Like most of the audio guys I know, I carry an iPhone. There are just too many great apps to go with it to think of using anything else. And besides, as has been noted before, I am a self-professed i-whore.
I use it to make notes about upcoming gigs. I use it to measure SPL levels. I use it to email crew and band mates. Occasionally, I even use it to make a phone call. Up until a few weeks ago, the thing I did not use it for was listening to music and certainly not to tune a system. Ever.
My no longer teen-age ears have been damaged by way too many loud gigs both as a tech and a musician. And more than my share of loud shows covering gigs for SPL and my other gigs in this biz. But even given the damage (I lose about 6dB an octave above about 8kHz), I can’t stand to listen to music on my phone. Two reasons. First, the lack of storage space on even the biggest iPhone means you either have very little music or you rip it in a compressed format. And I hate compressed music. I have 2000 CDs worth of music in my home library. So much that i can’t use Apple’s iTunes In the Cloud because that service is limited to no more than 25,000 songs. But they are all ripped in native AIFF uncompressed format.
The second reason is that it’s a phone. It’s not a music player. I don’t have the specs at hand, but my guess is that the D-to-A converters and headphone amp are not up to snuff. I do know that even with my damaged ears I can hear the difference between AIFF files on my non-iOS iPod (4th Gen. iPod Classic 160 GB) and on my phone.
Screen shot of the Aphex Xciter App
But, the Aphex Xciter app is changing my habits.
I don’t need to tell any of you who have been around for any length of time what the original Aphex Exciter was all about. It was on virtually every hit record recorded in L.A. in the ‘70s and it was not until the late ‘80s that you could even buy one. Prior to that you had to rent it. When Aphex added the Big Bottom process—basically (ha ha, bad pun) it did the same thing for the low end as the original Exciter did for the highs—it started showing up in a lot of live racks. When racks disappeared and Aphex made the Exciter available as a plug-in for digital consoles, my guess it that even more people started using it.
On iOS devices, there are two versions available. The first one operates on the crack-dealer model. It’s free and you can listen to 15 mins of music via the player per day. There are two upgrades. One runs a buck ninety-nine and removes the time limitation. The other runs $4.99 and adds the ability to customize the settings. Both the free and standard versions have three presets labeled “Low,” “Medium” and “High” that represent increasing amounts of the DSP processing.
I love the custom setting for just listening because I can bring back some of the highs that I have lost over the years. For listening to a PA, I would use the “Medium” setting, personally.
The process adds harmonics to bring back sounds lost in most sound systems but it is more than an EQ thing. It somehow brings the sparkle and “air” missing in so many mixes—and especially on the phone—back.
Two links below. First goes to the free version. Second goes to the $4.99 Studio version. I would just skip the free version and get the paid one. By the by… I paid for mine. It’s not a freebie. And I paid for it when it was $9.99 before it was on sale. And I don’t mind a bit.
Couple of things to be aware of. If you have a ton of DRM protected music (including stuff downloaded from iTunes before they dropped DRM) this is not for you. Due to limitations imposed by rights owners (not Apple or Aphex), DRM-protected tracks will not play in the Xciter player which subs for the iTunes players when engaged. Second, it only works with tracks that actually reside on the device. I really hoped it would work with streaming services like Spotify but, no dice.
The video includes line level direct samples of the same tracks using the standard iTunes player and the Xciter in the “Medium” setting.
ADDENDUM: If you are going to listen to this app through a PA you are going to have to put some work into it. After writing this, I talked to a couple of guys working on large systems and the consensus is that the presets just don’t work well. You are going to need to spend some time with the custom setting. If it were me, I would run the same tune through two stereo channels with one coming from a known source like a CD player and the other from your phone and tweak the setting until the two inputs sound the same and then save that setting as your “tune the PA” setting.
You also might be interested in:
There’s an App for that: Soundcraft Guide to Mixing
Audiofile Engineering’s Quiztones App Review