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Review: Behringer Sonic Exciter SX3040

The process mightn’t be all that new but the price sure has dropped since the heady days of the ’80s.


23 August 2007

‘Big Bottoms, my mix has got ‘em’. While Spinal Tap may have had amps that go to 11, and sung about oversized booty, it was Aphex that really put a kick in the rear end. The device that extended the abilities of the engineer to reach inside a mix and magically breathe a resuscitative life force into it is the Aural Exciter. When the original Aphex Aural Exciter first hit the record making industry in 1980, producers would rent the unit for a cost of $30 per recorded minute. A veritable coup given the price of the unit today is under $700, equating to about six songs in the old rental agreement. But it was magic – one of the dark arts of the engineering world. It became so popular as to gain credit on albums, citing ‘This record was made with the Aphex Aural Exciter’, while simultaneously gaining an AutoTune-like stigma, for its tall-poppy processing.

Behringer has released another replica of the Aural Exciter, with similar front panel nomenclature, and labelled it the SX3040 Sonic Exciter. Which is not a bad thing, given that Behringer is the go-to company for low-priced gear, and may introduce a whole new generation of engineers to harmonics processing outside of plug-in software.

The SX3040 Sonic Exciter is broken up into two sections, the Bass Processor (‘Big Bottom’ on the Aphex unit) and the Sonic Exciter section. The unit can be used on two mono sources or across a stereo mix, with separate bypass buttons for both sides of the processor. The overall idea is that harmonics are added to a filtered version of the signal, then summed with the original ‘pure’ signal and attenuated at a ratio respective to the amplitude of the original signal. As the amplitude falls, the added harmonics increase in amplitude, therefore not adding to the overall peak level of the mix.

The Sonic Exciter section has three knobs: ‘Tune’ sets the cut-off frequency at which the exciter cuts in (ranging from 1.3 – 10kHz), ‘Harmonics’ sets the number of harmonics to be added to the processed signal, and ‘Mix’ defines the portion of the harmonic exciter signal that’s to be mixed with the original signal. In use, most of the time, vocals were a dream. A word of warning however: if you haven’t already dealt with sibilance on a track, then forget dialling in much of the processed high-passed stream, it will bite your ears off. When the Exciter was switched into the chain, the voice instantly became more present, as if it had been hiding in the back room. The unit seemed to render a better, more lively performance. The intelligibility of the vocal in lower sections was quite noticeable, as it added more harmonics in these dynamically softer parts. It rendered a fuller tone, and better matched the vocal with the rest of the track.

The Bass Processor section also has three knobs: ‘Drive’ adjusts the intensity of bass processing and extends bass sustain at peak levels, adding volume to the bass. It has a companion LED that lights up progressively with increasing sustain. ‘Tune’ sets the upper cut-off frequency, ranging from 50 – 160Hz, and ‘Mix’ functions the same as on the Sonic Exciter. The bass processing works wonders on kick drum sounds, adding harmonics to ‘clicky’ sounds to give body, depth and sustain. Bass also becomes ‘punchier’, by sustaining the peaks for as long as there’s a signal, almost acting like a mild form of compression. The peaks become slightly wider and hit a bit harder, then drop off when there is no signal, developing a subjectively tighter bass.

A ‘less is more’ mentality is definitely the way to approach this piece of gear though, it’s very easy to ‘over-hype’ mixes, especially given the unit’s lack of labelled parameter values. That said, the Sonic Exciter is an extremely useful bit of gear: there are enough parameter controls to tailor a desirable result, the benefit of increasing the richness of the source without adding peak power is extremely useful, and the unit sounds genuinely good.


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