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By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Ever wonder why some records, radio broadcasts, and live or DJ mixes just sound better than others? The odds are Sonic Maximization was employed. This is not the nickname of some wizard engineer, nor is it an arcane formula combining EQs, delays, filters, and a splash of voodoo. In fact, the whole concept is remarkably simple. And though the name Sonic Maximizer is often used generically to describe any sweetening of a sound, it's the invention of BBE. Let's see how BBE creates their magic.
A little-known sonic secret reveals that while PA speakers are designed to project sound, in the real world they tend to deaden it through what is called "frequency-dependent phase shifting." This is a delay inherent in the sound reproduction of different frequencies. Without getting too technical, a speaker's impedance rises with the frequency of the sound. Thus, higher frequencies take longer to reach your ear than lower ones. This dulls attack and articulation, especially for instruments like guitar, piano, bass, and percussion, all of which have distinct transients.
BBE has the solution to this problem. Itsseries was designed to slightly delay the lower frequencies, counteracting this natural phase delay between bass and treble. The idea is to make sure that the entire frequency range of the signal reaches the audience at the same time, giving the sound coming out of the PA the same presence and attack as the sound heard on the stage. Full-range speakers also tend to reproduce midrange frequencies more efficiently than lows and highs, so PA systems often come with a booster switch for the high and low frequencies. BBE's Sonic Maximizer series augments these frequencies in conjunction with their delay curve, to produce a more natural, full-range signal.
This simple sonic solution has been implemented in a variety of models to fill different needs. The top-of-the-line(tested) features dual-mono operation with balanced XLR inputs and outputs. Its balanced I/Os provide low noise and the +4dBu input levels found in pro-level systems. The 882i's PC-board-mounted pots, switches, and jacks are housed in a 19" rack with a 1/4"-thick extruded aluminum faceplate, leaving little doubt that this is a professional, roadworthy unit. All the controls are smooth to the touch and have a nice, solid feel to them. The is virtually the same unit, but geared toward semi-pro users who don't require balanced jacks, while the similarly featured 382i further economizes by ganging the stereo function together onto two knobs. You can even get this marvelous effect in a pedal form called the Sonic Stomp.
For those who work entirely "in the box" (that is, on a computer), BBE offers the, including a software version of the Sonic Maximizer; a Harmonic Maximizer that generates tunable harmonics for low- and high-end emphasis; and a mastering/dynamics limiter called the Loudness Maximizer. It's the perfect plug-in collection for mastering your mix or adding a final dash of sweetness. Tip: use this after you've converted your high-res WAV files to MP3s to restore anything lost in the conversion process.
I first tested thein the effects loop of an Egnater Rebel-30 guitar amp. Its dual mono configuration allowed me to come out of the amp's mono effect send into the 1/4" input on one side of the 882i, and have that side send the signal back to the amp's effect return. I played a Telecaster through the amp's clean channel. Once engaged I could see why the Sonic Maximizer sits in so many pro guitarists' racks—it became very hard to say goodbye to the sparkle and jangle it induced. The Egnater is a great-sounding amp, but after bypassing the 882i, the sound was perceptibly duller and less lively. The 882i had much the same effect through the distortion channel: Without changing the essential quality, it made the sound more alive and in-your-face. The Lo Contour knob let me shape the bass response to one that was compatible with my 1x12" closed-back cabinet. Tweaking the Process knob enabled me to dial in the perfect amount of the effect—one that sounded completely natural and less like an actual "effect." Thanks to the extremely quiet, proprietary Sonic Maximizer op amp, the 882i added no discernible noise, even at full gain settings.
Next up was a funky DJ dance tune on my laptop. I ran the audio out of my computer into an audio interface plugged into the, then through the 882i's balanced XLR outputs to a second audio interface and into a Mac G5 running Ableton Live. I wanted to see if I could emulate the effect of the 882i with EQ. The Sonic Maximizer expanded the sound of the track significantly. The percussion was much crisper and the bass now stretched the capabilities of my near-field monitors.
Despite my best efforts using Live's eight-band parametric EQ, I was unable to approximate the full-range excitement of the. This time-alignment stuff is really something special! The +23dB headroom of the 882i resulted in a pristine flow through this pumping track; it is hard to imagine any source material that this device couldn't handle—or improve.
Whether you are an instrumentalist, DJ, recording engineer, or broadcaster, BBE has a unit that will slot nicely into your rig—and your pocketbook. The configurations are slightly different and optimized for different rigs, but the core Sonic Maximizer process is common to all models in the line. Whatever your sound source—whether live or recorded—theis the best and most cost-effective way to give your music that extra depth, detail, and intelligibility to make it sparkle and shine.
For a choice of models offering that magical Sonic Maximizer sound, check out the, , 382i, or , and give your music an extra dimension of detail and depth. Order today from Musician's Friend and get our 45-Day Total Satisfaction and Lowest Price Guarantees.