Stereo widening techniques with Panning and Delay

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Today we’re diving into some killer stereo widening techniques to widen your stereo image using basic tools like panning and delay. Grab your favorite beverage, and let’s get into it!

Why Widen Your Stereo Image?

Before we get into the techniques, let’s chat about why you’d even want to widen your stereo image in the first place. 

I know, everything these days is loudness! But don’t forget about width:

  • Makes your mix feel more spacious and immersive. Listeners using headphones will thank you!
  • Helps clarify arrangements where everything is fighting for space in the center. Spread it out, baby!
  • Gives listeners that magical multi-dimensional experience. Ooooohhh.

Of course, you don’t wanna go overboard and sound like a hot mess. Used tastefully, width gives your mix polish and takes it to the next level. Let’s go!

Panning Your Instruments

Panning cheatsheet / Reddit

Let’s start simple with good old panning. Panning creates an instant sense of space.

Here are some panning guidelines:

  • Lead vox and bass up the middle
  • Drums panned a bit left and right of center, kick drum in the middle
  • Guitars, keys, other elements – panned wider left/right
  • Percussion and backing vox – panned way out wide!

Of course, experiment and break the “rules” if it sounds good! The key is balance. Think about the frequency content, too – for example, pan super bright acoustic guitars to the sides so they don’t compete with the vocal midrange.

Add a Simple Delay

Once you’ve got your instruments panned, it’s delay time!

Send your panned tracks to a simple delay panned opposite. For example:

  • Guitar panned hard left
  • Send to mono delay panned hard right

This basically doubles the guitar, thickening the sound and spreading it across the stereo spectrum. Widening – activated!

For even wider delays:

  • Use a stereo delay!
  • Delay one side 20-30ms and the other 40-50ms. More separation, more width!
  • Add some modulation to further distinguish the delay. The more distinct from the source, the wider it will sound. Chorus is your friend here.

EQ Duck the Delay

Now for a slick trick – EQ ducking.

We make the delay duck behind the source sound using EQ plugin:

  • On the source track, boost somewhere between 2-5kHz to bring out the clarity
  • On the delay track, cut around the same region so it has less midrange information

Since the delay now has less midrange, it ducks behind the main source track and widens the image!

You can further shape the delay tone by cutting highs or lows after this EQ move. The goal is for the delay to complement the source rather than fight against it. Sneaky!

Mid/Side EQ

Another cool EQ technique is mid/side processing. Here’s how it works magic:

  • Gently boost the side channels above 5kHz. This adds air and sparkle, which our ears perceive as width.
  • Meanwhile, cut the mid-channel a bit, around 600Hz, to reduce muddiness in the center.

This puts emphasis on the sides while cleaning up the middle – instant phantom width! Try it on instrument busses or the master.

More Tricks!

Alright, we’re not done yet, friends! Here are a few more widening tricks for your stereo pleasure:

The Haas Effect – delay the left channel 10-15ms while keeping the right dry. Tricks your brain into hearing a wider image. Wacky!

Get creative with reverb – short stereo verbs on a mono source widen the tail, dual mono reverbs panned opposite widen the image, long verb on the sides and short in the mid, etc. Lots of options!

Carefully add modulation effects like chorus, flanger, and phaser to guitars, keys, and percussion. Adds motion and width, but watch your depth/rate!

Pro Mixing Tips on Stereo Widening

And now a few quick pro tips:

Level balance is crucial when panning – Usually, center instruments need to be louder than hard-panned ones. Rebalance!

Not every instrument in a mix needs to be widened – Instead, focus on widening high-frequency dominant sounds like leads, high hats, and background elements.

Pre-delay –  Add just a touch of pre-delay to delays on centered vocals and leads so the source remains upfront and clear.

Check in mono – Always check your widened mix in mono, too, for any phase issues. Gotta account for the mono listeners!

Pay attention to phase: The phase of a sound can have a significant impact on how it sounds in the stereo field. If sounds are out of phase, they can cancel each other out in the mix, so keep this mind phase relationships when working with stereo-widening.

Bass – Don’t overdo widening on bass sounds which are typically centered in a mix. But a touch of chorus on a bass can work nicely.

Plugins – Try stereo enhancer plugins like Waves S1 or iZotope Imager as another option for widening specific elements in your mix. Use subtly and with caution.

Remember, too much panning and delay can start to sound weird and unnatural. Ease up!

And that’s a wrap! I hope these tips inspire you to create wider, more immersive mixes that still sound great in mono. 

Don’t forget the most important rule of all – trust your ears! Experiment away and see what works for your music.

Let me know if you have any other wicked panning or delay techniques for width. Share your best tips in the comments!

Later! Go make those mixes shimmer.

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