ITB Mix Secrets: Part Three

The ITB Mix Secrets series of articles were written by Edvin A. of Function Loops exclusively for Razer Music.  Be sure to visit Function Loops for all your pro audio & loops needs.

Front-to-Back Stereo Positioning

One of the most exciting features of professionally crafted mixes is the 3D sense of space achieved with clever front-to-back stereo positioning of individual sounds in the mix. There are many different ways to achieve this illusion of space, from filtering to clever reverb tricks, but in this tutorial we will show you how to get there in a quick, easy and transparent manner by using just one plugin.

We will start by assuming that you already have adjusted phase, timing and filtering for all the tracks in your mix according to instructions we provided in parts 1 and 2 of our tutorial series. We will also assume that you have set the appropriate track levels and decided on individual panning positions. If so, the next step is front-to-back stereo positioning.

 

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IMG01: Adjusting front-to-back positioning with TDR Proximity

Our tool of choice this time will be a nice free plugin by TDR, the Proximity (IMG 01). It is an easy to use plugin with a comprehensive set of features which are ideal for this job. By using the “original distance” knob on the left side, we use our ears to estimate what would be the original front-to-back position of our sound in the stereo field. Once we have done that, we then use the main fader to re-locate the sound to a new position that will better fit our mix. If we do that to all the sounds in the mix, a common sense of space and a coherent stereo image will appear as the result.

The plugin itself is of very high quality, it doesn’t degrade the sound and doesn’t exhibit any noticeable negative artifacts, so it is a perfect tool for this job.

In the audio examples 1a and 1b, you can hear the difference between a raw mix and one treated with Proximity. The difference is subtle, but a sense of space is indeed more apparent in the treated example while the raw example sounds flat in comparison.

 

 

To accentuate the front-to-back positioning even more, use one instance of a common reverb plugin on each track, but with a variable pre-delay time (with a shorter pre-delay for closer sounds, longer for those further away). Closer sounds should have more early reflections and less late reflections while those sounds that are further away will have the opposite. Also, shave off some top-end with an LPF if you want the sound to appear distant, and bring its level down a bit because distant sounds are quieter by nature.


Stereo Spread Control

It is often the case that some of the sounds in a mix (especially raw synthesizer sounds) happen to occupy too much stereo space, especially if they have some kind of modulation or stereo unison effects applied. Even though such “larger than life” stereo sounds might sound impressive on their own, they can sound a bit disconnected from the rest of the mix once we put them in there. If that’s the case, a dedicated stereo width controller plugin will help to solve this problem.

There are many dedicated stereo controllers available around, both free and payware. Some of the more popular payware solutions are Waves S1, Vengeance Stereo Bundle, PSP StereoController, DDMF StereooeretS, Sonalksis Stereo Tools etc., while on the freeware front, StereoTool by Flux:: is a superb choice.

 

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IMG02: Adjusting stereo width with Sonalksis Stereo Tools

For this tutorial, we have chosen Sonalksis Stereo Tools (IMG 02) because it not only has a pristine sound but also features a dedicated low-frequency monoizer that is mandatory if full stereo control is desired.

The plugin itself is very simple to use; tweak the “width” control to decide on how wide your sound should be overall, and then monoize bass frequencies with the “zero-width” knob to a desired degree. Simple and quick!

Monoizing bass frequencies is recommended if you intend to play your tracks on large PAs in clubs, concerts and venues because low-end translates better on such systems when in mono.

In the audio example 2a, you can hear the mix with a wide-sounding synth-pad sound, while in the example 2b you can hear how it now better fits the mix once it’s been stereo adjusted this way.

 


Conclusion

Achieving a coherent stereo image and a healthy sense of 3D space in the mix is critical if we want our mix to sound natural. Monoizing bass frequencies is advisable if we wish our mix to translate well to various sound systems.

 

This article was written by Edvin A. of Function Loops for Razer Music

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