Harmonic Exciter Explained – How It Works And Best Plugins

Harmonic Exciter Explained - How It Works And Best Plugins | integraudio.com

In this article, we will explain what harmonic exciter is but also discuss and compare the features of the most commonly used Exciter plugins below.

How Does Harmonic Exciter Work?

Harmonic exciter uses harmonic synthesis to attack the rudimentary frequency signals in the recording and create higher-order harmonics from it. Since noise mostly comes from higher frequencies, the harmonics are obtained from a purer frequency band, thus giving us cleaner highs.

Exciters are not just limited to high frequencies. It can be used to add excitement across the whole frequency spectrum.

How & When To Use Harmonic Exciter?

Harmonic exciters are used by producers and audio engineers to add color and flavor when mixing instruments like pianos, guitars, leads, synths drums, and even bass to add more presence and clarity to your sound.

Using a standard EQ to achieve this often results in unnecessary noise and sibilance, so a harmonic exciter is a better choice. Additionally, Harmonic exciters are sometimes used on old recordings in order to clean it up and make it sound more redefined.

Harmonic exciters are generally used for mixing on an individual level. However, they can also be useful in mastering or post-production commonly for treating master tapes. Enhancing higher frequencies could help overcome the clarity loss in mass cassette duplication. Moreover, it can also be used to treat analog tape master, which has lost its higher frequencies due to aging or repeated playing over the years.

The 4 Examples of Exciter Plugins:

Please. keep in mind this is just a quick showcase of exciter plugins. To see the list of the best exciter plugins to use, you can check this article.

Though, here are some of them as well:

1. Waves Aphex – Vintage Aural Exciter

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Waves Audio Aphex Exciter

This exciter plugin by Waves is modelled after an actual, physical exciter device that was introduced originally in the mid-70s. The Aphex exciter was an instant hit at that time, but it was quite expensive and rare to find. Today, Waves technology acquired the Aphex exciter and created a VST that replicates its sound almost exactly.

The user interface in the Waves Aphex is very different from the Ozone exciter. We have a mix1/mix2 mode that the user can choose from. The AX mix slider is to blend the desired amount of effect with the dry
signal. In addition to that, Aphex also has an AX mode. This is used when this effect is used on an aux bus, and there are tracks routed to it as “sends”.

Another feature that makes Aphex especially useful is the VU meter and the VU calibration displays. The VU meter displays the input or output level in dBVU. It also has a clipping indicator that lights up when the level exceeds 0dBFS. The VU calibration controls the headroom calibration in the VU meter. Just like the Ozone exciter, Aphex also has a bypass option.

2. La Petite Exciter

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La Petite Excite (Fire Cut Bodies)

Little exciter with big sound. It works great on anything and doesn’t sound artificial. If you are after free exciter, there could not be a better choice!

Even though it has only 4 starts on Boutique, for us it’s number one free exciter.

3. SPL Vitalizer MK2-T

More Info & Price (Trial Available)

Harmonic Exciter Explained - How It Works And Best Plugins - 2024 Update

SPL Is well known brand because of their plugins. This is that kind of exciter you want to use on highs to add more air. But still. it has many other features like making your bass sound more powerful or to emphasis midrange. Definitely try trial, you won’t regret it!

4. Audio Thing Valve Exciter

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Harmonic Exciter Explained - How It Works And Best Plugins - 2024 Update

Valve Exciter is a harmonic exciter with a vintage valve emulation plugin by Audiothing. Much like its counterparts, the interface of this plugin, as well as the sound, is unique to it.

Valves plugin has two main sections, i.e. the exciter section and the valve section.

The exciter section consists of hand-tuned filters. Valve also has a harmonics knob which allows the user to sweep the middle frequencies. The bass and treble knobs are self-explanatory, i.e. they are in charge of boosting frequencies in those ranges. The harmonics knob is used to sweep in the middle frequencies of the bass and treble. Additionally, the harmonics knob is also used to boost the mid-range.

The valve section is designed to replicate a custom version of the vintage Telefunken ECC83 tubes.  This section comes with a drive knob, triode/pentode mode, and a bias settings knob. It also comes with an ON/OFF switch to enable/disable it.  The drive knob is used to add that “grind” and “grittiness” to the sound by eliminating some of the frequencies using pre-defined settings. Bias knob attempts to emulate the idle current sound that the original tube generates. This changes the tone of the sound. This is also the case for the triode/pentode switches.


To wrap this up, Harmonic exciters are a great way to boost lead vocals and to add more flavor to a track by increasing individual frequencies without adding noise. Exciters have proven to be vital in the mixing and mastering process, and so they established a prominent position in the mix chain. There is a wide variety of exciter plugins in the market, each with different functionality, different sound, and different controls.

In this post, we discussed the most commonly used ones and compared them based on system compatibility, price and hardware requirement, and seen a very broad difference in terms of price particularly. I highly recommend trying out every plugin that was mentioned by downloading the free trials or demos in order to get the full picture as to how each plugin sounds and find out precisely what you need for your style.

Related Readings:

Top 12 Saturation & Tape Emulation Plugins For Mixing & Mastering

Top 11 Distortion Plugins (And 4 Top Free Plugins)

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