There are many challenges facing the modern mastering engineer that are not linked to the “loudness wars” and perils of too much hard limiting. One of these such issues is to deliver increasingly more exciting stereo mixes that at the same time translate well into mono. Step in Sonalksis Stereotools.
If I just had just one sentence to review this product it would simply be: “Sonalksis Stereotools is simply the best stereo expansion plug-in around”. Compared to their nearest rivals the Waves S1 and the Stereo expansion tool in Izotopes Ozone it just sounds far more natural and phase inconsistencies created by the imagine processing that are very obvious with those two competitors just do not seem to occur with Stereotools. Also for those GUI freaks it also just looks nicer than S1 and is certainly easier to navigate than Ozone.
Stereotools has some fantastic features built in too with particular highlights being:
- The “zero width below” control that allows the stereo imager to ignore content below a given frequency. So this is a great way to get your bass content to stay right in the middle of your mix and ultimately more “punchy” and mono compatible.
- The make mono function in the panning section. There is still a massive need to hear how your mixes translate into mono, for example many club and radio environments are completely mono. Also in many cases in bars, clubs and stores they may even be in stereo but are extremely badly set up. This button makes it extremely easy to hear your mix in mono, so no more alternative outputs and mono speaker set ups!Also incidentally when I choose to check the mono compatibility of my mix I play it on a pair of Samson Media O.N.E 3a small studio monitors, with this I can really hear my midrange content (as they are much more bass and treble deficient than my main monitors)
Stereotools is also not just for mastering engineers, all of you budding mix engineers might even use it sparingly on instrument buses to add more life to your mixes.
This said Stereotools is not without a couple of faults (although minor) with its metering end which stop it having a 9 or 10 star rating.
- I feel that the spectrum analysis tool included is a little low resolution to be of massive use. You cannot zoom in or see where a specific spike is in frequency by hovering over it like you can with Waves PAZ Analyzer. Also there is no RMS meter that leaves you needing another more dedicated meter plug in for high end mastering purposes. Although this fact doesn’t actually bother me at all though because I ultimately prefer to use a spectrum analysis tool after my hard limiting and dither stages.
- Also the lack of anti-phase meter on the main stereo-image representation meter like on Waves PAZ analyser is another slight draw back which I would really expect to see on a tool specifically developed to handle stereo-width.
Sonalksis Stereotools ends up on almost every mix bus to check the phase correlation as I have a tendency to mix a little too mono. It also ends up on almost every mastering session I do (with widely varying degrees of extremeness). It is best used in conjunction with the Brainworx Digital M/S EQ to handle stereo processing and width. So the extensive amount of use you will get out of this plug in and its great sound makes you feel more justified in spending a slightly lofty € 159.99 on this relatively small plug-in. Although their Mastering Suite Bundle (including Dither, Limiter and MultiBand Limiter) is much more competitively priced at €479.99.
To conclude Sonalksis Stereotools really does offer THE BEST and most natural stereo expansion on the market, judged purely on sound I really cannot fault it and wouldn’t want to be without it. You will need another dedicated metering plug-in too though and it isn’t on the cheaper side of the plug-in market. Then again it doesn’t sound cheap either!
Plug-in Rating [8.5/10]
Sonalksis Stereotools is available here:
PRICE – € 159.99 Or bundled with their mastering suite