Today’s question, which sounds quite innocent, touches upon a topic that many people we speak to have wondered about.
“Is it worth it to add an 882 Sonic Maximizer to my P.A. system (small club 2 way)? I would like to enhance the vocals and make them clearer.”
We don’t have the space to write the volumes of info this topic really deserves, but maybe we can offer a few points without letting too much go unsaid.
First, I’m not going to go near the topic of whether or not it’s “worth it” because that depends on your real need and fiscal circumstances, which only you know. But I can help you to know what these products do.
Enhancers, Sonic Maximizers, or whatever anyone wants to call them work in a variety of ways, though they do often produce similar (not identical) end results. We’ve covered a lot of this before in past Tech Tips, but in short the BBE brand products do a couple of major tricks that can help or hurt your overall sound. Many people mistakenly feel they can do the same thing with a good equalizer. This is actually not the case. The BBE process is more than a simple EQ.
- They have a sort of dynamic equalizer circuit in them that does most of what you hear. When a midrange signal goes over a certain threshold it applies a boost to the high frequencies. This deceptively simple sounding process can really do wonders for the clarity and dynamics of your music. It will make some instruments come “alive” and jump out of the mix while it may make others a little strident or edgy sounding (more of those darned subjective audio terms there). It just depends on the nature of the source material and how heavily you apply the process.
- There is a bass compensation circuit to let you readjust the overall tonal balance. The aforementioned dynamic equalizer will tend to make the material sound a little bass light so this control allows you to put those low frequencies back into perspective. Of course most people use too much of both controls and end up with a very skewed tonal balance in the end. Basically it ends up sounding somewhat like the dreaded old “smiley-face” graphic equalizer curve. Sounds neat for a while, but really wears on you over time.
There are some other little phase compensation tricks and so on happening inside these boxes, but that’s basically all there is to it.
There are plenty of people on both sides of the fence regarding these types of processors, and I am not here to declare either of them wrong. I own one, but I use it only occasionally in my studio, if that tells you anything. On a whole PA system a little bit of it goes a long way. Some PA’s can really benefit from the process, especially if they are older or bad designs and just don’t sound as crisp and clear as more modern systems. There are other ways to improve the sound, but few cost as little as a BBE. It is a bit of a Band-Aid and not a real cure for some problems, but I’ve heard it work wonders. Just plug it in, turn it on and things immediately sound better. Depending upon your circumstances it may make more sense to just use it on the vocal channel or subgroup. That way you don’t run the risk of screwing up the sound of other instruments you already have sounding the way you want.
I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t caution you that your problem may be in the way your PA is set up or configured and not in the equipment at all. Again, a BBE may help, but what you may really need is someone to take a closer look at how your system is being operated. Make sure you are getting the most out of what you have, THEN start thinking about what you can add to improve things. If you don’t have an equalizer to tune the system to each room you may want to start there and see how close you can get things that way before you start buying exotic processors.