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
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
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
HEBDEN SOUND MICS
High-quality capsules and electronics.
Sturdy and reliable.
No stand adaptors supplied.
No windshields supplied.
A little prone to handling and wind noise.
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
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.
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!