In the world of aural enhancement, SPL stand, if not alone, then apart. Most enhancers or exciters produce their effect -- brighter, more detailed sound -- by generating certain amounts of controlled distortion. SPL's Vitalizer family uses an arcane mix of EQ, phase and level manipulation to produce punchier, more detailed mixes, without (so SPL claim) introducing extra distortion.
SPL STEREO VITALIZER JACK £234
Another attribute that Vitalizers have been known for is their relatively high cost. But now that has changed with the arrival of the Stereo Vitalizer Jack. Debuting at a little over £230, the new model provides an opportunity for almost anyone to get in on the Vitalizer action.
The new processor comes in the familiar 1U rackmount format with a black and blue 'paint splash' finish, and as the name suggests, all the rear-panel inputs and outputs are on unbalanced jacks (although the Vitalizer has been available in a jack version before, its connections were balanced). The connections are also duplicated on gold-plated phono sockets (which would also make it suitable for hi-fi use), and there's an internal power supply -- a nice touch at this price. One other internal feature of the new Vitalizer, common to the whole family, is a bypass relay which engages in the event of a power failure. This is a welcome safety option for live use.
You may have noticed that the new Stereo Vitalizer has a superficial resemblance to the original Stereo Vitalizer, which was launched back in 1993. In fact, the controls on the clearly labelled front panel are virtually identical to that model. Taking these one by one:
Unlike the original Stereo Vitalizer, there is no Stereo Expander bypass button, no Active/Bypass LED or any form of metering. An LED that flashed when things were getting a little too hot would have been useful.
The Vitalizer Jack really works -- indeed, its effect on the bass end of a track is indescribable. I ran dancy drum box and synth mixes through it and got a kick to the lower frequencies that was impossible to achieve with EQ alone. Even some basic acoustic guitar and voice demos were lifted with a pleasing 'soft' bass effect.
'Detail' and 'clarity' are much over-used words in mixing circles, but the Vitalizer Jack really does provide them in spades. The guitar/voice demos also benefited from the stereo expander, with backing vocals spreading out around my ears, leaving the lead upfront. Nice! The best approach, as with any enhancer, is to produce the best mix you can without the processor, and then add that fairy dust in the final stages. Also, keep double-checking your processing against the original audio. While the SPL's treatment is very seductive, and not nearly as harsh as most enhancers or exciters, over-use is still possible.
Essentially, the Stereo Vitalizer Jack offers the SPL magic at an accessible price. Audibly, there are no compromises, though there isn't quite the same amount of control as with SPL's top-of-the-range models. However, this simplicity results in ease of use: you'll be getting the best from the Vitalizer Jack in no time.
There's not much else to say. Audition soon... and be prepared to get out your cheque book.