The Best (Free & Paid) Stereo Widening/Imager [VST/AU/AAX Plugin] [2020]

Last Updated on: August 21, 2020

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Stereo widening is basically what it sounds like – widening the stereo of an element or sound. To be precise, what is stereo?

Stereo/Stereophonic is the reproduction of sound into two audio channels to give a more natural two-dimensional sound distribution, and when you widening the stereo, it increases the perceived width of the sound/instrument or a mix as a whole.

There are a couple of reasons you should widening the stereo of a sound element:

  • It helps to create a space in the mix
  • It gives you better control of the stereo width and
  • It can help to keep an element in a mix clean and uncluttered from the rest of other elements.

Stereo widening can be achieved in a couple of ways:

  • You can use eqing
  • Modulation delay
  • Layering sound (this involves stacking two or more sounds together to achieve a solid and a wider sound, you need to be careful when going about the selection of the sounds),
  • Microshift effect, and more.

Fortunately, there are loads of plugins that do the heavy lifting for you, in this guide, I would be recommending the best free and paid stereo widening plugins.

Note: You should steer clear of widening low frequencies sounds such as kicks, bass, vocals (Vocals depends on the overall effect you are going after), and the likes. Widening a low frequency might cause phasing issues, at the end of the day, you need to trust your ears!

Stereo Widening Plugin (Paid)

Note: These are the current prices as of the time of writing this review, so, it might change.

1.) StereoSavage ($79.00) – //Recommended//

StereoSavage

StereoSavage is a stereo widener plugin from pluginboutique that provides an innovative stereo toolbox to create stunning stereo sounds. This is how it works: It has 4 stereo effects (‘Vox’, ‘Delay’, ‘Expand’ and ‘Split’) which generate stereo sounds even if the sound is in mono, and you have the Stereo Adjust module which gives you the ability to place sounds precisely in the stereo field with the ‘Width’, ‘Pan’ and ‘Rotation’ adjustment tools. Create movement and chorus-like effects with the ‘LFO’ function, and retain a solid low end with the adjustable ‘Bass Bypass’ tool.

As you can see from the preview image above or the video sneak peek below, the features are intuitively packaged into a simple interface, offering the flexibility to enhance your track with dramatic effects or add the perfect subtle finishing touches.

 

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • Create stereo from mono sources for richer soundscapes.
  • Control the placement and width of stereo sources. Separate instruments within the stereo field.
  • Use the rotation effect for an incredibly natural-sounding pan.
  • Get lush wide vocals in seconds.
  • Quick simple controls for achieving a ‘big sound’.
  • Add motion and excitement with modulation.
  • Retain great mono compatibility with the bass bypass feature.
  • Reduce the number of vocal takes required for rich, tight, backing vocals.
  • Width: Make it wider, make it wider than wide…or bring it in so other sounds draw focus.
  • Pre: Move the panning before widening for super-wide auto-panning.
  • Rotation: Super-natural panning.
  • Goniometer: Ultra precise goniometer for visual display of the stereo placement of your sound.
  • Phase Correlation: Keep a close eye on this to prevent any potential phasing issues.
  • Input / Output: Use the input and output peaks to help keep things balanced.

System Requirements:

  • Windows 7 and later (32 and 64-bit compatible)
  • OSX 10.7 and later (32 and 64-bit compatible)
  • AAX
  • Audio Units (AU)
  • VST

Get StereoSavage

2.) Soundtoys – Little MicroShift ($99.00)

Soundtoys - Little MicroShift

While I love StereoSavage plugin for my stereo widening needs, I would be honest with you that Little Microshift is one of the best stereo widener plugins I have ever tried on vocals, specifically background vocals, this doesn’t mean they aren’t good on other elements, you can use it to make a lead sound or a lead guitar sound larger and better.

Little MicroShift gives you three different flavors of a classic stereo widening trick at the push of a button. It is designed to use a special pitch shifting and delay that varies over time to create rich stereo width. It’s incredibly simple to use and perfect for spicing up sound and or instruments, or for blending background vocals subtly into a mix.

MicroShift captures the quirks of the originals including saturation and even the different de-glitching algorithms used by these units. So now you can have the big, wide sound of the original hardware with a simple and refined interface that makes getting those tried-and-true sounds faster and easier than ever.

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • Widen vocals, lead guitars, synths and more
  • Get big sounds fast with an incredibly simple interface
  • Create focus for important instruments, or blend them into the background
  • Select from 3 different flavors of widening based on sought-after hardware

System Requirements:

  • This software is 64-bit only and is not compatible with 32-bit systems.
  • AAX Native, AAX AudioSuite, VST, and Audio Units (AU)
  • Minimum: 44.1 kHz, Maximum: 192 kHz
  • Operating systems: Mac OS X 10.8 or later; Windows 7 or later
  • An internet connection is required at the time of activation
  • A FREE account at ilok.com is required (a physical USB iLok is not required)

Get Little MicroShift

3.) Soundtoys – MicroShift ($129.00)

Soundtoys - MicroShift

Wonder why we have another Microshift effect by soundtoys? The first one is basically built to be simple and to feature small parameters while this one adds more control such as precise control over delay time, variable detune amount, and unique multiband focus control. So, if you need something simple, I’ll recommend you go for the first one, and if you want an advance control, you can opt-in for this one.

Also, when you buy MicroShift, you also get their original mini version of the effect, Little MicroShift.

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • Widen vocals, lead guitars, synths and more
  • Get big sounds fast with a clean, simple interface
  • Put the spotlight on important instruments, or blend them into the background
  • Select from 3 different flavors of widening based on sought-after hardware
  • Add width to a specific frequency range with the Focus knob
  • Control the Detune amount and Delay range of the effect

System Requirements:

  • This software is 64-bit only and is not compatible with 32-bit systems.
  • AAX Native, AAX AudioSuite, VST, and Audio Units (AU)
  • Minimum: 44.1 kHz, Maximum: 192 kHz
  • Operating systems: Mac OS X 10.8 or later; Windows 7 or later
  • An internet connection is required at the time of activation
  • A FREE account at ilok.com is required (a physical USB iLok is not required)

Get MicroShift

4.) Leapwing Audio – StageOne ($159.00)

Leapwing Audio - StageOne

Whether you are looking into widening up a stereo mix, individual drums, piano or guitars without causing phasing issues, then StageOne is a good one. You can add depth to dry sound recordings without changing the tone or timber, turn mono instrument recording into a stereo and even keep mono compatibility with this simple and intuitive plugin. Here are some of its parameters:

  • Width: Width ‘stretches’ the stereo field, off-center content will move towards and beyond the speakers. The phantom center is left untouched, everything around it gets stretched or remapped to a wider stereo field.
  • Depth: Depth adds directionally optimized reflections to create an enhanced sense of depth in the sound field
  • Mono Spread: Mono spread utilizes a unique filter design to convert a mono signal into a pseudo-stereo signal

Use Cases:

  • If you have a stereo recording with too dense off-center panned sounds and you just want to spread it out to the side, you can trust the width slider as it allows you to remap the stereo field towards and beyond the speakers, while keeping mono compatibility!
  • If you want to add a deeper perspective to your mix or your sounds are too flat, you can use the Depth slider to add more depth to the mix
  • Want to convert the mono sound source into stereo? The mono spread slider got you!

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • Beautiful Retina interface with a unique design focused on the optimal workflow
  • Width
  • Depth
  • Mono Spread

System Requirements:

  • Windows 8, 10 (64-bit only)
  • Mac OSX (10.9 +)
  • AAX-Native
  • VST
  • VST3
  • AU

Get StageOne

5.) Leapwing Audio – CenterOne ($199.00)

Leapwing Audio - CenterOne

CenterOne is also developed by the maker of StageOne (Leapwing audio), it allows you to bring the phantom center in a stereo signal forward or backward without changing positions of any panned signals. CenterOne also gives you LCR plugin outputs so you can decide to put an effect on just the center extracted channel. Mixing LCR back together gives you a bit-identical copy of the original signal.

CenterOne doesn’t use an MS-technique which changes the Mid part of the signal, it instead uses an algorithm that analyses the precise location of the sound sources in the stereo signal for careful processing of each bit of your audio, respectful of the original location of the sources.

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • Phantom Center Manipulation: Bring the phantom center signal in a stereo stream forward or push it back by up to 9dB without changing any of the panorama
  • Extract Left-Center-Right: Convert a stereo signal into an LCR stem in a unique bit-identical way
  • Beautiful Retina interface with a unique design focused on the optimal workflow
  • Extremely Good Filters: The highest quality audio processing algorithms available

System Requirements:

  • Windows 8, 10 (64-bit only)
  • Mac OSX (10.9 +)
  • AAX-Native
  • VST
  • VST3
  • AU

Get CenterOne

6.) MeldaProduction – MStereoSpread ($87.00)

MeldaProduction - MStereoSpread

MStereoSpread is a stereo plugin by MeldaProduction that uses psychoacoustics to bring your tracks closer to the listener and make them as wide and tight as physically and humanly possible. It uses a unique stereo expansion algorithm that provides a tight-sounding stereo expansion, which is perfect for just about any audio material and is fully mono-compatible.

My favorite feature of this plugin is the modulation aspect, you can modulate any parameter, and each modulator can work as an LFO, audio level follower, enveloper, randomizer, and even pitch detector.

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • The most advanced user interface on the market – stylable, resizable, GPU accelerated
  • Unique visualization engine with classic meters and time graphs
  • exceptionally versatile modulators
  • Adjustable oscillator shape technology
  • 4 multiparameters
  • M/S, single-channel, up to 8 channels surround processing…
  • Smart randomization
  • Automatic gain compensation (AGC)
  • Safety limiter
  • Adjustable up-sampling 1x-16x
  • MIDI controllers with MIDI learn
  • Very fast, optimized for SSE/SSE2/SSE3 processors
  • Global preset management and online preset exchange
  • Supports VST, VST3, AU and AAX interfaces on Windows & Mac, both 32-bit and 64-bit
  • No dongle nor internet access is required for activation
  • Free-for-life updates

System Requirements:

  • Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 10 (32-bit or 64-bit)
  • Mac OS X (10.7 and newer, 32-bit or 64-bit)
  • VST / VST3 / AAX compatible host (32-bit or 64-bit)
  • Intel/AMD processor with SSE2 support

Note: Do NOT use 32-bit plugins in 64-bit hosts. They would have to be bridged and can become slow and unstable.

Get MStereoSpread

7.) NUGEN Audio – Stereoizer ($119.00)

NUGEN Audio - Stereoizer

The issue with most free stereo width plugin is the non-mono compatibility and unwanted artifact, with Stereoizer you can expand your stereo image with no artifact and also mono-compatible. You can also convert a mono signal to stereo, stereo to super-wide, and plenty of presets & detailed control for the expert.

Stereoizer is a high-specification stereo image manipulation tool suitable for natural expansion, reduction, and introduction of stereo width at any stage of the audio production process.

Developed for and tested by professional audio engineers, Stereoizer adds natural sounding width and depth to any audio recording, mono, or stereo, leaving the inherent character of the original source intact. If you want a more coherent sound with polish and spatial balance but without adding artificial reverberation, chorusing or delay – Stereoizer is for you.

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • Expanding narrow stereo spectra
  • Introducing width to mono recordings
  • Enhancing the depth of FX return channels
  • Reigning in over-enthusiastic spot FX
  • Creating ‘center space’
  • Settling ‘forward’ sounds
  • Generating panoramic ambiance
  • Adding richness and gloss
  • Re-focussing central solidity
  • Avoiding heavy EQ and/or compression
  • Opening up cluttered frequencies
  • Fixing poorly positioned mic.’s
  • Adding depth, width, and space to specific tracks
  • Enlivening static sounds

System Requirements:

  • AAX, VST, VST3, AU, and AudioSuite in both 64-bit and 32-bit versions. RTAS is also available as 32-bit only.
  • Mac OSX 10.6.x, 512 MB RAM
  • Windows XP or above, 512 MB RAM

Get Stereoizer

8.) Voxengo – PHA-979 ($41.96)

Voxengo - PHA-979

Voxengo – PHA-979 is a stereo width plugin designed for use with sounds or instrument that needs an arbitrary phase shift. It not only allows you to widen the stereo perceiveness of a sound it is also useful in solving various phasing problems arising from the microphone placement chosen during the tracking session. In other cases, this process may help you to align drums and other instruments to each other bringing punch and time coherence not attainable by the ordinary time-aligning alone.

It also features a multi-band analog-style correlation meter that greatly simplifies the phase- and time-aligning process. Moreover, you can use functionality PHA-979 provides to setup headphone monitoring so that it closely resembles the sound stage produced by stereo speaker monitoring.

Features:

  • Arbitrary signal phase control
  • Linear-phase design
  • Multi-band correlation meter
  • Positive/negative time delaying
  • Delay time calculator
  • Mid/side-channel balance control
  • Stereo output panning
  • Stereo and mono processing
  • 64-bit floating-point processing
  • Preset manager
  • Undo/redo history
  • A/B comparisons
  • Contextual hint messages
  • All sample rates support
  • 48 ms compensated processing latency
  • User interface color schemes
  • Resizable user interface
  • Retina and HighDPI support

System Requirements:

  • AudioUnit or VST plugin.
  • AAX version available can be loaded in ProTools 12+.
  • Compatible with Windows (32- and 64-bit Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 and later versions)
  • macOS (10.7 and later versions, 64-bit Intel processor-based)
  • 2.5 GHz dual-core or faster processor with at least 4 GB of system RAM, SSE4.2 instructions support required, e.g. any Intel Core i-, AMD Bulldozer- or Zen-based processor

Note: If you cannot get the plugin to work on macOS High Sierra/Mojave, you have to log out from the system and login again, it’s a known issue not caused by plugin’s bug.

Get PHA-979

9.) Cableguys – PanShaper 3 ($34.00)

Cableguys - PanShaper 3Cableguys Panshaper does things a little different, it features a  drawable panning LFO and envelope follower on every band, you can design evolving, fluid pan patterns and make precise stereo edits in seconds. Blend regular panning with psychoacoustic Haas panning and make your mixes fill the speakers like never before.

 

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • Redesigned interface with larger editing areas
  • Retina/HiDPI support for crisper, clearer graphics
  • Trigger Smoothing to reduce clicks when MIDI Triggering
  • Dedicated selection tool for multinode editing
  • 2x/3x button — double or triple patterns with a click
  • 1-click Quick Presets for Basic, Haas, and Build-up
  • Adjustable Haas range, from 0-40ms, from subtle to extreme
  • Smoother, more accurate spectrum view
  • Magnitude oscilloscope graph
  • Clearer oscilloscope waveforms and smoother LFO editing
  • Expandable LFO for detailed editing
  • Set LFO loop length in beats and bars, or Hertz
  • LFO loop length from 1/128 to 32 bars, with sample-accurate sync
  • Audio-rate modulation up to 5.24kHz for extreme sound design
  • Switch User Waves via MIDI
  • Multiple panning modes (Balance 0/3/4.5/6dB and Stereo Combined) for deep control

System Requirements:

  • Mac OS X 10.8 or later (64-bit only)
  • Windows 7, 8 or 10 (32 & 64-bit)
  • VST or AU host sequencer

Get PanShaper 3

10.) Cableguys – WidthShaper 2 ($24.00)

Cableguys - WidthShaper 2

Widthshaper does what it says, you can control with three bands of mid/side stereo adjustment, each driven by its own drawable LFO and envelope follower. Use it on single tracks and buses, for sound design, mixing and mastering.

If you are looking into widening your top end, get a tighter mono bass or sound, expanding drums, and creating a stereo riser, then the WidthShaper from cableguys is your goto tool.

Video SneakPeek:

Features:

  • Expandable LFO for detailed editing
  • Set LFO loop length in beats and bars, or Hertz
  • LFO loop length from 1/128 to 32 bars, with sample-accurate sync
  • Audio-rate modulation up to 5.24kHz for extreme sound design
  • Trigger LFO in any rhythm via MIDI
  • New! Trigger Smoothing to reduce clicks when MIDI Triggering
  • Flip/resize/move/randomize wave or selection
  • Copy/paste waves between any Shapers
  • Unlimited undo/redo for LFO wave edits
  • 44 Wave Presets covering all common uses
  • 9 slots to store User Waves, saved with the patch
  • Switch User Waves via MIDI
  • Dry/wet mix for each band
  • Solo bands for easy setup
  • Large, precise oscilloscope view with Freeze option
  • New! Clearer oscilloscope waveforms and smoother LFO editing
  • 100% mono-compatible

System Requirements:

  • Mac OS X 10.8 or later (64-bit only)
  • Windows 7, 8 or 10 (32 & 64-bit)
  • VST or AU host sequencer

Get WidthShaper 2

Stereo Widening Plugin (Free)

11.) Voxengo – Stereo Touch

Voxengo - Stereo Touch

Voxengo Stereo Touch uses a classic technique of transforming a monophonic track into a spacious stereophonic track employing mid/side coding technique.

Stereo Touch is most effective on monophonic sounds without overly sharp transients: it works great for both acoustic and electric/overdriven guitars, synthetic pad sounds, and even vocals.  Uisng this plugin, you can easily get spacious and even “surround” sounding tracks, without utilizing a double-tracked recording technique.

Features:

  • Two delay lines
  • Built-in low-pass and high-pass filters
  • 64-bit floating-point processing
  • Preset manager
  • Undo/redo history
  • A/B comparisons
  • Contextual hint messages
  • All sample rates support
  • Zero processing latency
  • User interface color schemes
  • Resizable user interface
  • Retina and HighDPI support

System Requirements:

  • AudioUnit or VST plugin.
  • AAX version available can be loaded in ProTools 12+.
  • Compatible with Windows (32- and 64-bit Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10 and later versions)
  • macOS (10.7 and later versions, 64-bit Intel processor-based)
  • 2.5 GHz dual-core or faster processor with at least 4 GB of system RAM

Download Voxengo StereoTouch

12.) QuickQuak Audio’s UpStereo

QuickQuak Audio’s UpStereo

UpStereo is a simple, useful stereo tool that can make your mixes bigger, in stereo width and loudness. It employs three systems:

  • A fixed frequency EQ designed to lift the highest audio frequencies, and boost the bass.
  • A stereo width unit, for expanding stereo, sounds so they appear wider and fatter. At extreme levels, other characteristics are also brought out of the sound, so this can also be used as a tonal control for individual instruments. This also has a mono setting, useful for squashing up those aggressive samples that take over the mix.
  • A Loud switch that raises the waveform to the limits in a smooth curve. This saturation gives the mix a more perceived loudness, without clipping.
    There’s also an option for overdriving this effect, distorting the waveform towards the maximum, and can be used to create a raw punch to the sound.

Download QuickQuak Audio’s UpStereo

13.) Dimension Expander

Dimension Expander

Xfer Records Dimension Expander is a fairly unique sounding spatial expander that’s modeled on chorusing effects from the late ’80s. It splits the incoming signal into four parts, flips the phase of two of them, and then delays them. Simplicity is the name of the game here – you can apply Dimension Expander to nearly any track you’d like to achieve greater stereo spread and enhanced width.

In Session:

Dimension Expander is perfect for spreading a primary sound out and making it seem huge, but can also be used more subtly on effects tracks and background noises. For this session we used it on the Lazer Sample track to make it echo and splash a bit, automating the WET/DRY control all the way from 0% to 100% as the track progresses.

Download Dimension Expander

14.) A1Audio’s A1StereoControl

A1Audio’s A1StereoControl

Expand or limit the STEREO WIDTH of your tracks using only one single knob. This powerful technique can be used on single tracks or group tracks while mixing or even on a master bus in final mastering situations.

Download A1Audio’s A1StereoControl 

15.) Voxengo MSED

Voxengo MSED

MSED is a plugin for mid-side processing which can encode (split) the incoming stereo signal into two components: mid-side pair, and vice versa: decode mid-side signal pair into a stereo signal.

I use this on some occasions to either make a mid-side wider or to translate sounds into mono.

Download Voxengo MSED 

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