Algorithmix, in conjunction with Bob Katz, has released a software incarnation of Digital Domain K-Stereo, a patented process that can extract ambience and depth from existing recordings, allowing for post-mixdown adjustments. The hardware version was reviewed in Tape Op #45. Check out your back issues or the manufacturer's website for more details on the process.
To my ears, the software sounds nearly identical to its hardware parent, but has the added benefit of multiple instances and a graphical user interface. According to the design team, the plug-in uses double-precision 32 bit (64 bit total) floating-point arithmetic, and the box uses 32 bit float. Both run the same exact algorithm. And while the original unit was ergonomically straightforward, having all of the controls available at once-plus the visual of the width and depth fields-makes the plug-in a wonderful incarnation of the original.
I tested the plug-in extensively in an attended mastering session. We all know that things tend to break when a client is present. I was able to shift settings during playback; bypass and enable the plug-in; and bring up numerous instances without any problems. Like the original, I was able to use K-Stereo to give a track that special sparkle that was missing or to bring out perceived space on a track that sounded narrower than the rest of the CD. One word of caution-depending on the setting, the K-Stereo process can make your average level sound louder to your audience. It may be necessary to adjust your gain staging in other areas of the chain; otherwise, the K-Stereo-processed track might jump out.
If you have ever had the pleasure of visiting a well-appointed woodshop, you'll encounter specialized tools that allow a master craftsman to handle special requests. Mastering engineers are in a similar situation. Sometimes there are requirements that can't be fudged or simulated. The proper tool is necessary. The K-Stereo plug-in is such a tool. This is not an effect that you should use on every song, but when you need it, there is nothing that comes close to sounding like it. ($999 direct; www.algorithmix.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.