Create Space, Width & Direction With Stereo

Stereo Width

Depending on what kind of kind of instrument you are working with, you may want its sound to be placed straight down the middle (monaural/monophonic/mono) or pushed out to the sides (stereo).

Recently I've been exploring mono and stereo effects. In this post I'll be putting together what I have picked up so far.

To begin with, let's acquaint ourselves with mono and stereo.

Mono

Simply put mono, is a single channel of audio which has the effect of coming from one direction, perhaps a vocal. However, that single channel can feed several outputs, say the left and right side of a pair of Beyerdynamic dt 880 pro headphones. The important thing to remember here is that the same copy of the signal is sent to both L & R and it is identical in volume and time.

Mono

At some point, the mono audio will end up on a stereo bus. For example, when sending an instrument's signal to a bus channel in Ableton Live 10. In this stereo environment, the brain perceives this as to positioned in front of the listener, also known as a 'center image'.

Instruments that form the foundation of a track are usually mono and are placed in the centre. These may include kick, snare, sub bass, bass and vocals.

I'll cover making sounds ‘mono’ in a future post.

Stereo

In contrast to mono, stereo is where multiple signals (usually 2) feed more than one output. For example, 2 speakers.

Stereo

Using stereo allows the placement of instruments or effects on the 'stage' that the listeners speakers create. The purpose of this is to create a sense of width, space and directionality. This itself can be achieved by experimenting with the amount sent to each speaker (panning) and using very short delays.

Instruments that are typically given space and pushed out wide into the stereo field can include, hi-hats, leads, chords and other atmospheric effects.

Ingredients


Methods

The Ableton Live pack at the foot of this blog includes all 10 of the stereo techniques below. The pack features a drum track, bass track, shaker tracks and wavetable riff. The wavetable track appears 10 times, each one with a different stereo effect outlined below.

Like with most things in almost all areas of music production, I have found that less is more when using any of the 10 techniques.

1. ST Chorus

Enable delay 1. Disable delay 2.

A short delay is used to affect all frequencies with dry/wet at 100%. Listen closely, and you'll be able to hear the wavetable riff move from right to left.

Stereo Chorus

2. ST Frequency Shifter

Enabling 'wide' will invert the polarity of the spread parameter. In this rack, a sprinkle of spread changes the pitch in the left and right sides to add width.

Frequency Shifter

3. ST Grain Delay

This example uses a grain delay with its delay mode set to time using a value between 7 ms and 30 ms.

Grain Delay

4. ST Haas Simple Delay

Using a simply delay, you'll find that between 7 and 30 ms creates a stereo affect which can affect the perceived location. This effect is know as the Hass effect.

Careful though, any more than 30 ms and it will turn into an echo, which isn't what we are looking for here.

Haas Simple Delay

5. ST Haas Filter Delay

Haas again here but with a filter delay rather than the simple delay. This allows us to adjust the level in the left and right sides.

Haas Filter Delay

6. ST Haas Chained

As above, however this time with 2 chains, panning one with a simple delay to the left and a dry one to the right.

Haas Chain Link

Haas Chain Link

7. ST Reverb Shaping

Using a short decay time, shape and boosting the stereo and reflect we can create a stereo image

Reverb Shaping

8. ST Auto Panning

The list wouldn't be complete without auto panning which we can use to move and pan the signal from left to right.

Auto Panning

Methods 9 & 10 below, both involve manipulating the stereo signals already present in a sound. For that reason, an audio recording of one of the other tracks was used.

9. ST M/S Utility

By using a utility on 2 chains one of which is mono and one stereo (achieved by the utility plug in), it's possible to specifically add effects to the stereo signal and mono signals.

Once the stereo or mono signal is in its own chain, you can drop in various effects on them. In the Live pack I have added hot tubes for a little saturation and some reverb. On the mono chain I have put an EQ in with a high pass allowing only frequencies above ~400 Hz through.

Stereo Mid Side Utility
Stereo Mid Side Utility

10. ST M/S Processing - Audio

This is well covered in a Sound On Sound article. It’s recommend you read this article but here's my take on it:

M/S processing splits a stereo signal into:

i) the mid channel (M) - everything which is identical in both the left and right channels. Remember how mono is where the same signal is sent to both left and right channels?

ii) the side channel (S) - everything that is different (stereo) between the 2 signals

The Sound on Sounds article covers some applications of this technique, refer to their article for further details but they include:

i) removing lower frequencies from the sides in low frequency instrument parts and leaving only the mid signal and below this frequency. This makes the bass 'mono' below a given frequency

ii) adding more space by adding an EQ8 after a reverb effect and boosting low mid and high frequencies in the sides channel and/or cutting frequencies in the mid range from the mid channel

Mid Side Processing

A key shortcut (m) has been used to turn off audio effect racks so you can a/b with and without stereo.


Workflow Tips

Organise

There are 10 Audio Effect racks here. Save these audio racks and we can drop them in quickly. It will improve your workflow at either the initial creation or mixing stage.

Stereo Audio Racks

A/B Testing

One thing to bear in mind is to A/B test your widened stereo mix by listening to it in mono to check if any sounds are disappearing. A utility on the master track set to mono will achieve this:

Mono Utility

What Next

There are many other interesting ways that others have come up with to create stereo effects. Do you have any techniques yourself? Let us know in the comments.

Look out for the next post from mybackroombeats.com where we'll be covering noise gate ducking.

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