Accessit Aphex Exciter
Gary Cooper gets Aphected
Aural Exciter - the very words sound mysterious, don't they? After all, what is 'aural excitement': something verging on the obscene, done to the human ear by consenting adults? In a way, that's just what it is - a 'black box' sound effect which has become essential equipment in any number of leading professional studios, used to add a touch of magic to recorded sounds; a sort of acoustic version of the image enhancement techniques which can make colours brighter, more impressive.
The original aural exciter device developed by the American Aphex Company has been with us now for around ten years. The initial reaction to it from seasoned engineers and producers was mixed, largely because the principles behind its operation were anything but clear. Anyone with even the slightest technical background in acoustic engineering could follow how an equaliser worked, likewise a delay, a flanger, a noise gate and so on - but the Aphex was different. Most people could hear that it was doing something, but the resistance came from the fact that they couldn't understand how it was doing it, and Aphex weren't too willing to tell them. Even today the principles on which it operates remain shrouded in mystery. Despite the initial controversy surrounding the magic box, Aphex caught on, simply because it worked. At first you had to hire the Aphex's sound, paying a royalty on the amount of recorded time for which you'd used it. Later the actual Aphex system itself was sold in a rack mountable unit, but it's never been affordable by any but the professional studios - until 1985, that is, when Bandive (makers of those excellent budget-priced Accessit units) triumphantly announced that they'd secured the rights to licence-build a genuine Aphex system in a box retailing for a mere £79.95. Does it work? Would you benefit from having one? Read on.
Like the rest of the Accessit range, their version of the Aphex Aural Exciter lives inside a small black plastic box. As home studio equipment is most unlikely to be subjected to vast wear and tear, this housing method is eminently sensible as it keeps the price down whilst providing more than acceptable packaging.
You can use the Accessit Aphex either as a free-standing unit or (probably better) integrate it into your 19" rack system, by employing an Accessit rack conversion kit which lets you place any three of their range side by side in the 19" space. Power sources for the Accessit are, sensibly, optional. You can drive it with your choice from a 9v battery, an Accessit (unregulated) step-down mains supply (costing a mere £6.99) or, if this is more to your taste, via any suitable DC power source. Signal inputs and outputs from the Accessit are via standard 1/4" jacks (mounted on the unit's rear panel) and provide mike input, line level input, mix and Aphex outputs. The main (rotary) controls, meanwhile, are found on the unit's front panel and comprise 'Input', 'Drive' and 'Mix' pots. A red LED shows overload conditions.
The principles behind how the Accessit works might seem complicated, but there's nothing at all difficult in working out how to use it - although when might be more of a problem.
Basically, you wire it into your system in whatever way suits you, either direct feeding the instrument to be recorded into it, or connecting it to your mixer via a send/return loop. We even tested it at one point by using it virtually as a D.I. box, and feeding its signal straight onto cassette tape. It worked fine.
Trying to describe exactly what it is that the Accessit Aphex does isn't easy. Almost inevitably you find yourself resorting to similes, and the best I can come up with is to say that it produces the acoustic equivalent of rose-tinted spectacles - taking sounds and somehow 'tweaking' them, giving a sparkling tonal presence which obviously owes something to an equaliser function which the Aphex circuit produces, but which is also much more than can be imitated by judicious tweaking of a good graphic. In fact I tried this too, taking a 1/3 octave graphic equaliser and seeing if I could simulate the Aphex's brightening, 'highlighting' effect by twiddling endlessly with the controls. Put bluntly, I couldn't get anywhere near the Aphex's result. Whatever it is that it does do, it isn't just a clever auto-Eq device!
A particularly telling test came on guitar tracks, where the sound of a Fender Strat was brought right out of the mix, almost as in an acoustic version of 3-D. Originally recorded as a semi-backing track, we'd decided to see if the guitar's interesting finger-style rhythm sound could be pulled out and made more prominent. Routed through the Aphex the IT testers were astonished to find just how much difference it made. The track wasn't louder (and careful use of high quality metering confirmed this), and it wasn't just re-equalised either - it was more prominent, brighter, somehow more 'alive', fulfilling the purpose we had in mind perfectly.
The odd thing is that the Accessit doesn't work on all signals in the same way. Somehow it appears to be dependent on the frequencies fed into it. Some signal sources seem to benefit from Aphex-ing, some don't. In practice, you have to learn when the Aphex effect works and when it doesn't - even so, it's often worth trying, just to see if it adds anything interesting. One especially useful application of this unit lies in its ability to give a very handy boost to master cassettes. In fact, I can see this system being very valuable when submitting demo cassettes to record companies. A lot of A&R men (possibly the majority) tend to listen to submitted cassettes on their car stereos, and the rest of them don't exactly dim the lights, crack a bottle of Chateau Lafitte and settle back to devote their undivided attention to the 768 demo cassettes they've received that week! On that basis, anything which can make your tape stand out from the crowd is worth having, and Aphexing works really well in 'nobbling' your tape to give it that extra 'hmm, must listen to this one' sound.
All right, maybe I haven't explained exactly how the Accessit Aphex Aural Exciter works, but I doubt if you'll find that explained anywhere - the bald fact is that no-one at Aphex seems prepared to say. There are a few copies on the market, but the Accessit version catches the lot of them with their pants down, because it has the sort of retail price which you'd more normally associate with something like a medium quality effects pedal. Even the copies sell for several hundred pounds! Accessit's manufacturers, Bandive, deserve every home recordist's thanks for having reached this licencing agreement with Aphex. Their version lacks just one or two of the refinements that you'll find on the latest US-made 'real thing' (the Aphex B), but this scaled-down model is so very good and so useful that I can't see how any home or demo studio can fail to want one.
If you're still puzzled by what the Accessit Aphex does, then my advice to you is to try one. I'd predict that, once you do, you won't rest till it's safely installed in your rack.
RRP £79.95 Inc. VAT
More details from Bandive Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Gary Cooper
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