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Hands-On Review: BBE Sonic Maximizer Signal Processors

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Definition, clarity, and punch for your sound

By Gary Frank

The first time I experienced the BBE Sonic Maximizer was at a club date a few years ago when I saw one perched on top of the amp of one of my favorite bassists. Besides being a great player, his sound was always extremely tight, punchy, and clear. When I asked him about the BBE, he was enthusiastic. "I don’t play a gig without it. I can’t really tell you how it works, all I know is that it makes my bass sound better, fatter, and less muddy." Since then BBE rack processors have become ubiquitous among musicians, recording engineers, producers, and live sound pros—producing tighter, clearer mixes.

The BBE Sonic 382i, 482i, and 882i are stereo Sonic Maximizers with differing I/O options for various live sound and recording applications. In response to heavy demand from guitarists, bassists, and keyboardists, BBE has just introduced the Sonic Stomp, their first Sonic Maximizer in a footpedal. The Sonic Stomp lets you reap the sonic benefits of BBE’s popular 482i rackmount processor without lugging around a rack unit.

Step on it

BBE Sonic Stomp

I plugged my vintage Fender ’63 Jazzmaster into the Sonic Stomp, then into a 2 x 12" amp. I tapped the pedal and my guitar’s deep, mellow tone suddenly leapt out front with a sparkling clarity, as though a blanket put over the amp was removed. I was also impressed that the midrange sound spectrum that I like to hear remained untouched.

Turning the low contour higher increased the warmth and fatness even more, making my single-coil pickups sound more like humbuckers. Switching over to the gain channel produced a meatier sound than I have ever heard before from my amp—great tone for crunchy power chords and soaring leads.

Curious to see how this translated to humbuckers, I plugged in my Epiphone Les Paul. With the Sonic Stomp, the ’buckers were much bolder—I coaxed different tones out of the rig just by tweaking the guitar’s volume knob. It was like being able to play different guitars for different sections of the song.

BBE 382i, 482i, and 882i

These rack units are ideal for enhancing a wide range of pro and semi-pro sound reinforcement, mobile DJ, cassette copying, and disco sound systems. The 382i offers convenient ganged unbalanced 1/4" stereo I/O; the 482i has independent unbalanced 1/4" I/O, good for semi-pro uses not requiring balanced jacks; and the 882i offers independent balanced XLR plus TRS balanced 1/4" I/O for pro applications requiring low noise, high headroom, and +4dB levels.

BBE 382i Stereo Sonic Maximizer

BBE 382i Stereo Sonic Maximizer

Low contour control knobs adjust the level of phase-corrected low frequencies and process knobs adjust the phase-corrected high frequencies. A clip LED alerts you when the output level is at the maximum, and a switch lets you compare the processed and unprocessed signals.

BBE 482i Sonic Maximizer

BBE 482i Sonic Maximizer

Many bands use these units to enhance the clarity of the overall mix and of vocals in particular. They do this without adding the excessive brightness that happens when you simply crank up the high end on the EQ, and without the audible harshness of similar units.

BBE 882i Sonic Maximizer

BBE 882i Sonic Maximizer

Live, they can be used in-between the mixer outputs and amp inputs, or in the mixer’s channel inserts or effects loop. In the studio, BBEs give a sharper, more focused edge to recordings. They can be placed in-between the mixer bus out and the recording console inputs, or applied to pre-recorded material placed in-between the player’s outputs and the mixer input.

How it works

Listening to live music, all of the highs and lows reach our ears in the same relationship to each other as they were when the instruments created them. When this same live mix is played back through speakers, though, the speakers introduce frequency-dependent phase shifting, or inconsistencies in the way the speaker coil deals with high and low frequencies. The result is that high frequencies from a loudspeaker tend to reach the ear slightly later than low frequencies. This creates distortion and, to the listener’s ears, makes the sound unfocused and muddy.

BBE processors take a two-pronged approach to correcting these inherent problems in loudspeaker design. The first compensates the phase relationships of the low, mid, and high frequencies, adding progressively longer delay times to lower frequencies, neutralizing phase distortion. The second element in the BBE system enhances higher and lower frequencies. This dynamic, program-dependent augmentation combines with the phase compensation to restore clarity and brilliance.

Hearing is believing

A BBE Sonic Maximizer is probably the single best investment you can make to improve your sound. The Sonic Stomp footpedal is a perfect, portable solution for guitarists, bassists, and other musicians who want more dynamic tone. Or use a BBE 382i, 482i, or 882i to clear up your whole band’s mix or improve your recordings. Either way, a Sonic Maximizer is ready to bring new life to your sound.

BBE Sonic Stomp:

  • Process control
  • Low contour control
  • +16dBu headroom
  • Unbalanced 1/4" input and output

BBE 382i Sonic Maximizer:

  • Ganged-stereo process control
  • Ganged-stereo low contour control
  • +20dBu headroom
  • Unbalanced 1/4" inputs and outputs
  • Bypass switch

BBE 482i Sonic Maximizer:

  • Ganged-stereo process control
  • Ganged-stereo low contour control
  • +18dBu headroom
  • Unbalanced 1/4" inputs and outputs
  • Bypass switch

BBE 882i Sonic Maximizer:

  • +4dBu balanced line (1/4" tip-ring-sleeve and XLR inputs and outputs)
  • +23dBu headroom
  • Active balanced outputs
  • Hardwire bypass
  • Bypass switch

Tags: Signal Processors Effects Pedals

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