Over Excited

I wanted to write about the use of Aural Exciters in modern mixing and mastering. Aphex brought out the first version in hardware several decades ago and they were a wonderful device for brightening up the top end of any program material. Best remember we were using tape then though and these days with the high definition of DSD (Direct Stream Digital) frequencies up this end are not rolled off as with tape. So whilst "POP" music seems to have extended the realm of possibilities in the definition of "bright" I personally find the accentuation of these frequencies potentially dangerous. I am particularly concerned about the bandwidth from 3k~10k. Yes our human recognition of frequencies is most accurate in the 2.5~3kHz range and "exciting" this area can add a sense of presence to an otherwise dull program. But presence, especially for the lead vocal is not essentially a mastering issue; this should be addressed within the mix. I know I harp on about this but "the dark art" of mastering is certainly not a collection of tools to repair an otherwise ordinary mix. Hi-Hats and Sibilance are my major concerns for the use of Exciters. I am openly an anti-sibilant engineer, requiring plenty of definition in this area of approx 7.5kHz for an "s" but I get immediately and painfully distracted if this band of frequency is overt - drilling me through the eye with "t & s" is one sure way to put me off. I think it was Bob Katz who also stated that sibilance is able to be heard above all else, even when someone is speaking facing away from you, and he's right. Turn your monitoring right down, really low to focus on what's happening in this realm of hats and sib's. De-Essing is a wonderful tool; use it! So if you're convinced that an Exciter is just what your material needs to brighten it up I am going to suggest you have some more work to do - go back to your mix. Here's a hint. I start each and every mix session with a reference track of a piece with a great top end to attune my ears BEFORE I listen to my own material. Use this as often as you require throughout your mixing to wake up your ears. This will ensure your mix is bright enough and your 5~10k bandwidth will be in control. I personally love exciters but they demand an awareness of what can occur to these frequencies I've discussed. Avoid adding harshness to your top end at all costs. As another mastering engineer states as his mantra, "keep it warm." (Bob Ludwig)