NuGen Audio Stereo Pack Plug-In Suite Review

Dec 1, 2010 9:00 AM, By Brandon Hickey



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The Stereoizer is a mono-to-stereo upmixer using Inter-aural Intensity Difference (IID) and Inter-aural Time Difference (ITD).

The Stereoizer is a mono-to-stereo upmixer using Inter-aural Intensity Difference (IID) and Inter-aural Time Difference (ITD).

NuGen Audio, based in the UK, makes a range of stereo-analysis and image-manipulation plug-in tools such as the SEQ 1/SEQ 2 linear-phase EQ and VisLM-H/C loudness meter. NuGen’s Stereo Pack suite ($179) features three imaging tools that offer some interesting new processing ideas.

The Stereo Pack includes the Stereoizer, Stereoplacer and Monofilter. Having used other NuGen plug-ins with great results, I was excited to try this trio, which had recently become available. They handle very specific tasks and tackle some problems you didn’t know you had, doing so with style and sonic integrity, and with engaging and user-friendly GUIs. However, these plug-ins can be CPU hogs, so Stereo Pack includes fidelity controls that let you better manage results in relation to available CPU resources.

Stereoizer is a mono-to-stereo up-mix plug-in. I’ve used these types of processors when restoring old vinyl records to improve the image on stereo playback equipment. In most cases, I’ve found myself tediously tweaking settings and eventually giving up, realizing that the end result sounds different, but not necessarily better.

For example, Logic’s Stereo Spread plug-in has a fundamental flaw in which the processing does nothing to accurately re-create the actual experience of stereophonic perception. Instead, it pans a comb-filtered range of frequencies to the left and right, with user control over the affected range. You twist the dials, listen and hope for the best, with the end result sounding “stereo,” yet a bit odd and phasey. Other stereo-widening plug-ins require stereo source material and simply manipulate the ratio of identical information to unique information between the two channels. This effectively allows adjustments of the mid-to-side ratio.

The Stereoplacer allows frequency-specific panning with a simple click and drag.

The Stereoplacer allows frequency-specific panning with a simple click and drag.

The Stereoizer plug-in does a much better job of considering psychoacoustic cues based on reality. Our brain looks at several different qualities of sound to determine the directionality of a source and the way that sound travels through, and interacts with, a given space. The most notable are Inter-aural Intensity Difference (IID) and Inter-aural Time Difference (ITD). When sound is louder hitting our left ear than the right ear, it is obvious that that sound came from the left. Likewise, if sound is delayed in hitting our right ear relative to our left, we could draw a similar conclusion. Using this principle, Stereoizer takes mono sounds and creates believable stereo imagery that is comprised entirely of information contained in the original source.

The results I had with the Stereoizer plug-in are impressive and useful for subtly improving the stereo image in a complete, finished mix. Stereoizer is also great for negotiating space for drums and widely panned, doubled electric guitars in a mix. And even with its controls cranked to over-the-top values, the plug-in never produced weird or phasey artifacts, so the possibilities are really without limits. To help push your sound beyond reality, it offers modulation effects, which can be synched to the session’s tempo for modulation of the stereo image. These effects are harder to predict but certainly add an interesting twist.

The GUI has intuitive controls for adjusting the frequency range and stereo width of each of the perceptual cues, the IID and the ITD. All of the plug-ins in this pack offer great graphics, but Stereoizer is the most fun to look at. Its controls have a slick sci-fi feel. A quarter-circle display represents the stereo image, with the left-to-right range representing width, and the range from center to outside representing frequency. For a great sense of sonic control, you can set the range and width of the ITD and IID independently, and both the ITD and IID displays are coupled with a glowing, dancing representation of the energy distribution in the stereo field. The most equivalent product I’ve encountered in terms of design principles and sound quality is the Waves S1 Stereo Imager. Both plug-ins sound very similar, but it seems easier to get the desired result with the Stereoizer GUI.

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