The package described consists of four plug-ins designed for use with standard VST (Virtual Studio Technology) programs produced by the Steinberg company. These include: Cubase, WaveLab and Logic to mention the most important ones. VST technology, alongside Direct X, has recently shown the most significant development, which indicates that we are probably witnessing the public sanctioning of the two standards as world-leaders in the field of digital sound processing.
The package is installed without any difficulty in an existing catalogue which includes VST plug-ins; a group of HTML files is installed in the same catalogue along with accompanying illustrations, which together constitute a set of helpful documents. In these we find a detailed description of the package and practical advice on its use while operating the program. The main page of the HTML documents opens automatically just after the installation of the plug-ins.
The four plug-ins of the package can be divided into two groups: the effect plug-ins and tool plug-ins. I will start my description with the first group.
The Pseudo Stereo plug-in enables the user to enrich the sound of monophonic signals, but also operates with stereo files. The algorithm used by the plug-in is comb filtering (the signal after going through the filter resembles a comb - hence the name). The basic frequency of the comb filter is set by the FREQ slider and can be regulated from 20Hz to 1kHz. It very finely filters out all frequencies which are multiples of the basic frequency, therefore when you set the filter at 100Hz, it filters out 200Hz, 300 Hz, 400 Hz, etc. The simple conclusion is that the lower the basic frequency, the greater the effect because there are more resonant frequencies. Low settings of frequencies might be used for the classic delay effect, when appropriately selected parameters simulating spatial sound are set. The Interface of the Pseudo Stereo plug-in which processes the spatiality of the mono files.
The depth of the general effect (DEPTH) as well as the depths of frequency (EMPH) can also be regulated. The setting of the latter parameter should be selected as to achieve a satisfactory compromise between the depth of the effect and the sound of the output signal (low frequencies distributed by stereo sound very unnatural and hollow).
The instructions indicate that the plug-in converts stereo files to mono before they are processed. However, it turned out during tests that the same file in stereo and after conversion to mono in the editor sound different - with the stereo file turning out the better. Interesting sounding harmonics are produced and the sound is decidedly enlivened. The processed mono files also sound better, but achieving a satisfactory effect is not easy because the relations between particular sliders are very varied. There are, however, some helpful and readily available presets in the Preset menu. Among the twenty-three programs you will find presets both for whole mixes and for particular instruments, such as the piano, guitar, bass and drums. Special attention should be paid to the programs for cymbals, which are great for enhancing and adding colour to the sound.
A useful feature of the plug-in is the use of an optical correlation meter, which although it has no scale performs its task well, providing information about the relations between the signal common for both channels and signals which differ from one another.
I like the idea of the application's design and the way it is put together very much. Many of my samples and ready mixes gained new sound after 'putting them through' the plug-in. Attempts to use the PSP Pseudo Stereo with slightly older, mono recordings were successful, but I do not see the main point of this plug-in here - it is excellent for improving the quality as well as converting samples and monophonic signals, such as the guitars, vocals, or particular percussion instruments to stereo. The plug-in is worth recommending for snare drum, cymbals and overdriven electric guitar.
The second plug-in - the Stereo Enhancer - is designed to correct the spatiality of stereo signals. In the way it works it is similar to the PSP Pseudo Stereo, but it has been adapted to process stereo sound. The Stereo Enhancer allows the user to widen the spatial image of stereo files. In this case the comb-filtering is used to separate the differential signal and not artificial creation. This plug-in is different from the previous one in its use of three settings - Mode 1, 2, and 3. Mode 1 is designed to slightly increase the spatiality of the mixed stereo material. The remaining two modes are used with the material with weaker stereo or when you want to use exceptionally deep widening of the stereo base. In Mode 2, the plug-in widens the base on the basis of the signal which is the same for both channels, so it is best for sounds which are spatially shallow. In Mode 3, the differential signals are the base for widening the sound and the effect achieved is more toned down.
Materials with a very distinct stereophony, such as arpeggios, for example, in which particular sounds appear in opposing channels, should not undergo processing with the Stereo Enhancer. When using Modes 2 and 3, a dramatic flattening of the sound occurs (which is obvious when the principle of the purpose of the plug-in is considered) and the use of the theoretically least aggressive Mode 1 leads to overdriving.
The drawback with both plug-ins is the lack of a dedicated output-level regulator after processing. When working with the plug-ins, I experienced situations in which the sound settings I was happy with differed from the output signal, which involved the necessity of additional regulation. In certain extreme cases the difference was up to 12dB.
Leaving aside these incidents, which were more a result of my keenness to explore the limitations of the plug-ins' capabilities than of particular requirements, both applications should be evaluated very highly and ... might I request a version for programs based on Direct X?
The Stereo Controller is an application which allows the user to work on all of the details of a ready recording. It also aims to correct defects in stereo material. The PSP Stereo Controller is a different kind of a plug-in. It is not a plug-in which serves to obtain a particular effect but to set the final parameters of the stereo mix, such as the width of the base, phase relations of the channels and the balance or the location of the central point. It is worth pointing out that the plug-in does not interfere with the balance which is set beforehand, and it only affects stereo files, which means that the set mono compatibility will not be affected. Apart from a correlation meter, the Stereo Controller is equipped with a channel balance meter which indicates the louder channel at a given moment.
I wondered why increasing the value of the settings, which according to common sense should be achieved by moving the sliders from left to right, operates here the other way around. According to the producer, this was dictated by the way in which the correlation meter works, whose values increase from right to left along with the differential increase between the left and right channel signals. It was stated that it would be practicable for the indications to follow the movement of the fader, so it was decided to reverse the direction of the slider.
The plug-in is excellent for correcting distortion in stereophony, but can also be used creatively - as an additional effect. I can assure you that playing with spatial sound with the Stereo Controller is just as much fun as using the effect plug-ins described above. The function of swapping channels (Swap) is very useful and it enables you to hear what will happen with your recording when somebody reverses the channels. Check it out, it's often very entertaining.
The PSP Stereo Analyser is, in fact, a measuring device which realises, in the form of a program, that which is controlled by means of specially-constructed oscilloscopes (correlation meters). The Stereo Analyzer is a typical measuring device which enables a visual evaluation of the quality of stereo material and its compatibility in monophonic playback. The principle of the work of classic devices of this kind is as follows: the signal from both channels is connected to the X and Y deflector plates of the cathode-ray oscilloscope; the movement of the spot on the screen, which is deflected by the tension between the plates, provides information about mutual phase-frequency relations between the signal of the left and right channel and allows us to spot any possible irregularities. These 'irregularities' may not have any significance in the case of stereo playback, but it should be remembered that the material we record can also be played as a mono signal (for example, on TV or on one of the radio stations which are broadcast or received in mono), and is worth sounding at least similar to what we imagined. However, you have to learn to read the indications of the correlation meter. This apparently chaotically swirling image on the screen can tell an experienced sound engineer a lot about the phase errors and differences in the level of both channels. The possibility of using the Hold function (to hold maximal indications) and the Auto function (to maximize the range of indications) is a great help in reading the indications on the correlation meter.
Apart from the indications of the goniometer, the Stereo Analyser includes a meter to indicate the level of the peak signal, which indicates the levels of both channels or the total level mono and stereo combined. This meter has a memory for recording these peaks and besides this gives a numerical indication of the momentary maximum levels.
The plug-in package is a very attractive tool for sound engineers who are involved in mastering and for owners of home recording studios who want to achieve interesting spatial effects and to make preliminary mixes of their own compositions. Its advantages include its simple operation, an operating manual in Polish, a series of presets for the effect plug-ins, the possibility of producing very interesting sounds, and the ingenuity of the solutions used in the tool plug-ins. Among the shortcomings I would list the lack of regulators of the output-signal level in the Pseudo Stereo and Stereo Enhancer plug-ins, and - despite everything - the 'inconsistency' of the action of some sliders with common expectations (I much prefer it when the increase of a parameter is accompanied by the movement of the slider from left to right).
These shortcomings are of little significance when we consider the price of the electronic version of the package (the equivalent of $ 24) - the 'box' version will probably be slightly more expensive. So here I should end because I do not know anything about the goniometer, the reliable peak level meter and the universal stereo-effects processor, which are available for a total of 24 USD.