UK experts Aston are creating increasing waves in the audio community with a small range of boutique microphones. Today we’ll look at the Aston Origin, which is the cheapest mic in the company’s range at $246.51 USD (€255, £216.21). The Origin is UK-made cardioid large diaphragm condenser with a one-inch gold evaporated capsule. The transformerless design is intended for a range of applications, although acoustic guitar and vocals are the most obvious choices. If you are looking for a much cheaper studio mic, check out the Behringer C1 review, it’s a quarter of the price. Otherwise you can hear the Aston Origin paired with both the vocalists I refer to in the article in the SoundCloud tracks embedded below.
Down to business: the Aston Origin specs
Let’s start with a quick run-through of the specs. The Aston Origin has a frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz, maximum SPL of 127dB and equivalent noise level of 76dB-A. The noise level is higher than some competing large diaphragm condensers, but it wasn’t high enough to cause any problems. There’s also a -10dB pad switch for louder sources and an 80Hz low-cut filter. The mic, which requires 48 V phantom power, weighs in at 0.439 kg and measures 124.5 x 54 mm (L x W).
There’s a wave-form mesh head which is designed to protect the Origin as well as provide off-axis rejection. Aston have also integrated a pop filter into the mesh. Personally I found that an additional pop filter was required for recording vocals, at least while recording on-axis. I should also mention, the mic is a damn good looking piece of gear. I’m a writer by trade not a photographer, so the photos don’t really do it justice.
Origin delivers “smooth and intimate sound”
Aston state the Origin is designed to:
“deliver direct, smooth and intimate sound for a natural and transparent recording.”
Apart from the transparent part, their description is pretty dead-on. It certainly has its own distinct, if subtle, character which is present across various sources. That’s not a bad thing though, it’s just worth noting. The mic shares some similarities with the Aston Spirit, which is a large diaphragm condenser with switchable polar patterns (omni, cardioid or figure-of-eight).
The Origin was the perfect choice for the first application I tried it on: female vocals. It easily outperformed the other large diaphragm condensers in my collection. The vocalist I’m working with sounds best when paired with a mic that reduces excess low frequencies. The Origin did this while retaining the body of the vocal. This was complemented by a smooth, pleasant high end. The vocals were recorded without the use of the low cut, as using it changed the character of the vocal too drastically and made it somewhat tinny.
I would happily use this mic to record all the female clean vocals on the EP I’m currently recording. The natural EQ of the mic was subtle but worked really well with the source. In a way the EQ curve of the mic reminded me of the Rode NT1-A, although not quite as drastic and with a much smoother end result.
Aston Origin puts vocals front and centre
Another view of the fine-looking Aston Origin.
Another aspect I really liked about the Aston Origin is the presence of the mic. You don’t have to do much processing to make the vocal sound good or to pop in the mix, which of course is going to make engineers love it. Normally I’d spend a lot of time EQing and compressing a take to get the kind of result you can achieve instantly with the Origin. I’m not saying it doesn’t benefit from any processing but it’s just a much quicker, easier job. The mic brings the vocals front and centre in a mix without being unpleasantly hyped.
Results vary for male vocals
The Aston Origin EQ curve and polar pattern.
When recording male vocals I had a somewhat different experience, at least with the particular singer I was working with. I recorded the same vocalist with both the Aston Origin and the Audio-Technica AT2035. The AT2035’s ability to thicken up the low end of the vocal complemented the singer’s somewhat thin voice really well. The mic is $100 cheaper than the Origin but I found that it nonetheless performed better for several of the songs.
However, the Origin did shine for certain applications with this vocalist. In the softer and spoken word sections, which tended to be in a lower register, the Origin worked really well. It helped bring the subtleties in the vocals out, which meant the lower register material didn’t require as much thickening up to sound good. I’m sure that the Origin would work perfectly for some other male vocalists in higher registers as well if their voices had different characteristics to the singer discussed above. As mentioned the warmth and presence provided by the mic makes it a pleasure to record vocals with.
Course vocal performance leaves much to be desired
The Origin wasn’t a particularly good choice for coarse vocals. I recorded a female course vocalist who has a timbre fairly similar to Winston McCall from Parkway Drive (obviously it’s a little different but that’s the closest comparison I can come up with). The Origin sounded overly EQed for the scream vocals and as a result it didn’t naturally represent the sound of the vocalist. It might work if you’re interested in a tailored kind of sound for course vocals, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I’ve got much cheaper large diaphragm condensers that produce better results for course vocals, such as a MXL 2006. I really doubt Aston had much intention to try and make the Origin the go-to mic for recording screamers though, so it’s not really surprising.
Aston Origin perfect for acoustic guitar
The Origin is right at home for recording acoustic guitars. It captures the full breadth of the instrument, with warm mids and full, pleasant highs. It captures the lows accurately, although they are less emphasised than the mids and highs. As a result I’d be more inclined to use a larger body acoustic with this model, although it can perform well on any acoustic. Naturally, using different mic positions can help you find a sweet spot for different guitars.
Clean electric guitar comes out sounding full with the Aston Origin, with an emphasis on the mids and highs. The mic is also a natural choice for recording overdriven sounds, particularly if you want to get a wider sound that incorporates more of the room. The tonality of the mic is also right at home for capturing lead sounds, as they don’t come off sounding shrill. Due to the open sound of the mic, it wouldn’t be my first choice for close miked high gain sounds though.
With bass guitar, the Origin can produce good results, with plenty of clarity throughout the frequency range. Many engineers would likely be more inclined to use a mic with a tighter, more prominent low end for that application though. That’s not to say the Origin wouldn’t be a good choice if you were going for a unique bass sound, for example some Joy Division-style high register bass playing.
A consideration of the downsides
In terms of downsides, there’s not that many. It’s certainly not cheap but it hits above its price-range, so it’s hard to fault it there. There’s no shock mount included, which is a bit disappointing as many cheaper mics include them. Most people looking to make this kind of outlay on a mic would probably already have a shock filter lying around though. There’s also no hardcase included, just a cardboard box. That’s the biggest downside I can think of. It would certainly be nice to have something to protect an investment like the Origin. Presumably this was a measure to keep the price down, as Aston certainly haven’t skimped on any part of the mic itself.
So, is it worth $250?Absolutely. The mic has already found its way into pro studios across the world and there’s no wondering why. Like any mic, the Aston Origin is better suited to some sources than others. It’s a good all-rounder but it excels at vocals, acoustic guitar as well as certain types of electric guitar playing. The sound is simultaneously full and detailed, which can be a hard combination to get right. If I had the spare funds I’d certainly make the Origin a permanent fixture in my mic collection.
It’s bright without being harsh – it almost has a ribbon-like quality to the top end that is very pleasing.
It’s very versatile — so far had great results on male and female vocalists, acoustic guitar, electric guitar amps, drum overhead, and bass drum resonant head.
I’ve never been a big fan of condensers as vocal mics but the clarity of the Origin just blows my SM7b right out of the water for musical applications.
I find that I need to add very little EQ. A great mic at a great price.
Transducer Type: Condenser
Acoustic Operating Principle: Pressure Gradient
Directional Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz (+/-3dB)
Equivalent Noise Level: 18dB A-Weighted
Sensitivity at 1kHz into 1kohm: 23.7mV/Pa
Maximum SPL for THD 0.5%: 127dB
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (rel. 94dB SPL): 76dB A-Weighted
Pad Switch: -10dB
Low-Cut Filter: 80Hz
48 Volt Phantom power (+/- 4 Volts) is required for operation