Exciters are a nice way to make your production cutting through. Adding a bit of sharpness makes a lot of mixes clearer and sounding better.
We are big fans of exciters like the Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter used hit producer and engineer Val Garay in several hit records. Unfortunately, not everyone owns a decent exciter and not every DAW is offering one from the start. If you get behind the technique of an exciter, you can recreate that effect with the normal effects your DAW has to offer. All you need is a little bit distortion.
Classic exciters like the Aural Exciter above are working with slight distortion mixed to the original signal. In most cases, distortion is making sounds less clearer, but used on the right frequencies, it will help you getting a clearer sound. This effect can create new upper harmonics, which might have not been present in the original signal. The right filtering will make sure to only affect the needed frequencies.
To recreate this effect, you need to filter the original signal, distort it a bit (don’t overdo this, otherwise your sound will get crushed) and then mix this sound to your original signal. You can do this by duplicating the original track and adding effects to the duplicate or by using an Aux track.
If you want increase the effect, you can decide to boost it with the EQ, but make sure it’s really clearer and not just louder and distorted.
Advanced distortion plugins have their own filter section, so you can add distortion and filter in one plugin window. Plugins with a mix knob can be inserted directly and then slightly mixed with the original signal. Pro Tools’ integrated AIR Distortion is one example.
Play around with different filter and distortion settings to fit the kind of exciter effect you need on a certain signal (complete mix, VO, single drums, etc…)
You also want to try to add some stereo widening to your distorted signal to give it a bit more space.
Always remember to check the signal with and without distortion to make sure it’s not just louder and noisy.
Cheers and have a great weekend.