The Aston Origin large diaphragm condenser microphone is deliciously quirky, manufactured in Great Britain, and a great sounding piece of kit that’s a little different from the norm.
It also bagged runner-up spot in our Absolute Best Microphone for Recording Vocals showdown review, pipped only by the Rode NT-1. So let’s take a closer look at this budget boutique microphone that’s big on performance and small on price.
What’s all the fuss about?
On the Interweb, there’s quite a few comparisons made between the Aston Origin and the jaw droppingly expensive Neumann U87. Legendary producers Steve Levine and Jayce Lewis are shining examples but have they gone insane?
Well no. Fact is, many users are genuinely surprised that this much quality is available for so (comparatively) little money. Since its introduction in 2016, the Origin has sold in bucketloads.
And one area where it positively annihilates its German opponent is on price – the Neumann costs around $3,000 whereas the Origin is in the $300 ballpark.
Is the former seriously ten times better than the latter? We highly doubt it but one thing’s for sure – the Origin cardioid holds its own against anything in its price bracket not to mention far more expensive microphones.
Adding to its appeal is the fact that it’s designed AND built in the UK using high quality components, doesn’t cost the earth and sounds fantastic.
In this video, Aston’s Richard Powell gives a good overview of the microphone. Note how Aston worked with a panel of 33 of the top producers and engineers in the UK who acted as the company’s ‘ears’ during the development process.
Let’s talk technical
This is a 1” diameter capsule side address large diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone that needs 48 volt phantom power to work. At this price point, it’s one of the best around and punches well above its weight.
And now, the specs:
- Transducer Type: 1” diameter capsule side address condenser
- Acoustic Operating Principle: Pressure Gradient
- Directional Polar Pattern: Cardioid
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz (+/-3dB)
- Equivalent Noise Level: 18dB A-Weighted
- Maximum SPL: 127dB
- Pad Switch: -10dB
- Low-Cut Filter: 80Hz
- Length: 4.92 inches
- Width: 2.13 inches
- Weight: 0.99lb
As the chart shows, there’s a gradual low rolloff starting at 120Hz and a slight boost across the high-mids that peaks at around 12kHz. At 20kHz things return to 0dB. More about this later, but the result is a detailed, relatively bright focused sound that works very effectively across a variety of applications.
We said this microphone is visually different and we weren’t joking. Its ‘tumbled’ stainless steel body gives the microphone a very industrial feel that we really like and whilst we wouldn’t advocate throwing any condenser mic around, you get the distinct impression that the Origin cardioid would dent the floor before sustaining any damage (don’t try this at home folks!)
The appearance is enhanced further by the unique wave-form mesh spring head which despite adding to the aesthetics, actually has a far more practical purpose – to protect the microphone’s capsule.
The wave-form mesh is highly shock-resistant and actually distorts if subjected to any knocks. It’s not designed to be totally rigid – the idea being that the stainless steel springy cage absorbs any knocks and actually deforms slightly on impact. It can then be returned to its original form by rolling on a flat surface. Ingenious.
Another welcome addition on Aston’s vocal condenser microphones is the inclusion of a stainless steel mesh knit pop filter built into the wave-form head. It’s a nice idea and does a half decent job of banishing those plosives and sibilants – not as good as using an external pop shield – but acceptable.
It’s a nifty addition if you’re on a tight budget – and because it’s stainless steel, it won’t rust. It can even be removed and washed.
Mounting and connecting
Typical of its ‘no-nonsense’ construction, the custom molded bottom end cap on the Aston Origin houses an integrated XLR connector and universal microphone stand adapter. In theory, this is all you need; the mic screws directly onto a stand, you plug the mic into your audio interface or mixer and you’re good to go.
In practice, we’d recommend using a dedicated shockmount because mounting the mic this way is susceptible to impact noise. It does make a bit of racket if you happen to bang the mic and if you’re using a boom stand, the noise is pretty significant.
Fortunately, if funds stretch, the Aston Origin Black Bundle is an excellent solution. It pushes the price up but also the performance level. You get a special edition black version of the Origin mic plus an Aston Swiftshield pop filter and shockmount set.
Go for the bundle if you can – it’s a sound investment – but If you’re financially strapped, don’t worry. With a little care, the basic version will do the job.
Corners have inevitably been cut with the Aston Origin but the good news is that it’s on the packaging, not the mic itself.
Aston calls it protective, environmentally sensible,economical and re-usable but basically it’s a cardboard box! We’re OK with that because it does the job and we’d rather see money spent on quality internal components to improve the performance of the mic – a view shared by Aston it seems.
However, if you intend to use the Origin in any other environment other than the studio – i.e. somewhere that involves transportation – you’re going to need a case or pouch. The provided cardboard box just won’t cut the mustard and will fall apart before long.
Make the switch
The switches on the Origin are a welcome addition in the sense that you never know when you might need them – and if you do, it’s good to know they’re there.
The -10dB pad is for those times when you simply need to drop the volume of the source. It might be to tame an over-enthusiastic death metal vocalist, a loud guitar cab or a drum kit where you’re using the Origin as an overhead mic. Think of it as an instant volume control. Nice to have.
The low cut filter basically clobbers any frequencies below 80Hz. We’d favor making adjustments of this nature in your DAW to clean up any low end rumble but the switch can be useful for rectifying far from perfect room acoustics. Perhaps you live near a busy street where there’s a constant low frequency traffic drone?
We probably wouldn’t use it much because it makes the sound a little thin – but it’s there if you need it.
Sounds like a winner
As we’ve seen, the frequency curve on the Aston Origin isn’t totally flat but sonically it’s natural albeit a little flattering. It’s quite bright sounding but definitely not harsh. On vocals and acoustic guitar it really shines – a little experimentation with mic positioning is recommended to find the sweet spot.
Reduce the brightness by rotating the microphone a few degrees to the side so that the vocalist is singing slightly off axis. The further off-axis, the more the high end will be softened
The proximity effect – the exaggeration of bass frequencies the closer you get to the microphone – isn’t especially boomy so the Origin will suit a wide range of vocal styles from breathy and intimate to more distant, bringing in more room acoustics. It works well in both scenarios.
But for many, the mark of a good large diaphragm condenser mic is how faithfully it reproduces the source that you throw at it. In that regard, when combined with a decent audio interface/preamp and room acoustics, it ticks all the boxes.
In a recording environment it’s supremely versatile. Use it on everything from male or female vocals, acoustic and electric guitars to sax, woodwind, piano or even as a drum overhead mic. The Origin may lack any real character of its own, but it does produce an accurate, unhyped authentic sound.
Self-noise is 18dB, which isn’t the quietest in its class, but acceptable. A bit noisy if you’re over enthusiastic in the gain department.
This video from Stephanie Forryan is a fine example of the Origin’s quality. Even more impressive is that this is unprocessed. Just a great female vocal, acoustic guitar and a smattering of percussion:
What’s in the box?
- The mic (doh!)
- An Aston pin
- Aston sticker
- Owner’s manual (or download it here)
- ⅝” to ⅜” mic stand adapter
- Thank you letter from Aston
- Quintessentially quirky. Stainless steel and built like a tank. Shockproof wave-form mesh head
- Excellent clarity and detail and highly versatile
- Acceptable built-in pop filter
- Extended free, three year warranty available by registering on the Aston website
- Not the cheapest but scores favorably on the bang for buckometer!
- A good voiceover mic
- A little noisy with the gain cranked up
- Commendable environmentally-friendly packaging but still a pouch would be nice
- Arguably a little light in the low mids
- The low cut is pretty severe
The Bottom Line
This British designed and built large diaphragm condenser microphone simply looks and sounds the business. A great all purpose mic that excels on just about anything you point it at. Highly recommended.
Head on over to Amazon for and check out the Aston Origin large diaphragm condenser mic now
Origin vs Spirit
While you’re here – In your quest for a large diaphragm condenser, it’s likely you will come across another of Aston’s microphones – the Spirit. This review isn’t intended to cover the Spirit but it’s worth noting the main differences.
Well, both use identical packaging; both feature the characteristic wave-form mesh design with built-in pop filter and mounting options and connections are universal.
In terms of differences, the Spirit is both larger and sports more features. The increased weight can make the Spirit more challenging to balance when used horizontally. It’s prone to tipping over. Not a dealbreaker by any means but something to bear in mind.
But the biggest difference is that the Spirit features multi-polar pattern options. The Origin is a straight cardioid only configuration but with the Spirit you can choose between cardioid, omnidirectional, or figure of eight – which offers much more versatility.
Sonically, the Spirit’s polar pattern options means we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples here, but in general the Spirit offers a warmer, more vintage vibe with a smoother top end and flatter bass response. By default it’s more versatile – but also more expensive.