Examining the other-worldly aesthetics and Music Man-esque flavors of a futuristic single-pickup bass.
All clips recorded direct into Avid Mbox into Logic X.
Clip 1: Passive mode with volume at 100 percent.
Clip 2: Passive mode with volume at 80 percent.
Clip 3: Active mode, slap riff with onboard EQ flat.
Daring design. Solid tone. Fair price point.
Fewer tonal options with a single-pickup design. A little heavy on the neck lacquer.
Vox Starstream 1H Artist
Vox was just a few years old when the U.K. company began making their mark with low-enders in the early ’60s, producing creatively designed and stylized models like the ultra-hip, irregularly shaped Phantom IV and the teardrop-shaped Mark IV and Constellation IV models, just to name a few. Several of their early models even featured a 9V-powered active preamp that provided distortion. Vox produced models reminiscent of both Gibsons and Hofners back in the day as well, but the company deservedly garnered a reputation for starting trends rather than following them. When I pulled the new Starstream 1H Artist out of its shipping box, it was more than apparent that is still company policy.
Plastic Makes Perfect
Before I even played a note on the short-scale Starstream 1H, I couldn’t help but appreciate its weight. The bass is very light, at just shy of 7 pounds. The 1H’s interior body is a solid piece of maple, but the parts of the bass that actually make contact with the player are made of plastic. That said, the instrument doesn’t feel cheap in any way. The most alluring feature of the plastic frame is that it has a sort of reverse-Strat-esque belly cut, where the front of the plastic frame angles inward and downward like the back of a Strat’s body. I later found these angles to be very comfortable for several playing styles.
The look of the plastic outer shell is striking: It follows the shape of the wooden body closely at the top, almost merges with it behind the bridge, and then strays far from the center part of the inner body on the treble side. It’s a cool, interesting look, though one can only assume it will prove to be a love-it-or-hate-it design with players whose tastes lean towards a more traditional direction.
The electronics package of the 1H features an Aguilar OBP-2 active 2-band preamp that works in concert with the single Aguilar AG-4M humbucker. When I first plugged the bass into my Mbox interface, I was impressed that the volume level remains very close in both active and passive mode, which is selectable by the Starstream’s push/pull volume knob.
Small Dog, Big Bark
Because I typically favor passive basses, my first tone test was in passive mode. I was also simply eager to hear the sound of the wood (and plastic) rather than the sound of the active electronics. We’re dealing with a Music Man-style humbucker here, and even though the Starstream 1H could not be any more different in look and feel than a StingRay, this bass does an absolutely fantastic job of sounding like an older Music Man.
While it’s never been my favorite tone, the Starstream nails it beautifully, and to say I was pleasantly surprised by this out-of-the-gate tonal starting point would be an understatement. The Starstream 1H proved right away that it has a mainstream, highly useable tone that I am certain many of us would be very comfortable with on most gigs.
I wanted to see if I could get a softer, warmer sound next—wondering if the bass could do more than just sound very close to a StingRay. There is, however, no option to change the tone in passive mode since the 1H isn’t equipped with a passive tone control. “It could really use one for us passive guys,” I told myself before I (without thinking) turned down the master volume from 100 percent to about 80 percent. A drastic tonal change occurred, and it was almost like the tone genie had heard my wish for less of the “click-y” Music Man-style pickup’s top-end. This move with the master-volume potentiometer delivered a much darker tone and different character without really losing any volume to speak of. With a single-pickup bass, this is a great asset that certainly makes the instrument more versatile.
When I engaged the preamp and moved into active mode, the Starstream 1H projected a slightly deeper low-end and a shinier high-end, without me boosting or cutting any bass or treble on the onboard controls. The change was noticeable, but didn’t turn the instrument into something completely different, which a lot of active preamps tend to do.
The aggressive nature of the MM-style pickup really shone through beautifully in active mode, and I was quickly inspired to play a Louis Johnson-influenced, old-school slap lick for one of the sound samples included with this review. Boosting the low end ever so slightly allowed the Starstream 1H to bark a bit more like a big dog, and made the small body and short scale somehow seem even more of an optical illusion. If I owned this bass, I’d likely switch it to active mode more frequently than I do with my other basses that have the same option.
The Starstream 1H is way more than a conversation piece. It is surprisingly well built and a whole lot of fun to play. I hope Vox continues to think outside the box and bring us retro-cool mixed with hyper-modern influences. Both tonally and visually, it is a brave gamble. No other company makes a production bass like this, and it is certainly worth a test drive, even if it might look to be out of your aesthetic comfort zone at first glance.