StereoSavage is a stereo widening plugin created by Plugin Boutique. It combines several classic studio techniques for achieving a versatile stereo effect, packed into one handy plugin. Plugin Boutique is a well-known retailer of plugins from various developers, whereas StereoSavage is their own release.
To understand the applications of StereoSavage, it’s worth going through some of the basics of modern stereo processing. At an early stage, most budding producers will realise that a simple way to de-clutter a busy mix is to address the panning of the tracks. Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to production, but a good, tried and tested rule of thumb is that lower frequencies sound best in the centre, and higher frequencies can be set very wide. The best analogy I was ever given was to imagine a tree, where the trunk represents the low end, and the branches represent the higher frequencies. As the frequencies go higher, they branch out wider, representing the mids and high-end frequency content.
For instance, when I am producing a metal track (although equally applicable for any genre), my kick, snare and bass guitar will be panned dead centre. My cymbals and overheads will be very wide, maybe around 80%, and my guitars will be panned hard left and hard right, giving them room to breathe. Any pads I use will usually be high-passed and will be the widest sound.
So, with those basics out of the way, how does StereoSavage help with this? The very short answer is, it combines several methods of achieving stereo width into one plugin, with a few features that make it stand out from other stereo wideners.
The interface is sleek, professional looking and intuitive. The controls are grouped into sections, which can be activated or deactivated with a single click. There are 32 presets, each well labelled with their intended use. While I am usually an advocate of using presets to get an idea of how a plugin can be utilised, and reverse-engineering them where necessary, a lot of these presets sound great as they are.
The ‘Effect’ section allows you to choose the type of stereo effect you will be applying. StereoSavage provides four separate methods of adding width, each having its own controls and distinct flavour. Below the selector is a dry/wet control labelled “FX mix”.
Selecting “Vox” allows you to detune one channel of your source signal by a tiny increment (a cent) which will be familiar to synth users. For those not familiar with synthesis, most acoustic instruments produce not only the target pitch but also several pitches either side. This creates a thickening of the sound, and a detune of only a few cents makes a huge difference. Note that, despite its name, the vox setting has many more applications than just vocals. It sounds great on guitars, synths, and lead lines as well. Below the main detune control is a ‘timing’ and ‘L-R’ swap function, which further allow you to separate the detuned sound from the original. This is a very swift way of mimicking the way live instruments are layered, where the tiny differences in pitch and timing make them sound thicker. Subtlety is the key here, as too much separation from the original sound will sound unnatural.
“Delay” adds a simple delay to one of the channels. The resulting stereo separation is less musical than the “Vox” setting. Plugin Boutique suggests that this setting might work well with percussion. I gave it a try by high-passing a percussion loop and applying StereoSavage’s delay, and it did indeed help the loop pop out of the mix and separate slightly from the main drum line. Again, this is best applied subtly, to avoid phasing issues.
“Expand” is a very different kind of effect altogether. It uses early reflections (usually the realm of reverb plugins) to add a stereo widening effect. This is a difficult effect to describe, other than to say that it reminds me of a short corridor effect. The best application I found for this was on instruments that would ordinarily be mono, but perform in two or more frequency ranges. For instance, I tested it on a bass guitar track, where the low end of the bass was playing around the 100-300 Hz mark, and the clicky finger-sound, plus a little saturation, was sounding great around the 800-1200 Hz area. The “Expand” effect add just a tad bit of width to that higher frequency area, without moving my bass sound from the centre. This was especially impressive with the bass bypass feature, which I will come to below.
“Split” is the fourth and final mode, which splits the audio into multiple frequency bands and pans them left and right. The “Focus” control alters the spacing of these bands. “Split” appears to be the effect with the least variation to it, but it is very difficult to get a bad sound out of it.
Having established what setting best fits your track, the next section deals with Stereo Adjustment. This part of the plugin determines how the effect you have selected is applied.
“Width” is the most impactive of the controls in this section, and is probably the central feature of the plugin, as one would expect from a stereo widener. This parameter takes the particular stereo effect you chose, and as the name would suggest, progressively widens it. Anything up to halfway (1.5 value on the display) will sound natural, but settings past halfway will suit the more outlandish effects you can achieve with this plugin. As a general rule, while mixing a song, keep the “Width” parameter below halfway. If you’re making ambient soundscapes, though, feel free to go crazy with it.
“Pan” should require little explanation to anyone who has even a basic grasp of music production, but StereoSavage also includes a “Rotation” control. I initially struggled to understand how this works, other than to say that it gives a really natural, believable panned sound. With a bit of playing around with the parameter and a quick consultation of the plugin’s manual, it appears that “Rotation” moves the central processing of the source audio, but leaves the side processing where it is. I found that this feature is really effective in the mids, and is not something I can say I’ve seen on a similar plugin. I experimented with using “Pan” for anything given extreme hard left or right panning, and “Rotation” for everything else, and was very pleased with the stereo image this created.
The “Pre” button simply changes the order of “Width” and “Pan”. When engaged, it pans the audio before the width is applied. The “Stereo Adjustment” section concludes with a “Level” control. Any stereo imaging can quite drastically alter the audio level, so this control is convenient for keeping the output in check. There is also an “Input Routing” section, allowing you to alter how the input signal arrives at the plugin. Selecting or bypassing left or right channels, stereo, summing to mono or swapping left and right channels is possible here.
The next section of the plugin is probably the simplest and by far my favourite feature of StereoSavage. “Bass Bypass” harks back to the analogy of the stereo image tree I mentioned at the beginning of this review. If I want to get a huge, wide sound, but keep my bass frequencies central, it could not be simpler. The ‘Hz’ control specifies the frequency at which the effects will be bypassed. Everything above this frequency will be processed.
Stereo sounds can be perceived to be louder, and often are as a result of their processing. To counterpart this, simply adjust the ‘Gain’ control to boost the bass frequencies which have been bypassed. This simple combination of features makes it easy to achieve pleasing results with the absolute minimum of fuss. I have seen multiband solutions in other plugins, although this is the simplest and most elegant I have come across.
The “Metering” section is the visual aid to assist with your processing. It consists of an input/output meter, a phase correlation meter to monitor any phase issues that may arise, and a goniometer. This is an invaluable tool for monitoring what your stereo image looks like. Equally, this could be used to analyse a well-produced piece of audio, for comparison with your own works. Any imbalance in your stereo processing will become immediately apparent. Clicking on the goniometer display switches it to a traditional view, where your stereo processing can be more easily visualised. If you are ever planning on using your track in mono, such as pressing to vinyl, these displays will be massively important to you, as the goniometer and phase correlation meter can show if phasing is going to become an issue in mono. The user manual for StereoSavage comes with a helpful guide on phase cancellation which is worth a read in itself.
The final section of the plugin is the LFO, which is where you can step out of the production realm and use StereoSavage to be really creative. Subtle uses of this feature will result in some interesting stereo movement, whereas more extreme settings can create some rather chaotic sounds.
The LFO can be synced to the tempo of your track, or set manually. A number of LFO waveforms can be set to affect the Pan, Rotation, Width, Level, Delay or Size controls, and the amount by which the LFO affects the audio can also be set. A quick word of caution, be careful before you set it to Level, because this will cause a big spike in volume if you input more extreme parameter values. By experimenting with the LFO settings, you can achieve a familiar autopan effect by setting it to affect the Pan or Rotation. With the right source audio, you can even set it to Delay or Size to make a swell or bloom effect, as the sound quickly becomes wider, although this might be better achieved with a little automation. If you are in any way making ambient soundscapes, however, the LFO can make some truly awesome movement. I experimented by duplicating an ambient pad and applying StereoSavage to both instances. On the second, I lowered the level and applied a fast LFO on the Width parameter. The result was a very otherworldly sound with a tonne of movement.
In any producer’s arsenal, there are plugins that give instant gratification, that can be applied to pretty much any track and can be relied upon to sound great with very little effort. In fact, sometimes their very presence can improve a track, by adding colour and warmth, for instance. There are also those plugins that allow you to go deep, tweaking endless parameters, notching out pesky frequencies and carving a cleaner piece of audio. Very seldom does one come along that can do both well, and StereoSavage does just that.
Whether you simply throw it on to quickly get a wider sound, or really delve deep and craft a well-designed stereo image, you are going to get a pleasing result. Plugin Boutique has managed to find a great balance between straightforward usability of features, and relevant, musical effects without endless banks of niche settings. Every part of this plugin is impressive, be it the ergonomic layout, the well thought-out features or the scope of sounds that can be conjured from it, StereoSavage will become one of my go-to plugins. At £59.95 this is a no-brainer deal.
More info: StereoSavage (£59.95)
Whether you simply throw it on to quickly get a wider sound, or really delve deep and craft a well-designed stereo image, you are going to get a pleasing result with StereoSavage. Plugin Boutique has managed to find a great balance between straightforward usability of features, and relevant, musical effects without endless banks of niche settings.