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Monday, May 10, 2010

Recording Review!
Grado HMP-1 Recording Instrument


A Microphone Like No Other



by Tom Jung

Back in the 1980s, I remember getting a call from longtime audio innovator Joe Grado. Joe told me about a new headphone he was working on, which ultimately turned into the ultra-reference quality Grado HP-1; it became a very important piece of gear in my recording toolbox.
In 2006, I got a similar call from Joe, but this time the call was about a new microphone he was working on. Since the digital recording pipeline (A/D and D/A) had improved so much, Joe figured the analog components on either end of the recording chain also could be improved. I could not agree more.
Joe Grado is no stranger to making audio products that command attention. After all, he holds nearly 50 patents, including one on the stereo moving coil phono cartridge. Since the 1950s, he has designed and marketed numerous products: his own line of magnetic phono cartridges, state-of-the-art turntables, tonearms and, of course, headphones.
When Joe decided to tackle the microphone, I knew it would be a product that would get noticed, and that is indeed the case with the new HMP-1 Recording System. After nearly four years of measuring, listening, and tweaking, I firmly believe Joe Grado has redefined the microphone category with the HMP-1! In fact, Joe does not even call it a microphone, he calls it a “recording instrument” and instead of using the word capsule, he terms it a sonic “accumulator.’’

Features
The Joe Grado HMP-1 Recording System is priced at $5,000, as a matched stereo pair, and looks as different as it sounds. The HMP-1 is an advanced, very high output, yet quiet, electret principle cartridge. Its 2-mm omni-directional capsule is mounted at the end of a half-inch diameter 10-inch probe, which is mounted on a rectangular aluminum electronics chassis — with an XLR connector on the end.

The Grado Recording System sounds so incredibly natural that the playback/monitor experience is almost surreal; no other mic comes close in this regard.

A solid aluminum block — with standard microphone stand 5/8-inch x 27-inch threads — slides up and down the probe, enabling adjustment of low-frequency attenuation to taste; flat response being all the way down, which is the way I used it. The recording system frequency response is rated from 20 Hz to more than 50 kHz.
Mechanically, the microphone is said to be totally inert, free of all resonance. Its construction from solid blocks of high purity aluminum and thick-wall tubing are claimed to ensure sonic neutrality. The parts also are anti-resonated and treated with an extremely hard coating of black anodizing.
The HMP-1 has a discrete, wide-bandwidth, low-distortion, zero-feedback buffer amplifier with an ultra-smooth extended frequency response. The external 48V phantom power is re-regulated inside what Joe calls the “48V Purifier,” then it is filtered and re-filtered to energize the capsule and power the output buffer.
Depending on cable quality, the 100-ohm balanced output can drive distances in excess of 300 feet. Output level is quite high, while noise is very low when you consider it only has a 2-mm diameter diaphragm.
Joe Grado says the HMP-1s are like “holographic scanners,” accurately picking up the direct sound source, plus the multitudes of reflections that occur in an acoustic space. The result, he said is “an absolute razor-sharp image” with “every sonic detail correctly in its place.” I agree with his description. The Grado Recording System sounds so incredibly natural that the playback/monitor experience is almost surreal; no other mic comes close in this regard.
I have closely followed the progress of the Grado microphone for almost four years now. At one point, it was a sphere-shaped stereo microphone with different versions — varying in diameter from a little over seven inches down to about two inches. Each had their good points, but the final version of the microphone sounds incredible. Actually, the HMP-1 does not have a sonic character or footprint; it simply captures what it hears, which is what we hear. (The new mic relays so much more sonic information that Joe had to upgrade the original Grado HP-1 headphone — just to hear all that was going on with his new microphone).

Recording classical music
Never have I heard a microphone capture sound moving in air with this degree of precision. On a recent classical piano recording project, using the Grados with a Korg DSD recorder for a recording session of a Steinway Grand, the pianist was very impressed after hearing the playback. “It sounds exactly like it does while I’m playing the piano,” he said. And on a local bluegrass project I recorded with the same system, both recorded vocals and acoustic instruments sounded exactly like they did live in the room — with all the tonal balance and imaging intact.

On a recent classical piano recording project, using the Grados with a Korg DSD recorder for a recording session of a Steinway Grand, the pianist was very impressed after hearing the playback. “It sounds exactly like it does while I’m playing the piano,” he said.

I recently recorded a private classical concert in a home, comprising a music room with an audience of about 60 people. The Baroque ensemble played period instruments from the 17th century, including baroque violin, viola da gamba, theorbo and baroque guitar
I set the pair of Grado microphones on two mic stands — five feet off the wood floor and four feet apart pointed straight up toward the ceiling, which is something I would never do with conventional omnidirectional microphones. (The HMP-1s are so “omni” that, even at 90 degrees off axis, the claimed response is good beyond 20 kHz.)
The microphones were linked straight to a Korg MR-1000 DSD recorder, which I operated from my lap, sitting in the first row in front of the musicians. Since I was right up front, I got a sense of how the music sounded in this room.
After the concert, I transferred the audio directly to my Sonoma DSD workstation, and then played it back. The recorded sound was better than I remembered hearing it live! As a recording engineer for nearly 50 years, that kind of sonic experience has rarely occurred.

I have done a number of DSD recordings with the HMP-1 recording system and still can’t believe how accurate it is. However, there are a few caveats. First, the HMP-1 has such high output that some recording devices, such as the Korg MR1000, can be overdriven — especially when an acoustical source is at a high sound level. With loud concerts or soloists, mic’d up close, you definitely can get overload distortion.
Using an outboard mic preamp, such as the Earthworks 1024 microphone preamp, with the Korg MR-2000S gives more control of the input signal to the recorder. (The Grado HMP-1s and Earthworks preamp are an ideal match. Tonal balances are right on — with distortion so low you forget you are listening to a recording).
My other caution is that the Grados’ amazing resolution capability makes the system brutally honest in what it picks up. If you are recording in an awful-sounding room, you will hear it. Conventional mics, depending on their sonic flavor, can sometimes color or soften a bad-sounding room, but not the Grados. Overly reflective spaces that sound really hard and edgy in real life will sound just as bad when recorded using the HMP-1s. Choose your recording space carefully.
In future recordings, I am looking forward to using more than two HMP-1s. I believe using multiple, ultra-accurate Grado mics for highlighting ambiance, for example, would not compromise the phase integrity of the main microphones — which is often a problem with most conventional microphones.

The verdict
If you are looking for a big fat bottom or a sizzly top-end sonic signature for your recording tasks, the Grado HMP-1 is not the mic for you. But if you are looking for the ultimate in accuracy and have access to nice-sounding rooms for recording, check out the Grado HMP-1 Recording Instrument system. The more resolution you record with (24-bit or, even better, DSD), the more real it sounds. It gets a Stellar Sound award with a capital “S.” For more information and dealer information, click Grado HMP-1.


A professional audio engineer for almost 50 years (Sound 80, DMP Records), Tom Jung reviews home theater, audiophile and high-end recording gear for the Everything Audio Network. He tests products from his home studio in North Carolina. He can be reached via email at tjeverything.audio@verizon.net.

Manufacturer's Comments:

Let me thank Everything Audio Network and Tom Jung for the fabulous review on my new HMP-1 holographic recording scanner system. you can rest assured that I will do everything in my power to continue to create whatever I can to further the quality of recorded sound for the industry.

I've gotten some calls asking me if it's true that the HMP-1 system records well only in good rooms? My answer is no; that is not true. The HMP-1 records perfectly in any room. Tom Jung is 100% accurate in what he said, and I agree with him completely. But that is not what Tom said.

What Tom said was that because the HMP-1 records everything with such accuracy, it will absolutely record the musical program with great accuracy. And at the same time, the crappy room sound will be recorded with the same great accuracy and mixed to the original program. That is a formula for disaster.

When you are on location stuck with what I call crappy room, there are basically three things you can do to do. Go find a good room and start over; use the shortcomings of conventional mics, which include lots of varied colorations, as distractive filtering tools; or use our new accessory to the HMP-1 — the enhancement/diffusion spheres. They can create good rooms from bad rooms, big rooms from little rooms and lots of other things. I have been recording sound since 1949, and believe me, I've had to record in a lot of crappy rooms; there is no way that I would leave you defenseless against crappy rooms.

It is my fault that Tom did not know about the enhancement/ diffuser spheres or I am sure he would have mentioned them in the review. I feel relatively certain that he will review them reasonably soon. We will start deliveries in about sixty days, and they better be good, or I'm going to know about it.

Read and see about the enhancement/diffusers on my web site joegrado.com or google it on joe grado sig.com Enjoy the beginning of perfect sound.


Joe Grado

President

Joe Grado

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©Everything Audio Network-2010



1 comment:

John Dozier said...

I was a bit surprised at earlier versions of the Grado mic; they seemed to be based on the Schoeps Stereospher which was in turn based on an even earlier Neumann design. I suspect the redesign may have had something to do with patent infringement, but Gado has apparently pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. I consider Mr. Jung to be one of the geniusses of modern audio and his analysis must be given great weight. I await further tests of the filters. John Dozier