Described as a "Dynamic Stereo Width Maximizer," SideMinder was developed by Jeff Rippe, former president and chief engineer of Rocksonics, and current mixing and mastering engineer at Raising Jake Studios. This is not a plug-in that adds synthetic stereo to a mono track; instead, it brings out the width that exists in stereo audio to begin with. SideMinder adjusts the ratio between left/right side audio and the sound in the center that shares L/R, while retaining the same average output volume. It also looks ahead at the audio for phase incoherencies, and dynamically narrows the stereo image where issues occur. But still, keep in mind that stereo width can also be increased.

The standard SideMinder plug-in is easy to use. A Width Adjust fader slides between stereo and mono, a Width Limiter allows for gradations between Slow or Fast Release, and the Bass Mono knob can be set between 30 and 300 Hz (like summing low end for vinyl cutting). The Output Correlation meter helps give an idea of how much of your signal has phase issues, plus it remains active when bypassed (smart!). There are no presets included, but then again, SideMinder is simple to set, and it's easy to hear changes with a quick bypass.

On the other hand, SideMinder ME is the "Mastering Edition," and contains a lot more controls and features while using more CPU power. The "# Bands" selects one to three frequency bands of stereo with crossover control adjustment. Each band has Width Adjust and Width Limiter controls that can go "Advanced" for deeper control. Level Trim is for balancing the band volumes if needed, and Band Solo buttons allow us to hear what is happening in each frequency range. ME presets include MaxWide, WideNSolid, Vinyl, Safe Mix, Safe Track, and 2-Band Safe. I'd suggest starting with MaxWide and bypassing off and on to hear what SideMinder ME is capable of at its extreme.

What do I use SideMinder on? Reverb returns: I can reduce the center image and make the reverb sound far wider left and right. This type of mid/side processing is powerful in that capacity, and can help clear up my mixes yet still have them sound deep and wide! Pads: Those virtual synths and keyboards almost always sound like phase cancellation hell to me, and the ability to control those problems while making them sound wider (if desired) is a treat. Even vintage polyphonic synths have issues, and SideMinder can help when mixing.

I can imagine an amateur mastering engineer going crazy, adding width at unusual frequency bands, and basically destroying a mix with this tool. But I could also see a mastering pro using SideMinder ME only as needed, and in subtle ways, to solve many problems. I know I'd be wary of slapping it on a digital mix bus, as I feel I should be sorting everything out before that point. But I also could see this being useful when I'm working on archive and restoration work and attempting to pull the most out of a 2-track recording.

This is an affordable and amazing tool, and since I installed mine I rarely print a mix without a couple of instances of SideMinder in action. If you understand what I'm talking about here, you likely need one or both versions of SideMinder! Available as 64-bit VST2, VST3, and AAX formats for PC, and VST2, VST3, AU, and AAX formats for Mac OS 10.11+.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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