Waves Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter Review

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Michael Cooper



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Once I learned how best to use the Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter’s different modes, the rest was easy. The plug-in’s frugal control set made it child’s play to get great sounds. Aural Exciter sounded awesome on male lead vocals, lending increased clarity and intelligibility. MIX1 mode sounded the warmest and most balanced. With moderate AX MIX settings, it brought the midrange slightly forward but also increased sibilance somewhat. MIX2 mode, on the other hand, virtually eliminated all sibilance while pulling the midrange dramatically forward—perfect for rock vocals.

MIX1 with high AX MIX settings tightened up fl abby electric-bass guitar notes beautifully, making the instrument sing. However, I wasn’t charmed by what the plugin did to acoustic guitar: MIX1 sounded too tinselly and MIX2 too nasal. On kick drum, the plug-in made the beater slaps sound harsh and cutting. But Aural Exciter sounded outstanding on snare drum, as both MIX1 and MIX2 modes made it sound like a bottom mic had been added to this top-miked track, with MIX1 simultaneously producing warmth and sizzle and MIX2 mode bringing a bright and slappy tone. One caveat: If there is heavy hi-hat spill on your snare track, high AX MIX settings will make your ears bleed.

Next, I bused a finished mix to an aux and instantiated Aural Exciter in AX mode on the aux’s insert. This setup let me temper how hard I drove the plug-in’s input (using the bus send) without reducing the dry mix’s level. With a moderate amount of aural excitement applied to the mix, the plug-in enhanced detail and lent an open, airy quality. The downside was that some elements of the mix, such as arpeggiated acoustic guitar, sounded slightly glassy. I got similar results by placing the plug-in on the master channel’s insert and using MIX1 mode with the AX MIX control set to around 5 (turned up halfway). Injudiciously goosing the AX MIX control a lot higher produced a cutting, almost transistorized sound, cautioning moderation. I appreciated that I could adjust the meters’ headroom to 8 dB for mastering (while using MIX1 mode) because the default calibration otherwise kept the meters almost constantly pinned during loud choruses.

With the plug-in still sitting on the master channel’s insert, I auditioned AX mode just for grins (killing all dry sound). I was instantly enamored by how it evoked a bandlimited, slightly distorted sound reminiscent of a poorly tuned radio, albeit with enhanced high frequencies. Serendipity!

I got my best results using the Waves Vintage Aural Exciter on individual tracks. The plug-in sounds awesome on select lead vocals, snare drum and electric bass. But with judicious use, it can also transform a cloudy mix into an open canvas. This reasonably priced plug-in would make a great addition to any engineer’s toolkit.

Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore. By Michael Cooper

Click on the product summary box to view the Vintage Aural Exciter product page.

Click on the product summary box to view the Vintage Aural Exciter product page.

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