Review of the 500 Series Stereo Toolbox; review by Mark Cousins

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Excerpts from the May 2011 MusicTech Magazine review of the 500 Series Stereo Toolbox; review by Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins works as a composer, programmer and engineer, as well as being senior writer for Music Tech Magazine. His professional work includes composing music for some of the world's largest production music companies. Here are excerpts from Mark's review.

"The ability to compress a stereo signal in the M/S domain isn't anything new - as any lucky owner of a vintage Fairchild 670 compressor will testify - but it's certainly become increasingly popular in recent years. More than just a passing fad, though, the ability to compress in the M/S domain offers some unique and tangible advantages that benefit both mixing and mastering. Whether you want a tight and punchy kick and snare or a little more width to your mix, the answer may well reside in a touch of M/S trickery.

Safe Sound's Stereo Toolbox is a new 500-series compressor cleverly designed to offer both stereo and M/S compression. Although some novice users will be initially daunted by the control set of the Stereo Toolbox and the intricacies of its operation, there's clearly been plenty of thought applied to understanding its potential practical applications, from flexible filtering options, through to the relative ease with which you can move between M/S and stereo operation.

The most intriguing feature of the Stereo Toolbox is the inconspicuous - but crucially important - high pass filter. In mono mode, the high pass filer works on the sidechain input to the compressor, potentially negating the bass-end's heavy handed input on the amount of gain reduction applied.

In Side mode, though, the high pass filter is applied across the actual audio path of the side component, filtering low end out of the 'stereo' signal. Using a stereo drum buss as a real world example, this enables you to keep elements like the kick focused in the centre of the mix while leaving the sides lighter and free from low end clutter.

In keeping with Safe Sound's other products, the Stereo Toolbox has a highly functional set of controls alongside reassuringly transparent audio performance. Perfect for buss processing, the Stereo Toolbox provides a level of dynamic control that is hard to find elsewhere (especially on a 500-series unit) and can even turn its hand to mastering applications where M/S processing is required."

Verdict: "A well-designed and intriguing combination of stereo and M/S processing. The Stereo Toolbox delivers transparent and effective gain control, refreshing parts of the mix that other compressors cannot reach."

Score 9/10

Want to know more about mid/side processing? Download the M/S White Paper here.

Alex Eden of Factory Street Studios reviews the new 500 Series Stereo Toolbox

'The SafeSound dynamics toolbox has for sometime been my "go" to compressor for vocals and bass while tracking, switching to use it as a master stereo bus comp for mixes, so I was very excited to get my hands on the latest offering...

The 500 Series Stereo Toolbox is a dramatic departure from their last unit, the standout feature being the stereo width control, this is an area I'm just discovering due to getting my hands on a new (old) broadcast desk which has a couple of them built in.

Let's get into the toolbox; so we have width control, great for adding, well width, to your stereo stems. A nice bit of sparkle can be pulled out of your kit for example, or if it's taking up too much space... dial in more mono. Simple! In itself this feature is great and the SafeSound version has great clarity and depth, plenty of headroom too. At this point it's worth mentioning that whatever SafeSound processor I've used there has always been headroom aplenty.

The other thing it does, of course, is compress. As I was expecting, the new Stereo Toolbox sounds great, a bit warmer than the Dynamics Toolbox. It induced in me the desire to turn things all the way up to find out what you can do to colour the sound; talking of which all the knobs are a pleasure to operate, smooth indented pots with metal knobs, it all feels solid. Nice toggle switches too.

I discovered an option on the rear of the unit to select between high and low colour which, according to Robert Campbell the unit's designer, changes the way the output transformers are driven. I left it set to high!

The whole unit takes up just 2 spaces in the API lunchbox and is a smart black with orange and white lettering.

I found the unit in mono operation was not as detailed and controllable as the Dynamics Toolbox but still sounded great, less of the high end "air", more mojo.

Stereo linked is great, clear but warm with plenty of scope to get things pumping or just bring things into line without sounding heavily processed.

So where the Stereo Toolbox gets really interesting is when using compression combined with the width control. In a layman's terms (which is my realm) the unit takes the centre signal and puts it through one compressor and the side signal through the other. This opens up some really useful and exciting options; a stereo kit can be either made to sparkle while taming the snare, or the kick bought forward. On a stereo track it is possible to move a vocal very effectively. I certainly have a client or two who will benefit from that. I also have a suspicion that this way of treating stereo signals is going to get more and more popular when everyone realises just what an amazingly versatile tool it is.

To sum up, this isn't going to take the place of my Dynamics Toolbox, or any 1176's there might be lying around the studio, but that’s not the point. It can, and does, do a great job of tracking but where its real strengths lie are in the combination of stereo width and buss compression where there is nothing else like it.

This is a fantastic bit of equipment, the sound and build quality are top end, and I can't think of anything else that does what is does with such class.'

Alex Eden is owner and chief engineer of Factory Street Studios in Bradford UK. The complex is one of the largest in Yorkshire and features both live performance and recording studios along with seven large rehearsal rooms, all under one roof. Alex has recently installed a classic Calrec M-Series mixing console which is a real gem. Check out the studio complex at

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