Waves Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter Plug-In Review

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There aren''t a lot of controls; you need taste more than technique to use this properly.

Introduced in 1975 (and the result of a “happy accident” when, upon miswiring a hi-fi amp kit, inventor Kurt Knoppel realized he was on to something), the Aphex Aural Exciter was one of the first “magic-secret-weapon-how-does-it-work” processors. It was originally available only via rental (at $30 per finished minute of recording, which worked out to about a grand per album—in 1975 dollars!). Nonetheless, many famous artists used it to add a certain silky, transparent brightness that imparted clarity and definition that you couldn''t obtain with EQ.

The Aural Exciter takes a very different approach to processing, as it sidechains high-passed distortion (with some phase-shift mojo) to create musically-related harmonics you then mix in with the main signal. Basically, it creates highs that didn''t exist, rather than boosting existing highs. The added signal is level-dependent, so it comes into play only with louder signals.

When introduced, the Exciter was often overused by engineers who put too much on an entire track, or used it in places where EQ would have been a more appropriate choice. As a result, it got the same kind of bad rap that overused processors like loudness maximization and pitch correction get today. But over time, cooler heads prevailed and the Exciter started to be used for broadcast, DJ applications and yes, still in the studio—where despite digital''s preservation of the high end, sound sources like acoustic guitars, vocals needing sparkle, guitar amps, and the like all fell under the Aphex spell. In one form or another, a million Aphex Aural Exciters have been sold since its introduction.

And now the Aural Exciter has transitioned into the plug-in world. Operation is basic, with few controls: a choice of two processing “characters,” the option to isolate just the exciter signal if you''re using the plug-in as an aux effect, meter source selection (in, out, effect level), input and output level, aural excitement amount, and just in case you want the funky parts, adjustable hum and variable, and modeled noise. (Some people feel this is part of “the sound,” although of course you can defeat it if desired.)

In typical fashion, Waves modeled the vintage, tube-powered unit—not the modern, solid-state variants—and provide stereo and mono components. Resolution goes up to 24/192kHz; available formats are TDM/RTAS/Audio Suite/VST/AU.

As to whether the emulation is accurate, Waves thinks so, Aphex thinks so, and having worked with the original, I think so, too. Granted, when overused, the Aural Exciter adds what seems like a caricature of high-frequency response. So don''t do that! This is a processor that when used subtly, can definitely enhance sounds in a way that EQ can''t. It''s ideal for restoration (an often-overlooked application), and can add a wonderful sparkle to tracks that lack, well, excitement. And it costs a lot less then it did to rent the original.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter product page.