Mic of the Month - April 2017 - Aston Starlight
April's Mic of the Month is the brand new Aston Starlight small diaphragm condenser. Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room. I know what you're thinking: "another pencil condenser microphone, aren't there enough of these already?" Rest assured, I was thinking the same thing until I actually heard the mic and saw its potential; the Starlight is anything but "another pencil condenser microphone". This is a unique microphone that has one feature in particular that no other small diaphragm condenser microphone has ever had: a laser with an on/off switch. At face value, it seemed like a gimmick, but I quickly realized how helpful this feature is in allowing the user to recall mic positions in the studio. Anybody who's ever had to re-track an instrument realizes the value in easy mic placement replication. For touring situations, mic positions can be marked on instruments making setup quicker and more efficient.
Super sweet laser beams notwithstanding, the Starlight also features voice switching with a choice between vintage, modern and hybrid settings, making it all the more versatile. Combine all this with 2 different rolloff settings at 80Hz and 140Hz as well as 10 and 20 decibel pads and you're looking at one of the most feature-packed microphones we've ever seen.
We took a pair of these to Rocket Skates Recording in Salt Lake City to test them out on drum overheads, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and upright piano. Everything was run through a Focusrite ISA428 into an Avid 16x16 Analog with a Pro Tools HD session set at a 96kHz sample rate and 32 float bit depth. The laser was very helpful as we were pointing the two microphones directly at the middle of the snare drum, which came as a surprise to everyone in the room. You really don't think about how much time you spend looking down a microphone like the barrel of a gun until you no longer need to do it.
Aston unsurprisingly chose not to stray from their indestructible tumbled stainless steel chassis and sintered metal head. Like all other Aston microphones, you can probably throw this on the ground as hard as you can when you aren't getting the take that you're after and then pick them right back up and continue using them (not recommended).
We started with drum overheads in 'modern' mode, and the first impression in a room full of skeptics was a unanimous and pleasantly surprised exclamation of: "wow, these sound great!" What stood out to everyone in the room was their warmth while still being true to what we heard in the live room. The cymbals weren't at all harsh; in fact they were pleasingly smooth in the 5k-10k range. The snare drum was thick, round and tight, and the toms were so present that one could almost assume we had all drums mic'd separately.
We then tried them on a Martin GCMMV with one on the neck pointed around the twelfth fret and one just behind the bridge. Again, the laser pointers were surprisingly helpful with this. The sound was stunning, though I did notice that on this particular instrument, they really shone when the two of them were working together in stereo to bring the guitar to life. Switching over to vintage mode, the tone was a little darker yet still sounded incredibly open at the same time. There seemed to be a bit of a bump in the 250Hz-500Hz range in this particular mode, with a slight rolloff in the highs. Acoustic guitars can be a tricky instrument to record without issues of sounding 'boxy' and the Starlights did the job with ease.
Onto the electric guitar: we used a Les Paul Standard Traditional Pro plugged into a Hughes & Ketner Grandmeister 36 running through an Avatar 2x12 cabinet with Celestion Greenbacks. We used one mic on the cab approximately 3 inches away from the speaker, and the sound came out beefy, crisp and clear, especially in 'hybrid' mode, which almost sounded like the guitar was dual-tracked. In other words: a sound that would sit nicely in the mix with little work.
Lastly, we tried the pair on upright piano with both mics approximately 12" away from the hammers. Again we weren't disappointed, especially with 'hybrid' mode. We were treated to a silky-smooth, transparent and pure sound almost as though the piano was in the control room with us. The hybrid mode blended the two voicing modes beautifully to help highlight the old-time and sometimes ghostly sound of the upright.
After finally having a chance to try this microphone out in a studio situation we are 100% sold on it. They come loaded with options to give you the necessary tools for success in nearly any situation, almost like having 3 microphones in one.
It's your lucky month because we have a stereo pair of Starlights to give away to one lucky reader. Follow Performance Audio (@perfaud) on Twitter for more information on how to enter the contest.