I always like having a lot of options in my mic closet. There are times that I lean heavily on my most expensive microphones, but I often find it far more helpful to have as many effective, trustworthy options as possible. I'm often surprised by the mic that proves best for a job, so the more choices I have to try, the better. When an inexpensive new microphone comes along that fills a hole in my closet that I hadn't even thought about, I'm always excited. The KEL Audio HM-1 sounds very different from my other small-diaphragm condensers, at a very affordable price. KEL's frequency response chart for the HM-1 is a straight line, which matches the sound of the mic. It purposely lacks the presence peak or "air" that all of my other SDCs provide (and that I turn to them for). A closer comparison than a conventional SDC would be Audio-Technica's now discontinued medium-diaphragm AT3525. The HM-1 has a bit less transient detail than the AT3525-this slower response resembles some dynamic mics more than a stereotypical condenser. For sounds with midrange that needs to fall naturally into a mix without fighting highs or lows from other parts, the HM-1 can be perfect. It flattered a blunt, cold synthesizer part and landed instantly where it belonged in the song. Another synth part with too much coarse edginess was less perfect; it captured too much of the high-end's abrasiveness. At the other end of the sonic spectrum, it captured a weird autoharp-like folk instrument beautifully, with just the right coloration. It has sounded consistently interesting on vocals, and while it's yet to "win" in my initial tests, I'm looking forward to the song where it will. The construction quality feels very solid, and KEL's website describes their quality control processes in detail. (This issue has surfaced in the past with mics made in China, so I admire KEL's addressing it directly.) The KEL Audio HM-1 is not a versatile "Swiss Army knife" mic; it wasn't meant for that purpose. It's a welcome addition to my slowly-growing mic closet at its affordable price, which includes a custom shockmount and shipping.
($129 direct; www.kelaudio.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.