A trio of cost-effective condensers designed to capture smooth, natural sounds.
Aston is a UK-based company that manufactures high-quality yet competitively priced condenser mics suitable for a wide range of applications, including on drums. At the moment, Aston’s catalog comprises just four models: the broadcast-style, black-cased Stealth condenser ($399.99), the Origin cardioid large condenser ($299.99), the multi-pattern Spirit large condenser ($449), and the laser-targeting Starlight pencil condenser ($999.99 for a matched pair with a stereo bar mount). The latter three come in tumbled stainless-steel bodies, and those are the ones we received for review.
Aston is careful to test each mic at various stages of the manufacturing process to ensure consistency in build and sound. The tumbled stainless-steel cases found on the Origin, Spirit, and Starlight are used to not only give these mics a cool vintage look, but to be resistant to chips and scratches. The model names and switch graphics are laser etched into the steel, so they’ll never wear off.
While developing these mics, Aston brought in a panel of audio recording experts to compare them in a blind test to various industry-standard models. Once Aston’s team found a combination of capsules and circuitry that outperformed competitors’ mics in these tests, the prototypes were put into production.
Both the Origin and Spirit large condensers feature a large wave-shaped head that’s designed to act as a spring to absorb shock and protect the 1″ gold-evaporated Mylar capsule if the mic is accidentally dropped. There’s also a built-in pop filter made from stainless-steel mesh, and both models feature a threaded receiver on the bottom for situations where you want to mount the mic directly to a stand without using the optional Swift shock mount.
The Origin is a fairly squatty 2.13″x4.92″ cardioid condenser that’s designed to capture a smooth, natural sound with a balance of warmth and clarity. It features a switchable -10 dB pad and a low-cut filter that slopes off at 80 Hz. This mic has a fairly flat frequency response with a gradual slope in the high end that starts around 3.5 kHz and has a 4 dB peak at 10 kHz before attenuating back to a nearly flat response around 20 kHz.
The primary use for Origins on drums would be as full-range overheads. We tried them positioned as a near-coincident pair placed 46.5″ from the snare and over the bass drum pedal, and we tried them in a spaced pair configuration with one over the left side of the kit and the other over the right side. In both positions, the Origin captured a full and rich sound from the snare, toms, and cymbals with clean, warm articulation. For a minimal miking setup, a pair of Origin overheads combined with a bass drum mic will capture your drumset in a very natural, true way. The Origin is also an excellent choice for close-miking toms and the snare (with the -10 dB pad engaged). The body is small enough to be positioned within the kit without getting in the way while you’re playing, but the large diaphragm does a great job of capturing the full frequency spectrum of the drums. It also captured a warm and natural sound when placed in front of the bass drum or when utilized as room mics for more ambient tones. At $300, you really can’t go wrong by adding one or two of these versatile Origin mics to your collection. They might even replace some (or all) of your trusted go-to models. Check it out at your local Aston dealer or on Amazon.
The Spirit is a slightly larger mic (2.13″x6.89″) that also features a switch that can set the pickup pattern to cardioid, omni, or figure-8. The pad includes a more aggressive -20 dB setting in addition to the typical -10 dB. When in cardioid mode, the Spirit has a fairly fl at frequency response, with a slight (3 dB) bump around 4 kHz and another wider boost between 7 kHz and 20 kHz. The frequency response in omni mode has a slight boost in the low end between 100 Hz and 250 Hz, a wide -2 dB scoop between 3.5 kHz and 7 kHz, and a fairly extreme (8 dB) bump that peaks around 10 kHz. In figure-8 mode, the response remains fl at until 2 kHz, at which point there’s a gradual slope that peaks at +6 dB at 5.5 kHz.
The Spirit is designed to capture a natural, transparent sound with a touch of high-end sparkle that accentuates the harmonics without adding harshness. We first tested the Spirit in cardioid mode, placed 12.5″ in front of the bass drum, and we were amazed with the results. It captured the drum with big, beefy, but not over-hyped low end, smooth sustain, and an accurate amount of beater smack. This isn’t a pre-EQ’ed “instakick” mic, but rather an ideal choice for situations where you want to capture a warmer and more analog representation of your drum.
The Spirit also excelled as an overhead or room mic. And the different pickup patterns allowed us to try more experimental placements, like as a gritty lo-fi mic when put into figure-8 mode and placed between the bass drum beater and snare bottom, or as a distant room mic when placed far away from the kit in omni mode. While a little more expensive than the Origin, the Spirit provides a ton of versatility that far outweighs the extra $150 in its price tag.
While testing these Aston mics, we discovered a new favorite minimal mic setup comprising a pair of Origin overheads and a Spirit in front of the bass drum. Unless you require extreme isolation of each instrument on the kit, just those three mics will reproduce the sound of your kit in a very accurate and satisfying way. Check it out at your local Aston dealer or on Amazon.
The Starlight is an innovative 1.42“x7.13” small-diaphragm condenser that features a sintered metal head that’s created by heating thousands of tiny metal spheres into a porous form that enhances the acoustical properties of the mic while also protecting the gold-sputtered 20 mm capsule. The pad switch offers 0 dB, -10 dB, and -20 dB of gain reduction, and the low-cut filter can be left flat or engaged at 80 Hz or 140 Hz.
Unique to the Starlight is the voice-switching feature that has three modes and sets the frequency response to warm and smooth with a subtle low-end lift and a gentle roll-off in the extreme highs (Vintage), to the more airy high end of the Modern option, or to a fairly flat Hybrid setting with a touch of low-end boost. We inevitably ended up employing the Modern setting most often when using the Starlight as overheads—that mode captured the most sparkle and detail from the cymbals. But having the other two options literally at our fingertips was super convenient when we wanted to shift into a darker old-school vibe with the Vintage mode or when we wanted the overheads to have a flatter and more natural sound via the Hybrid setting.
The Starlight is available as a single mic or as a matched pair, which includes a lightweight but durable stereo bar that makes it easy to position the mics over the kit on a single stand. The Starlight also comes with a Class 2 laser that’s driven via phantom power and can be turned on via a switch to help determine exactly where the capsule of the mic is aiming.
While some pencil condensers are generally reserved for capturing high-frequency instruments like cymbals, hi-hats, and small percussion, the Starlight proved to be an excellent full-range mic, whether used to capture a complete drumkit sound as overheads or to capture a tighter image of snares, cymbals, and toms. All that we needed to do to fill out the sonic picture of the drumset when using the Starlights as overheads was place the Spirit back in front of the bass drum. That setup had a great mix of full, warm, punchy tone, high-end shimmer, and clean, wide stereo spread. I said it before, but I’ll say it again: get these. Check it out at your local Aston dealer or on Amazon.