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Pinpointing a great drum sound with the Aston Starlight

Category : Products

Top drummers, and the sound engineers challenged with capturing their performances, are increasingly adopting Aston Starlights as their overhead mics of choice. In a product category which has changed very little for many years, Starlight has quickly set new, and significantly higher, benchmarks for innovation, features, versatility and performance.

Geoff Dugmore, drummer with Tina Turner, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and many others, summed up the impact Starlight has made:

“This is what I've been looking for, FOR YEARS!”

and Aaron Harris, drummer with LA metal band Isis and producer for bands including Palms and Puscifer, echoed the sentiment:

“Holy s***, this is genius!”

Drum overhead mic’ing is both an art and a science. Subjective choices such as tightness of sound, width of stereo spread and amount of room ambience, inform an array of positioning techniques – coincident pair, spaced pair, mid-side and so on – to best deliver the dynamics and personality of the player and sit the drum kit sound into the overall mix.

Choice of microphone adds another variable and tradition has favoured small diaphragm condenser (SDC) ‘pencil’ mics, usually used in stereo pairs. The SDCs on the market until recently have tended to offer similar specifications and sounds – functional tools for a job.

Aston don’t make ‘me-too’ products so when our design team started conceiving Starlight they ripped up the rule book, as they had done with the award-winning Origin and Spirit mics before it, and set about reimagining the small diaphragm condenser from ground up. The result is a microphone which delivers tangible, innovaive benefits and phenomenal sound.

Firstly, it offers a choice of three voices, Vintage, Modern and Hybrid. Some mics have attempted to achieve this type of versatility by including a choice of preset circuit-board EQs, which may sound flattering in the room but make professional post-processing near-impossible. (Imagine trying to colour-correct a photo which has already been tinted).

The Starlight’s three voices are not achieved using slabs of destructive EQ but by using distinct signal paths; it is truly three mics in one. The catalyst for this unprecedented feature was the voting of the Aston 33, a panel (now numbering more than 90) of top engineers, producers and artists who work with Aston on each new product, performing blind listening tests to ascertain the best possible voicing.

Early in Starlight’s development the ‘jury’ was split, with half the panel preferring ‘vintage’ voicing and half a brighter, more modern sound. We eventually provided both - and added a ‘hybrid’ setting as a third, midway option. Each was blind tested against ‘industry standard’ mics from other leading manufacturers to ensure, pre-release, it was the best performer in its class, and beyond.

Secondly, the Starlight features a unique sintered head which is both incredibly strong, yet acoustically porous and precisely tuned (engineered to within a few nanometers thickness) to provide near-perfect off axis response. Where other pencil mics lose high frequencies quickly as you move off axis, Starlight remains consistent.

And the feature which has turned most heads, especially amongst drummers and their touring engineers who need to recreate the kit sound night after night in different venues, is the built-in Class2 laser, which allows for quick, accurate targeting and positional recall – just tape off the kit where it sounds best at soundcheck and point the laser there for the rest of the tour!

Engineer Ian Dowling (Adele, Alexis Kings, Kasabian, Black Honey, Bombay Bicycle Club, Everything Everything, Hot Dreams, KT Tunstall, One Direction, Catfish and the Bottlemen) told us:

“The Starlights are my ‘go to’ for overheads.”

Romesh Dodangoda who has produced Motorhead, Bring Me The Horizon, Funeral For A Friend, Lower Than Atlantis, Twin Atlantic and many others, commented:

"These things are stunning on Overheads!! My trusted 414's have taken a little backseat on my last couple of sessions! Great work you guys x"

and Iwan Gronow (Johnny Marr) has been using Aston mics in recording sessions:

"Very impressed by both the Spirit and the Starlight mics, got a great drum sound today. Sounding ace! Thanks ASTON Microphones"

In addition to fast becoming the new industry go-to for drum overhead mic’ing, the ultra-versatile Starlight is also used extensively for recording guitars and other acoustic instruments and for capturing room ambience. Musician, writer and producer Ged Grimes has just completed a three year project creating the music for the blockbuster game ‘Bard’s Tale IV; Barrows Deep’ and used Starlights and Spirits extensively throughout, for everything from a Clarsach Gaelic harp to a full choir:

“Astons are every producer's dream: top quality, versatile, go-to mics that deliver every time. The Starlights were dynamite as a stereo pair for the delicate acoustic instruments I employed.” Ged told us.

Our thanks go to all the Aston 33 panel members who helped develop the Starlight, and the growing number of artists, engineers and producers who are choosing to use it on stage and in the studio, in preference to some far more expensive ‘classic’ options.


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