Eve though many musicians who can see past it’s rather “showy sound enhancement abilities” now hate it, was the BBE Sonic Maximizer cassette tape friendly enough to qualify as its “soul-mate”?
By: Ringo Bones
During the cassette tapes heyday – in the early 1980s – “affordable” cassette tape decks were notorious for sounding “dull” when compared side-by-side with their upmarket counterparts, thus any after-market audio widget designed to improve the sound of your “affordable” cassette tape deck suddenly became consumer electronic best-sellers. But did the BBE Sonic Maximizer offer something better than other competing products?
BBE, Barcus Berry Entertainment, Incorporated – which later became known as BBE Sound, Inc. is based in Huntington Beach, California that began operation around the middle of the 1980s. BBE Sonic Maximizers became widely used for audio recording, motion picture sound tracks, TV and radio broadcasting and motion picture sound systems, According to the audio processor’s creators, BBE Sonic Maximizers were primarily designed to improve the sonic clarity of virtually any reproduced sound by correcting / compensating for phase and amplitude distortions produced as your typical power amplifier drives a typical loudspeaker.
Around 1986, BBE Sonic Maximizers first appeared widely as a stand alone unit to be connected between your source – be it a vinyl record turntable, cassette tape deck, VHS deck, hi-fi tuners and even CDs – and main preamplifier, though better results with cassette can be obtained if your tape deck’s peak output voltage is around 500-millivolts or louder. At the time, the best thing I notice about BBE Sonic Maximizers is that it can make a dull cassette recording sound better by subtly boosting the treble frequencies without appearing to add additional hiss, unlike using the tone controls or graphic equalizer in boosting the treble.
By around 1991 to 1992, many musicians – like Skid Row, Megadeth, Queensryche amongst others – began using BBE Sonic Maximizers to enhance their recordings and the sound of their electric guitars and electric basses. But later on, “soulful” musicians started to dislike BBE because the BBE Sonic Maximizer box acted like a “heavy handed loudness control on steroids”. Boosting bass and treble frequencies tend to make the overall recording – or your musical instrument – sound as if the midrange frequencies were eliminated giving an impression of that hollow solid state sound that became unfashionable as the early 1990s single-ended triode vacuum tube amplifier craze went “viral”– quite far removed from what loud Marshall electric guitar amplifier playing is all about, which is tons and tons of gorgeous creamy midrange. Even upmarket Nakamichi DR series cassette tape deck owners steered away from BBE starting around 1994.
But to my ears at least, BBE Sonic Maximizers do serve a “niche purpose” where their treble boosting could prove useful. Like providing much needed treble boost to those dull prerecorded cassette tape albums from the 1980s where a “conventional” stand-alone noise / hiss reduction system will only make it duller, FM radio stations with excessive OPTIMOD compression usually sounds a little more dynamic when used with a BBE Sonic Maximizer and pre Burwen Bobcat enhancement era MP3 digital music download files.