Scott Woodward takes the Aphex Xciter pedal for guitar and bass out for a very big spin.
When I got asked to take the Aphex Xciter stompbox out on a few gigs I had to do a little research. The Aphex Aural Xciter was the first of what are known as “psychoacoustic enhancers.” Without getting all geeky on you that basically means using stuff like phase and harmonic manipulation to create the impression of greater depth and range to your sound without really affecting the overall level. The first two buttons on the left go to a Wikipedia entry and--if you want to get really geeky--a white paper on the process presented to the Audio Engineering Society.
What It Is
The Xciter is made for use by bass players, electric guitar players and acoustic guitar players and there is a three-way switch right in the middle of it to “voice” the harmonics generated by the pedal correctly for what you are using it for. There are two EQ sections which allow you to sculpt the sound to your liking by choosing a center frequency and then boosting or cutting that by up to 5 dB.
You have an instrument input, and an unbalanced, 1/4” (guitar cable) output as well as a balanced XLR (mic cable) output. Which means that the Xciter pedal doubles as a direct box. You can power in with a 9-volt battery or an external power supply. The manual includes a list of compatible power supplies but the Xciter does not comes with a power supply in the box. It does come with a battery. On the power tip--that XLR output also takes phantom power. Which means that is you are plugged into a mixing console with phantom power for powering a condensor mic, you can use it to power the Xciter pedal. Nice to know if your battery dies and you neglected to bring a spare.
What It Does
So, Aphex calls it “studio-quality enhancement.” I call it the “anti-sucky-tone pedal!” I use this pedal whenever backline is provided or if I’m using my acoustic bass.
I do regular acoustic night shows using my $200 Dean 5-string bass. I’m not rich. I’m a working class bass player and can’t afford the really nice gear so I buy what I can afford. Well I bought this bass and was going to change the pick-ups and put in a graphic EQ section. I found out that mod was going to cost more than I paid for the bass. REALLY?
So my good friend and fellow musician Rev. Bill said “Dude, you need to check this unit out and let me know what you think.”
Now, I’m no rocket scientist when it comes to pedals. I can barely make my POD work. So I got it home, took it out of the box and looked at the manual--not one of my favorite things either. So I looked it over and said ”ok I’ll give it a go.” I hooked the pedal up with no problem. Set my amp up, put all the tone knobs on flat, got out the trusty (ok maybe not) Dean Acoustic bass, and let it rip.
WOW!!!!!! With no effort my not-so-great bass sounded like a really expensive one. I can’t really put into words how big a difference it made, but you can hear it in the video by hitting the video button to the left of this text. I literally have had sound guys yell at me about how crappy my acoustic bass sounded. And with the Xciter, i felt like I could gig with it easily. Feeling kinda good and brave, I started to mess with the buttons and knobs.
WHOA!!!!! Even better tone and sound was coming out of my amp, and it was me and my bass making it. Now it didn’t make me a better player, but it did make my tone sound like a million bucks. I can now go and do an acoustic show and not have the soundman telling me to get rid of my bass.
Now, for more good news. This pedal lists for $249.99 If you check online you can find it all over the place for $199. But, put it into perspective. In the mid-1970s when the Xciter came out it rented for $30 per minute of recorded music. In 2011 dollars, that’s about $150. So you can have the pedal version for what it would have cost to rent the studio gear for less than TWO MINUTES when it came out.
Bottom line is that for a small investment you get to keep your inexpensive gear, and sound great. Or if you have really great gear this just gives you that much more to your sound. I use this with my 1966 P-bass and my 2005 5-string Jazz bass. This pedal just makes my nice basses that much better. I use Ampeg amps or the POD as a pre with Crown amps with Ampeg cabinets and am amazed at the difference in the sound I’m getting now. This pedal goes with me to every gig, session, and rehearsal. Every one. The Rev. is going to have to pry it out of my cold, dead fingers. The Xciter is a crucial part of my gigging rig now.