Aphex released the original hardware version of the Aural Exciter in the mid- 1970s. The box used a unique process to increase and enhance presence, brightness, intelligibility and clarity by adding phase shift and musically related synthesized harmonics to an audio signal. The original units couldn’t be purchased, but rather were exclusively available (along with an operator) at the price of $30 per minute per track of finished recording time.
This meant that applying the processing to a pair of acoustic guitar tracks that ran through a five-minute song would cost $300. Thirty-five years later, the plug-in can be purchased, surprisingly, for less than that, and it includes unlimited instantiations dictated only by the power of the host computer.
The Waves Aphex vintage Aural Exciter plug-in is a software model of one of the original, tube-powered Aural Exciters. It delivers the unique character of the original within a Native ($250) or TDM ($500) plug-in shell. The original device had two modes, the MIX mode (called MIX 2 on the plugin) that allowed the unit to be used as an insert, or the AX mode that allowed the unit to be used in an aux send/return configuration. Because of the way the box processes audio, both modes sound entirely different.
Since DAW mixing is often radically different than traditional analog mixing, Waves provided a third mode called the MIX 1 mode. This mode allows the plug-in to be used as an insert with the same sonic results as using the AX mode in an aux send/return configuration. I should also mention that, as with the original hardware Exciter, the BP (bypass) mode does slightly affect the sound.
The original hardware exciter was fairly noisy and, while the plug-in provides the option of being completely silent, the modeled noise characteristics of the original can be dialed in at up to the original’s level.
I’ve been using the Aural Exciter plug-in for several months now, and I think it’s truly fantastic. I’ve found many uses, including inserting the plug (set to the AX mode) on an aux to create adds a wonderful presence to backing vocals. It adds a beautiful sparkle and sheen to acoustic guitars when inserted on the channel and set to MIX 1. I’ve successfully inserted the plugin (again with the MIX 1 mode) on a drum sub-group to breathe new life into a dead, lifeless drum track. I’ve even had good results on few rare occasions of strapping the plug across my entire mix (although traditional EQ is still the better tool for this task in most situations).
The good news is that virtually every vocal and acoustic instrument, and frequently even an entire mix, sounds better with the Aural Exciter. The bad news is that its cumulative effect can negatively affect a mix. My advice? Use it often, yet sparingly.