The Scintillator Strikes Back
The popular Scintillator has now been updated.
It's both gratifying and interesting to note that some manufacturers actually take note of our reviews, and one such is Slap Back Audio who produce the popular Scintillator psychoacoustic enhancer.
When we first reviewed the Scintillator in H&SR September 85, it was generally thought that it offered good value for money but there were still one or two areas in which we thought improvements could be made, though to be fair, we didn't see how these could be effected without putting up the price.
One such area was the filter control and though this had three set filter positions, it would be even more flexible if it could be made tunable. Well, Slap Back have implemented this change in the new model and have also replaced the standard transformer by a toroidal type to further reduce hum pick-up. Furthermore, the case design has been improved, as has the front panel artwork, but the most significant thing is that the price will not increase as a result.
Forthose who missed the original Scintillator review, I'll recap briefly. The Scintillator is a harmonic enhancement device in the same general category as the Aphex Aural Exciter but as the effect is subjective, each manufacturer comes up with something slightly different. Such enhancers work by filtering out part of the mid range content of the input and then harmonically enriching it before adding it back into the original signal. Compression is also used (but only in the sidechain) and this has an attack time that is empirically arrived at and which tends to emphasise transients. This also means that low level, high frequency detail is emphasised which is what gives the much sought after 'Clearer than the original' effect.
Of course there's no way that the circuit can tell exactly which harmonics it should add to recreate the missing top end of a dull signal but it's here that psychoacoustics comes to the rescue. Provided that the harmonics are musically related to the original sound and added in small doses, the ear cannot tell them apart from the real thing and readily accepts them as being natural. The overall result sounds subjectively cleaner, more detailed and more up front than the original; it even sounds louder.
The unit has only one set of controls but there are in fact two audio channels so that a stereo mix can be processed. You can also process two mono sources but, as the controls are ganged, there is no way to set up a different effect on each channel.
Drive is the control used to set up the input to the enhancer part of the circuit and a green LED flashes on the signal peaks when this is correctly set. This may seem to be a rather crude way of metering but in fact the setting up requirements for the Scintillator seem to be much less critical than for other enhancers and this turns out to be quite adequate.
The Filter or Tune control comes next. Technically this is a high pass filter which selects which portion of the mid and upper frequency band is to be harmonically enriched and the only way to set this up is to listen to the results. Lastly comes the Mix control and this simply determines the amount of effected signal that is to be added back to the original. A Bypass switch is provided and of course a Power switch.
In practice the unit was easy to use and was effective on either complete mixes or individual tracks such as vocals or drums, where it really did something positive to the sound. It was less pleasant on distorted guitar but this was probably toppy enough already. Some enhancers have been accused of making vocals sound sibilant but this one showed no sign of this problem. The input drive level was not too critical though you can get it to distort if you ignore the green LEDs altogether.
The only real danger is that of adding too much enhancement as this can make for very toppy mixes that are uncomfortable to listen to, but then you can do just as much damage by over using any effect.
This is one of those effects that at first you tend not to think of trying, but once you do, you're hooked. Suddenly you know why records always have that magic edge and you can get it too. It's not all roses of course, as you will emphasise any noise present at the input to some extent, but the unit itself is very quiet in operation and noise shouldn't be a problem if you don't over use the effect.
The addition of the tune control has given this machine a fair bit more flexibility and the new mechanical construction means that you can use it safely on the road or in the studio. To this end, the Scintillator accepts a wide range of input levels without switching and all connections are on unbalanced ¼" jacks which should suit most people.
So what was good value for money is now even better value... and it's British.
The Scintillator is available from Slap Back Audio, (Contact Details), and costs £228.85 including VAT.
Review by Simon Bateson
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