SPL Vitalizer + Soothe... A lethal combo!
When mastering I'm strong believer that less is more and that the best results are achieved through simple, but thoughtful EQ moves and compression tricks. I tend to stay away from gimmicky "enhancers" and over the top processing. However, the combination of the SPL Vitalizer and Oeksound's Soothe has fast become one of my go-to techniques for increasing clarity and excitement within a mix. Here's how I do it...
SPL's Vitalizer is a sonic enhancer that claims to apply psychoacoustic and audiometric principles to improve detail and unmask overlapping sounds. I'm using the Plugin Alliance version and in particular, the "Mid-Hi Tune" function, which selects the starting frequency of a shelving filter between 1kHz and 22kHz. Typically, I'll turn the "process" knob up high and turn the "Mid-Hi Tune" until I find the area that grabs the main presence of the vocal. Then, I'll bring the "process" knob back down and until the effect is there, but not too in your face. The result is perceived increase in clarity; the vocal feels like it has been lifted from the mix, without being separated.
The downside of this, at least to my ears, is that the Vitalizer can add some very brittle and harsh top end depending on the source. This is where Soothe comes in. Oeksound designed the plugin as a "dynamic resonance suppressor" that can replace notching. It's essentially a dynamic eq, with self-adjusting bands. By using this after the SPL Vitalizer, I can tame the top-end, without taking it away and dulling the sound, meaning the master is clear, and present with none of the harshness.
This technique can be replicated through careful use of mid/side EQ, but to me it doesn't quite give the same amount of clarity as the two plugins. First, use a high shelf on the mid channel, starting somewhere around 1Khz and boost by about a db. Then, just like I do with the Vitalizer's "Mid-Hi Tune", sweep this around until you find the sweet spot that lifts the vocal. If there's any harshness as a result, you could take it out with a small cut in the high mids/highs. If it's a dynamic EQ, even better!
If you get to try this, or have a similar technique that you use on your masters, let me know! If you'd like me to master your music, don't hesitate to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.