We’re currently living in the age of digital audio, and in-the-box mixing within a digital audio workstation is commonplace. Plugins are, therefore, invaluable assets for the modern audio engineer. Stereo imaging is also considered an important tool in the audio engineer’s toolbox (when mixing in stereo, which is common).
Then, it would make sense that a stereo imaging plugin would be a worthy investment for mixing engineers. With plenty of options on the market, I’ve collected what I believe to be the best 9 stereo imaging plugins on the market today.
Note that we won’t be discussing doublers or delay plugins in this article, though they are certainly great choices for adding additional width to a mono or stereo signal.
The top 9 best stereo imaging plugins for digital audio workstations are:
- MeldaProduction MStereoProcessor
- CredlandAudio Stereo Savage
- iZotope Ozone Imager 2
- Waves S1 Stereo Imager
- Polyverse Music Wider
- Alex Hilton A1StereoControl
- Brainworx bx_stereomaker
- Nugen Audio Stereoizer
- Waves PS22 X-split
It should go without saying that any “top X” article is subject to bias. I would expect the next person’s top 9 to be different than mine but hope that there would be plenty of overlap.
That being said, I believe these plugins to be the best stereo imaging plugin options today. The criteria I used to judge these plugins include the following:
- Sonic performance: how does the stereo imaging plugin sound subjectively/objectively?
- Graphic user interface (GUI): how does the stereo imaging plugin look when loaded in the DAW?
- Ease-of-use: how user-friendly is the stereo imaging plugin?
- Functionality: how many different functions does it serve and/or how many parameters are available for the stereo imaging effect?
- Accessibility/compatibility: how easy is it to acquire the stereo imaging plugin, and what are the system requirements?
Let’s discuss each of the top 9 best stereo imaging plugins in greater detail to learn why they made this list.
The MeldaProduction MStereoProcessor (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is an advanced mastering multiband stereo analyzer and enhancer plugin.
The MeldaProduction MStereoProcessor is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
The MStereoProcessor is highly functional yet straightforward, allowing users to easily control the stereo image and the necessary depth and space perception. It offers 4 separate bands and 3 crossover types, with each band providing its own width control and an aural exciter for additional clarity.
Integrated analyzers (Default, Mid and Side) present accurate visual information regarding the output stereo profile, thereby improving decision-making with an objective representation of the stereo image. Easy-to-read meters show the input, output and width of the output.
Automatic gain compensation makes this plugin a joy to work with, especially on master channels. The plugin quickly adapts to current settings and ensures the output sounds as loud as the input, even as users toggle through various presets.
The A/B comparison featured is also remarkably advanced with the MStereoProcessor. It features 8 instances (A through H) that can be quickly and easily switched between. The first 4 slots (A through D) can even be morphed via an X-Y pad, allowing for a unique interpolated blend of various stereo width settings.
Additionally, you can easily check by listening that your recording is mono compatible and what the stereo content actually is.
The MStereoProcessor also looks as excellent as it sounds with its advanced GUI engine. The beautiful GUI Accelerated interface utilizes GPU to run fast. It can be resized and styled to the liking of the user for optimal workflow.
Other noteworthy features of the powerful MeldaProduction MStereoProcessor include:
- Up to 16x upsampling
- Integrated help system
- Safety limiter
- MIDI learn
- Global preset management and online preset exchange
To learn more about limiters, check out my article What Is The Difference Between Audio Compression & Limiting?
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the MStereoProcessor support page at MeldaProduction.
CredlandAudio Stereo Savage
The CredlandAudio Stereo Savage (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a versatile plugin capable of turning mono sources into stereo signals, complex panning and controlling other stereo image parameters.
The CredlandAudio Stereo Savage is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
CredlandAudio’s Stereo Savage is a powerful yet easily navigated plugin. As mentioned, it does a superb job turning mono sources into stereo signals. It’s also a rather advanced panning plugin, offering additional adjustments unavailable in typical channel strips.
In terms of stereo widening, the Stereo Savage offers a simple Width knob in addition to its Pan, Rotation and Level controls. Dial-in the perfect amount of stereo width in seconds and utilize the bass bypass feature to maintain superb mono compatibility.
To make the plugin even better, CredlandAudio includes modulation and optional Vox, Delay and Expand effects modelled after modern and classic tools. Use these subtle tools to allow the stereo field of your track(s) to truly shine.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the StereoSavage user manual.
iZotope Ozone Imager 2
The iZotope Ozone Imager 2 (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a stereo imager and is included as a module in iZotope’s industry-leading Ozone mastering suite.
The iZotope Ozone Imager 2 is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
The iZotope Ozone is also featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top 11 Best Digital Equalizer/EQ Plugins For Your DAW
• Top 10 Best Dynamic EQ Plugins For Your DAW
iZotope’s Imager 2 is a relatively simple plugin. The basic version works on the entire signal at once, while the Ozone Standard and Advanced versions work with up to 4 independent frequency bands.
The integrated Vectorscope and Correlation meters offer invaluable visual feedback for the mastering process, including Polar vectorscope modes and a Stereo Balance meter. With immersive, fluid visuals and full resizability, this stereo imager looks as amazing as it sounds.
Whether we’re after a super-wide stereo field or a narrow, nearly mono output, the Imager 2 delivers with stunning clarity. Mono compatibility can be easily achieved in multi-band versions by tightening up the low-end and expanding the high-end.
The two Stereoize functions can turn mono into stereo without the need for reverb or doubling. Use the new Stereoize II mode for subtle enhancement or Stereoize I for a colourful phasing effect.
As a standalone insert or as part of the Ozone mastering suite, the Imager 2 is undoubtedly one of the best stereo imager plugins on the market today.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Imager V2 system requirements webpage at iZotope.
iZotope is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
Waves S1 Stereo Imager
The Waves S1 Stereo Imager (link to check the price at Waves Audio) is a unique and powerful set of tools that uses psycho-acoustic spatial imaging techniques to enhance and alter stereo separation.
The Waves S1 Stereo Imager is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
This powerful Waves plugin is a superb choice on individual stereo tracks and full mixes alike. Featuring Shuffler, Imager and MS Matrix components, the S1 is a powerful tool for achieving all your stereo width goals. This 3-in-1 plugin actually has 4 distinct components. They are:
- S1 Shuffler: the full plug-in, with all controls, including Width, Rotation, Asymmetry, Shuffling, plus all channel controls (phase, gain, etc.), and does not count clips. It’s perfect for:
- Fixing off-centre or unbalanced mixes
- Precision image adjustment
- Changing wide-band width
- Expanding low-frequency image
- Rotating true stereo sources without collapsing image
- Creating strong anti-phase content
- S1 Shuffler (48): the full mastering plug-in (TDM only) in 48-bit double-precision resolution
- S1 Imager: omits the Shuffler and Bass trim controls (saves processing power if Shuffling is not needed)
- S1 MS: a simple MS converter/matrix that converts left-right input into MS output or vice versa
If you require a fully functional stereo width plugin, I highly suggest giving the Waves S1 a shot, especially when it goes on sale!
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the S1 Imager user manual.
Waves Audio is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
Polyverse Music Wider
The Polyverse Music Wider (link to check the price at Polyverse Music) takes the popular stereo width section from the company’s Manipulator Pitch Shifter plugin and offers it in its own standalone plugin.
The Polyverse Music Wider is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
Polyverse Music’s Wider is designed to create the illusion of an expanded stereo image of a mono signal while maintaining full mono compatibility. Any signal widened by the Wider will always remain in phase with itself when summed to mono.
To do so, Polyverse has programmed a one-of-a-kind all-pass and comb filtering algorithm. This specialized algorithm produces a natural-sounding stereo image from a mono channel without compromising the phase between the sides.
This super simple plugin has a single control and can increase the stereo image of any mono signal up to 200% of full stereo for an extra-wide, exaggerated effect. With a stamp of approval from the experimental electronic music duo, Infected Mushroom, you can count on this user-friendly freebie to get you superb and interesting results.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out Wider at Polyverse Music.
Check out Infected Mushroom’s official website.
Alex Hilton A1StereoControl
The Alex Hilton A1StereoControl (link to check the price at A1Audio by Alex Hinton) is a versatile yet easy-to-use stereo imager plugin and it’s absolutely free!
The Alex Hilton A1Stereo Control is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
The entire stereo widening (or limiting) control of the A1StereoControl is available using a single knob. All other controls aim to enhance the stereo expansion/compression while mitigating any all-to-familiar unwanted side effects.
The A1StereoControl has an integrated “Safe Bass” algorithm to centre all bass frequencies below an adjustable value to the middle of the stereo field with minimal effort. Its expert mode opens up the doors for more creative stereo widening, allowing users access to different “pan laws” (0db, -3db, -6db), different pan curves (linear, logarithmic, sin/cos) as well as classic “balance” mode or “dual panning”.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the downloads webpage at A1Audio.
The Brainworx bx_stereomaker (link to check the price at Plugin Alliance) is a superb frequency-optimized mid-side upmixer capable of converting any mono signal to stereo while keeping it 100% mono-compatible.
The Brainworx bx_stereomaker is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and is available in AAX DSP, AAX Native, AU, AAX AudioSuite, SoundGrid and VST formats.
By creating a virtual side (S) signal with analog-style filters, Brainworx’s superior M/S stereo algorithms can effectively produce the illusion of enhanced width on any mono signal. Using filters, the focus of the pseudo-stereo widening effect can even be focused on particular frequency bands.
Adjust the stereo-width added to the mono source signal from 0% to 300% while maintaining mono compatibility; use the Hi-Damp shelving filter to keep the image warm and, if you’re feeling extra experimental, solo the virtual side signal of the track within the mix.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the bx_stereomaker user manual.
Brainworx is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.
Nugen Audio Stereoizer
The Nugen Audio Stereoizer (link to check the price at Plugin Boutique) is a mono-compatible stereo width plug-in that works equally as well with mono signals as it does stereo signals.
The Nugen Audio Stereoizer is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU, VST and RTAS formats.
Nugen Audio’s Stereoizer has been designed to sound amazing in stereo (of course) and mono. It can be used to add natural sounding width and depth to both mono or stereo signals, leaving the character of the source intact. It can also be pushed to the extremes for super-wide imaging.
This plugin keeps total mono compatibility and does not cause any artifacts. The advanced algorithms of the Stereoizer adapt to the audio using techniques based on natural human hearing. IID (Interaural Intensity Difference), ITD (Interaural Time Difference) and Linear Width algorithms all work independently of each other to ensure maximal flexibility and superior sonic performance across the panorama.
Check mono compatibility easily with the ‘Collapse output to mono’ option to ensure the plugin is doing its job.
In addition to improving the stereo width of individual tracks and mixed at large, the Nugen Audio Stereoizer also excels at taming eccentric material and revamping old recordings, all while helping to strengthen the centre image while enhancing stereo information.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the Stereoizer user manual.
Waves PS22 X-split
The Waves PS22 X-split (link to check the price at Waves Audio) is a top-level mono-to-stereo plugin.
The Waves PS22 X-split is compatible with Mac OS and Windows OS and comes in AAX, AU and VST formats.
Waves’ PS22 X-split offers a superb set of controls for creating convincing stereo results from a mono source. It can also be used with true stereo signals to synthesizing a richer stereo effect from existing true stereo (mono left + mono right) material.
This “pseudo-stereo” effect is a perfect choice for psycho-acoustic spatial enhancement and phase compensation. It retains mono compatibility and the original frequency response on the mono signal.
With left/right or MS meter monitoring, the X-split offers a variety of parameters to dial in the perfect stereo effect. Panning and rotating of the signal is made easy. A second stage offers parameters to control the stereo spread across the frequency spectrum and how certain bands will be affected by such stereo spread.
With tonal neutrality and ultra-low phase cancellation, the PS22 X-split creates a smooth spreading of sounds across the stereo stage. Users can quickly access professional results via the plugin presets or dive into the immersive technical document that is the user manual to master the concepts of the plugin and produce exact results themselves.
For more information on system requirements and authorization instructions, check out the PS22 Stereo Maker user manual.