Aston Microphones

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Aston Microphones's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Aston Microphones is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
James Young, managing director
Stevie Wonder with Aston
Spirit and Aston Halo
Located in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, Aston Microphones is
the only mainstream British manufacturer of professional
microphones – a rare gem given that most microphone
equipment is designed and built in places like Germany, Japan
and, of course, China. With 12 years of previous experience
building microphones in China, the Aston team understood
from the outset that they were competing in a difficult market,
so utilised uniquely innovative techniques and a panel of 33 of
the UK’s top producers and engineers to make their products
both affordable and performance competitive with other
market-leading brands. Managing director James Young gives
an overview of Aston’s leap forward in audio technology.
Being different
What we’re doing at Aston Microphones is genuinely unique
microphone products are a result of the competing influences of sales, marketing
and engineering departments, which tends, inevitably, towards dilution of ideas.
We have instead given over the entire sound design process to some of the UK’s
top music industry professionals: people at the pinnacle of the industry whose ears
are finely tuned to the distinction between good and great audio.
This group of artists, producers and engineers, originally 33 strong with now over
120 members, are collectively known as the “Aston 33” (in deference to the original
test panel) and include the likes of Rick Simpson (Coldplay), Chris Porter (George
Michael), Andy Barlow (U2) and Ian Dowling (Adele) to name but a few. The Aston
33 are involved at every single stage of development, rigorously assessing our
»Managing director:
»Established in 2015
»Based in Hitchin, Hertfordshire
»Services: Microphone
»No. of employees: 20
»The only mainstream British
microphone company
»Aston 33 panel is composed
of top UK artists, producers
and engineers who help in
development of our products
Aston Microphones
products in double-blind listening. This
way of working is without precedent
in our industry, and it has enabled us
to develop products which far out-
perform their respective price points.
Our website reflects our deep level
of involvement in the music industry,
where we showcase Aston panel
members in a series of in-depth
biographical web pages. These pages
are consumer friendly and read
more like GQ interviews than niche
technology editorials. With interview
questions such as “What was the first
song that made you cry?” we have
been able to garner the support of
publications such as NME, Kerrang!
and Music Week to publish our music
playlists every three months, directing
a far wider audience to our pages
than would normally be possible. No
other brand in our industry does this
kind of penetrating marketing, and
this heavy focus on being so involved
in the industry has allowed us to gain
the support of artists including Noel
Gallagher, Stevie Wonder and Foo
Fighters in our first two years.
Part of the music community
In fact, this is something of an ethos
for our company – namely, working
respectfully with people on all levels, be
it our team, collaborators, distribution
and retail networks or end-users.
We refer to all of these people as
our AstonFamily, something which
is reciprocated by them all. We treat
our Aston Family as an extension of
our own team, including them in our
ideals and goals: something which has
brought us an extremely loyal following.
We also seek out new, unsigned,
British acts and give them a spotlight
place among the stars in our artist
pages, putting something back into
the industry that we love. In addition
to Aston 33 developer-panel members,
our wider family of high profile industry
professionals covers more than 500 top
producers and artists worldwide, and
this list is growing exponentially.
Our microphones, of course, are
not within the exclusive domain of
professional recording either. As well
as working with acts like Radiohead
and Queen, our largest potential
Made in the UK – Aston Spirit,
Aston Origin and Aston Starlight
As well as
working with
acts like
Radiohead and
Queen, our
largest potential
market caters
for amateurs
and semi-
Aston Origin –
mic for the stars
Highlighting best practice
market caters for amateurs and semi-
professionals. We have managed to
bridge the gap of quality and price as a
result of our unique panel audio testing,
and innovative engineering techniques.
Employing the services of British
architect and designer JackMunro for
the technical and aesthetic design of
the products has also allowed us to
use novel materials and production
techniques. This has reduced labour
costs, while sparking innovation (we
have two patents pending) to improve
existing technology. As a result, we have
consistently been ranked as the number
one sub-$1000 microphone brand by
publications around the world, and are
the only microphone brand at this price
point regularly compared in performance
terms to brands ten times the price.
A great example of this innovation is
how we finish our microphone chassis.
Normally companies will powder coat
or nickel plate a microphone body,
processes which are labour intensive
and have a high environmental cost.
By contrast we use UK sourced solid
stainless steel which has been tumbled
for four hours to give a beautifully
patinaed finish. Not only is this less
expensive, it’s also much harder wearing
and looks stunning, so in one design
stroke, we have improved the product
quality, reduced environmental impact
and cut production cost. Utilising a
series of such ideas has allowed us to
use British manufacturing for 90 per
cent of our product build, from the 23
UK based component manufacturers, to
the three final assembly plants, and our
own 20-strong team based in Hitchin.
Difficulties along the way
Not everything has been plain sailing,
as getting used to navigating this new
production landscape is a steep learning
curve. We receive no grant or subsidy
from the UK government, which puts
us at a huge disadvantage to some of
our competitors. Rode, an Australian
microphone brand, receive 50 percent
of their entire global marketing budget
as government subsidies. We do not
currently receive any government
subsidies, so one of our aims this
September is to discover ways in which
we can get support for our UK based,
global manufacturing brand. On the
other hand, the government’s promotion
of internships is a development that
we’re working with. We are employing
interns in multiple aspects of our
business, including marketing. We
hope to bring people into this industry
and foster them from the ground up.
Looking forward
All in all, we are optimistic about
our future. We closed our second
financial year with a revenue of £2.5
million and post-tax profits of over
£400,000, continuing controlled and
strong growth. The addition of two
new products scheduled for release in
late 2018 and early 2019 should see
our next financial year close in excess
of £3.5 million. Compare this with
the biggest brands, several of whom
have microphone revenue in excess of
£50 million, and there is clearly a lot
more to come for Aston in a market
worth more than £1.5 billion a year
worldwide. The proliferation of home
music production, in combination with
our strong industry relationships and
a little help from the government, will
make our British brand one of the
most influential in the world.
We have
been ranked
as the number
one sub-
brand by
around the
Rami Jaffee from Foo
Fighters with Aston

This article was sponsored by Aston Microphones. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng

This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.

In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.

We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.

With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.

And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.

As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy