The Use of Enhancement and Excitement in the Mix

Digital enhancers and exciters have revolutionised the sound of music over the last 20 years. Usually when people strive for that ‚pro‘ sheen, all they need is an enhancer. Using a variety of techniques, these effects boost emphasise or enhance key parts of the musical spectrum -primarily the bass and treble.

In the days before virtual studios, adding excitement meant buying two-channel hardware units, notably the BBE Sonic Maximiser and Aphex Aural Exciter; and with even budget units costing ?150 or more, enhancement was usually only applied to the final mix. But for best results, the effect should really be added to Individual sounds first and then the whole mix.

Fortunately, there's now a wide range of software available in this area. Most mastering packages include an enhancer, and plug-ins can be inserted on multiple channels and use the latest algorithms, so for the price of one budget hardware unit, you can now apply top-of-the-range enhancement to as many channels as you want. Our advice: buy one and use it!

STEP BY STEP Using excitement and enhancement in the mix

1. Enhancers and exciters are powerful sound mangling tools, but when mixing you should usually be thinking about lust enhancing. We've slatted with a simple low cut from lOO Hz to get a clear signal and a Sonic Maximizer boost to the bass and treble (using plenty of both).

enhancement

2. Next we open a multiband exciter and slowly start boosting frequencies. We've kept the ranges broad, though, as we're going for a more natural boost and sheen. We put the most boost in the range of 174Hz-2Kz to give the bass additional presence and tone.

excitement

3. Finally, we want to give our mid-range a little more bite. Rather than use EQ boost, which can sound a little harsh and unbalancing, we opt for a more creative third exciter. Sweeping the frequency across the mid-range, we settle on 770Hz for a better, crisper mid-range.

frequencies

But how do they work?

Although the words ‚exciter‘ and ‚enhancer‘ are used interchangeably, they don't mean the same thing and neither tells the whole story. The words commonly apply to a variety of processing techniques that add sheen, sparkle or boost to various parts of a track's sonic spectrum.

The technology used varies, with some units simply adding EQ or tailored bass boost. Other techniques involve generating harmonics based on the target signal – an effect which can create sub-bass from a higher signal or add treble to a low- or mid-range signal.

The trouble with these techniques is that they often create a harsh increase, resulting in extreme ear fatigue. For this reason, you may use a different technique with Sonic Maximizer, adding no artificially generated harmonics. It's described as „eyeglasses for your audio system“ but, marketing spiel aside, Sonic Maximizer employs some very clever programming to undo the unnatural sounding phase shifting inherent in any playback system.

If you aren't sure quite what this means, imagine that when you hear a musical instrument played live, you hear all the different frequencies and transients – the strike of the hammer on a piano and the vibration of the string, for example – in the same relationship as when they were played. But when that same sound is recorded and played back, the speaker's coil and circuitry responds to different levels and frequencies of sound in different ways, so that the high frequencies arrive at our ears later than low frequencies, particularly sounds with sharp transients like percussive or plucked instruments. The ‚eyeglass‘ algorithm compensates for this phase shift by progressively delaying low signals, resulting in clearer, truer high frequencies. Sonic Maximizer then adds some more conventional augmentation to the bass and treble frequencies, but calibrated to work in harmony with the phase compensation. And it sounds excellent!