We’ve just spent two full pages discussing the desirable properties of magnetic tape, and the machines used to record onto it. Now let’s consider how maddening all of those ‘qualities’ must have seemed to engineers who had no choice but to commit to a medium that was easy to distort, and played havoc with the high end.
Some manufacturers attempted to rectify the negative side-effects of tape by offering devices designed to enhance the signal in ways that mere equalisers could not – you can’t cut or boost a frequency that isn’t captured on tape, you see.
Aphex Electronics were (and are) the most famous name in audio enhancement, thanks to their Aural Exciter. Developed in the mid-70s, the Aural Exciter wasn’t initially for sale, but rather rented out for a whopping $30-per-minute (of the recording itself, not the studio time). The Aural Exciter worked by a combination of phase- shifting and added high frequency harmonics, both very subtly applied. Eventually Aphex would not only sell cheap dedicated Exciters, but license the technology to third-party software developers.
BBE Sound’s Sonic Maximizer is a popular alternative to the Aural Exciter. Unlike the latter, the Sonic Maximizer doesn’t add harmonics, but instead attempts to correct the smear introduced by loudspeakers. This is accomplished by altering the timing and phase relationship of the harmonics in the recorded signal. Like Aphex, BBE’s technology would eventually appear in virtual form.
Manufacturers ranging from Behringer to SPL would later get in on the game, too, and products like these can still be useful for bringing some life to sterile or dull recordings.
Once available only as a costly rental, the Aphex Aural Exciter box can now be had in virtual form courtesy of Waves
BBE Sound’s Sonic Maximizer is a famous rack effect known for its hi-fi-style bass and treble enhancement