Back in the old days of multitrack tape, we used to have a trick that would add a little bit of air and sparkle to vocals. It was an unorthodox technique and for a long time no one talked about it, but it was used on many of the classic records that you know and love today that eventually the secret was revealed. The technique involved using only the encode portion of a Dolby A noise reduction system, and was called “Stretch.”
It was a totally unique sound that couldn’t be duplicated with EQ or compression. In a nutshell, Dolby compressed different frequency bands at different amounts and emphasized others during recording, then did the opposite during playback to reduce the inherent tape hiss. If you just did the encode and didn’t decode it, then disabled the lower frequency bands, what you were left with was “Stretch.”
Now Standard Audio has introduced a 500 series module that replicates the sound of “Stretch,” and they’ called it – surprise – STRETCH. STRETCH can be used to add sparkle and air to lead and background vocals, add some bite to drums, or add some air to acoustic guitar or strings.
According to the Standard Audio specs, STRETCH works by splitting the signal into 4 frequency bands and then compressing each band individually with preset ratio, attack, and release settings tailored to the band. The 4 frequency bands consist of the LF Band (20Hz – 110Hz), MF Band (110Hz – 3kHz), HF3 Band (3kHz – 20kHz), and the HF9 Band (9kHz – 20kHz).
There aren’t many controls, but it doesn’t need many. An Engage pushbutton enables or disables a true hard-wired relay bypass circuit, and a Filter/Compression pushbutton LED indicates when any of the active filter stages has reached 2dB of compression. The Filter/Compression pushbutton lets the user cycle continuously through 7 different filter combinations, and orange HPF and LPF front panel LEDs indicate the different combinations.
An Input Control allows the user to set the gain structure through the unit so that the desired amount of compression is occurring, and an Output Control allows the engineer to set the output level to DAW/Tape without altering the mix blend. There’s also a Mix Control, which blends the STRETCH signal with the un-processed input signal to vary the amount of effect desired.
The Standard Audio STRETCH retails at $695, according to the company website. That said, if it works the way that the old Dolby A Stretch did, it’s worth having around the studio for sure.