10 Best Stereo Imaging Plugins

Best Stereo Imaging Plugins

Looking to loosen your mix’s stereo image, or perhaps just make it more exciting?

There are many tools to do that…

But the best stereo imaging plugins out there gives you absolute creative control over your stereo image.

Read on and learn what these plugins have to offer.


The Best Stereo Imaging Plugins

  1. Waves Audio S1 Stereo Imager
  2. FabFilter Pro Q
  3. Waves Audio Doubler
  4. Soundtoys Microshift and Little Microshift
  5. FabFilter Pro C2
  6. Plugin Alliance BX Stereo Maker
  7. NUGEN Audio Stereoizer
  8. Plugin Boutique Stereo Savage
  9. Waves PS22 Stereo Maker
  10. iZotope Ozone Imager

Waves Audio S1 Stereo Imager

Waves Audio S1 Stereo Imager

See price @ Waves Audio

Waves Audio S1 Stereo Imager is a solid and powerful stereo imaging plugin. It has Shuffler, Imager, and M-S (mid-side) Matrix components, well-equipped for enhancing or correcting a stereo image.

Best Features & Specs

Boasting a “unique and powerful set of tools of psycho-acoustic spatial imaging techniques,” S1 Stereo Imager uses shuffling and mid-side matrix capabilities to widen audio signals.

The Shuffler component is usually used to make the audio field narrower through a ‘Width’ dial. Another fader called “shuffle” can be used to adjust bass frequencies.

The widening and narrowing function in the S1 Stereo Imager is mostly achieved through manipulating the mid-side matrix.

Bottom-line

Waves Audio’s S1 Stereo Imager can do pretty much everything that you’d expect from a basic stereo imaging plugin. However, S1 Stereo Imager’s focus seems to be on widening and narrowing rather than dealing with phase issues. Nonetheless, it is a dependable plugin for most stereo imaging purposes.

FabFilter Pro Q

Fabfilter Pro-Q 3

Compare price @ Plugin Boutique / Sweetwater

FabFilter’s Pro Q range of EQ’s is considered an industry standard and an indispensable tool, in fact, one of the best mixing plugins today. With a wide variety of features, intuitive interface, and innovative band options, FabFilter Pro Q can be a powerful tool for widening or focusing a signal’s stereo field through mid-site processing.

Best Features & Specs

It is the Pro-Q 3’s 24-band dynamic equalizer that makes it such a powerful tool for mid-side processing.

Mid-side EQing can be used to widen stereo images. This is done by EQing either the frequencies at the center of the mix (mid) or the frequencies at the left or right (side). The stereo image is ‘widened’ by increasing the gain signal of ‘side’ frequencies or decreasing the ‘mid’s gain signal. The discrepancy between the two creates the illusion of space.

Pro-Q has a dedicated M-S processing function that does exactly this. Moreover, you can do mid-side processing on specific frequency bands and not on the entire mix.

Pro-Q’s powerful dynamic EQ, its Dolby Atmos support, and a plethora of other features (Spectrum Grab, Auto Gain, EQ Match, and others) make it one of the best options for mid-side processing.

Bottom-line

FabFilter’s Pro-Q can do stereo imaging, as well as a bunch of other audio signal sculpting tasks. It is an all-around super-tool that has made it incredibly easy to manipulate stereo images while giving access to other powerful functionalities.

Waves Audio Doubler

Waves Doubler

See price @ Waves Audio

Waves Audio Doubler does exactly what it is called: it doubles the sound and allows you to manipulate this doubling effect. At its core, it is a flanger/chorus effect that gives you access to gain, delay, panning, detuning, and other sonic aspects.

Best Features & Specs

Most users use Waves Audio Doubler for double-tracking effects. These effects are achieved through delay and pitch modulation.

Waves claims that using the plugin adds some “shimmer and presence” to the processed sound. Indeed, the doubling effect thickens an audio signal, but delaying the doubled signal also creates a Haas effect that widens the stereo image. The plugin builds on this basic principle by offering different manners of changing the interaction between the two sounds.

Aside from doubling tracking and chorus features, Waves Audio Doubler has other extra features. This includes an 80s-style harmonizer and some pitch detune effects for wobbly, vintage sounds. It also has some flam-like effects which sound great on drum timbres.

Bottom-line

If you want to add a little bit of spice to your audio signal, Waves Doubler is a great option. It gives users many options to manipulate the stereo signal in dramatic ways such as through flanger-like effects, detuning, and others. These can add texture and life to an otherwise dry stereo mix.

Soundtoys Microshift and Little Microshift

Soundtoys Microshift

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Soundtoys’ Microshift and its condensed version, Little Microshift, are two of the best stereo widening plugins that use digital micro pitch-shifting to thicken the sound. It uses the same algorithm as two well-respected pitch shifting hardware effects, the Eventide H3000 and the AMX DMS 15-80.

Best Features & Specs

Microshift features three styles of widening, two of which were based on the Eventide H3000 Harmonizer while the third one is based on the AMX DMS 15-80.

The plugin has a primary dry/wet rotary dial. It also has controls for the amount of detuning and delay. A fourth dial called Focus is included, allowing users to apply the effect only to pre-configured cut-off frequencies.

Microshift replicates not only the algorithms of Eventide H3000 and AMX DMS 15-80 but also their saturation and de-glitching scripts.

Little Microshift offers the same widening features but in a bite-sized scale. It has a three-button, one-knob visual interface. The central knob is a dry/wet Mix dial. Aside from these differences, Little Microshift uses the same algorithms as its bigger brother.

Bottom-line

Soundtoys’ Microshift and Little Microshift are incredible stereo widening plugins. Sporting deceptively simple interfaces, these two plugins adds instant depth, width, and thickness to a sound while also giving users some level of control to shape these changes.

FabFilter Pro C2

FabFilter Pro-C2 Compressor

Compare price @ Plugin Boutique / Sweetwater

One of the more advanced ways to manipulate an audio signal’s stereo image is through mid-side compression. Mid-side compression can isolate a specific range of ‘side’ frequencies, say, the reverb and delay frequencies, and compress them independently. This enables users to keep these frequencies under control without ‘over-cooking’ the entire mix and also compressing the middle frequencies.

However, to do mid-side compression, one needs a more advanced compression plugin. One such plugin is FabFilter’s Pro C2. Considered as one of the best compressors (and even one of the top VST plugins out there, you can use Pro C2 for a more nuanced mid-side compression and stereo shaping tasks.

Best Features & Specs

Pro-C 2 is a powerful compressor and it boasts features such as auto-gain/ auto-release, smart lookahead, up to 4x oversampling, external side-chain triggering, and others.

However, for mid-side processing purposes, Pro-C2’s accurate level meters help in pinpointing exact frequencies to target for mid-side compression. The animated level/knee display also lends itself elegantly to this purpose.

Bottom-line

If you want to use a compressor mid-side compression and stereo imaging, you need a powerful compression to make the task less tedious. FabFilter’s Pro-C 2 is actually among the best tools in the market for compressors, so it is without doubt one of your best choices overall.

Plugin Alliance BX Stereo Maker

Plugin Alliance BX Stereo Maker

See price @ plugin-alliance

Plugin Alliance’s BX Stereo Maker is a frequency-optimized M/S upmixing plugin whose main purpose is to transform mono audio into stereo while keeping it mono-compatible. BX Stereo Maker does this through their proprietary mid-side stereo algorithm.

Best Features & Specs

Aside from enabling users to convert any mono signal to stereo, BX Stereo Maker also allows users to balance the center signal.

Moreover, users can use the Tone function to choose specific frequencies from within their signal and make the plugin work on these frequencies instead. The virtual side signals can be also solo-ed.

The processed signal can further be shaped with a High Damp control and a Mono Frequency control. There is also a more standard Stereo Expansion control.

The stereo image can also be tilted either through the Pan control or through Tilt Mode which shifts only the affected signal.

Also available are RMS/Peak level and balance and correlation meters. Output gain can also be pushed to +/- 12db.

All of these can be done by the BX Stereo Maker with relative speed and not much penalty to the machine’s resources.

Bottom-line

Brainworx Stereo Maker is an incredibly loaded plugin, especially given that it has a simple job. It gives users a high level of control and flexibility over the audio signal. Moreover, it is lightweight and its interface is easy enough to use straight out of the box.

NUGEN Audio Stereoizer

NUGEN Audio Stereoizer

Compare price @ Plugin Boutique / Sweetwater

Nugen’s Audio Stereoizer is a stereo width plugin that can provide stereo manipulation, from natural stereo extension up to extreme, unnatural effects.

Best Features & Specs

NUGEN uses three independent algorithms to make sure that the illusions that Stereoizer creates best subscribe to how the human ear perceives width. These are the IID (Interaural Intensity Difference), ITD (Interaural Time Difference), and Linear Width.

IDD widens the stereo field by applying frequency-dependent panning. ITD employs basic left/right timing discrepancies. Finally, linear Width creates a ‘center space’ which leaves the mid signals dry.

Audio Stereoizer is also mono-compatible. The Stereoizer doesn’t use artificial reverb, doubling, and phase cancellation to manipulate mono signals. In short, it avoids unnecessary equalization that can change the quality of the audio signal.

It also has some fun extra features such as LFO shapes and timing options for modulation.

Bottom-line

NUGEN’s Stereoizer may seem to be a bit complicated, but it is a powerful tool that gives users a lot of space for experimentation and play. Moreover, the widening effect doesn’t sound grainy and it doesn’t have any noticeable artifacts.

Plugin Boutique StereoSavage

Plugin Boutique StereoSavage

See price @ Plugin Boutique

Most stereo imaging plugins are rather straightforward and don’t really provide a lot of depth in terms of functionality. However, Plugin Boutique’s StereoSavage is an exception. It gives total control over your stereo image, from input routing to LFO modulation.

Best Features & Specs

StereoSavage’s UI has five sections: effects, stereo adjust, input routing, bass bypass, and LFO.

The Effects section provides three options, Vox, Delay, and Expand. This section in itself is quite powerful, giving access to pitch-shifting, chorus-like effects, delays, and even a fixed low pass filter for ‘warmth.’

Stereo Adjust is the main widening knob.

Input Routing is mainly for mixing and matching channels and inputs as well as for monitoring.

Bass Bypass simply keeps bass and the kick in the center through a filter side chain.

Finally, there is the LFO section where users can go crazy and modulate parameters such as panning, levels, tremolos, rotations, width, and others. These modulations can be synced to a host tempo.

Bottom-line

Plugin Boutique’s StereoSavage is a hefty plugin, packed with stereo imaging features and effects that can push your creativity to the next level. Users can play with almost any aspect of their sound using this plugin.

Waves PS22 Stereo Maker

Waves PS22 Stereo Maker

See price @ Waves Audio

Like the BX Stereo Maker, Waves’ PSS2 Stereo Maker is a plugin for converting mono recordings and other audio signals into stereo. Using psycho-acoustic spatial enhancement and phase-compensation, it rebalances stereo images and retains mono compatibility. Its sound quality can best be appreciated when using quality studio monitors.

Best Features & Specs

PSS2 Stereo Maker works through mono to stereo emulation. It claims to preserve the original frequency response in the conversion process. This makes it an ideal plugin for salvaging or enhancing old monoaural recordings.

Its UI enables left/right / mid-side meter monitoring.

Bottom-line

Despite its rather rustic visual aesthetic, Waves’ PSS2 Stereo Maker is a reliable plugin for opening mono recordings. Lightweight and unassuming, PS22 Stereo Maker spreads mono data without introducing unwanted artifacts.

iZotope Ozone Imager

iZotope Ozone Imager

Compare price @ Plugin Boutique / Sweetwater

Ozone is considered as one of the best digital mastering suites in the market. Therefore, it only follows that its imaging component, the iZotope Ozone Imager, bears some of this reputation.

Best Features & Specs

As part of the Ozone suite, the Imager is practically free. But it is certainly one of its most important components.

The latest update of Ozone adds two newly designed Stereoize modes. These new modes can be controlled through a fader.

Stereo Width can also be adjusted, again with a fader.

Ozono provides a visual representation of the stereo image through three stereo image graphs called ‘Polar Sample’, ‘Polar Level’, and ‘Lissajour’, respectively. These representations give a fairly accurate symatic representation of frequencies in your signal.

Bottom-line

Simple-looking yet sophisticated, iZotope Ozone’s Imager can instantly ‘stereoize’ your sound and adjust the audio signal’s width. The Imager’s visualizers give an accurate and satisfying look at the audio signal, making it possible to shape the signal even by the visual graphs alone.


How to Choose the Right Imaging Plugin

Most producers use imaging plugins to animate their mixes, make them a little bit more interesting and alive. Different plugins employ a wide variety of strategies to do this. Here are some things you should consider when choosing the appropriate imaging plugin for your mix.

Stereo width algorithms

Making a signal sound ‘wider’ is actually a simple trick that involves doubling a signal and delaying the other signal. However, this strategy can create phasing issues that can erase significant frequencies from the mix. This is why some plugins use other emulation algorithms to achieve the same effect. Consider these algorithms and decide whether what kind of widening algorithm you prefer.

It must be said though: to an untrained ear, discerning these differences can be difficult. Some can only be detected if you use studio headphones. Phasing issues usually only happen in complicated mixes that have multiple stereo imaging instances.

Think big or zoom in?

There are two ways to approach a stereo image. You can either think big and manipulate the whole stereo image using a plugin that is dedicated to this task. You can also take a more surgical approach by using mid-side processing techniques such as mid-side EQ or mid-side compression.

Using a dedicated stereo imaging plugin automates most of the technical aspects. This makes them a good option for less advanced producers. However, you can also use just compressors and EQs for a bit more control and precision. It depends on your personal production philosophy.

Modulation

Some stereo imaging plugins feature modulation options through LFO shapes. Although optional, these kinds of effects can animate your stereo image and make it more dynamic.

Unwanted artefacts, phasing issues

When plugins emulate stereo width, they also dramatically distort the sound. This can introduce unwanted artifacts to the signal which may sound like grainy or phase-y.


Resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.