Review of Stage stereo toolkit effect by Fiedler Audio

stage is available for purchase — as an AU-, VST2-, and VST3-supporting plugin for Mac OS X (10.8 through 10.12), Windows (7 through 10), and Pro Tools 10.3.10 (or higher) — exclusively from Plugin Alliance typically priced at $179.00 USD. (A fully-functional, 14-day trial is available to anyone registering for a free Plugin Alliance account: http://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/registration.html)

Note that the proprietary Plugin Alliance Installation Manager means users can select, download, and install only the products and formats needed for their system.

SANTA CRUZ, CA, USA: Plugin Alliance, a new ‘Über-standard’ supporting all major plugin formats and uniting some of the best-known international audio companies under one virtual roof, is proud to announce availability of stage — seriously enhancing the inherent ambience in any source signal by applying advanced spatial and stereo panning algorithms, adding valuable texture, depth, and nuance to stems, mixes, or masters as the plugin premiere from Plugin Alliance partner fiedler audio.

In essence stage gives control over width, panning and m/s balance; provides modulation options with LFOs and has a ‘colour’ module with 4 intelligent filters. The technical explanation is that stage utilizes sophisticated spatial processing techniques to take a good mix or master and make it better. By using sophisticated stereo panning, delay lines, and phase modulation, stage smoothly serves up what would otherwise require routing schemes of a confusingly complex nature and multiple plugins to achieve. As such, stage waves goodbye to copying tracks and setting up the Haas effect delay — when a sound is followed by another sound separated by a sufficiently short time delay (below the listener’s echo threshold), the listener perceives a single fused auditory image with a perceived spatial location dominated by the location of the first-arriving sound while the lagging sound also affects the perceived location (though its effect is suppressed by the first-arriving sound) — or panning stereo tracks within a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) while using another plugin to control stereo width. By bringing these tried and tested techniques under one virtual roof, stage enables efficient stereo workflow with maximum flexibility and accuracy… all of which yield greater perceived width with new levels of musical clarity.

With stage, stereo imaging is fatter without sacrificing dynamic range, and individual tracks can be positioned with extreme precision — perfect for instantly intensifying substance and adding tactility to the user’s sound. Stylish, thanks to its gorgeous GUI (Graphical User Interface) implementation, and benefitting from low CPU (Central Processing Unit) consumption, stage seeks to take centre stage as a go-to plugin for satisfying spatial augmentation and manipulation needs. Needless to say, stage is needed by anyone and everyone involved in music and audio production… professional or otherwise!

It’s very easy to use, the GUI is clean and well designed using 5 separate sections with a flow of left to right.

Input section

stage_in.jpg

This has a gain input slider, tilt control which corrects the difference between left and right channels and an MS control which determines whether the mid, side or blend between the two is sent to the output.

Panorama section

stage_panorama.jpg

Pan control to adjust the stereo position and width to adjust the distance between 2 channels all the way down to mono. Pan delay determines whether amplitude is used to delay the signal or internal delays are added. Pan wet invert reverses the direction of panning and the pan dry bypass routes the dry signal from the input direct to the output so pan section only affects the wet signal.

Ambience Section

stage_ambience.jpg

Allows you to adjust the 3d properties of the sound.

Size changes the internal delay time.

Feedback controls the internal delay circuit increasing the subtle reverb / delay effect.

There are 2 coupled LFOs (left and right) which modulate the size of the ambience delay circuit. Frequency controls the speed, amount controls the modulation depth and phase adjusts the offset between left and right LFOs.

The colour section has 4 adaptive filters designed to adjust the spectrum. Brilliance adjusts the top end, presence adds more grit / warmth, body adds fullness and bass adjusts the low end.

The output section contains a wet gain control, a wet on/off for A/B comparison and a similar dry on/off.

I have been using a couple of Soundspot plugins to adjust stereo width and m/s panning. These gave ok results but I found that Stage gives a much better sound, you can definitely hear the 3d properties and spatial separation. I’ve used it whilst mastering my last 3 albums and I was delighted with the results.

 

 

 

I have to also say this is definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Whilst I was delighted with the stereo enhancement properties, this is the polite, cultured side of Stage. Exploration of the LFOs reveals that it can also be somewhat of a beast, producing more extreme modulations and effects which were completely unexpected. It can produce offset delays, rotary type effects, flangers, ‘dark room’ and slap types of reverb, resonance, vocoder and a dub type delay with a speed up / slow down effect.

Initially I was using it on the master strip but it is light on CPU usage and is versatile enough to be used as a channel strip or send/return effect.

 

Because there isn’t a direct comparison or before and after with the above albums as examples, I’ve created a couple of demo tracks above which use as Stage as the only VST to give an idea of its potential. I’ve used a clean intro and then processed sounds with stage as an insert effect and also used it on the master strip for these processed effects. I’ve used sample loops from Terry Grant Dark Dub Odyssey, Mode Audio’s Lost Archive and the Ghosthack free female vocals pack.

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