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rediscovering the SPL Vitalizer
Old 11th February 2007
  #1
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rediscovering the SPL Vitalizer

Once upon a time in the dark ages of the late 80's "Enhancers" were all the rage for 2 track processing (to the point where Aphex Aural Exciters would be rented to mix studios by the hour), and in 1988 SPL came out with their own take on it, with the original stereo version of what they branded a "psychoacoustic equalizer," the Vitalizer, the SX2. Maybe the best known user of it at that time was Bob Ludwig, although I'm fairly certain that this was a processor he only used on occasion and far from a "go to" box. Fast forward to now and you'll rarely ever see these things in someone's rack ever, with the conventional wisdom being that these things are fairly useless on digital sources and if useful at all is only in processing for worn or poorly recorded analog tapes. Most people associate "enhancers" in fact with glorified distortion boxes best used on individual tracks for lo-fi mixes.

Which is kind of how I felt myself until a few months ago. Europadisk had one in its racks when I started working in its studio and I almost never patched it in except for once or twice on a couple tracks with seriously narrow images that worked better with some widening. When the auction of all the studios equipment happened I actually won this for all of $175, which even though I thought I would rarely ever use it, still seemed worth the minimal cost.

It kind of sat barely used in my rack until recently when for the heck of it I plugged it in and started to experiment with it. And lo and behold I actually found it can for the right track actually do a little "magic" in a different way than my Medici and other eq's, adding a "sparkle" and getting things dialed in a bit quicker than just using more "standard" eq's. Essentially I found that it's can often work better than some other options on material with way too many "M's" - i.e. Mono-ish, Muddy, Muted, Missing bass, or with clutterred lower Midrange.

Essentially it for the most parts allow you to quickly dial in a "smiley face" shaped eq, scooping out lower mids and dialing a fairly smoothing upper mid boost with a very wide Q, with options to add in mid range harmonics (essentially adding subtle distortion to upper mids or highs), or subs (with boost and Q controllable for this), along with a forementioned widener (basically bringing up the relative side channel gain via differential phase cancellation sent to one side).

What surprised me is that it actually worked for a number of tracks on 3 very different recent projects: 1st was trip-hop record of spoken word stuff over very cluttered and dense electronic beats & soundscapes, that although was mixed entirely in the box was still fairly dark sounding. While not the cleanest sounding processor that I could have used. the client actually liked the "edge" that SPL gave. Next was some film music using hybrid samples and live instruments, that it again opened up and gave a nice image to. And finally was some live recordings of a string quartet, again mixed fairly dark, and with some low mid resonances and poor separation between the instruments, that it again helped to open up.

Anyway - to clarify - I am only referring to the original SX2 stereo version - which I believe SPL has re-released as the "Classic Vitalizer." There are a number of dumbed down other versions - such as the stereo version which only has a single set of controls for both sides, or the unbalanced "Jack" version. The "Tube Vitalizer" offers a number of additional controls, and fwiw seems to be something that Bob L still has in one of his rack and maybe even still uses on occasion.

Disadvantages of this box are that it's controls are mostly continously sweepable (with a few with center detents) making recalls less easy, and that it has definitely lower overhead than my other analog processors - requiring the source be attenuated more prior to the process chain when it is patched in. Some cautions with its use - as in all things in mastering just a tiny bit of its processing dialed in can go a long way - and it's extremely rare that I use the high "harmonics" function at all as this can definitely get grainy very quickly.

Anyway - if you can get beyond that - in answer to the ultimate parody of a typical Gear Slutz thread question - "what is the best analog mastering eq for $200 or under?" - gotta say that to my ear the SX2 version of the SPL Vitalizer is actually worth of taking out of the closet and dusting off as it can actually offer an option that a lot of processors currently more in vogue can't. You can find them mighty cheap on ebay a lot of time.

As always - the disclaimer: YMMV!

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 12th February 2007
  #2
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Tx! We got one in a rack, my boss found it to be useless. However I still want to try it out. Just wasn't sure what other people are using it for. Saw it here in the Mastering-forum in 2 racks, but didn't got a reply on how they used them. Besides that I'd like to know if it's any good at using on just single instruments, which you allready said.

For example, got this project with a nice band, but they just used extremely bad instruments, and a completly dead guitar, which is totally unexiting, I plan on trying it on this thing.

Did you also tried it out on percussive instruments? E.G. a snare?

Thanks for the review!
Old 12th February 2007
  #3
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Cellotron's Avatar
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ibvee View Post
Did you also tried it out on percussive instruments? E.G. a snare?
I don't do all that much mixing work so I've never used it on individual tracks. In general the Vitalizer works well only on darker sources with cluttered lower mids - on tracks that are already really bright it's possibly one of the worst things you can put in line - so I'd imagine it wouldn't be useful on most snare tracks. In conversation a few years ago an electronic music producer here who does very good sounding stuff told me he would use one occasionally on kick drum though.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 12th February 2007
  #4
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I also like that unit, I use it on stereo mixes. Mine is the newest Mk2 solid state version, I don't find it dumbed down in the least, I much prefer a single set of controls. This one has the stereo expander too, which I like better than M-S conversion for many things.

I find a nice analog equalizer in front of it is a great help, can make all the difference in the brightness. The Vitalizer high and low controls can actually smooth out some edgy upper "midrage" and sound even stronger and more open than the EQ alone. But moderation, of course, it does take some time working with it to learn how to get best use.

Steve
Old 12th February 2007
  #5
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I use a MK2-T, I like it on stereo buss, strings, synth, backing vocals, vocals...

I found mine also very useful for smoothing out overly bright sounding material:
Set the high-mid tune betwin 10K and 22K and process controll nearly to max.
The processed signal in this case will be subjective quiter and need some gain-makeup for judging.

To get the full capability of this box you really have to work some time with it.
And don't be afraid to use the mid-high-tune on other settings than betwin 3K-4K,
because that would be like using a bright sounding smile curve on every mix.

Andreas
Old 12th February 2007
  #6
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Bob Yordan's Avatar
heh, I actually bought a second hand classic SPL Virtualizer, yesterday for $200.
Old 12th February 2007
  #7
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cellotron View Post
I don't do all that much mixing work so I've never used it on individual tracks. In general the Vitalizer works well only on darker sources with cluttered lower mids - on tracks that are already really bright it's possibly one of the worst things you can put in line - so I'd imagine it wouldn't be useful on most snare tracks. In conversation a few years ago an electronic music producer here who does very good sounding stuff told me he would use one occasionally on kick drum though.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
I agree, it sounded great on crappy recorded stuff that was muddy dull etc... but on something mixed properly it really did nothing other than make it sound unaturally bright/bassy.
Old 12th February 2007
  #8
what are the sonic difference betwen the MK2 and the MK32 Tube

I Know one is based on tubes...but how they really sound/?

also any mono issues.
Old 15th February 2007
  #9
I have had an SX2 for 11 years. I used to use it all the time when I mixed in analog. Now I like to stay in the digital domain and that's the main reason I haven't used it in over 5 years, but I'll keep it rather than sell it for $150.

They are easily overdriven, but at least you have a multi position operating level switch on the back. I used to run mine at "+8dB".

One big thing to watch out for is that, if I remember correctly, it inverts polarity from input to output. They may have fixed this somewhere along the production run, but check it out by matching levels with a hard wire bypass and looking for cancellation.

Very easy to go too far with this box, especially with that stereo width knob!
Old 16th March 2007
  #10
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Hi folks,
actually, i like the 'stripped down' stereo version (without compression and stereo only) alot better due to the fact, that opamps are easily upgradable. Its unbalanced (at least mine) - but new opamps did alot for increased headroom and frequency response.
I also opened up my SX but was surprised it is made completely different in pcb design - i did not dare to mod it yet, but may be reasonable (headroom, noise and distortion specs).
Originally, the SX2 was intended to be versatile for single instruments and stereo busses, mainly for feeding in a seperate channelstrip and mix dry and processed signals (according to SPL employees!) to pep up flat sounding signals.
The stereo expander really does most beautiful things if used carefully.
Nice to use with synth racks - Klaus Schulze used to say: 'Without vitalizer it sounds like sh*t anyway, isn't it?'

Kind regards,

Martin
Old 16th March 2007
  #11
Old 12th September 2007
  #12
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I got mine (sx2) this afternoon and hooked it up into my ultralite in logic. I put it on an aux and use it to beef up kicks and snares, and whiden up some other stuff with the stereobutton. This thing works best to my ears when using it on an aux and blend it with the original signal. This way you get nice thick full sounding stuff without overdoing it.

I have to say, this thing costs me $80 and realy does something to my sound i missed, especialy in a daw(although the highs sound like something you would like to avoid in a daw sometimes).
Better stereo image, better resonant lows, yeah i like it. I wont use it in every project but its a helpfull tool. Looking forware to experiment with vocals
Old 29th January 2008
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by smallbutfine View Post
Hi folks,
actually, i like the 'stripped down' stereo version (without compression and stereo only) alot better
thats the one i got to go along with my studer 721. i sometimes use it to spice up some dull stuff.... great cheap fun gear.
Old 29th January 2008
  #14
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Cube-Tec makes a vitalizer emulator plug-in. I'm not sure which analog version it is based on but apparently works well and is currently being used by some well-known ME's.

http://www.cube-tec.com/vpis/masteri...vitalizer.html

Has anyone tried it or any of the other Cube-Tec Mastering Plug-ins?

http://www.cube-tec.com/vpis/index.html
Old 29th January 2008
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Krehm View Post
Cube-Tec makes a vitalizer emulator plug-in. I'm not sure which analog version it is based on but apparently works well and is currently being used by some well-known ME's.
who?

afaik -
Some of these plugins designs are from the late 90's and I don't know how much they've been updated recently (edit: although looking at their page it seems they've updated them from 32bit processing to 64bit processing)

fwiw - I demoed out earlier versions of some of these plugins (Loudness Maximizer, DeNoiser, FreeFilter, Magneto) when they were released as DX plugins by Steinberg licensing from Spectral Design about 7 years ago. I wasn't that impressed by them at that time in comparison to other available plugins and ended up not purchasing them.

afaik (but I'm not completely sure) the Loudness Maximizer is the same algorithm used in the old (discontinued) SPL Loudness Maximizer digital hardware - Sound Performance Lab . Loudness Maximizer . in short

I believe the DeEs is a digital emulation of the SPL De-esser.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 29th January 2008
  #16
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Storyville's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cellotron View Post
In general the Vitalizer works well only on darker sources with cluttered lower mids - on tracks that are already really bright it's possibly one of the worst things you can put in line -
I just used Ozone's harmonic exciter on a track for mastering a track which was on the dark side with low mid clutter. I was surprised it worked as well as it did. Glad my ears weren't fooled. I've always wondered exactly how harmonic exicters work - how they pinpoint the harmonic information and bring it out.

In any case, I know my harmonics are excited.
Old 29th January 2008
  #17
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I use to use an Aphex Aural Exciter Type B in my studio largely when working on stuff people use to bring in recorded on their Portastudios. For various reasons, including the unfathomable choice of not using high bias tape coupled with the awful noise reduction included on those units, these tape where just plain dull. A judicious use of the Aphex served restore some brightness to these tape. The Aphex exciters where in no way EQs. The afformentioned "distortion boxes" is the correct term. Rather than turning up the highs, these units attempted to recreat missing harmonics buy filtering the output of distortion.

Another thing I used to use the Aphex for was processing those horrible MIDI horns from the Roland MT-32. The Aphex help me dial in a little more of a "brass" sound out of those.
Old 29th June 2009
  #18
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A bit too late, but...

...it's really fun I've discovered this thread

I've owned the totally dumbed down Vitalizer Jack version until I converted my studio to digital, and I've missed it ever since. I used to have it in my mastering chain before the Finalizer, and I always loved the simple yet very effective controls and the sound it gave. Always used to push the "Bass" dial a little bit to the left ("Soft"), Brilliance to about 5-6, Process I can't remember , and the frequency range to about 3.5 kHz IIRC - and the stereo expander to about 6 as well. I've never managed to get a similar sound using no matter which VST plugins.

I'm recently considering breaking up the mastering chain into a digital and analog part again for being able to insert that beast - or maybe there's a digital version as a plugin now?
Old 30th June 2009
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gizeh12 View Post
I got mine (sx2) this afternoon and hooked it up into my ultralite in logic. I put it on an aux and use it to beef up kicks and snares, and whiden up some other stuff with the stereobutton. This thing works best to my ears when using it on an aux and blend it with the original signal. This way you get nice thick full sounding stuff without overdoing it.
That's how I used to us the vitalizer as well. Kind of like a parallel processor.
Old 30th June 2009
  #20
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SPL vitalizer

Nobody mentioned the SPL Tube Vitalizer 9503. It is still beeing produced and is not cheap at all - 1570 EUR to be exact. It's in no way just a "exciter" it works actually differently using transistors, tubes and coils simultaneously.

Great unit, especially for warming up bass and brightening the mids (and some tube flavour if you like).

Old 30th June 2009
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maxim_m View Post
Nobody mentioned the SPL Tube Vitalizer 9503. It is still beeing produced and is not cheap at all - 1570 EUR to be exact. It's in no way just a "exciter" it works actually differently using transistors, tubes and coils simultaneously.
If you meant the 9530, yeah, it comes in very handy about once a month here. It's very colored but sometimes it's exactly what a thin, lifeless mix needs. I only use the bottom EQ section though. Never found a use for the "vitalizer" part.


GR
Old 30th June 2009
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I recently had sold the spl tube vitalizer. - Likewise, only used the low end control. High's seemed to add to much distortion. Also used the spreader function once in a while which seemed pretty natural sounding. Didn't use the unit enough to warrant holding onto it, but a decent piece non the less.
Old 30th June 2009
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Krehm View Post
Cube-Tec makes a vitalizer emulator plug-in. I'm not sure which analog version it is based on but apparently works well and is currently being used by some well-known ME's.

VPI's - Mastering VPI's - Vitalizer - Cube-Tec International

Has anyone tried it or any of the other Cube-Tec Mastering Plug-ins?

Virtual Precision Instruments (VPI's) - Cube-Tec International
I see this post was resurrected so I thought I'd answer my own question.

Sometime after I posted this I got to demo the Cube-tec plugs. Since I'm on Mac, I had my tech guy rig a PC with a demo of WaveLab.

I tried the Vitalizer and the Loudness Maxmizer and liked them both.

Unlike many of the mastering engineers here, I do like adding very subtle amounts of width via my TC 6000 in M/S mode and/or my K-Unit as often as I think the technique works for the track. The Cube-Tec version of the Vitalizer was a little different way to do it and I could definitely see using it if I had it in my arsenal.

Most full-time ME's working with various kinds of pop music have to make loud masters much of the time so I was looking for another limiter for variety and the Loundness Maximizer didn't disappoint. I could see using it quite a bit. It has a "sound" that I instantly recognized from listening to some albums I have in my collection.

I didn't buy them b/c I am on Mac here and these are only available for PC based software and while I really liked them, they weren't quite impressive enough to change my computer and DAW!
Old 30th June 2009
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Reierson View Post
If you meant the 9530, yeah, it comes in very handy about once a month here. It's very colored but sometimes it's exactly what a thin, lifeless mix needs. I only use the bottom EQ section though. Never found a use for the "vitalizer" part.


GR
I've got the 9530 in my chain with the distressors matched pair, great combo for ITB EDM mixes.
Old 1st July 2009
  #25
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I should note that since I first posted this I had Dan Zellman go through my SX2 and he replaced a number of the IC's with more current ones that have lower distortion and self noise than the originals. I don't have a list of what he did - but it did in fact make a nice difference to improving the noise floor and having the eq sound less grainy.

I should also note that like other posters here I find it's extremely rare that I ever use the high frequency boost (aka "Harmonics") on this box.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 1st July 2009
  #26
Does anyone have any idea what an SX2 would be worth on today's market? I haven't used mine in years so I should sell it.
Old 14th July 2009
  #27
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Does anyone know what the differences are between the SX2 version and the Classic version (model 9215)? The original poster suggested that the Classic model was a re-issue of the SX2. I was originally going to buy an SX2 but ended up with a 9215 on it's way to my studio now and I was wondering if this model will be any worse sounding than the SX2 or if they are indeed basically identical. Any info is appreciated. I emailed SPL but haven't heard back yet.
Old 15th July 2009
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben F View Post
That's how I used to us the vitalizer as well. Kind of like a parallel processor.
But What about the 'phase' Ben? As a well known contempory of ours once said!
Old 15th July 2009
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by William Bowden View Post
But What about the 'phase' Ben? As a well known contempory of ours once said!
The entire point of the Vitalizer is to induce lots of phase distortion. It's how it works. It's in fact a parallel processor by default with onboard controls to mix dry signal (control marked "output") with the processed signal (control marked "process depth").

If you're trying to preserve the existing stereo image it's probably the worst thing you could possibly put in line.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 15th July 2009
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cellotron View Post

If you're trying to preserve the existing stereo image it's probably the worst thing you could possibly put in line.

Best regards,
Steve Berson

Really, I thought as long as you didn't mess with the stereo spread knob it would just add harmonic content. Does it mess up the phase of a stereo image even when you don't touch the stereo spread knob and apply the same amount of the effect to the left and right channel?
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