We unfortunately live in an age where many of the tools we use are poorly made, disposable, and destined or even designed to end up in a landfill. As a studio owner and working engineer, I enjoy the tools I own that have stood the test of time, are decades old, but still work as well as they did the day the were made. One such tool that gets used on almost every session here at Panoramic is our vintage Starbird mic stand. Every fitting and every part still work perfectly several decades after it was made. Compare this to your average mic stand, with a life expectancy of a few years before it's been stripped out, its parts start to break, and it joins its buddies in the broken mic stands part box in the corner of the studio. The Starbird stands will hold any mic – no matter how heavy and how high in the air you want to get them – without drooping. Given their considerable size the Starbirds are surprisingly easy to move around the studio, with large wheels that also still work perfectly decades later after they were made.
So, it's nice to see that the nice folks at Triad-Orbit have decided to re-launch the Starbird mic stand. We ended up buying one for Panoramic, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the stand and how it compares to our vintage Starbird. If you'd rather cut to the chase, I will say that I am infatuated with this stand; it is a useful tool that will endure the test of time.
Rather than make an exact clone of the original Starbird, the Triad-Orbit engineers decided to keep the basic look and the functionality of the classic Starbird while taking advantage of improved technologies and manufacturing possibilities. But despite quite a few improvements, every part of the new Starbirds are interchangeable with the vintage Starbirds and the Manley versions of the stands, plus you can buy the parts individually to repair older stands that need work. From 20 feet away our vintage and new Starbird stands look similar, but as you get closer the first thing you'll notice is the much larger counterweight on the new stand. As you get even closer, you'll notice the anodized aluminum quick release that adjusts the weight's position and looks like it belongs on a high-end mountain bike. In fact, every part of the new Starbird is pretty high tech despite the overall look still nodding to its vintage inspiration. Starting at the base and comparing it to our vintage Starbird, the newer unit takes up about 20% more floor space for increased stability, but first impressions can be deceptive as the newer unit has retractable legs that, when fully retracted, have a footprint that is 50% less than the vintage stand! So, depending on how much stability you need or if you're storing the stand, you can adjust its footprint to match your needs. While we're looking at the base, let's take a minute to admire those hospital-grade wheels, with foot-activated locks that keep the stand from moving once it's in place. I should mention that when the Starbird was shipped in two large, heavy boxes and required assembly, I waited until I had a few hours to tackle the assembly, as I was dealing with PTSD visions of assembling barbecues and IKEA furniture. It turned out that I was worrying for no reason; It only took about 30 minutes. With the easy-to-follow instructions stand assembly was a snap, including unpacking the many small boxes inside the two big boxes (which was a bit like the studio version of a Matryoshka doll). Additionally, while assembling the stand yourself, you'll gain an understanding and appreciation for how beautifully engineered and designed this stand is.
A neat feature of the new stand is the pneumatic assist when you raise the height of the stand, which also keeps the boom under constant pressure, making operation safer – especially with heavier mics. Everything about this stand is easy to use and well thought out. The angle of the boom, for instance, can be continuously adjusted or moved in five degree increments with a locking pin that keeps the boom from moving (even if the locking knob is loose) allowing for repeatability. Finally, at the business end of the stand (where the mic meets the stand), there's Triad-Orbit's IO Quick Change OA ball joints that allows for 360 degrees of movement, is easy to adjust, and is extremely secure when locked into place. All of Triad-Oribit's stands feature this technology as standard equipment. The IO and OA connections allow for quick interchange and can adjust the position of not just a single microphone, but a Decca Tree and/or stereo bars with multiple mics – or cameras, monitor screens, and lights. Even heavy mics like our AEA R44 are easy to quickly mount and un-mount to the Starbird thanks to the quick release, and the stand holds these heavy mics securely in any position or height. Specification-wise the Starbird has a height range of 102-inches and the boom can extend 98-inches further for a combined overall height of over 16-feet! The ceiling at Panoramic is pretty high, but even at the highest point I couldn't fully extend the Starbird. Now if they could just make a robotic light bulb changing attachment for the stand, I'd never have to drag our big ladder out of the shed again! Is there anything not to like on this stand? Well, it is expensive! But if it lasts as long as my nearly 40 year old Starbird stand, then it's a bargain. I can't promise you that it will last that long, but it seems like it will as everything on it seems solid and well built. The only aspect of the Starbird that gave me minor concern was the pneumatic assist. My old 1981 Mercedes wagon [Tape Op #54] had pneumatic door locks that started to fail after a few decades of use. But it turns out the pneumatic assembly on the Starbird tested to 80,000 uses, and even if it did stop working, it's not a deal breaker and besides it's a fully replaceable system that takes about 10 minutes to fix. I suspect this stand will last several decades without any issues. In the month or two we've had the new stand, the Starbird gets used on just about every session at Panoramic, and engineers have made a point to tell me that they think it's the best mic stand they've ever used.