In this tutorial, I want to share with you some of the best stereo widening tricks which will make your tracks sound BIG and Wide in a mix.
One thing you definitely don’t want is to end up with a mix that sounds too narrow and thin, where every sound is coming out from the center channel. The stereo image is big enough for all the instruments in a mix so use all of it to your advantage.
Just like our world, the stereo field is 3D (three dimensional). You have the height, width, and depth.
The height has to do with EQ and level balancing. The width is how sounds move from the speakers. Depth is the perceived balance from front to back in a mix and this is where time-based effects come in handy.
So, all those components are what makes a mix 3 dimensional. That’s how you should visualize a mix. When I was starting out, I didn’t understand it when people use to say they see music, but now it all makes sense when I think about it in 3D.
If you can see where each sound is sitting in a mix then it will be easier for you to manipulate the stereo image.
Don’t complicate this stuff, and you don’t need to be a geek. Think about how a full orchestra or a band is set up on stage.
Visualize how everyone (or instrument) is positioned on stage and think about how you can implement the same or similar setup with the project that you’re currently working on.
So, with all the theory (the fat) covered, let’s get on to the practical stuff (the meat).
Stereo Widening: Make Tracks BIG and Wide
1. LCR Panning
The first and most straightforward way to get your mix to sound wide is to use panning. The same principle of visualizing your sounds in a stage setup applies here.LCR is simply Left, Center and Right in the stereo image.
If you’re struggling to pan the drum kit, then listen to the Overheads to determine the panning of each instrument. Another way is to look at how a drum kit is set up, you have a hi-hat on the left, kick in the center, floor tom far-right, etc.
So, that’s how you want to pan your drums. This is called the drummer’s perspective, feel free to use the audience perspective if it fits well with the mix and if the overheads sound that way.
For other sounds, simply choose sounds that occupy the same frequency range and pan them opposite of one another.
Make sure that you have a good balance on the left and right when panning to avoid imbalance issues. You don’t want the left side to be louder than the right side.
If for instance, you pan 2 electric guitars 25% left and right then when you pan other sounds make sure that you don’t use the same 25% because they’ll clash. Give each sound its own position in the stereo field.
Keep your most important sounds in the center. These are usually kick, bass, snare and vocals.
I’ll do a dedicated panning tutorial in the future.
One more thing, these are just guidelines always trust your ears.
2. Stereo Effects
Another great way to do stereo widening is to use stereo effects. I would recommend that you use these effects in a send or Fx channel and not as an insert for flexibility.
You can use stereo effects to manipulate the width and depth of your mix.
A great way to make instruments or vocals sound wider in a mix is to use stereo widening tools or techniques on your stereo effects. This will trick the ear into thinking that a particular sound is wide.
Some effects come built-in with a feature or parameter to make the effect wide. So, you can simply use that width parameter to add width to a sound.
You can also use 2 reverbs to add stereo width. Once you’re happy with the settings for your reverb, duplicate it, pan one left and pan one right. Equalize one of the reverbs and use the opposite EQ settings on the other, which will widen your sound.
So, if you boosted at 10kHz and 3kHz on one reverb then you’ll cut at 10kHz and 3kHz on the other one.
3. The HAAS Effect
Another stereo effect trick for stereo widening is the HAAS effect. This one is simply straightforward.
Insert a stereo delay on your channel then leave one side unaffected (no delay) and give the other side a delay of about 10ms to 30ms max.
This is the easiest way to make your sounds wide in a mix. If you choose to use this technique on 2 sounds in your mix then choose different sides to affect.
If on one sound you choose to delay the left channel then on the other sound delay the right side to avoid imbalance issues. This will also create good ear candy for the listener.
4. Mid/Side EQ
Mid / Side EQ can also be used to make any track in a mix to sound wide or narrow. The difference won’t be drastic with this technique but it will give your listener a sense of width.
Insert an EQ that has Mid / Side functionality, the first thing you can do is to create a high-shelf boost on the sides and use subtractive EQ on the Mid channel.
That will make the side louder than the Mid channel which will result in a wider sound. You can apply the same trick in the lower midrange as well or anywhere in the frequency spectrum to make your tracks wide.
You can also use the same technique on your mix bus to make the entire song wide. However, when it comes to using this trick in the mix buss, make sure that you don’t do drastic cut or boosts.
Take it easy because you’ll be affecting the entire song, not just a single track.
5. Waves Vitamin
The Waves Vitamin plugin is designed for harmonic enhancement but since it has stereo widening features it can also be used to make tracks wide in a mix.
Another great advantage is that it is multiband so you can affect only a few frequencies and keep other frequencies unaffected which will result in a wide and punchy sound that cuts through the mix nicely.
You can watch the video above for a step-by-step guide for using this technique.
Those are a few ways that you can use to make sounds BIG and Wide in a mix.
Of course, there are other techniques such as doubler, microshifting, LR (left and Right) EQ and using stereo image tools such as S1 Imager. However, these don’t always work well for me. The 5 techniques I shared with you above will work 90% of the time on most material. They’ll also sound good without creating phase issues in the stereo image.
You have to be careful when making tracks wide and check that you’re not making your mix out of phase.
You also have to check if your mix is mono compatible, and no sounds disappear when your mix is played in mono.I trust that you found this stereo widening tutorial valuable. If you have any questions then leave a comment below and I’ll definitely get back to you. Share the content if you found it useful, that will be very helpful in spreading the love for the blog.
That’s it for today, we’ll talk again soon.