More than just a reflection of previous designs, Aston’s bold purple Halo adds a whole new angle to the reflection filter concept.
Review: Preshan John
Though some regard them as specialty items, it’s pretty obvious what one should expect from a good reflection filter. Recording in a room with irksome acoustics? The hope is that popping up one of these contraptions will help isolate the mic from the unpleasant side effects of early reflections to give you a cleaner, more direct recording.
Typically these reflection filter products are marketed as ‘portable vocal booths.’ Unfortunately in practice, they’re not quite the miracle-workers the phrase suggests. Nevertheless, a good reflection filter can certainly help you get a tighter-sounding track when trying to salvage a less-than-favourable recording situation. The market has been all but dominated by sE Electronics’ Reflexion Filter, but Aston promises superior performance in nearly every regard with its purple newcomer. Time to find out.
James Young and the Aston team are a driven bunch. It wasn’t long ago that the brand made itself known through its debut mic, Origin, and quickly gained traction with solid reviews all round, AT included (see Issue 115).
Young reckons the Halo is Aston’s next big thing — and his claim doesn’t come lightly. Prior to founding Aston Microphones, Young used to be the Global Sales and Marketing Director at sE Electronics and played a major role in the concept, design and production of the company’s signature Reflexion Filter product.
So while Aston is new to the reflection filter market, it’s not new to the game. There’s plenty of in-house knowledge, and that comes across the moment you screw down the Halo to a mic stand.
First impression of the Halo? It’s big; 40% bigger than its main competitor, according to Aston. Its size is pitched as one of the primary keys to success — more surface area means more absorption. It also means it’ll take up at a whole car seat on the way to your mate’s place.
The Halo is also surprisingly light. When it was delivered to the office, the size of the box made me involuntarily put way too much effort into picking it up — like when someone offers you an iMac box for your birthday with nothing but styrofoam and a pair of socks inside. The ‘sinking heart’ moment was short lived. Inside I uncovered a sizeable tortoise shell dome made of PET felt. The felt is created from 70% recycled materials, so while being easy on the scales, it ticks the ‘environmentally friendly’ box too. A number of horizontal ridges aid in diffusion and increase the surface area. The sE Reflexion Filter is comparatively clunky and a fair bit heavier.
Bolting the Halo onto a mic stand is a piece of cake as it threads on directly, unlike others which fasten to the stand’s arm. And because it doesn’t weigh a ton, you can reserve your chunkiest K&Ms for other duties. The steel hardware feels durable and you get a lateral adjustment point to balance the whole rig once your mic and shockmount are in place. A slick metal badge displays the Aston logo on the front.
UNIQUE BY DESIGN
Most reflection filters are similar in design — basically a panel that curves horizontally, or a series of angled flat panels to attain a similar shape. Auralex strayed slightly from this approach with the MudGuard V2, which sports a dual-convex curved structure to deflect sound waves out of the filter. But apart from the box-shaped filters, most tend to curve on a single, two-dimensional axis.
In contrast, the Halo’s rounded, three-dimensional surface ‘cups’ the mic to absorb sound from multiple axes — not just left and right. The concept makes sense in theory.
Stick your face in the purple dome and it’s like someone pulls the world’s ambient noise fader down. You get the same effect with other reflection filter products, but to a lesser extent; proving the Halo’s lightweight PET felt is impressively absorptive.
“Isolation-wise, the Halo lives up to the
hype — the focus is more on the source”
While trying out the Halo I also doubled up every recording with the sE Space Reflexion Filter, then without any filter at all. Wooden floors and plenty of windows made my living room an ideal space to put the Halo to work. It didn’t take long to start noticing differences, especially on vocal tracks.
Because the Halo is an efficient absorber, it noticeably impacts the tone of the mic. The drop in high frequencies is immediately apparent — there’s less of that slicing sibilance that tends to hang around and self-emphasise in a reverberant room. The effect is much like you’d expect recording in a ‘proper’ vocal booth where the highs are typically diminished. In turn, it lends vocals a more intimate, closer and fuller tone. Up against the sE, the difference in tone was actually more dramatic than the difference in reflected content. The same went for instruments too. Less sizzle on a shaker, less sheen on acoustic guitar.
Isolation-wise, the Halo lives up to the hype. You simply don’t notice room reflections as much — the focus is more on the source. Recordings made with the Halo just seemed closer — like they jump out of the speakers a little more. Take that with a grain of salt, though. If your singer is blaring into the mic, chances are you’ll still hear plenty of the room. Differences between the two filters were most obvious when comparing vocal recordings that were made at a conversational volume.
Which brings up something worth mentioning — the ratio of direct-to-reflected sound has a big effect on the perceived effectiveness of a reflection filter. That means that, depending on the size and reflectivity of the space, the isolating effect of any reflection filter is less apparent as the source level increases. A loud singer will excite a room far more than a quiet one, so you’ll inevitably end up with more reverberant reflections in your recording. Conversely, the SPL emitted by a quiet singer probably won’t have enough energy to bounce right around the room and back in the mic, so the recording will be deader. The more level I pumped into the mic, the harder it was to distinguish between the Halo and Reflexion Filter tracks.
PAY THE PRICE
Based on what I heard, the Aston Halo is a better reflection filter than the sE. If you already have a tight-sounding, acoustically-treated recording space, you might find Halo’s effect less pronounced. However, if your vocal booth is a square-ish plasterboard bedroom, or you do lots of out-and-about sessions with uncontrollable acoustic environments, Halo will almost definitely improve your recorded sound. If you’re in need of its cure, the Halo is worth every penny.