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Old 26th December 2018
Here for the gear

I have been looking for an easy way to produce 3D mixes. Previously I used a Delay (Haas Effect), EQ (proximity), Reverb (virtual space). Using these basic plugins I have been able to get excellent 3D mixes on albums I've produced. I wanted to achieve this much faster using a dedicated plugin, so I compared 6 plugins which I found Demos for online. These were:
1. Panagement by Auburn Sounds (Panagement is free, but Panagement Pro is about $25 US)
2. Fiedler Audio Stage by Plugin Alliance ($199 and around $89 on sale sometimes)
3. Panorama by Wave Arts ($129)
4. Dear VR Music by Plugin Alliance ($199 or around $99 on sale sometimes)
5. Virtual Sound Stage by Parallax Audio ($129)
6. Muze by NuSpace ( $50 )

After comparing these plugins with a single sound source (dry vocal) the results were quite interesting.

Panagement and Fiedler Audio Stage basically do similar things in that they use the Haas effect to give the illusion of depth as well as allowing the sound source to be panned. The sound quality of Fiedler was excellent and the ease of manipulating the sound source was excellent in Fiedler. Fiedler also comes with an EQ section which helps to increase the illusion of distance in 2D. Panagement is a plugin I've used in mixes and can produce a good result if you don't push the sound source too far away or use very wide positioning from centre. But Fiedler was better all round as well as having an LFO which modulates the sound stage depth. This produces some interesting effects similar to phasing or chorus, but more 3 dimensional in nature. Neither Panagement or Fiedler have a reverb to create a virtual space. But adding a reverb after either plugin will give the illusion of a virtual space.

The other 4 plugins all create virtual spaces and allow 3D sound spaces to be created which could be used in music as well as video games or film.

Panorama was next, It can produce realistic 3D spaces, but sadly I took an instant dislike to this one despite all the positive blog posts I've seen about this plugin. My main gripes about this are that it's complex to use. It can do whatever Dear VR and the other 2 do, but it's not so intuitive as the last 3 I tested. My second gripe is that the resulting sound that Panorama produces, is to my ears not as clear and defined as Dear-VR or Virtual Studio Space or Muze.

Next comes Dear-VR. I instantly fell in love with this plugin when using it with stereo headphones or stereo speakers. Wow !! it's clear, allows very precise 3D placement of sound sources, and is highly intuitive to use with a collection of virtual spaces which are very usable. All up it's great, and didn't overload my CPU. But....... and this was a stress test that I always put plugins I test under. I tried it in mono, on my DAW (Logic Pro X) And as I rotated the sound source I got comb filter artifacts, which caused the vocal to lose high frequency content and sound muffled at certain positions in the sound field. So if Dear-VR is going to be used with mono monitors the sound sources need to be placed carefully, in order to minimize comb filtering. With stereo fields or surround, this effect is not present.

Virtual Studio Space (VSS) was next, and wow, it's a lovely plugin, with very easy and intuitive control of source placement in 3D. The sound is excellent in stero, just like Dear VR. VSS does have shorter reverb times than Dear -VR so can not mimic such large virtual spaces as Dear - VR does. Again I tried listening in mono as I moved the sound source around in 3D and the same comb filter artifacts were present. Again careful placement of sound source to minimise phase cancellation is necessary if there is a possibility the final mix will be listened to in mono (TV, Radio etc )

Finally Muze, well this one was a real dark horse, and at first sight I took an instant dislike to it's visual design (UI) it's small, hard to make out all the tiny numbering and lots of colours make it difficult to see what's what in terms of the controls. It has lots of controls like Panorama did. But..... It's actually very easy to use, if you look at what the controls do. Yes it's quite intuitive ! despite it's infinite tweak ability. It can not only produce the 3D VR sound spaces which Dear-VR and VSS can do but I feel it can do it a little better. In fact it almost freaked me out when I was listening through headphones and the vocal came on, and for a moment I thought someone was actually standing next to me, it was so realistic. It also has a ton of usable virtual spaces in it's preset menu, ranging from small rooms to huge structures. I did the mono test and was blown away by the fact that I got no comb filtering artifacts. IT had no discernible phase cancellations in the audio it produced by moving the sound source around. Visually it isn't as clean and intuitive as either Dear - VR or VSS but the sound it produces to my ears is more realistic, and without the mono phasing artifacts.

Muze is also considerably less expensive than some of the other plugins I mentioned, so I guess for me it was a no brainer, and I'm buying Muze. The only downside to Muze is that it can overload the CPU on some settings. It has a "Quality" Control which at "1" is very low quality and at "5" is very high quality in terms of the smoothness of the virtual spaces it creates. At 5 it overloaded my CPU numerous times, so I used it at around 3 with no issues. I'm guessing the track using this needs to be rendered or frozen using the 5 setting.

This is my 2 cents worth, and my own opinions about these plugins after listening to them and comparing them to each other. Fiedler, Dear-VR, Virtual Sound Stage and Muze are all excellent plugins in my opinion. It's important to understand each of their limitations in order to use them effectively.