On stereo widening

I have some thoughts on stereo widening.

There are several different processes that are commonly described as “stereo widening”. These include mid/side rebalancing, haas-length (less than 30ms) ping pong delays, and even inverting the polarity of one side.

Without going into too much detail, I consider these processes to be useful mainly as special effects. Of all stereo widening processes, mid/side rebalancing is the most natural-sounding (and mono-compatible). Even still, there should hardly be any need to use it. Pan and stereo width is one of the least-effective tools in composition and production. This is because most people don’t actually listen in stereo! I’ve lost count of the number of houses I’ve seen where two “stereo” speakers are actually pointing in different directions, or the number times I see people listening to only one earbud from their iPod (most commonly when introducing people to new music!).

Stereo widening also shouldn’t be necessary to separate sounds in the mix. Effective front-back depth can be achieved when mixing using the regular tools for adjusting tone (EQ), dynamics (compression) and ambience (reverb). If you’re composing, front-back depth can also be achieved by manipulating register, motion and familiarity. I’ve written more about this here.

Using stereo wideners instead of panning is similar to using harmonic enhancers instead of EQ.

Who is your target audience?

-Kim.

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