Mono / Stereo

Stereo can be seen as a separate tool, but it uses panning principles. When deciding the stereo width of each element, you can decide whether you want it narrow in mono, or wide in stereo. This brings a new dimension to the mixing stage. Not only can we bring sounds to the front and back, and left and right, we can also spread them out over the stage using stereo width.

To properly use stereo widening, it’s good to understand how it works. Stereo is actually an illusion. Our brain tricks us into thinking that something is stereo when the left speaker plays something slightly different than the right speaker, but the difference is too small for your brain to notice. This stereo effect is most often created with delay or with chorus.

  • You can firstly create a stereo effect by creating a time delay between the left and right speaker. This is called the Haas effect. To do this, use a stereo widening plugin, or a delay plugin with a ping pong setting. If you play the sound with the delay time turned up high, you will clearly hear the sound play on one side first, and then on the other side. But you can turn down the delay time to about 7 milliseconds, meaning that the sound plays first on one side, and on the other side 7 milliseconds later. This time difference is so small that our brains do not notice this, and we perceive this as one wide stereo sound.
  • The second way to create a stereo effect is by using chorus. A chorus plugin will split the sound in multiple signals (voices) and make one voice slightly higher in pitch, and one slightly lower. This is called detuning, and can sound pretty interesting. Because of the detuning, you now have multiple different signals. So now you can decide to move one signal more to the left, and one to the right, creating a stereo effect. This is usually done with one stereo button on the chorus plugin.

Now that you know how to create a stereo effect, it’s good to know how to apply it in your mix. First of all, not all sounds need this stereo treatment. Some synths and samples have a stereo signal already, so there is no need for extra stereo. You can check this by using your stereo/mono button in your mixer. Second, stereo is gradual. You can make a sound anywhere between 0 and 100% stereo, so you can balance elements by selecting different percentages for different elements. Usually the important elements (kick, snare, vocal, bass) are more mono, and the supporting elements are more stereo. You can also combine this with panning. Every element can have a setting for panning and stereo at the same time. For example, you can place a trumpet 10% panned to the left, at 25% stereo. Or a vocal 0% panned, and 0% stereo (right in the middle).

Song used: Dread Pitt - Carnival