After 18 months of R&D and 3 months of public listening tests to develop the sound of our new mic, the Aston Element, we can finally reveal the full product details…
Aston Element, with its all new ‘Ridyon’™ capsule technology for superior performance at low cost, ships complete with a custom shock mount and pop shield and all for only £159 / €179 / $199 MRP.
Like all Aston mics, Element incorporates a huge amount of innovation. Everything from the capsule technology, the chassis design, the magnetic pop filter and even the backlit-LED logo 48V phantom power indicator (or as we like to call it, cool light!) massively go beyond the limits of products normally sold at this price point.
Not only is Element extremely affordable, but it will consistently outperform all mics in its class. This is something which you really don’t have to take our word for, because over 4000 customers from all across the world have helped us to define the sound of Element in peer-reviewed blind listening tests against the biggest brands in the business. During the course of this 3-month public testing series, we have developed the sound of the mic using data collected from these comparison tests, which have included major brand competitors such as Blue, Rode, AKG, Audio Technica and Neumann.
We chose to put Element up against the mics we consider to be the best in their class, so we could push the boundaries of performance. All these brands make superb products, but our goal was to make a mic which is able, in blind tests, to be consistently voted as the favourite. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s the ‘best’ because mic choice is very subjective. However, what it does mean is that the majority of people prefer the sound they get from Element compared with big brand competitors… and that means you can be absolutely confident that you’ll get superb results every time.
Blind listening test results
We spent a total of over 18 months developing the Aston Element; much longer than most products take in this class. More usual would be 6-9 months, which gives you some indication of just how complex this microphone package is.
The first 15 month period of our R&D process involved the development of our new Ridyon capsule technology, the acoustic housing for this (which involved a LOT of testing) and the design and prototyping of the chassis, the grille diffuser and many other pieces of proprietary technology in both the mic and the shock mount and pop shield accessories.
The final 3 months, however, has been all about public choice. Rather than simply putting a new technology straight to market, we engaged in public blind listening tests (by this we mean that coded audio files were made available to the public to audition and rank in order of preference) across 3 separate sessions from May 1st to July 15th. The results of this process, a world’s first in the ProAudio industry, are what have determined the sound of the final product… the world’s first ‘People’s Microphone’ – Aston Element.
Session 1 included our first Aston Element prototype in its raw form up against the 5 dominant, big-brand competitors chosen as the best of the best in their class. These included mics from Audio Technica, Rode, AKG, Blue and Neumann. Before we even got to these 5 mic brands we tested mics from over 20 different brands to pick the best in class (that, with the exception of Neumann, being sub $500 mics… the Neumann was somewhat more expensive!)
Voting in the first round highlighted which mics the public preferred on 3 sources, male and female vocals, and acoustic guitar (the same 3 sources chosen throughout the tests), and what was liked and disliked about the sound of the raw Element prototype. This enable us to discard 2 brands form the test, so that in Session 2 we had the top 3 competitor mics chosen by the public, and 2 new versions of Element. By the end of the 2nd session we had a much clearer picture of what people wanted from our mic, driven by the voting, subjective comments made about the competitor mics and the relative preferences for 2 very different sounding Aston prototypes.
So, by session 3 we had only 2 remaining competitor mics… representing AKG and Neumann brands. We also had 4 different Element prototypes, each with different voicings based on preferences from the first 2 rounds. This enabled us to home in on the final sound and give our customers a wide range of choice for the final sound, whilst also making sure that the final Aston Element mic was able to at least equal, or hopefully out-perform the top 2 competitors on the market.
In the final analysis one Element prototype was the clear winner in the Session, beating both the Neumann and AKG mics (as well, of course, as all the other competitor mics that had come before in early testing and the first 2 sessions), as well as the other 3 prototype versions.
It’s also important to frame that statement, because we’ve learnt a lot of things from the voting data of over 4000 people.
Firstly, ALL the mics chosen for these sessions are very good examples of entry level mics from each brand. We did not make this easy for ourselves. We wanted the best so we could make our own mic as good as possible. As the sessions progressed it was clear that the voting got closer and more difficult for participants to rank in each successive round. This is something you see not only in the subjective comments, but in social media threads about the project. That’s a good thing, because as you get better and better quality and performance, it becomes more difficult to chose between products as the differences are much smaller… so we knew we were on the right track.
Another interesting proof of data is that it was very clear that different mics performed better or worse on different sources as you’d expect… in other words one mic does not fit all. For this reason, we always suggest, where possible, that it’s a great idea to have a couple of different mics in your cupboard to choose from if you have the budget. Our aim, with Element, is not to say “Element is the best mic” … that’s silly because these things are very subjective. No, our aim was to ensure that our entry level mic has the best possible sound, performance and quality and that it comes with the best accessories possible for people who only have the budget for one mic, or want to add a new, high performance mic to their collection, without having to spend a fortune.
The Element, in the final round, outperformed the other mics in the test on both male and female vocals… but was narrowly beaten by both the Neumann and AKG on guitar. The total vote count across all 3 sources showed Element as the clear winner, both in total votes, and in winning 2 out of the 3 source tests, vocals, of course, being the big one as they (on any non-instrumental track) are the most important element of the recording.
It is also important to state, at this point, that the full raw data for the summary information above has been peer reviewed by Music Tech Magazine and Sound on Sound magazine, two of the most influential and respected independent pro-audio publications in the world. We have also chosen not to name names when it comes to specific mic models as we have a great deal of respect for these brands and the quality of their microphone products. At no point do we wish to suggest that Aston is ‘better than another brand’… we have used key models from each competitor brand as a way to gauge the relative performance of our own mic, and although Element came top in the rankings after 3 rounds, there is a lot of love for each of the mics involved in our tests, both from us at Aston, and from the public voting in the sessions.
And the final word… none of this means that ‘Element is best’ – we would never suggest that because mic sound is a subjective choice. But it does mean that Element can consistently out-perform all other sub $500 brands in subjective choice tests (and some more expensive ones too!). Combine this with all the cool accessories and it’s got to be your No.1 choice as a first studio mic, or to add to your collection.
The secret’s in the capsule tech
The mic itself boasts brand new ‘Ridyon’™ capsule technology, combining the best elements of all 3 existing classes of microphone. Utilising 48 V phantom power, the mic’s incredibly lightweight Active-moving-coil-diaphragm delivers high end condenser mic sensitivity and performance, with the punchy bass and rejection capability of a great dynamic mic and the open, natural, sound of a ribbon.
Freedom to perform
The capsule is significantly larger than most at 1.5” / 38mm. The design enables the diaphragm to move more freely and further than other microphones capsules, enabling it to handle significantly higher sound pressure levels before distortion. The freedom of movement also gives Element a far better bass response than other competing microphones, which is most noticeable in its ability to accurately reproduce low-mid frequencies, all giving the mic a warmer and more natural sound.
360-degree internal isolation
The Element capsule also has an internal 360-degree suspension system. Most, if not all, other microphones have the capsule mounted at a single point, making them more sensitive to external vibrations in a given direction. Element has its capsule suspended in a 360-degree elastomer suspension, giving superior protection from shocks – regardless of direction.
Near-perfect capsule acoustics
Both the capsule body and mic chassis have been designed (and extensively tested) to provide the flattest possible frequency response. The Ridyon™ capsule is unlike that of any other microphone, in that it uses acoustic treatment rather than metalwork to achieve this. The custom (and very retro-cool looking) grill acts as a diffuser for source audio entering the mic, and the contoured body shape and slimline monocoque capsule housing helps direct source audio to the capsule with minimal diffraction… put simply, the design of the microphone itself maximises the performance of the capsule inside.
High headroom circuitry – ultra low distortion
Coupled with the extended diaphragm movement, the beautifully elegant circuitry design is able to handle about 150 times the maximum output from the capsule, so regardless of what you throw at the mic, the circuitry can handle it without distortion.
The best moving coil microphone ever made?
Condenser microphones at this competitive price point have one thing in common: the capsules are, let’s say ‘entry level’ quality. We refuse to build mics with cheaply produced condenser capsules, because they sound like they cost. The capsule of our own Aston Origin, for example, is very obviously of significantly better quality than that of other mics in its class, which is why it is consistently compared to mics 10 times it’s price in reviews and by professional producers, artists and engineers across the world (not to mention all the awards!!). Even the untrained eye can see that, in the engineering quality of the capsules we build.
So, rather than going down-market and making another ‘me too’ cheap condenser mic, we focussed instead on the development of the most advanced moving coil mic in history. This has allowed us to produce a microphone which can significantly out-perform its sub $200 condenser peers.
The reason for this is one of manufacturing complexity. Condenser capsules have to be assembled by hand if they are to be any good, this is a costly business. Moving coil capsules, because of their simpler construction, are made entirely by machine. As well as meaning that manufacturing is less costly, it also means that tolerances are tighter, so every mic is guaranteed to sound the same.
Moving coil mics have been historically perceived as being inferior to condensers, mostly due to manufacturers building very cheap capsules for the mass-live market… but if you ask any pro engineer they’ll tell you that a world class studio dynamic mic will deliver some of the best sounding results you’ll ever get. The design of the Element capsule addresses all the ‘shortcomings’ of moving coil (no top end, shouty mids etc.) by making the super-lightweight diaphragm behave more like a ribbon in terms of its movement characteristics, delivering better mid-range performance and SPL handling. The diaphragm is much larger and lighter than other moving coils, which gives a high frequency response that is much more like a condenser. The added bonus being that, when you put these two characteristics together, you get a microphone with a better bass and transient response than either a ribbon or a condenser.
About Aston Microphones
Aston Microphones has become a major player in the global microphone market in the 4 years since our launch in January of 2016. Our products were nominated 3 times in 4 years for a prestigious TEC Award winning Best in Show for ‘Starlight’ at NAMM 2016, and winning Best Microphone at the recent NAMM 2020 TEC Awards… a string of successes never before accomplished by ANY Pro Audio company in their first 4 years.