation of this holds true). One is a balanced version of everything good about this capsule, and the other exaggerates (or simply exhibits?) a few of the best known parts of this design. I’ve been quite surprised at how well each one performs in different scenarios.

Tim’s capsule on the L251 body has the very high end bump (commonly known in the CK-12 family of capsules) centered around 10kHz, while Gene’s starts around the 7K range and extends upwards a bit. Tim’s capsule definitely produces more “air” up there. The result is that you get super breathy vocals with Tim’s capsule, perfect for R&B and singer/songwriter applications, among others. Remember Blue Microphones’ Blueberry? When it came out, it was hyped as being perfect for modern vocals that are squashed. In the same way, if you roll off the low end of this capsule, you’ll find the same sort of effect that works very well with R&B vocals. The low end also seems to extend a bit deeper than Gene’s capsule, almost as if I had switched on the “L47” setting on his power supply (I had to double check to make sure). On close up vocals, the Lawson is controlled in this manner; on the CT-12 capsule, you can get more bottom end out of it, as there is a pronounced proximity effect.

Put into a mix, both capsules “fit” and sound great. It often depended on the style of music more than anything. The exaggerations of Tim’s capsule on this microphone gave it the edge when looking for those attributes (super proximity effect and super high-end breath). If those attributes weren’t welcome, then it seemed to be a little bit too much “out there” compared to Gene’s capsule.

I know that Gene used to use MBHO capsules for his L251 and I think that he may have designed this version to balance out the response for some of the same reasons that I am noting here. However, I once owned one of those L251s and I loved it, though I found it useful for a smaller range of duties, but the things it did well, it really did well. I am happy to report that as far as I can remember, Tim’s capsule has all of those qualities that I liked in the previous incarnation of the L251.

Again, it’s down to choice of application rather than one capsule being the best at everything.

When recording acoustic guitar it really depended on the guitar itself and what the song required. If a scooped characteristic and a lot of compression was needed, Tim’s capsule seemed to do a bit better, as long as the low end was rolled off. Gene’s capsule seemed to do a bit better in providing a balanced picture of the guitar. These were fairly minor differences, though. In addition, the pattern control added more differences to each capsule, making it harder to nail down the “best” in each test because each one sounded great and offered something a bit different.

On drums, the cymbals presented the biggest differentiator as whether I liked the CT-12 or Lawson capsule. If the cymbals were well-balanced, both capsules sounded great, but Tim’s gave them a nice extra airiness that worked well. If the cymbals were harsher, the Lawson capsule tended to balance everything out and if the cymbals were really harsh, sometimes the CT-12 provided a nice brightness that lessened the harshness. Other times, it simply accentuated them. The body of the drums (if the mic was used as a room mic) sounded very nice with both capsules. The Lawson provided a great picture of the kit; the CT-12 produced something an 1176 would love and did love – the extra low end and high end gave this combo a bit of extra bite that was very cool in some some rock mixes.

And as the tests rolled on, I found that the capsules had more similarities than differences. They are each excellent capsules and the major differences are the low, low end and the high, high end found in Tim’s capsule and the sheer balanced character of Gene’s capsule. Before anyone jumps to conclusions based on this “test” about one capsule or the other, you don’t know what Gene is doing in the amplifier. It may well be that Tim’s capsule isn’t as exagerated at the bottom and top, but instead Gene’s capsule is shy in these areas and he has manipulated the amp to compensate. Choosing the right output coupling capacitor and biasing the tube can easily change these areas. Bottom line, this test is not about capsules more than it is about capsule/amplifier combos (specifically, the L251 amplifier). Since the amp isn’t necessarily linear, it doesn’t allow you to hear the real response of the capsules.

So, what will I have? I’d rather have both and let the source and song decide. It makes the mic even more versatile!

Gene Lawson can be contacted at lawsonmicrophones.com and Tim Campbell can be contacted at Campbell Transmitter. Tim is always happy to adjust the sound of his capsules to a customer’s taste. His work is top notch and I’ve obviously been very impressed with the CT-12.

Pictures coming soon.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Comparing Gene Lawson’s L251 microphone capsule to Tim Campbell’s CT12 capsule”
  1. Tim Campbell says:

    Just to clarify, I was not told of the intended use of this capsule. If I had known I could have provided a mount that could better fit Gene’s headbasket or installed the capsule myself in my shop. My lead time on a capsule is usually 4-6 weeks.

    • monkbam says:

      Thanks Tim! Tim is right – I had no idea where the capsule was going to be mounted and he can happily accommodate any special requests. From first contact to receiving the capsule, it took almost 2 months to a day from Tim’s side – not bad considering the craftsmanship that goes into these things! His delivery estimate is very close to my experience and it varies a bit per month. You should expect less than a week for the shipping.

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