The Stealth is the latest addition to Aston's product line. I've been an admirer of their revolutionary designs since reviewing their Starlight small diaphragm condenser [Tape Op #123]. I then purchased the Halo Shadow reflection filter based solely on my experience with the Starlight. Aston designs look cool, feel sturdy, and sound great! Reviewing the Stealth has been no small task – it's virtually four mics in one. A large sturdy broadcast quality mic with four switchable voices, a Class A built in mic preamp with autodetect phantom power, and a unique Sorbothane internal shock mount system. Needless to say, it lends itself to a wide variety of applications in the studio and in live performance, so choosing what instrument to use it on may be your biggest challenge.
The Stealth works both as a passive and active microphone. In passive mode the active circuit is completely bypassed and the mic functions like a normal dynamic. Think drums, electric guitar or bass amps, loud rock vocals, or podcasting and you're on the right track. The unique built-in Autodetect function senses the presence of phantom power and will automatically switch on Steath's built in Class A mic pre. The preamp adds 50 dB of gain – almost twice that of a typical inline microphone preamplifier. This is excellent for subtle vocals, acoustic instruments, and recordists who are working with preamps that offer less than ideal signal-to-noise ratio. Think of the preamp on your $99 interface or old '90s era analog mixer that starts to hiss when you turn it up past 12 o'clock. Stealth will make it sound infinitely cleaner. I will note that I did not notice any difference in tonal character whether the mic was active or passive. The preamp does not appear to color the sound at all; just adds a ton of gain.
I spent a great deal of time using Stealth to record female vocals. I set it up in parallel to a Lauten Audio Clarion FC-357 large diaphragm condenser mic through a Universal Audio Twin, using Unison Neve 1073 preamp emulators. The first thing I noticed was that in active mode, the Stealth had significantly more gain. This shows just how much headroom is onboard the microphone itself. The second thing I noticed is that in position 1, or V1, the Stealth sounded very similar to the Clarion. So to my ears, the Stealth is more than just a dynamic with a built in preamp, it's a new hybrid microphone in a category of its own!
A bit about the four Voice modes labeled V1, V2, and G and D. Aston suggests they are designed for male vocals, female vocals, and guitars respectively, with D being intended to emulate a darker ribbon sound. According to Aston, the four voice modes are "not EQ filters, but contour networks, meaning the bulk of the signal does not pass through any sort of filter circuitry. The whole signal is slightly attenuated, with some frequencies being added back in at a higher level. This results in much lower phase distortion than conventional filter designs." Practically speaking, these four modes offer a ton of flexibility in finding the right sound for your source. Switching between the four modes requires twisting a ring near the base of the microphone. It's a bit tricky at first and takes some practice to master. Aston provides a short video online to demonstrate proper use. For vocal recording I found V1 and D the most useful. V1 sounds the fullest and most natural to my ears, and even suited the female rock vocalist I used the mic extensively on. However, since this closely resembled the condenser I was using alongside it, I soon switched the Stealth to D to get a more full-bodied, darker compliment to the bright condenser in order to give the vocal some girth.
I was very curious to try the Stealth on drums – mostly snare. I typically use a Shure SM7 [Tape Op #36] for this application so I tested the Stealth on a two-day tracking session. The mic itself is on the large side, like an Electro-Voice RE20, so it can be a bit tricky to sneak into position depending on how tight the drums are set up. Also, it's an easy target to get whacked by a spirited drummer. The Stealth sounds tight and punchy as a snare mic in V1 passive mode. I was satisfied with the initial setting, so I did not experiment with the other modes in this application. My instinct tells me the Stealth would also sound just as good as a kick drum, floor tom, or hand drum microphone. Next, I tried Stealth on an electric bass amp. In V1 mode, it complimented the DI signal quite nicely by adding upper midrange clarity to the fat direct source. On acoustic guitar I've often used a Shure SM7 with an inline microphone preamp, so I wanted to see how the Stealth compared in active mode. Initially, I put the mic into G mode, for guitar. However, this sounded a bit thin, and I don't think it's what the designers intended. Overall, I found V1 and D the most appealing (depending on the acoustic guitar being played and the performance style). For heavy strumming on a Martin D28, V1 sounded fantastic, rich, and full, while D was better suited for a Gibson LG-2 playing subtle leads. For electric guitar I used the Stealth alongside an AEA N22 [#102] ribbon microphone. At first I tried G mode, and this time it made way more sense, cutting through the murk of the amp cabinet and providing a rich, clear guitar tone. However, as the AEA N22 is an active ribbon and on the bright side, I wanted to compliment this sound. I switched to D mode and, as with the female vocals, this gave me something I could use to tone blend.
As you can see, and will hopefully hear for yourself, the Aston Stealth is a versatile microphone with truly unique features. It's got gain, it's got character, and it looks cool!