Stereo widening a mix is a great way to add instant space, width, and element separation to any audio track.
Expansive stereo sound adds depth to a track and helps the audience connect with a song. Moreover, a wide stereo track allows individual elements to stand out from each other and sit better in a mix.
In this article, we are looking at the top ten ways you can achieve a wide stereo sound in your mix.
Plugins to add stereo width to any Mix
Before we proceed with the tips and techniques for stereo widening a mix, here are some of my go-to plugins when mixing songs for adding width.
1) FabFilter Pro-Q
The most preferred EQ plugin for additive and subtractive equalization. It has a clean and user-friendly GUI that immediately gets you into a creative workflow.
Pro-Q includes mid-side mode and dynamic equalization and allows to add eq bands effortlessly. Also, the presets offer a great starting point depending on your creative workflow.
2) FabFilter Pro-R
FabFilter Pro-R is a plugin that incorporates features that are more than a reverb. Easy GUI, dozens of presets, and fancy knobs are enough to force inspiration out of anyone.
3) Waves Center
A simple plugin with two knobs controls an audio track’s mid and side images—all in all, a great plugin to add instant stereo width to your audio mixes.
4) Waves S1 Stereo Imager
The Waves S1 stereo imager is a plugin that is easy to use but can add a lot of variety to your music mix. This plugin adds far more width than the regular panning, all thanks to its width, rotation, and asymmetry faders.
5) Izotope doubler – FREE Plugin
Izotope’s doubler works excellently to add a doubling effect to your vocals, whether lead or background. The plugin contains a knob that you can rotate to add a doubling effect to your audio tracks.
6) PA bx_solo – FREE Plugin
A great tool to add finishing touches and stereo width in the mastering stage. Select a mode to tune the corresponding element using the mix knob.
Stereo widening a Mix: 10 ways to make a Mix Wider!
Here are top ten techniques that you can implement right now to add stereo width to your mix.
1) Good old Panning
When you want to increase stereo space or width within a mix, panning will always help out a lot. Panning different elements to left or right will help any mix engineer gain stereo space in a mix or song.
However, you need to take care of some things so that the mix does not get affected as a whole. Otherwise, the mix or the song may seem unnatural and of thin quality.
Few panning tips:
- Strategically pan elements to according to their importance,
- Spread the aspects across the stereo image for a broad mix width,
- The more you pan left or right, the more stereo width a mix will get,
- Maintain mix integrity by balancing several tracks on the left and suitable stereo space,
- Check-in mono to hear for mix inconsistency.
These tips are a great starting point for increasing stereo image in any mix. Furthermore, ensure you avoid the pan of the essential audio tracks such as drums or bass. Leave crucial mix elements in the center.
2) Mid-Side EQ
A great way to equalize for adding stereo width to a mix is to use mid-side EQ. I will be using FabFilter Pro-Q for mid-side EQ.
Switching to mid-side EQ on the FabFilter Pro-Q is simple. Create a band, left-click and set the stereo placement to the side.
Now, at this point, with side equalization, there are quite a few chances that you may overdo the side processing. Therefore, try the preset available under the stereo folder.
Nonetheless, it is recommended to experiment with side equalization and see the power it gives you over any mix.
Boost the high frequencies to add mix width and stereo space instantly. However, avoid increasing the low and sub-frequencies.
3) Adding Reverb
Using Reverb on audio tracks is an efficient and quick way to see your mix growing in stereo space and depth.
My favorite technique is using the long, medium, and short Reverb on essential music mix elements using auxiliary sends and buses. Sending multiple reverb effects to a track using buses is an excellent way to maintain work speed and avoid messing up the process.
It is best to apply long, medium, and short reverbs on crucial audio tracks such as lead vocals and melody and in places where I want the audio track to poke through the song.
Furthermore, using Reverb in such a way can create mud and reduce clarity. Therefore, automate Reverb where the mix may become muddy.
For less critical sounds, use any one of the reverb types, either long, medium, or short.
4) Doubler effects
Using a doubler is a great way to increase the stereo space of lead or background vocals. If you have not recorded the vocal double at the recording stage, using a vocal doubler can do the job quite well.
One great plugin for this is the vocal doubler by Izotope. It comes with a pretty neat GUI and easy controls.
A giant wheel at the center controls the amount of doubling effect you want to apply by tweaking the audio separation and variation.
The doubling effect remarkably affects thin vocals and places where you need the vocals to sound wide.
Adding delay to certain audio tracks in a mix is widely used by many mix engineers and producers.
A delay plugin like FabFilter Timeless 3 offers multiple parameters to control the stereo width of the delay signal.
Adjust delay parameters like width, delay, and feedback to subtly enhance the stereo image of audio tracks and the width of your mix. You do not need to over-apply processing effects. Small things repeated multiple times have the potential to create a vast product.
Automation is an underutilized technique when you are stereo-widening a mix.
However, you can use parameter automation to add mix width. Let us understand how you can increase stereo width by automating a reverb.
Increasing mix width using reverb boils down to automation reverb parameters such as:
- decay rate,
By automating these elements over multiple sections, you can increase or decrease the space added by certain elements within a mix.
So, use automation on reverbs, delays, doublers, panning, and other processing effects.
7) Widening the vocals in mix
Once you have applied basic processing on the mix to tame it in place, the next step is to add width and space to the vocals.
Widening the vocals in a mix helps the vocals sit better and glued together with the rest of the audio elements.
Reverb, delay, chorus, and doubling can make the lead vocals sound huge. Keeping them in your vocal chain is necessary if you want stereo space.
Using panning strategically across the stereo space to create additional space and width.
Waves center and S1 stereo imager are great plugins to apply after reverb, delay, and chorus effects to enhance the stereo image in a song.
8) check the mix in Mono
Once you apply stereo width and space to your mix using processing and effects, it is essential to check the mix in Mono.
The reason for checking the mix in Mono is to ensure that nothing has fallen apart. Sometimes, you may have tweaked things so that you can rarely hear that particular element when you listen to it in Mono.
Therefore, ensure the integrity of a mix by collapsing the mix in Mono.
In logic Pro X, you can do so by selecting Direction Mixer from imaging. Then, reduce the direction and spread it down to Zero.
Another technique to collapse the mix in Mono is to select the gain plugin from Utility. Then, turn the Mono setting ON.
Place any of these plugins at the last spot on the master fader. Once you have tested your mix in Mono, remove the plugin, and you are ready.
9) Chorus effect
Chorus effects are great for adding a subtle width to an audio track. One excellent chorus plugin is the chorus jun-6 by Arturia.
Using rate, depth, and phase parameters on this plugin offer you to control the intensity of chorus processing.
A great way to use a chorus is to bring it into some sections of the mix and keep it subtle otherwise.
10) Stereo widening tips when mastering
Remember, you can apply all the tips mentioned above and techniques in the mastering stage. The trick in mastering is to remain subtle and try multiple processing effects. Here, all the processing effects will add up exponentially to make the final product.
If you are a mastering engineer and want to add a little width to the mix file, I’d recommend using a mid-side EQ on side mode. The prime reason is that other effects, such as reverb, delay, and doubling, will create muddiness in the final master file.
Mastering is not the stage where you need to increase the mix stereo width, as you don’t have complete control over the audio tracks.
It is the mixing stage where a mix engineer needs to apply stereo enhancement over individual elements.