J. River Media Center is one of the best choices for digital media playback on audiophile grade sound reproduction systems. One of its many useful features is the ability to use VST Plugins. These plugins allow the user to perform room correction, improve the sound quality of poorly mixed and mastered recordings, and many other valuable audio enhancements. Many VST plugins are available at little or no cost for non-commercial purposes (Over 90 Free VST Effects Plugins). Unfortunately, not all VST plugins are created equally, and high quality ones used in professional applications can be quite expensive. Audiophiles, however, don’t require the same level of sophistication and control as engineers, and in most cases the freely available plugins will improve your listening experience more than upgrading to more expensive components.
Listening to a well recorded and mixed piece of music can be a great pleasure, suffering through a thin or muddy one can result in never wanting to hear it again. One of the sad facts faced by audiophiles is that many of their favorite recordings before acquiring a quality sound system are quickly relegated to a dusty shelf because of poor playback quality. While VST plugins can’t fix these recordings, they can (in many cases) greatly improve them.
VST plugins are more than just playback enhancement tools. They can be used to permanently modify a recording when used with a WAV file editor such as Audacity.
Toned by LVC-Audio
The first plugin on our list is Toned by LVC-Audio. Toned is a specialized tone shaping plugin with analog modeling. It is designed primarily for use in the mastering process or on two-track audio busses. Toned uses two distinct equalization processes: a three-band tone-shaping matrix, and a specially designed high pass (HP) filter.
The three-band tone-shaping matrix uses a crossover-style filter bank of first-order filters (-6dB per octave). This type of equalization produces very gentle and broad filtering, with minimal alteration of phase. Very wide boosts and cuts can be accomplished while still sounding natural. This style of equalization also mimics some of the interactions between frequency bands that are commonly found in passive analog EQs and analog tone controls. The tone-shaping matrix can be applied to stereo channels, or specifically to the mid or side channel. Additionally, Toned can be switched to use a two-band matrix.
The HP filter is specifically designed for accurately adjusting the low/sub bass energy. The filter has selectable Q and roll-off. The scale of the HP controls is specific to low bass, and ranges from 10 Hz to 50 Hz (with accuracy to 0.01 Hz). Just like the tone controls, the HP filter can be applied to the stereo channels, or specifically target the mid or side channel.
Toned supplies the audiophile with a super tone control that can correct most poor recordings with the turn of a few knobs. It may be the only plugin you need.
Master Graphic Equalizer (Marvel GEQ) by Voxengo
The graphic equalizer included with J. River Media Center isn’t the best, but you can easily add the Marvel GEQ from Voxengo to achieve professional quality results.
Marvel GEQ is a linear-phase 16-band graphic equalizer AU and VST plugin with multi-channel operation support (supporting up to 8 input/output channels, audio host application-dependent) for professional music production applications. Marvel GEQ offers extensive internal channel routing capabilities, and supports mid/side channel processing.
Marvel GEQ allows audio engineers and musicians to apply quick EQ shape adjustments, both to audio tracks and full mixes. The linear-phase filtering offered by Marvel GEQ is suitable for equalization tasks where high quality and excellent sonic character are a must. It can be downloaded from Voxengo for free.
Mid-Side Transcoder (MSED) by Voxengo
For $3,995 you could purchase a BSG qøl Signal Completion Stage.
“BSG Technologies has developed a method of retrieving sonic information from audio signals that provides a realistic and complete rendering of the original acoustic event. . . . Instead of ‘adding’ a host of processing techniques intended to create ‘effects,’ we have simply found a way to extract information already present in recordings, but otherwise hidden in conventional reproduction. Our technology enables complete capture, transmission, and reproduction of such information, including elements that, until now, have remained hidden and buried in electronics, and unavailable to the listener. The result is an audio experience with fullness and richness beyond comparison and one which carries essentially all the dynamic, tonal, and spatial content of a real sonic event. . . . We call it ‘qøl(tm).'”
Or, you could download MSED and increase the side level control to between 0.8 and 1.2, and achieve very similar results.
MSED is a professional audio encoder-decoder AU and VST plugin for mid-side processing which is able to encode (split) the incoming stereo signal into two components: mid-side pair, and vice versa: decode mid-side signal pair into stereo signal. It is also able to work in the “inline” mode with the ability to adjust mid and side channels’ gain and panning without the need of using two plugin instances in sequence. MSED can be used to flip the phase of the mid and side channels by 180 degrees, and swap the stereo channels, and to extract the mid or side channel.
Ambio.one: Ambiophonics Processor
What is Ambiophonics? According to the Ambiophonic Institute: “Ambiophonic programs and components eliminate localization distortion and stereo loudspeaker crosstalk to produce front/rear sound stages (180Â°/360Â°), and deliver the high fidelity one ascribes to normal everyday hearing. Loudspeaker binaural (in contrast to the stereo loudspeaker triangle) generates an unprecedented sense of depth, clarity and presence. Also, in the absence of stereo crosstalk, comb filtering and central low-bass energy doubling are eliminated making truly flat acoustic response possible.”
Audiophiles may be more familiar with Bob Carver’s Sonic Holography or Polk Audio’s Stereo Dimensional Array than Ambiophonics, but all of these technologies produce similar results. While the Carver and Polk technologies use normal speaker positioning, true Ambiophonics requires the speakers to be much closer together. You can, however, get good results without moving your speakers.
Ambio.one features a highly customizeable crosstalk-cancellation solution based on the RACE algorithm developed by the Ambiophonic Institute. It can be used to process regular 2-channel stereo material for Ambiophonic listening.
Ambio.one is a great plugin to play around with and see what results you can obtain.
Give these plugins a try and let us know what you think about the results, or if you would like to recommend additional plugins chime in below.