Monday, August 6, 2012

Gaining the Illusion of Width in a Stereo Mix

 Finding the limits of width

To gain great perspective upon the width possible within a stereo mix, take your stereo speaker setup (which you hopefully have positioned ideally for a good stereo image) and switch the polarity of one of the speakers.  That is, take the + and - wire on ONE speaker and switch it.  This will put the speakers out of phase with each other.  Basically, as one side projects a wave out, one side pulls a wave in (compresses/decompresses).  Also make sure any processing/subwoofers/additional speakers are turned off.

It is also possible to separate a stereo recording to 2 mono tracks - pan them hard left/right and invert the phase of one track to achieve the same results.

Play material that has otherwise a very solid center image - say an intimate vocal recording or perhaps even AM radio - the once center image will now appear to come from as far left and right as your speakers will allow you to perceive.  You may also notice significantly reduced bass response.  Switch phasing back and forth with various program material to hear the whole of differences.

Its possible your speakers were out of phase previously, and switching one now puts the image in the center/improves bass response.  This is a very common problem that many people don't realize.

This should present you with a very clear idea of what is possible regarding the width of your productions.  Beware, though, 2 tracks out of phase will cancel eachother out entirely when summed to mono.


Wikipedia explains the phaser effect as
"The electronic phasing effect is created by splitting an audio signal into two paths. One path treats the signal with an all-pass filter, which preserves the amplitude of the original signal and alters the phase. The amount of change in phase depends on the frequency. When signals from the two paths are mixed, the frequencies that are out of phase will cancel each other out, creating the phaser's characteristic notches. Changing the mix ratio changes the depth of the notches; the deepest notches occur when the mix ratio is 50%"

The best way to understand a phaser is to just use one.  Any DAW will have a phaser plugin, just mess with the settings.  Often the plugin will have a "width" setting that will get the ball rolling on widening your sound.

Multiple phasers can be layered to create some really wild effects, but phasers can also be used in a subtle way to add interest and "phatten" a sound.


 In your DAW record a mono track - the track can be any sort of melody/rhythm.   Now duplicate the mono track.  Grab the audio file on the duplicated track and scoot it over a bit so it begins playing a bit after the original track.  Duplicate this track yet again and repeat the process so all 3 tracks begin at different times.

Now, the track that begins first keep panned center - the other 2 pan one hard left one hard right.  When you press play on the transport you will hear the illusion of a space, something akin to a reverb sound.

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding delay and the illusion of width.  Delay plugins can be used on 3 seperate tracks to take the above example yet further.  Include feedback/saturation/filtering and even phasing and an otherwise mono signal can appear to be emanating from a swirling and mesmerizing space.


Reverb is perhaps the most common thing folks go to when they want to create the illusion of a space.  Some reverbs are better than others - and while all sounds can certainly be used creatively - when it comes to truly giving the illusion of a space the one reverb that does it best is convolution.

Convolution reverb plugins use impulses (a gunshot, clap, etc recorded in a space) and utilize the information to create a very realistic replication of the properties of the space.  There are many fine plugins that will be reviewed here in time.

Reverb would appear to be a "one stop shop' when it comes to creating a space, but its really not.  Reverb can muddy up a track - similarly to how actually playing certain things in a concert hall will create a muddy mosh of reflections that make no sense.  Reverb mud is compounded yet still if the system reproducing the sound is in a space that has alot of natural reverb!

Reverb certainly has its place, but it must be used carefully.  A trick I like to use is to mix the reverb in mono - it becomes easier to hear if things are getting muddy when all the reflections are literally on top of eachother.


Chorus alters the pitch and introduces a bit of delay on the altered signal - in order to simulate the natural variations that occur when a human tries to create the same sound twice.  When mixed in with the dry signal some really interesting things happen. , and many plugins will offer a "width" or "spread" function, which can add some great width to the sound.  If not, a mono chorus can be panned hard left, and another hard right to produce a similar (and truly more controllable) effect.

Chorus with the addition of a phaser can get very interesting, but of course it mixes well with many techniques.


Wikipedia has a great explanation:
"Flanging is an audio effect produced by mixing two identical signals together, with one signal delayed by a small and gradually changing period, usually smaller than 20 milliseconds. This produces a swept comb filter effect: peaks and notches are produced in the resultant frequency spectrum, related to each other in a linear harmonic series. Varying the time delay causes these to sweep up and down the frequency spectrum. A flanger is an effects unit dedicated to creating this sound effect."

A flanger produces something relatively similar to a phaser effect, and is similarly interchangeable.

Mid Side

A method that can be used in conjunction with any/all of the above is to encode the audio in Mid/Side (rescue is free and does a great job).  Once the audio is in mid side (assuming its a stereo recording), the levels of the middle and side information can be adjusted to create the illusion of the source being farther away than it truly is.

Mid side processing has many uses, used with a reverb it can help keep the center clear while still offering the sides plenty of spaciousness - again this is best checked with mono.  Delay generally does not benefit from mid/side encoding, but it depends on how you are laying out your track.  Phasing and mid side can yield some very interesting effects indeed.  Compressing the sides seperate from the middle is another great width adding technique.


Automating the parameters of any/all of the above will truly create a unique space that does not muddy up.  Bringing in reverb at the tail of a sound (particularly a long vocal note) while cutting it down for the attack part of the sounds works wonders.  Manual pan automation opens up alot of possibilities as well, autopans can be more rhythmically accurate and easier to manage but they are not always the way to go.

Automation is the key to making a section really get BIG, or small, whatever is required.  Big width on a chorus is a typical technique - backing vocals also benefit greatly from the aforementioned methods.  Automation allows for temporarily muddy parts that can be cleared up to polarize dryer spaces and make each yet more appreciated.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rough Rider - VST Compressor With Some Color!

There are lots of subtle compressors out there, whether they be as transparent as possible, or emulation of great analog equipment - typically the results are relatively subtle colorations of the sound (aside from the obvious effects of compression)  For the most part, this is preferred, compressor pumping/heavy saturation is typically undesirable - especially for a track that would be called "smooth".

BUT, there are times when that snare drum needs to EXPLODE, or the kick needs to PUMP!  That vocal needs to be undeniably IN YOUR FACE!  The bass needs to be ATOMIC!  Whatever the need, when you need a big big sound that sounds louder than our 0db digital limits allow, its time for some saturation and compression.

In comes Rough Rider - a 32/64 bit FREE compressor plugin from audio damage.  The controls are standard, save for "sensitivity" which is threshold.  I'll not explain compression here, I'll get right to the sound this compressor can help you to create.

Below is a clip with a drum track with Rough Rider applied and the dry signal for comparison.  Rough Rider is especially useful to add "grit" to drum tracks, as you can hear here.  The default settings were used for this video, except the makeup gain was reduced to equalize the volume level between dry and wet.

Available for FREE @ audiodamage.      

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

AfterShockDelay by AcmeBarGig

 Delay is extremely useful in the sound shaping/production stage and the mixing stage.  A good delay goes a long long way to phattening up your sounds, and expanding your stereo image.  Delay is also a good way to create "reverb" and "space" without the mud typically associated with most reverb plugins.

Whether your going for the canyon type long echo or a short delay panned wide to give the illusion of space - perhaps to "stereofy" a mono signal.... this delay definitely delivers.

AfterShockDelay combines 3 independent delays - left/center/right, each with there own volume control, feedback control, and time control.  And what I love about this particular plugin is the tap tempo feature.  Tapping the tempo allows for more "feel" with the delay, and makes it easier to try odd delay times that feel right.  The 6 second max delay is way beyond practical uses, so there is plenty of headroom in the time department.

The clip below is with all 3 delays set to tap - the center delay is very short, the side delays are a bit longer and not exactly the same.  The automation changes throughout, from wet to dry, and the levels of each delay are altered as well.

Check the AfterShockDelay product page @ AcmeBarGig and try it out - its free!.

Review: CAD MH310 Studio Monitor Headphones

The CAD MH310 Studio Monitor Headphones deliver a great sound at a good price.  They accurately cover a large frequency range and are fun to listen to.  They bring out subtleties that are hard to hear in most situations - great for mixing, superb for general listening purposes. 

Not your typical bass booming over-the-ear headphone - the CAD MH310 headphones have a very smooth response.  There is a great extension to the low end with a nice tight response.  One oddity is the VERY resonant metal structure bars that hold the headphones together.  I used some green duct tape to dampen the vibrations.  Very subtle difference, but I suggest doing this if you buy these headphones.

My Modified CAD MH310's

The list price of $100 puts them at a pricepoint with many lesser quality headphones - I put them in AKG K271 MKII territory, but the CAD MH310's are 1/3rd the price.  Beats are no comparison - they have the typical boomy bass response associated with these type of headphones, and to my ears and for my purposes - Beats is unusable.

The connection is made with either a 1/8" jack or a 1/4" jack - the 1/4" adapter screws onto the 1/8"to ensure proper signal transfer.  The connectors are gold plated.  The wiring is of good quality, some months of pulling/stepping on/running over with chair wheels have not phased the wire in any way.

The plastic enclosures for the 50mm drivers are adequate.  I've experimented with various enclosure fill and nothing improved the sound - these are very well designed enclosures.  They are "ported" into the ear pad area - making these aperiodic enclosures, very well tuned.  I may at some point reinforce the external part of the enclosures with either fiberglass resin or a bedliner like material to help eliminate the ever so subtle "plasticy" resonance in the 800hz range.  Its VERY subtle, though.

The closed back design offers good isolation, enough to help concentrate, not enough to totally remove the outside world.  Bleedthrough into mics is not a big issue, these definitely can (and have been) used for tracking.

They are definitely not the loudest headphones, though, and this is where they fall short of their pricier brethren.  The CAD's may compete with AKG 271 in overall response, but once you turn em up there is no comparison.  The CAD's get loud enough before distortion to be plenty satisfying, but in some mixing sessions I've run out of headroom - especially on heavy bass music.  This is an issue, but the reality is loud music does hearing damage and should be avoided anyway... especially for those of us that enjoy/are required to perform extremely critical listening.  What I'm speaking of is the drivers themselves running out of steam - it is not a headphone amp concern... my ipod runs out of gas before the MH310's do, but this level is past "too loud" to my ears.

These headphones are very revealing, and as far as mixing with headphones go these are plenty adequate to zoom into those subtle noises otherwise missed.  Listen close and hear the whole of the music in a way that only tiny lightweight drivers can reproduce.

These really do compete with headphones costing much more, and with some modifications get even better.

Whether your in a studio, or are a music lover who wants to REALLY hear the music, the CAD MH310's are a great choice.  I wouldn't DJ with these, and I wouldn't hand these to a drummer or a LOUD musician of whatever walk, I also wouldn't walk around with them on (too much isolation).  But I would and I do listen to all my favorite music on them, and these help shape the sounds I love to create.

A great value, excellent 'phones.

CAD MH310 Closed-Back Around-Ear Studio Headphones