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Reviews

 

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Sound on Sound review - 1999

 

 

 

There aren't all that many British mic companies, but one - Hebden Sound - offer a complete range of hand-built capacitor mics, sourced entirely from British components. Hugh Robjohns tries them out.

Hebden Sound microphones have an interesting history, beginning life as a homespun Calrec product line in the late '70s. Calrec, based in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, are known now for their analogue and digital broadcast mixing consoles, but they have had their own share of a chequered history. In the 1980s, the company was acquired by AMS, who were keen to exploit their assignable analogue and fledgling digital console technology. Although continuing the console manufacturing side of the business, AMS had little interest in the microphones other than for the Soundfield range, which carried the AMS brand for many years. In 1991 AMS and Calrec parted company, and Calrec started manufacturing analogue broadcast consoles again.

At around the same time Keith Ming, an AMS engineer who spent much of his time maintaining Calrec microphones, saw the potential market and enthusiasm for the range, and decided to leave AMS to start manufacturing and supporting the microphones through his own company, under licence. Incidentally, Soundfield microphones are now manufactured and marketed by a company bearing the Soundfield name in Wakefield.

The new company, Hebden Sound, has been trading since 1991, and Keith currently has two main product lines, the 1000 series and the 2000 series. These both employ the same capsules and electronics, but the 2000 series features detachable capsules whilst the 1000 series are fixed-bodied microphones.

Every element of these microphones is manufactured in the British Isles, and Keith assembles the capsule components by hand himself to ensure they meet his exacting standards before testing every complete microphone with a MLSSA acoustic analysis system. The diaphragm uses a polyester base material coated in a thin layer of aluminium which, it is claimed, provides low distortion, and the ability to handle high sound-pressure levels.

For this review, Keith supplied two large boxes containing pairs of everything in both the 1000 and 2000 ranges - 12 mics in all. Few manufacturers bother to supply pairs of mics for magazine reviews, so I took great delight in making several stereo locations recordings, as well as using them for close-mic studio work.

The 1000 Series

The 1000 series is the entry level, with just two models available, the CM1050 and the CM1051. These are simple plug-and-play, no-frills microphones - both have cardioid polar responses, but the CM1051 has built-in bass rolloff making it more suitable for vocal and studio boom use (where proximity effect and low-frequency vibrations can overload the internal preamplifier).

HEBDEN SOUND MICS
pros
Good-value mics.
High-quality capsules and electronics.
Sturdy and reliable.
British-made.
cons
No stand adaptors supplied.
No windshields supplied.
A little prone to handling and wind noise.
summary
High-quality British-made capacitor mics at surprisingly attractive prices. The 1000 series provides very cost-effective cardioid mics whilst the 2000 series offers detachable capsules and a wider range of capsules with only a modest price increase.

Both models are 140 x 22mm in size, weigh 113 grams and are finished in a durable matte-black, apart from an anodised ring at the base which is etched with model number, polar pattern, manufacturer and serial number. The business end of the mic contains four rows of slots to allow sound to the rear of the capsule, lined internally with a fine wire mesh grille which also covers the end face.

The standard cardioid has a quoted frequency response of 30Hz to 20kHz whilst the 1051's extends between 40 and 20kHz - although the audible effect is rather greater than the figures might suggest. The other key specifications are common to both mics and include a cardioid rear null of better than 20dB rejection and a sensitivity of 0.8mV/microbar (equivalent to 8mV/Pa). Self-noise is 17dBA (IEC179) and the maximum SPL (at 0.5 percent THD) is 130dB. The mic is powered by a standard 48V phantom supply (+6,-8V) and requires 0.5mA of current.

None of the mics were supplied with standmounting clips, although they did come in nice foam-lined zip-up cases. The Hebden Sound price list does not include spare mic clips either, so a potential purchaser should bear in mind the requirement for stand adaptors of some sort. With a 22mm body diameter, however, many standard mic stand adaptors will fit the Hebden Sound mics, and the bulldog clip types will obviously accommodate the range without any problems at all.

Once rigged, these mics performed extremely well. They may not be the quietest mics available, but are certainly in the right ball park and were easily quiet enough for everything I tried them on, including use as a distant spaced-pair on an acoustic session. The bandwidth is wide and flat, the mics having a pleasingly neutral character which remains well-controlled to off-axis sounds, as well as on-axis sources. Indeed, the polar response is well-controlled and respectably uniform across the frequency range, with a good rear null and a fairly narrow frontal aspect. I was, however, a little surprised at how much handling and wind-blasting noise the 1051 suffered, considering it has the built-in bass rolloff. It was better than the 1050 but not as good as I expected.

Overall, the Hebden Sound 1000 series mics performed extremely well, given the price, and certainly sound very clean and natural. I'm surprised that a decent stand adaptor is not included with the mic - ideally one which offers a degree of mechanical decoupling since both mics seem a little prone to physical vibration. In applications where there is likely to be any kind of airflow (such as warm air rising from an audience to mics slung overhead) a windshield is an absolute essential, and again I'm surprised Hebden Sound are not making something suitable available. It is fortunate that many audio component suppliers can source these kinds of accessories, although the need to purchase third-party accessories makes the value-for-money pricing of the mics look slightly less attractive.

The 2000 Series

The 2000 series is more of the same really, although there is a wider range of capsules. This range of mics share the same 22mm body diameter, but are slightly longer to accommodate the mechanics of a detachable capsule head assembly. The majority of microphones in this range are 158mm in length, although the CM2056 versions (a cardioid with windshield basket) is 184mm overall.

Other than being slightly longer, there is little to identify the mics, which have the same matte-black finish with an anodised base, although the review models featured a brass insert bearing the 'HS UK' logo. The preamp body model and serial numbers are also engraved on this bass ring, whilst the bottom of the capsule features a similar anodised ring carrying the capsule model and serial numbers, along with a polar pattern diagram.
"The bottom line is that these are high-quality, good-value mics, made in Britain by a craftsman who cares about what he is making."

The electrical specifications for the 2000 series are identical to those of the 1000 series - hardly surprising since they share the same capsules and preamplifier electronics! Self-noise figures of 17dBA, maximum sound-pressure levels of 130dB and sensitivity of 0.8mV/microbar all seem very familiar...

Unscrewing the capsule reveals a brass connecting stud in the centre of a large-profile coarse thread approximately 10 mm in diameter. There is no danger of crossing this thread, which will be a great relief to anyone who has suffered the incredibly fine capsule threads seen on the likes of the old AKG H51 mics! The Hebden Sound capsule contains a spring-loaded pin in the centre of its threaded collar to mate with the stud on the preamp body, the thread apparently carrying the return signal path. The connection seemed completely reliable and trouble-free during my review period.

Five mics are available in the CM2000 series: two omnidirectional capsules and three cardioids. Taking the cardioids first, the CM2050 and CM2051 use the same internal capsules as the 1050 and 1051, the 2051 version having the bass-cut for television studio boom and vocal applications, as before. The CM2056 model contains the same capsule as the 2051, but provides additional protection with a spherical wire-mesh windshield against plosive popping when used for vocals, for example. In practice I found this model to be particularly effective on voices in situations where the 2050 and 2051 suffered the occasional wind blast.

The omnidirectional models are available with or without an internal windshield. The CM2001 contains the additional windshield, making it more suited to vocal use, whilst the CM2003 is intended for general studio use where the additional level of protection is not required. Apart from the engraving on the capsule collar, the other obvious difference between the cardioid and omnidirectional capsules is that the latter have only two horizontal side slots instead of four.

The omni mics suffer far less handling noise and blasting problems, as might be expected, but are still more susceptible than many other common studio omnidirectional microphones. However, their smooth and open frequency response, with very low coloration, make them ideal, and cost-effective, studio mics. The CM2003 version worked very well indeed as a close mic on a range of acoustic instruments, and fared equally well as part of a spaced pair.

  Prices  
  CM1050C 197.40.
CM1051C 197.40.
CM2001 280.70.
CM2003 262.60.
CM2050 262.60.
CM2051 262.60.
CM2056 311.49.

All prices include VAT.

 

Round-up

I thoroughly enjoyed using the Hebden Sound microphones. They are well-engineered, solid, reliable devices built by hand and with considerable care and attention to detail. They sound lovely and certainly represent very good value for money, assuming you want genuine capacitor microphones built properly. I say that because there are a number of mass-market back-electret models around today which perform extremely well - often far better than many of the more traditional and considerably more expensive studio capacitor mics - but few feel as solid and reliable as these HS mics.

The Hebden mics need to be treated with care and respect, particularly in terms of positioning and mounting. It is this last aspect which is the only real disappointment, since the mics are not supplied with any form of stand adaptor. The advantage is that it leaves the user free to purchase whatever kind of adaptor will best suit their budget and application. The disadvantage is that when the attractive pouch arrives, you can't just attach the mic to a stand and start using it! The same applies with foam windshields, although these are more of an optional accessory than an essential part of the package.

The bottom line is that these are high-quality, good-value mics, made in Britain by a craftsman who cares about what he is making. I recommend you try these mics out for yourself and see how good the local brew is!

 information
See Prices box.
Hebden Sound
+44 (0)1422 842443.
+44 (0)1422 846278.
hsmicuk@aol.com

 

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1999 Sound On Sound Limited. The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the Editor can be held responsible for its contents. The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the Publishers or Editor.

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