These days, the sonic properties of magnetic tape are once again seen as highly desirable by contemporary producers. Consider, though, how maddening all of those ‘qualities’ must have seemed to engineers who had no choice but to commit to a medium that was easy to distort and played havoc with the high end.
Some manufacturers attempted to rectify the negative side-effects of tape by offering devices designed to enhance the signal in ways that equalisers could not - you can’t cut or boost a frequency that isn’t captured on tape, you see.
Aphex Electronics were (and are) the most famous name in audio enhancement, thanks to their Aural Exciter. Developed in the mid-70s, the Aural Exciter wasn’t initially for sale, but rather rented out for a whopping $30-per-minute (of the recording itself, not the studio time!). The Aural Exciter worked by a combination of phase-shifting and adding high frequency harmonics, both very subtly applied. Eventually, Aphex would not only sell cheap dedicated Exciters, but license the technology to third-party software developers.
BBE Sound’s Sonic Maximizer is a popular alternative to the Aural Exciter. Unlike the latter, the Sonic Maximizer doesn’t add harmonics, but instead attempts to correct the smear introduced by loudspeakers. This is accomplished by altering the timing and phase relationship of the harmonics in the recorded signal. Like Aphex, BBE’s technology would eventually appear in virtual form.
Manufacturers ranging from Behringer to SPL would later get in on the game, too, and products like these can still be useful for bringing some life to sterile or dull recordings.
For more on vintage effects, pick up the November 2018 edition of Computer Music.
Five awesome sonic enhancers
Waves Aphex Aural Exciter
Waves have taken an interesting approach with their Aural Exciter plugin. Instead of modeling a bog-standard Aphex box, they’ve faithfully recreated the original (and rare) tube-based Aural Exciter. A few switch and knob tweaks are all it takes to quickly brighten up your tracks and mixes.
BBE Sonic Maximizer
BBE Sound themselves offer a Sonic Maximizer plugin in the form of the D82, one of three distinct effects comprising the Sonic Sweet bundle. Additional Harmonic Maximizer and Loudness Maximizer plugins round out the pack.
Universal Audio Little Labs VOG
Little Labs build hardware outboard modules for the popular 500 series racks found in so many studios. Their Voice Of God module is a favourite for its ability to enhance low-frequency material. If you’ve got UAD hardware, you can get UA’s spot on virtual recreation for your own virtual rack.
AudioThing Type A
Certain hardware noise reductions systems required that the signal be encoded upon recording and decoded upon playback. Many recordists discovered that the encoding stage made for a nice audio enhancer. In Type A, AudioThing have made a plugin designed to recapture that sound. As you’d expect from the developer, it’s a beaut.
Fine Cut Bodies La Petite Excite
You didn’t think we’d finish off our list without a freebie, did you? To that end, here’s La Petite Excite from Fine Cut Bodies. An audio enhancer/exciter, it’s got the goods to add that special sizzle to individual tracks and buses. As with all exciters of this ilk, be careful not to overcook your signals - use with restraint for best results.