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Music

Doctors in Stereo

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:ShortLanguages:

Most modern music is recorded and mixed with an end stereo product in mind. Although the stereo field may not be the foremost taste on most listener's palate, it's flavor becomes immediately apparent when it is burnt or undercooked. 

These off-balanced nuances come in a myriad of forms and necessitate any one, or multiples of, the myriad of solutions available. 

One of the more unique, and comprehensive, avenues available for remedying stereo field ailments—or, in more positive terms, enhancing good stereo placement—is the plugin DrMS by Mathew Lane.

Fundamentals

What one first needs to know in order to understand this plugin is the nature of stereo sound. 

Human perception of sound perceives differences. Even in the widest panned channels, if the left and right channels output the same audio at the same time the sound will be heard as centered (mono). 

When one begins to place subtle nuances between left and right, one will perceive difference and will begin to hear a wide stereo field. This is why certain effects such as reverb and delay are so important. A straight guitar input is always going to be mono until a stereo effect is placed on it.

At it's heart, DrMS is a Mid-Side processor; a specialized type of processor used to treat middle and side signals separately. 

In a Mid-Side setup the two channels of an incoming stereo signal, eft and right, are converted into two different Mid (mono) and Side (stereo) signals. These two signals are each processed differently in some manner and then recombined at the output back to the standard left and right stereo signal.

Overview of the plugin with the Mid & Side sections on top and Focus & Field sections on the bottom.

In its simplest usage scenario, DrMS covers the bases of a standard MS processor as one can attenuate and filter the Mid and Side channels. 

Two of the more unique features in the Mid and Side, or upper, sections of the plugin are the phase and delay parameters which can create very distinctive output. 

The phase inversion will swap the internal left and right channels while the delay section does as advertised and will delay a specific section by up to 30 ms, creating a widening effect.

Bringing It Into Focus

That being said, the most interesting portion of this plugin exists in the lower Focus and Field (lower) sections. These areas have all the same controls as the above mentioned Mid and Side sections with filtering, delay, level and phase controls, yet are audibly much different.

The Focus area sends the original, pre-processed, Mid audio through its dedicated effects and into the above mentioned Side processor to then go through the Side's dedicated filters, delay, level attenuator and phase inversion effects. 

This routing, along with the parameter choices in the Focus area, creates an effect that sounds as though the audio is becoming closer or more focused in relation to the listener.

A closeup of the Field parameters, common to all sections.

The Field section is the exact opposite.  Like the Focus section, the incoming audio is pre-processed, but it is pre-processed Side information sent to the Mid output. This routing creates a sense of depth and makes the audio sound further removed from the listener.

When to Use It

Although DrMS can be used as a main MS processor across an entire mix, its strengths rest in its ability to be a single track processor. 

The Focus and Field sections do not make much sense unless it is used for such and with even subtle parameter changes on an individual track, one can create unique and highly natural sounding pan and depth effects which are unachievable with other plugins. 

Here's a few examples of some of these simple setups. I recommend you listen to these through headphones to appreciate and understand the differences.

Dry Cello. Pay attention to where it sits in the stereo field.

15 ms Side delay. This one surprised me the most as it took the fairly hard right signal of the original and smeared it and moves it around to where it becomes difficult to pinpoint the sound as being either right, left or center. 

This was definitely not what I had expected to happen, there was no phase inversion or other parameters working here, but a pretty cool effect none-the-less. Ubiquitous cello.

Zoom at 160% with a slight delay. The Zoom definitely acts as advertised. With headphones on I feel like my head is almost inside the body of the cello.

Field at 200% with a slight delay. This seems to center the sound slightly but definitely places it to the back of the soundstage and widens it considerably. Reverb sans reverb.

Below, are recordings of a small strings section that includes the cello above, a viola and two violins. I placed DrMS on each track and played around with various settings—mostly delay, level and low pass filtering—on each one and instantiated a post pan control to place the individual tracks from left to right where needed.

The original section with no processing.

The individually processed tracks. It is much more full from left to right as a result of widening certain tracks with the Side section. The original has an almost completely flat soundstage, while the processed version has the violins in the foreground and the lower pitched cello and viola set back as a sort of bedding layer through use of the Zoom and Field controls. 

The warming was achieved with the low pass filtering and further depth and character was achieved with very slight delay settings. It is amazing what nuances can be achieved in just a few minutes.

All in all, this is a great plugin and has the capability of altering tracks and groups of tracks in unforeseen and positive ways across the board. 

The one drawback I noticed is the lack of a dedicated post effect pan knob. Some of the combinations of parameter settings will naturally shift left to right pan balance and has to be corrected or altered outside of the plugin itself. 

Conclusion

This is a unique, fun and expressive mix plugin that is going to find its way on countless future mixes.

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