Making full use of the stereo field can make the difference when mixing your tracks down, and provide that spacious feel you’re after with your productions. Always remember though, you need to mix for both mono and stereo, as some playback systems even today are in mono – some club soundsystems, tablets, phones. Our mixes need to to translate in all environments, so below we’ve listed some techniques for effectively adding width to your sounds and mixes.
If you’re struggling to create nice width on your synth with a single instance, try duplicating your synth channel and copying the MIDI over. On the 2nd instance make some slight variations to the synth, for example change the waveform, detune it slightly, add some filter drive, change some of the FX – anything that will alter the tone and characteristics a little. Then pan one synth to the left and one to the right (not hard pan, maybe around halfway). This will create a really wide synth that should retain fidelity when collapsed to mono, you just need to make sure you change the 2nd instance enough so that it won’t phase with the original.
If you feel the synth loses focus, try using 3 instances, keep one in the middle, one to the left and one to the right, applying subtle changes to each one. You could even try recreating your patch in a different synthesizer, even matching the settings to some extent, the timbral differences between synthesizers should ensure the sounds will play together nicely.
Master the Mono:
Most DAW’s feature a Utility Gain plug in. Not exactly one the most exciting of tools at your disposal, this simple little plugin can be incredibly useful. Stick a Utility plugin on your Master Output, turn on the Mono (Logic), turn down the Width to 0.0% (Ableton), in Cubase you could use the Stereo Enhancer and turn on the ‘mono’ button. Now you can easily reference how your mix sounds in mono by turning this plugin on and off. Some producers even work in mono for the majority of the mix, arguing it’s more difficult to create space for all your elements in mono, switching to stereo for the last 20% of the mix just to add some ‘ear candy’ to the production.
Mids and Sides:
With a Mid/Side EQ you can process the Mid channel (the centre of a stereo image) and the Sides (the edges of a stereo image) separately. It really depends on the source material, but boosting some of the upper mids, about 1-3k and above can help spread a sound and produce a wider stereo image. Furthermore, you could also cut some of the low frequency from the sides which will help focus the lower frequency element in your sound. If your sounds loses weight as a result of this technique, use some additive EQ on the lower frequency of the Mid channel to re-balance things.
Delay, Delay, Delay:
A ping pong delay is great for spacing sounds out, and can be really effective for vocal stabs, FX, synth trills. Try setting your Ping Pong Delay to a triplet or dotted pattern, this will create a nice rhythmic stereo effect. You could even go one further and un-sync the delay and tweak the timing manually, this will create a less conventional and more twisted stereo delay effect, useful for a stripped down section of a track. Just be careful not to overdo the ping pong delay by putting it on too many sounds, or you’ll have everything bouncing around the speakers which could end up taking focus away from the centre of your mix.
Work the bus:
Trying adding some stereo width to your bus channels. Adding a stereo imager or a chorus plugin to your reverb and delay sends can give the effect of something sounding nice and wide, whilst it’s only the bus that’s spread, with the dry signal staying central. You could also add some mid/side EQ to your reverb send channels, focusing on the sides and cutting and low frequencies will reduce mud whilst boosting the highs for a bright and wide reverb effect.
Spreading The Unison:
Many synths feature a unison stereo spread, which sounds great when applied to synths, leads, pads and the like – in Massive you can add extra voices and then spread the voices around the stereo filed using the Pan Position control. In Sylenth you have per Oscillator pan controls, so as long as your pan is turned up and you add some detuned voices you’ll get a really wide sound – just remember to keep referencing how things sound when collapsed to mono. Sometimes taking some care to not spread your synths too wide, but adding some subtle width can work well, and then increase that width using something more dedicated to the task, like Ozone 7’s Imager or Waves S1 Stereo Imager. The same can be said for stereo Chorus, Flanger or modulation effects found on synths, always reference them in mono to check there wont be any nasty surprises.
Referencing your mix in headphones is good practice in any case, many things can be more evident in the cans than on your monitors (clicks, pops, background noise, reverb). But it’s also a great way to check the stereo balance of your mix, it might be a good idea in this instance to cross reference your mix with another one of your favourite productions, so you can hear how a mix should sound in your headphones. You may notice the stereo much more in headphones, and also if your listening environment isn’t ideal or you have poor room acoustics, this could help clarify some stereo elements for you.
Try duplicating a couple of instances of your track (synth or audio), and keep one central and pitch the other 2 slightly in different directions, too much may mess with the tuning but around +/- 25 cents should do the trick. Pan the pitch shifted ones left and one right and process each one differently with different distortion or saturation, compression, EQ, this should create a big and wide sound. Bring up the level of the panned channels for bigger and wider sound or reduce them for a more subtle effect.
Try use a Multiband stereo imager. This makes the process of making sounds wide much easier. You don’t have to worry so much about sounds phasing when collapsing to mono (though you should still cross reference), you can very simply just apply the imaging to higher frequencies. And you can also cut any imaging from your lower frequencies, 200Hz and below should always be kept in mono.
Another technique for a big and wide synth, again involving duplicating your synth channel. Pitch the duplicate up by +1 octave, cut any lower frequency and make it really wide, blend it back in the with original lower synth for a huge synth sound, not only is the extra layer adding width but also upper harmonics as it’s playing back an octave higher. You could even go one further and add another synth just playing back white noise, again really wide and with a hi pass filter. Some synths like Massive and Serum have numerous Noise sources, add one synth panned left with white noise and one to the right with bright or brown noise.