Psychoacoustic alchemy in an easy to use plugin
Review by Bill Stunt
NUGEN Audio recently announced the release of its Focus Elements series. Elements are streamlined, high-quality and budget-friendly versions of plugins found in the popular Focus bundle. The Focus Elements series will include the Monofilter bass management tool, Stereoplacer (a panner on steroids), and Stereoizer, a width control plugin and the first item released in the Elements series, on review here.
Stereoizer Elements is an enhancement plugin designed to control the width of both mono and stereo source material. NUGEN has tweaked the algorithms to ensure natural-sounding and artifact-free results, and sufficient mono compatibility as well. The plugin is designed to take elements of a source sound and expand its soundstage in ways similar to how we hear things naturally, all while maintaining the sonic integrity of the source.
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The GUI is both simple and visually pleasing. A crescent-shaped Stereoizer control dominates the center of the display. The 0 position represents no change. Lower values result in a narrower stereo field, while higher values provide wider-sounding audio: a visual display of the process can be toggled on or off. This colorful display indicates the position of the audio over time. Brighter colors indicate more energy in the sound field. There’s an arrow at the top of the display that you can drag to make balance adjustments.
There’s a trim control to raise or lower the overall volume, along with input and output meters that you can toggle between, as well as A/B recall switches and undo/redo controls. Finally, there’s a convenient ‘collapse to mono’ button, handy for reigning in stereo loops or bass patches that are taking up too much of the bottom end of a mix.
Stereoizer Elements comes with a handful of presets, giving you a good sense of the plugin’s capabilities. There aren’t many controls here to tweak, so getting a good sound doesn’t require much effort. It really comes down to how much of the effect you want.
As you play with the effect, it becomes apparent that using Stereoizer to add a bit of extra width to a mix element can make more space in the stereo field for other instruments. It’s almost as if the effect opens up holes in the soundstage. It’s possible to push the processed mix element up a little louder in the mix without greatly disturbing the overall balance—a bit of psychoacoustic alchemy.
Traditionally, subtractive EQ is the go-to solution for making space in a mix, along with adding high-frequency EQ to get a track to stand out. Here, Stereoizer Elements can do a better job of opening up a mix without introducing artifacts or an obviously over-EQed sound.
I tried it on a host of instruments and buses. I particularly liked it on electric pianos and synth pads. I used it very successfully to distinguish drum loops. A little bit applied to the drum bus can be very effective as well. As with any plugin, sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. When it did, it was a little bit uncanny how effective it was.
I also took a tip from the manual and tried the plugin on an FX bus, and I’m glad that I did. It did a great job of enhancing certain reverb and delay effects. It also worked great for narrowing effects because sometimes a mono reverb works best.
It’s so easy to use! My best advice for NUGEN Stereoizer Elements is to just dive in and start playing with it. Don’t be afraid to try it on any source in the mix. Go gently though, and don’t overuse it. As with the full version of Stereoizer, Stereoizer Elements can be a secret sauce type of tool that, in the right situation, can turn an OK mix into a ‘how did you do that?’ kind of mix.