Wednesday, May 7, 2014

BBE 282iX Sonic Maximizer Review


There have been lots of bad things that have been said about BBE Sonic Maximizers, and I do not disagree with much of what is said, but that does not keep me from using them on a regular basis. Guess what? Lots of other people do too! So, today we are taking a look at my BBE 282iX Sonic Maximizer. Please remember that I am a musician and a sound guy, not a scientist, so cut me some slack…

These things are hyped and marketed as a magic tool that will make anything sound better: live music, pre-recorded music, individual instruments, recording and mixing. BBE can deliver on many of these promises, at least to some degree.

But what is a sonic maximizer? It is not an aural exciter because it is not synthesizing new sounds, rather it is changing the phase of the input signals and then limiting them. Effectively this makes the bass boomier and the treble more sizzly. Or something like that. It is like having a distortion box and a compressor pedal all in one unit with almost no controls.

From my research, this appears to be a relatively simple analog process that can dynamically boost the treble based on how much midrange energy is in the input signal. The signal chain includes an input buffer that is routed to a level detector, as well as to the low, mid and high bands. The user can regulate the phase controlled treble frequencies with "Process" knob and the phase controlled bass frequencies with the "Lo Contour" knob. Then all three of these signals are mixed in a summing amplifier and routed to the output. For the 282iX, the maximum boost adjustment will be +12dBu at 5kHz for the Process knob, and +12dBu at 50Hz for the Lo Contour knob, with a total maximum output of +20dBu. The total frequency response is 5Hz to 30kHz.

This is a desktop model, so it is perfect for those who do not haul around a rack, such as DJs. It only weighs a couple of pounds and it measures about 10.5 by 8.5 by 2.5 inches. It has a nice looking black chassis and beefy silver knobs. Sort of an Oakland Raiders theme, I guess.

The 282iX has simple inputs/outputs and controls. On the back there are balanced XLR ports for the inputs and outputs for both channels, as well as the power switch and the socket for the 12V power supply (included). On the front there is a bypass switch and the Lo Contour and Process knobs. There is only one set of knobs that is used by both channels, unlike some other BBE products. That is it. If you cannot figure out how to hook this thing up and use it, you have chosen the wrong hobby or business.

BBE Sonic Maximizers are almost universally reviled on guitar forums. Guitarists complain that they are tone sucks and a waste of money. I am not going to argue with them, and would not put one of these in my guitar signal chain because it would alter my tone. A decent equalizer will provide many of the same benefits without changing the tone.

These units can help in the studio to somewhat make up for poor microphone placement and production. They can make bad recordings sound surprisingly good, and can really perk up the drum tracks. But they can make the instruments sound unnatural. I would only use one in the studio as a last resort.

The Sonic Maximizer really comes into its own for live performances. It can make the bass guitar and vocals (especially female vocals) cut through the mix better. Sounds that are dulled by playing outdoors or in bad rooms can really be perked up. But again, be careful how much you dial this thing up because it can get out of hand pretty quickly.

But in my opinion, the best use of the Sonic Maximizer is when playing pre-recorded music through a PA system. This is especially true when you are doing DJ work and somebody hands you an iPod or a CD that they ripped and it just sounds terrible. There is a lot of magic in adding in a little delay and compression, and it will make these recordings sound the best they can. And DJs, if you do not believe me, read this next sentence:

THERE IS A GOOD REASON WHY EVERY GENTLEMEN’S CLUB IN THE U.S. HAS A BBE SONIC MAXIMIZER IN THEIR SOUND SYSTEM. Everybody and their brother wants their DJ system to sound like the PA at a strip club.

But I must warn you, if you overdo it, it will kill your tone and headroom. Keep comparing the tone with the bypass ON and OFF to make sure you are not getting too far off into the woods. It is entirely possible to make your mix sound way worse with this thing.

When I use mine it comes after the mixer and is the last step before the signal goes into my powered QSC K-series or Yamaha DSR speakers. Set-up does not get much easier than this. I have had great luck with the Sonic Maximizer, and I will not go to a gig without it.

The282iX I got is nicely made, and the knobs have a nice feel to them.. I have not had any troubles it and do not anticipate any difficulties, but if I do BBE backs it up with a 5-year warranty. That provides a little peace of mind.

The BBE 282iX Sonic Maximizer has a list price of $299, and a street price of $199. I checked Musician’s Friend and they have them on sale for $79.99 right now which is a smoking deal, and brings them into the realm of affordability for most of us. Check one out if you get a chance, but make sure you understand what you are getting, and don’t overdo it.


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