What is An Exciter – How Does an Exciter Work

An exciter is one of the more apt names for a plugin as you’ll find in the many types of audio effects in mixing. It can be very useful for adding some excitement, some life to a track, a bus, or your entire mix on the master bus. But what is an exciter, and more specifically how does an exciter work?

What is an Exciter?

How Does an Exciter Work

An exciter is a type of saturation, meaning this is a plugin which actually adds harmonic distortion to existing audio.

In other words, this creates overtones where there wasn’t frequency information before. You can add harmonic distortion to different frequencies to achieve different effects.

Typically a normal saturator adds low-mid and mid heavy frequencies, taking the existing lower frequencies and supplementing them and their octaves. This can be used to balance the tone of something which is too top heavy like in the case of this bright guitar which I show here:

saturation on guitar

In the case of an exciter, this type of saturation typically specifically targets the upper-mid and upper frequencies of a track instead, adding brightness or clarity. This is useful when your existing audio doesn’t have the brightness you’re looking for even after you’ve tried boosting the existing frequencies via EQ.

How Does an Exciter Work

By distorting audio, you naturally add overtones, or frequency information at higher octaves above the fundamental of that audio.

Exciters do this, but again they focus primarily on the upper-mid range and higher frequencies of your audio.

One of my favorite exciters is the Waves Vintage Aural Exciter in equal parts due to its simplicity as well as the results you can get from it.

aphex vintage aural exciter

The controls couldn’t be more stripped down; you simply adjust the “AX Mix” dial for more or less high frequency saturation.

Here I applied this exciter to a sine wave which had already been distorted but was relatively mid heavy:

before and after exciter

As you can see, everything starting around 2k and up is more prominent in the frequency profile. This shifts the focus away from the mids and better balances out the tone with that clarity on the higher end of things.

When to Use an Exciter

If saturation is great for adding warmth and body to a track in those low-mid and mid frequencies or balancing out a top heavy track, an exciter is for just the opposite.

You can take a track which is too dull (check out my dull mix fixes, by the way) and liven it up by augmenting that higher end.

Oftentimes when you don’t have much or any top end to boost via EQ, exciters work much better and naturally than trying to boost something which isn’t there.

Brighter audio with more clarity is livelier and more exciting to the ear, again hence the term “exciter”.

This boosts or can even create transients in that 3-6k range (depending on the audio), giving your audio more punch to better cut through the mix, as well.

Exciters also don’t create problems with harshness that you can easily get by being too aggressive with EQ boosts in the 4k range. If you drive an exciter too hard, you’ll typically just hear too much distortion.

Speaking of which, while you can really drive an exciter to get some interesting effects, you typically just want to blend in a subtle amount.

Practically speaking, I find myself reaching for an exciter most of the time when I’m processing my mix bus once I’ve gotten everything else more or less how I want it. A little blended in high frequency distortion on the mix bus opens the mix up and brings just a touch more clarity and yes, excitement.

Check out my guide for processing the master bus for more information and tips on putting those final touches on your mix.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *