Stereo Widening In Mastering | More Width And Depth In 2023

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Stereo Widening In Mastering | More Width And Depth

Stereo imaging and stereo widening in mastering are techniques that are often applied in the audio production process in order to increase the perception of width and depth for the listener. Handling these techniques correctly is a must for any audio engineer.

Stereo widening is a technique used in audio mastering to create a sense of spaciousness and width in a stereo mix. This can be achieved through various hardware and software based methods such as using stereo image processing effects, panning, and equalization.

Let’s discuss how to achieve more width and depth in your audio masters in general and the things that need to be considered while applying stereo widening techniques.

In case you are looking for a dedicated how-to tutorial on stereo widening in mastering, please check out our detailed guide here as well!

    Table Of Contents

    1. What Is Stereo Widening In Audio Mastering?

    2. Should Stereo Widening Be Applied In Mastering At All?

    3. The Haas Effect – Stereo Illusion For A Wider Sound

    4. Stereo Widening Techniques In Audio Mastering

    5. Problems With Stereo Widening

    6. Stereo Widening Plugins, Software And Hardware

    7. More Width And Depth In Audio Mastering – Our Go To Solution

    1. What Is Stereo Widening In Audio Mastering?

    If you are interested in the audio production process, at some point you will face the topic of stereo widening and imaging. Even though stereo widening techniques can enhance any audio mix and master in a pleasing way, applying too much of it can easily ruin any audio project.

    The goal of stereo widening in mastering (and mixing as well) is to create a stereo image that feels wider and more immersive, often giving the listener a sense of being in the same room as the performing artist(s). This can be especially useful for music that was recorded in a mono or narrow stereo field.

    Stereo Widening And Sound Field Monitoring

    There are several different techniques that can be used to achieve stereo widening in audio mastering which we will discuss in detail in section 4. Technically, these techniques can also be applied in the mixing phase, but we will focus on using them in mastering.

    One common method is to use stereo image processing effects, such as a stereo widener or a Haas effect processor. These effects work by introducing a delay between the left and right channels of the stereo mix, which can create the illusion of a wider stereo field.

    Equalization can also be used to create stereo widening by adjusting the balance of frequencies between the left and right channels. This can be done by boosting or cutting certain frequencies in one channel, which can create the illusion of a wider stereo field.

    Additionally, some audio engineers use the Mid/Side (M/S) technique which consist in separating the stereo signal into the sum of the mid and side signals, it allows to process the mid and side signals separately.

    Another technique is to use panning to create a sense of space and width in the song. On average, panning certain elements to different positions in the stereo field is done in the mixing phase (thus before mastering), such as panning the lead vocal to the center, and panning the backing vocals and instruments to the left and right.

    2. Should Stereo Widening Be Applied In Mastering At All?

    Whether or not stereo widening should be applied in mastering depends on the specific mix and the desired outcome.

    In general, stereo widening can be a useful tool for creating a more immersive and dynamic listening experience. However, it’s important to use it in moderation and not overdo it, as overuse can lead to a mix that sounds unnatural or overly-processed.

    It’s important to listen to the mix carefully and determine whether or not stereo widening is necessary while mastering the song.

    If the mix already has a strong stereo image and a sense of space, additional stereo widening may not be necessary. If the mix sounds narrow or lacking in dimension, then stereo widening can be a useful tool for enhancing the perception of space.

    It’s also important to consider the genre and context of the music, some genres such as classical, jazz, and some pop ballads require a more natural stereo image, and the stereo widening can be counterproductive.

    On the other hand, electronic music or some alternative genres may benefit from a more pronounced stereo image.

    In general, it’s a good idea to approach stereo widening with a subtle touch, and always listen to the mix in multiple settings and on different speakers to ensure that the stereo image sounds natural and pleasing.

    3. The Haas Effect – Stereo Illusion For A Wider Sound

    Before discussing different stereo widening techniques in audio mastering, it makes sense to introduce the Haas effect.

    The Haas effect, also known as the precedence effect, is a psychoacoustic phenomenon that describes how the human brain perceives the location of a sound source. The Haas effect is based on the idea that when two similar sounds arrive at the ear at different times, the brain tends to perceive the sound that arrives first as coming from the direction of the first sound, even if the second sound is louder.

    The Haas Effect

    As mentioned in section one, Haas effect processors can be used to modify the stereo image of an audio source.

    A Haas effect processor is a type of audio processing tool that uses this principle to create the illusion of a wider stereo field.

    It works by introducing a small delay to one channel of the stereo mix, which can make it seem like the sound is coming from a wider angle.

    The Haas effect processor creates a delay of around 5 to 20 milliseconds between the left and right channels, which can create the illusion of a wider stereo field without altering the overall balance of the mix.

    It’s important to note that the Haas effect can only create the illusion of stereo widening if the sounds in the mix are similar, if the sounds are dissimilar, it will create a sense of confusion and the stereo image will not be perceived as wider.

    4. Stereo Widening Techniques In Audio Mastering

    Let’s get a little more specific: there are several stereo widening techniques that are common and good practise that can be applied in audio mastering to modify the perception of stereo width:

    (Looking for a dedicated how-to tutorial on stereo widening in mastering? Check out our detailed guide here as well!)

    1. Mid-Side Processing: This technique involves separating the stereo signal into the mid (mono) and side (stereo) components, and then adjusting the levels of each separately. This can create a wider stereo image by increasing the level of the side components relative to the mid.
    2. Doubling: This technique involves copying a mono or stereo source and then slightly delaying one copy and adjusting its level and panning, in order to create a sense of width and depth. This a often used in audio mixing but can technically be used in mastering as well.
    3. Haas Effect: You should be familiar with the Haas effect by now. This technique involves delaying one side of the stereo signal by a very small amount, typically between 5 and 20 milliseconds, which can create a sense of width and depth by creating a perception of space and distance.
    4. EQ: This technique involves using equalization to adjust the levels of different frequency ranges in the stereo signal, in order to create a sense of width and depth by adjusting the balance of frequencies in the left and right channels.
    5. Spatial Imaging: This technique involves using a stereo imaging plug-in to adjust the stereo field, by adjusting the stereo width and panning of different frequency ranges in the stereo signal.

    Always remember that these techniques should be used with care, as overusing them can result in a stereo image that sounds unnatural or disjointed. Rely on your ears to determine the best settings for each track:

     

     “When In Doubt, Leave It Out!”

    5. Problems With Stereo Widening

    Stereo widening and imaging in audio mastering (and in general) can introduce a few potential problems that can occur when using these techniques.

    Beginners often put a stereo imager plugin on their mix or master bus and increase its values in an unhealthy kind of way, true to the motto “more is better”. This is where the problems start, which often stay unnoticed at first and may ruin a project.

    One issue that can occur is that the stereo image may sound unnatural or simply “over the top”. This can happen if way too much stereo widening is applied, or if the stereo image is artificially created rather than enhancing the natural stereo field of the mix.

    Another problem that can occur is that the stereo image can become unstable or change depending on the listening environment. This can happen if the stereo widening is applied unevenly across the frequency spectrum, causing certain frequencies to sound louder or quieter in one channel.

    This can result in a stereo image that sounds different on different speakers or in different listening environments. Additionally, if the stereo widening is applied to dissimilar sounds, it can cause confusion and the stereo image will not be perceived as wider, it can even make the stereo image sound worse.

    Another potential problem, and maybe the most crucial one, is that stereo widening can cause phase issues, which can lead to a loss of definition and clarity in the mix. This can happen when the stereo image is artificially created using stereo image processing effects, such as a stereo widener or the mentioned Haas effect processor.

    These effects work by introducing a delay between the left and right channels of the stereo mix, which can cause the phase relationship between the channels to change. This can easily ruin a mix in an instant!

    Phase Issues Due To Stereo Widening

    Overall, it’s important to use stereo widening techniques in moderation and to listen extremely carefully to the mix to ensure that the stereo image sounds natural and pleasing.

    It’s also important to consider the genre and context of the music, and to test the mix on different speakers and in different listening environments to ensure that the stereo image sounds consistent across different playback systems.

    6. Stereo Widening Plugins, Software And Hardware

    Here are the stereo widening plugins we would recommend for increasing the stereo width of an audio source:

    Stereo Widening Plugins:

    1. Ozone Imager by iZotope
    2. S1 Stereo Imager by Waves
    3. StereoSavage by PluginBoutique
    4. PSP StereoEnhancer by PSPaudioware
    5. MicroShift by Soundtoys
    6. StageOne by LeapWing
    7. bx_stereomaker by brainworx

    The top pick here for mastering purposes is the Ozone Imager by iZotope, contained in the Ozone mastering suite, followed by the S1 Stereo Imager by Waves (which can be used in mastering as well but is more suitable for mixing purposes). A little less known but highly capable as well: StereoSavage by PluginBoutique.

    Even though there are many other stereo widening plugins available on the market, we highly suggest you try out some plugins from this list. It’s important to note that it’s always best to try out a few different plugins and compare the results to find the one that works best for your specific audio source.

    Some people prefer the workflow and tactile feel of using hardware devices and outboard gear. Here are a few hardware solutions that can be used to increase stereo width:

    Stereo Widening Hardware:

    1. 3rd Dimension BBD-320 by Klark Teknik (Best Price Value Ratio)
    2. SX3040 V2 by Behringer (Best Budget)
    3. Fusion by SSL (Best Overall)
    4. Stereo Vitalizer Mk2-T by SPL (Best Tube Based Solution)
    5. VSM-2 by Vertigo Sound (High End Studio Solution)

    Our top pick here is the well known 3rd Dimension BBD-320 analog spatial sound processor by Klark Teknik. Nonetheless, the SX3040 V2 by Behringer can produce impressive results as well for a slightly cheaper hardware solution. In case your pockets are a little deeper, the best overall solution hands down comes from SSL – the mighty Fusion!

    It’s important to note that hardware devices are typically more expensive than software plugins, but they can offer a unique sound that’s difficult to replicate with software and can become an asset while creating a “trademark” sound!

    7. More Width And Depth In Audio Mastering – Our Go To Solution

    In conclusion, adding more width and depth to a track during mastering can enhance the listening experience by creating a more immersive and dynamic soundstage. This can be achieved through various techniques such as spatial imaging, equalization, and mid side processing.

    However, it’s important to remember that the goal of mastering is to enhance the original mix and not to drastically change it, and it’s essential to work with a skilled mastering engineer who can bring out the best in your music.

    Our “go to” software solution for using stereo widening or imaging in audio mastering is the:

     Ozone Imager Plugin by iZotope

    iZotop Ozone Imager Plugin

    This plugin is part of iZotopes Ozone mastering suite, but can be uses as a single plugin as well. As a recommendation, this plugin should come into play during the mastering phase only. Even though it is possible to use it while mixing a project as well, we highly recommend to avoid using dedicated stereo imaging plugins in the mixing phase.

    The “go to” hardware solution for using stereo widening technically is the SSL Fusion, but regarding the price our recommendation clearly is the:

     3rd Dimension BBD-320 by Klark Teknik

    Klark Teknik 3rd Dimension BBD-320 | Source: Picture: Thomann GmbH

    In the end it doesn’t really matter which solution you choose (software or hardware) just keep in mind, as a general rule of thumb, it’s best to use a subtle amount of stereo widening to enhance the natural stereo field of a mix, rather than trying to create a completely artificial stereo image.

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    Hopefully you found this blog post to be helpful and informative. Feel free to contact us anytime with any questions or concerns about the topic.
    Thanks for reading!

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