Psychoacoustics. Magic touch or snake oil? Exciters and enhancers have been accused of both over the decades. This pedal version of the Aphex Exciter technology is tailored for bass. Let’s plug it in…
Aphex introduced the original Aural Exciter all the way back in the mid 70’s and it has been their trademark ever since. In the 90’s they also introduced the Big Bottom technology and both have been widely used effects in studios for decades. At some point it was deemed a good idea/prosperous business model to bring a combined version of these technologies to the pedal effects market. Ultimately, three different peals were released.
They build on the same technological corner stone and only the range defining the ‘tuning’ of their high and low bands differs for each pedal aimed at Guitar, Acoustic Guitar and Bass respectively. This review obviously targets the bass version.
First a little background brush-up. The idea is that harmonic details tend to get lost during recording, and the exciter process helps recreate them. There are several exciters or enhancers on the market (by BBE and SPL among others), but the way Aphex tries to distinguish themselves from the rest is by highlighting their ‘Transient Discriminate Harmonics Generator’ (TDHG), which according to the company should give a more natural-sounding result.
The Big Bottom concept does not build on the TDHG, but applies peak limiting to the side chain signal. In both the Xciter and Big Bottom sections, there are adjustable filters at the entry stage – high-pass for the Xciter and low-pass for the Big Bottom – and both sections also implement frequency-dependent phase manipulation before hitting the TDHG and peak limiter respectively.
Maybe it makes more sense to just see the diagrams from the manual:
The control layout is simple. As mentioned, there are two sections with two knobs each: Tune and Blend. Each section represents a high and a low band, or the Xciter (high band) and Big Bottom (low band). The controls are: LO TUNE, LO BLEND, HI TUNE and HI BLEND. The knobs are clearly labeled with numeral indicators from 0 to 10 with 5 at the 12 o’clock position. If you look at the two charts above, you can actually see precisely where the control knobs are located in the signal chain.
In short the LO TUNE and HI TUNE knobs set the filter ranges for where the processing starts and the LO BLEND and HI BLEND knobs control the amount of processed signal that is being mixed in with your dry signal.
Tech talk aside, let’s hear how the Bass Xciter sounds. This part is split into two rounds of sound clips: Fingerstyle and Slap – plus a short ‘Aphex Bass Xciter Jam’.
NOTE! Please use headphones or ‘real’ speakers. You simply can’t judge low-end material on laptop, tablet or phone speakers…!
NOTE! If you are on a mobile device, please turn it to landscape mode to see the knob settings of the pedal for each audio clip.
Overall, I like the Bass Xciter. It is certainly capable of adding some sheen and/or low-end punch to your tone. My main criticism with regard to tone is that there is such a fine line between scooping (which is what this pedal does by nature) and drowning. Live, I have found myself using it in much more subtle ways than I do when practicing or recording. Sometimes I have only used the Xciter part to add a little brightness to the sound and kept the Big Bottom section out of the loop entirely, but I must also admit that I more often than not have punched it out after a few tunes.
While being able to get some cool sounds, versatility is not overwhelming. The Bass Xciter mainly does one thing, and while that can often be more than enough (if that one thing is all you ever need), I have only been able to have it create 80% of that tone I hear in my head with it. It may well be my head that is the problem, though!
The build quality is not poor, but not impressive either. The knobs feel nice and firm and the footswitch is also decent, but the jack connectors don’t seem too solid. They have not failed on me, though, but I don’t pull out the cables as firmly and with as much confidence as I do on most other pedals.
One thing that did strike me was that this pedal also introduced some noise, which I think is natural given the fact that you boost your signal and maybe also compress/limit, but still it was more than I had expected. I have had two of these and both did it, but I might just have been unlucky, even though it doesn’t seem too likely.
On the rear side, there is a lot going on, and that I/O design could have been more elegant and/or practical. If you have one or more cables with an angled connector, you can easily clash with either the power supply connector or the passive/active switch that sits in between the IN and OUT jacks. There are always different opinions on where to place the jack connectors, but I had preferred the jacks on the sides, or moving the DI XLR connector and power supply input to the sides. The rear panel is pretty crammed. But if you mount it permanently on your board, you only have to wiggle, twist and turn your cables and pedals once to make this one fit, and in that case, I guess you could live with it.
The Bass Xciter is now discontinued, but used to retail at around $130-140 from new. Now you can usually grab one pre-owned at $60-70, so it won’t set you back a whole lot if you just want to check one out. Since you can’t buy a new Bass Xciter, I guess it would be fair to consider the value for money based on the used price, but of course bearing in mind that you get a used pedal with no warranty. And with that in mind, I find the value to be decent without being overwhelming…
All things considered, the Bass Xciter does sound great on its own – and to create some nice ‘hi-fi’ sounds on you bass for practicing at home, it might just make it a little more fun. But for real-world use – live or recording – I simply find so many other pedals a better choice.
Sounds nice on its own
Fair value for a pre-owned model
Can be used very subtly for adding sheen
Makes you drown in the mix too easily
I/O design not really working