how a modern exciter/enhancer should look like

Well, that’s exactly what I would like to know from you! Is it just an ancient relict from the days of dull tape recordings or still a valid concept? Opposed to the old approaches of audio excitation: What should such a device offer for todays modern audio production? And what would separate it from the common tools like compressors, transient designers and equalizers? Is it needed for any specific production stage? Which one? What exactly needs to be “enhanced”? Does all the different distribution formats and listening environments play a role? Psycho Acoustics? Question upon question ….


  1. Interesting – I was just contemplating purchasing one. I, for one, would love to see a consolidated tool for use near the end of the mastering chain which allows for previewing [and optimizing for] different compression codecs. While Apple’s “Mastered for iTunes” initiative begins to address this developing need, I’d guess that audio professionals at large would be ale to design more comprehensive and informative tools. And though perhaps not the historical duty harmonic exciters/enhancers were designed for, this purpose may be one area for which exciters/enhancers of the future could be well suited to address.

  2. I would like to have an exciter that is combined with an EQ so that I can shape exactly which parts of the audio spectrum are enhanced. Also M/S operation is a must for such a processor to be competitive on the market.

  3. travelmusicstuff says:

    Whatever it’s doing, it should definitely have a “subtle” “medium” and “aggressive” mode. I use a little bit here there and everywhere. Unlike compressors, transient designers and equalizers, the goal shouldn’t be altering the sound, but giving you a subjectively better version of what you already have (thus being an enhancer). Except of course, in aggressive mode where a tiny bit of distortion in the is probably good to make bass cut or remove clicky + thin sounding highs to make it sit better. Most of what is out there is done by saturation, but psycho acoustics would be interesting. What never ceases to fascinate me is that codecs like mp3 and aac only has a small fraction of the actual information, but sounds almost identical to the original. There surely has to be other ways to make things sound fat, loud, and punchy other than just saturation?

    • Your post got me thinking! Maybe an enhancer in the digital age should be something that can bring forth that little extra, that something so many “audiophiles” and engineers tend to miss från say vinyl. An enhancer would certainly need to be oversampled – a lot. ‘Cause those subtleties kinda need that. Maybe one could have an oversampled output right from the plug, like Voxengo Recorder (

      Also, I would considered some kinda of “anti-reverb” function. That isn’t really interesting when it’s used as a mastering plug, but when used to enhanced individually, poorly recorded tracks/mics, you might want to just make it brighter without getting a more definied room as well. And with a M/S-processing and a on/off switch for reverb-compensation, one could easily dail in more reverb if one would like too. Other than that, better transients almost always sound classy, and saturated transients sound even more analouge and classier. But why would you need an enhancer – what’s wrong with miking and EQ appropriately?

  4. One thing that I would like in this kind of plugin will be an analizer to see how the enhancer/exciter affects the signal comming through

  5. Arent a lot of these features already available in existing enhancers? Personally I think it’s just one tool too many.

    It’s funny how we work so hard to try and get back the sound of tape now that recording is so high definition. When tape was it, the struggle was always for higher definition and more clarity. Now everyone wants to blur the lines.

  6. Well, adding even/uneven harmonics to a defined spectrum obviously. But what else can be done?
    I’d really like to be able to compress/expand that spectrum as well and I think it would be awesome to be able to move the processed spectrum in time before adding it to the original audio.

    I hope that would enable us to project certain details on a specified distance relative to the other parts of the audio. This way we could change the impact of such details without changing the levels, like an EQ would.

    Does that make any sense?

  7. something that doesn’t sound “harsh”!, like most actual “exciters” do.
    I don’t use exciters because they gives you a “Boost” in the levels and you think “oh, it’s great”…. later, you come back, and it’s unconfortable to listen to.

  8. How about some sort of de-exciter? Ever so often I’m dealing with material that seems to have too many overtones, like a violin, vocals, cymbals or acoustic guitar. They already sound too excited to me, sometimes because of condenser mics with top end boost or sometimes just because of string buzz or an unpleasant formant (resonating high frequencies) in the instrument or vocie. When simply attenuating the high frequencies the details are partially lost as well, because the attanuation is not program dependent. I’ve tried expanders, analog modeling stuff, even inversed noise reduction (attenuating the tones while keeping the noide intact)…
    Wouldn’t it be great to be able to simply dial back the hypedness while preserving the openness and detail of the material? Almost like making a consenser mic sound like a ribbon mic! Maybe there is some way to make the lower (fundamental) frequencies ‘flatter’ the higher frequencies bij diffusing/smoothing them out or something..

    • a removing the “harshness” sort of thing – makes absolutely sense, imho.

      • This sounds like something that might do some good stuff to guitar amp sims. Always a problem dialing out the harshness, without muddying the sound.

        • Convolution with short impulse? If you had a speaker with great frequency response but slow impulse response, and you made an impulse file of that speaker in an anechoic chamber, load that up in your convolution reverb and used it as in insert… that should work? Or maybe just any regular ‘ole speaker with the test mic far away?

  9. I think the best exciter should let you the choice of the kind of excitement you’re looking for ( tube, stateful, tape, digital) and then the amount. The best would be to be able to combine them in different amount and their frequency spectrum I guess.

  10. Cosmic orgasm says:

    Exciter is to me, a transient shaper/ designer, combined with a high frequency “musical distortion” (even partials)

    It should also combfilter the odd harmonics to leave crisp high end, with a tad less detail but more dynamics.

    Im french so my explanation might sucks.

    I would do a plugin where you set min and max freq. where it works, so you can even use it to phatten the bass.

    A transparent limiter/comp should be there to ensure that there are no level changes when you excite your spectrum.



  11. I like to work with hardware synths, grooveboxes and samplers, and a good exciter can do magic.
    About two years ago, I’ve taken the time to compare 6 or 7 free and commercial VST exciters, and (maybe to your surprise), NastyHF was the best of all. It managed to add the most pleasing treble and “air” without sounding noticeably harsh or distorted. This one, my hardware SPL Vitalizer MK2-T and my Behringer Ultrafex 3100 are the only ones I use today. The Ultrafex does real magic on the Yahama Rm1x, btw, which sounds quite lifeless without. The Tube Vitalizer does some “treble magic” with its additional LC EQ. If you need some audio samples processed through these, just pm me.
    For my taste, the minimum controls on an exciter should be: Amount, effect HPF frequency, HPF order (6/12/18/24 dB). A setting for different characters of enhancement (from harsh to smooth) would be nice.

  12. Martin "Farley" Koťátko says:

    Whatever Aphex does … exactly that! 😀 That prices they chagre for big-name emulations are astronomical. 😦

  13. First: What is an enhancer?
    In my book, it’s an audio processor that adds harmonic content so as to make the sound brighter – it subjectively produces a more “lively” sound.
    As opposed to “tube warmers” that add mostly even-order harmonics and sub-harmonics when driven hard because of modulation effects.

    I would like an enhancer with the following specs:
    Adjustable frequency band coverage.
    Try some digital trickery to get away from the non-linear transfer function paradigm, as this also adds large amounts of IM that results in a harsh and “unfriendly” sound.
    Also, (while you’re fooling the laws of physics!) it would be nice to adjust at what volume level the “enhancing” starts – many enhancers are more like “smearers” – and I would think that leaving the low levels well alone might help avoiding too much smear.
    The easy bit is adding a knob adjusting the balance between just adding 2. harmonics and delivering the full package.

    • excellent ideas, I would add some sort of special treatment for the bass/kick type sounds
      that makes ear think that it is hearing the bass/kick on small speakers…like Rbass or maxxbass…
      also full combination of different type of distortion/saturation and many presets to get a newbie
      started in the right ballpark!

  14. How about a vocal enhancer that implements some of the ideas in this thesis?

    I’d be interested in all aspects, but especially the “Rough and Growl” section (3.2.4) starting on page 69.

  15. Kyle McComb says:

    Something that will let you dial in the high frequencies, low frequencies, high distortion, and low distortion completely separately. Baxxpander gets that right, on the lows. Also, the lows have to be CLEAN, which I almost never see in an exciter or enhancer.

  16. I think a modern exciter must to make two things: sound shining and sound low-frequency thickness. And it must to be gently, without some radical sound change) as if it was originally.

  17. It must be gentle with HP, LP and Tube. 🙂

  18. multi-band. say 3 or four bands:
    Each band with selectable exciter type ie dolby/harmonics/shift whatever
    Threshhold feature like Paal says, to choose when the exciter cuts in.
    Meters: frequency response before & after excitation.
    A LISTEN function to hear the added component only
    A MIX function, like Troels says. To dial in the percentage of effect. Got that already in reaper but these guys might not..
    A high shelf eq to pull back the craziness?
    And it should sound like expensive hardware.

  19. Francesco says:

    I’d like to have an enhancer for mastering with hp and lp filters, both stereo and m/s operation
    and the chance to add tube warmth if needed.Something where you can control input and output gain like a preamp,where you can filter the signal and add mojo with tube or solid state sound
    at your choice.Something that recalls the analog vibe of preamp where you insert the signal
    to add color or just give some life to dull mixes.Something that can be useful also to remove
    the harshness of some old and modern digital recordings.

  20. Hey bootsy – you could always wait and listen to my upcoming plugin Ionize… 🙂

  21. here’s something new to me that I just learned of last week: The Dolby Trick.

    I’m not sure about a definitive resource, but here’s a couple links that mention it…

    I’d like to hear this in a plugin… mainly because I’m curious about how it sounds.

  22. davidlev says:

    A recent article (about two issues ago or so) of TapeOp, a great mag for engineers, ran a review of a recent UA2 copy of the Aphex. It included a discussion of why we would want to use one at all. The answer, with which I agree, is that there are still incidents where it would be useful–if one is judicious in its use.

    Psychoacoustic would be my preference rather thyan the old style, maybe more like the Sonnox.

    What I’m waiting for from you, would be a selectable transformer unit to add the sounds of different winding metals (steel, nickel, etc). Perhaps to compliment a modeled selectable opamp that would enhance headroom.

    But, hell, Bootsey, anything you make is a pleasure to use. Thanks for sharing your creativity with us.

  23. Have a look at this one, if you didn’t.

    • I like the simplicity of the concept

      • It also sounds amazing! 🙂
        But to go back OT, if you ask me – it really is a good question if we need exciters in this day and age anymore; if you know how to mix, there’s rarely any need for them. Having said that, there still are situations where some sparkling mojo is neccesary, but it is important to accept the fact that there is a (more than) sufficient selection of plugins already available for that purpose, e.g. Ozone’s exciter is wicked. But if you could make a three band version of that concept, obviously with adjustable (yet transparent) XO points, make it a bit more ergonomic and elegant and have a selection od specific algorithms for EACH BAND, instead of an overall one (for example a specific type of processing would be adequate for the low end, but a completely different one for the top end or midrange), a wet/dry per band would also be necessary, some metering and a mandatory M/S functionality.
        Since, like I said we pretty much already do have all the tools for this purpose, I think you should focus on the ergonimics, elegant workflow and obviously, your fantastic stateful saturation algorithms. Brainworx’s new multiband saturatior is a great example fo good ergonimics. Heck, even the old and obscure Crysonic SpectraQ (NOT Spectralive!) is a nice example of proper mulitband thinking.
        For the end, I have a question to ask: UAD LittleLabs Voice of God (that bass resonance thingy); I LOVE what that does to the sound (just check the video on headphones and hear what it does to vocals); it enables you to change the (mainly lo-mid) “focus” of the audio in a very unique and great sounding way. Could something like that be done in, for example, three bands which could be then saturated after “focusing”? Just brainstorming, really, but my point is your new saturatior should be imaginative, user friendly, great sounding and unique 😛

        • Seems to me that transparent crossover points are going to be a bit of a challenge if you can have different algorithms in each band – in that you may be able to detect a change in texture at the crossover point. I presume you mean you wouldn’t want a noticeable dip or peak in the gain at those points?

          • Yes, that’s what I mean, dips and peaks should be unnoticeable, as much as possible. Speaking of that, have you tried those freebie crossover filters as offered on the website ( exact link: I tested them with DDMF’s Metaplugin and made some lovely multiband compressors with these, PA Vertigo and SSL XComp. They’re quite transparent and, best of all, free. The reason why I’m mentioning them is that the technique utilized in them is unlike any other I found anywhere! And they’re really good! There’s a lot of fuss usually around XO networks and how transparent or not they are, whether they’re linear phase or not bla bla. But I digress 🙂


  1. […] until my ‘stateful saturation’ approach emerged. Later on and when I asked “how a modern exciter/enhancer should look like“, several concepts were laid out on the drawing board and I knew that with this exciting […]

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