Show 208 – Stereo Widening Techniques and more!

This week Jon demonstrates 5 ways to make mono tracks big and wide. In the comments section we talk about clean power, soldering, session horror stories, and drum editing.

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17 thoughts on “Show 208 – Stereo Widening Techniques and more!

  1. stereo widening you say? I very recently had a project which I had a hand in both the recording and mixing of a live performance, and one of the best things I did was think stereo while recording.

    on an acoustic guitar I took a DI and mic’d the 12th fret. Then when mixing I used the mesa mark 3 clean amp in amplitube at about 30% wet/dry and EQ’d away some of the nastiness of the DI. On the mic I EQd it like normal then spread the 2 about 40% left and right. It still sounds like 1 guitar while being nice and wide and natural sounding.

    I also set up 2 room mics at 180 degrees in the middle of the band and focused on the room sound, which had a huge stereo reverb kind of sound and in the mix I saved those mics for the “big moments”.

    By recording with stereo in mind I got a huge sound that flawlessly collapsed back to mono… of course you don’t always to mix things that were recorded right.

  2. GSAA. I LOVED the Valhalla Room example, it was my favorite, and I already own Valhalla Room.

    Have you tried Melda productions MStereoSpread? It’s a really easy way of getting a nice “wide mono” sound that I’ve been using a lot lately. It has a great sound and is super easy to use and usually just works. None of your examples sounded quite like what it does.

    They’ve got a demo version. I recommend trying it out.

  3. I’m surprised you didn’t mention mid-side effects for stereo widening, so I thought I’d throw in my two cents. For any track I want to widen, I create a duplicate or two to serve as independent mid-side effect tracks. These tracks have a low volume and effects such as reverb, delay, eq, etc. I then adjust the width of each track using Ableton’s Utility tool, placing the new mid-side effect tracks just outside the original until I get a natural sound.

    Transposing these mid-side tracks up or down an octave and adding reverb succeeds in adding both depth and subtle harmonics that previously didn’t exist (when mixed properly). I especially like this approach for vocals and simple piano melodies. This almost creates a cathedral reverb sound, but with more control and less muddiness (I hope I’m not the only one who hates most cathedral reverb plugins). Another benefit of using independent mid-side effect tracks is that the tracks can be isolated from the original, which makes them nice for buildups or ambient parts of a song. For example, if you start out a song with these isolated mid-side effect tracks and then introduce the original tracks, it feels as if the sounds are suddenly rushing towards the listener. This can be a powerful technique to use.

    I typically dislike the sound of chorus plugins, and because of mono playback issues I don’t like detuning each side. IMHO, subtle and effective utilization of mid-side effects trumps any stereo imaging plugin that I’ve found so far. With all of these techniques that I’ve mentioned, a little bit goes a long way. Plus, this can be done with simple, standard DAW plugins. As Jimmy Cliff said, you’ve got to use what you’ve got to get what you need.

  4. Hi Jon and Ryan,
    I must say, I absolutely love the show! After stumbling upon it a few weeks ago, I haven’t listened to another podcast since.

    I was wondering if you could give me some tips. I’m a freshman working towards a degree in music education, but I really want to incorporate studio work into my career. First of all, do you think this is possible? I do some tracking and mixing as a hobby, and I’d really like to take it to the next level even though I won’t be able to get a degree.

    Secondly, I’d like to invest in some Yamaha HM80s so that my mixes transfer to other systems. I feel like that would be a step in the right direction. When I pull them up on Amazon, it suggests I use a $7 adapter to plug it directly into my computer’s headphone jack. I have a feeling this would be a bad idea… Should I plug them directly into an audio interface? Also, do you have any suggestions for a low budget interface? I have been currently using a Tascam US-122L but after about three years of use, there is a VERY noticeable buzz on the right channel, and the phantom power switch has entirely broken off… What do you think is a good starting price for an interface that is long lasting? Thanks so much for all the help,


  5. Hey, guys. Best podcast on the planet, as usual. (I guess that’d be HGBPOTP. Sounds like an Egyptian royalty name if you say it phonetically. But I digress).

    I find myself often using Voxengo’s free Stereo Touch plugin all the time. I just make sure I sum to mono while checking my mixes to make sure it doesn’t futz with the phase too much. Or at least, if it does, I know about it.

    On a related note (well, not really, but it has to do with microphones, modding and DIY), I just now completed a re-ribboning of a cheapo Nady RSM-4, which, out of the box, is essentially a Cascade fathead, but shittier.

    I read a DIY article about cheap ribbon mics having ribbon “sag”, and a how-to on re-tensioning the ribbons. Of course, I destroyed the ribbon when I looked at it, and now I had NO ribbon mic.

    So I started reading about DIY re-ribboning, and how a crap mic could be made to sound amazing, and decided to give it a shot. I paid like 20 bucks for the mic off Craigslist, and the supplies were about 20 bucks, so I figured I had, well, 40 bucks to lose if I failed.

    The new ribbon material is pure aluminum foil 1.8 microns thick, about 1/3rd the thickness of the original, (and the original ribbon was really, really delicate),
    or about 1/200th the thickness of the aluminum foil you cover your food with!


    Needless to say, this was a sensitive operation. It took me 3 attempts and a VERY steady hand, and I actually did it in the end. I’ve been testing the mic out for the last hour, and it’s wonderful. And I’m frickin’ amazed I actually was able to do this. To give you an idea of just how gossamer (great word, gossamer, eh?) the ribbon foil is, you can press a bit on your finger, and your fingerprints and skin texture totally are molded into the foil. You definitely can’t cover your leftovers with this stuff. Sneeze, fart, breathe, and you’re done.

    I used to restore old mechanical watches as a side hobby, so I figured I had the basic skills to work at this level of delicacy. And I’m still amazed I actually did it.

    I’ve been modding, repairing and building all things studio-related forever. I do most of my guitar repairs and setups, and I do electronic repair as well. I restore vintage
    instruments, monitors, whatever, and use them all to good advantage, or sell them
    to make some money I use to throw back into the studio. I figured that, even if this experiment failed, I’m still way ahead of the game savings-wise, so this was not much of a monetary risk. So I’m excited, and patting myself on the back a bit, but I’m really glad I took the challenge.

    To sum it up, I’m a big advocate of DIY. The payoff, of course, is potentially huge savings and a feeling of accomplishment, but more importantly, it gets you thinking creatively about EVERYthing. After all, a big part of mixing is “modding” a basic signal or track to make it…More. Bigger than life. More impactful and emotional. Louder. Sweeter. Whatever. Whether mixing, editing or doing DIY mods and improvements to equipment, or building a piece of gear, It’s all part of the same mindset that fits in with everything that goes on in the studio.

    So don’t be afraid to try some of this stuff, build a kit, solder a cable, buy some basic quality tools to do this work, at whatever level you’re comfortable with
    ‘Cuz even if you screw up, you’ll STILL save bigtime in the long run, and learn a lot, and it’ll ultimately change the way you see everything.

  6. Nice thoughts on stereo widening, though I was secretly hoping Jon would divulge some magical trick I’d been missing all along to make my work 1176% times more awesome! He’s obviously saving that for a ‘stereo widening – they thought it couldn’t get any wider’ revisit. But seriously, nice run down. I love Valhalla room and use it in the same way.

    Recently I’ve been doing kind of stem mastering for a few hip hop labels where I get the vocal/music separate, basically mixing the vocal and working on the beat as best I can.

    The beats are often mono or as good as given that they’re often some combination of drum machine and old-school sample, so I find myself using these tricks and often all of these tricks all at once, bar your first example.

    It seems crazy using reverb when mastering at first, but subtle blends of really short ambience impulse responses or as little as 10%-20% on the mix control of Jon’s kind of example with Valhalla room can give so much life to certain material.

    I’ve no idea what the closest equivalent in other daws or from third party manufacturers is, but cakewalk sonar has a surprisingly good multi voice chorus/flanger that I use the whole time to do various spacial stuff, again, only using a very subtle blend with the trusty mix control, it allows high end reduction on the chorused signal too which can really help to just make it swim rather than becoming distracting. I find it much better than any of the Waves plugs I have in many situations that call for some subtle movement.

    At the moment, for super wide background vocals I use a chain of Waves doubler the Cakewalk chorus plug and the waves stereo imager all adding their little bit along the way, rather than trying to move mountains with a single plug.

    The most dramatic moves I do with a single plug when mastering these days are probably using the Waves stereo imaging plug to narrow the stereo field in some mixes. These are probably tracks done by people who went overkill with the very same plug-in the opposite direction in the first place!

    As a final thought, I think Jon using reverb for an example in this segment leads to one useful point, often people think they need width width width, when often they need a sense of space, depth, some width, some movement, all in varying proportions, but simply making stuff wider is rarely good on anything more than a couple elements in the mix, because before long it loses its impact , a problem Jon mentioned with the first example if my memory serves me correctly.

  7. Hey guys, thanks for the show. I’m in the market for a microphone/microphones for use in my home studio.What would you suggest for mainly vocals, acoustic guitar and random bits of percussion? (Sprite bottle full of rice Ryan?) I currently have a pair of SM57’s, an SM58 my first foray into the world of condenser’s the MXL 990 and MXL 990 set which up until now have been fine but I’m really starting to hear they fact that the two mic’s cost me a grand total of $65. I’ve been looking at the Blue Baby Bottle, the AT 4040, the Rode NT2000 the AT 4047. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
    .enola nekcihc eht evael

  8. Hey guys, I would like to simulate an upright bass somehow. I can only record an electrified bass guitar, but for a particular song (or more) I’d like it to sound like being played with a bow. Do you have an idea, how this can be achieved with effects? Maybe parallel processing of the high mids, sending them through a bit cruncher or warm distortion etc? I cannot figure out a reasonable approach here. Would be surprised if you didn’t at least have some ideas I could try. I know that it won’t sound like the original, but that’s ok. just getting close or in the ballpark would be great. 😉

    Thanx & bow the chicken


  9. Just a quick note to those who haven’t heard. Last week, legendary engineer and producer Phil Ramone passed away. To those of us who grew up on his work with artists like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel, he was a big influence on pop music. Here’s a quote that reflects sentiments I often hear on HRS:

    Ramone spelled out his philosophy in his book “Making Records.” “When it comes to making records, substance should outweigh perfection,” he wrote. “Great records are all about feel, and if it comes down to making a choice, Ill go for the take that makes me dance over a bland one with better sound any day.”


    RIP Phil Ramone

  10. Hey guys GSAA,
    Valhalla DSP rules, simple, cheap and sounds great!
    I’m currently in catchup mode on the old shows so have just listened to the Drugstore Fanatics show – wow. That was great. My band is in the same boat at the moment having redirected our budget into expanding our home setup, and it’s nice to hear results like that.
    I’m pretty sure you’d love this project Ryan, we’re using a Pre-573 (the 500 series version of the Pre73), a DIY VP28 which is a preamp kit from Classic API, and we have a Radial reamp kit which will get a lot of use.
    We’ve only just started in the last 2 weeks, but it’s been great being in control of our schedule, and still being able to work and live our lives in between.
    We did a heap of preproduction, set up our guitars professionally, and we treat each session in our recording room as if we are in a paid studio. So far it’s working out great.
    Oh and Jon, my friend is recording at the moment and took some parallel compression tips off you. He set up a ‘crush-bus’ and says the snare is poppin’ out the speakers. This is his first outing on Reaper, so I’m expecting good things considering his other releases have been all on Garageband. If you’re interested check out
    Love the show

  11. AVID unveils PT11

    I know Ryan isn’t going to upgrade his DAW unless forced to and Jon has given up on PT in favor of Reaper. But have either of you had a chance to look over what PT11 has to offer? Is there anything there that makes it more appealing in your eyes.

    I’m currently on PT9. I check the crossgrade price a week ago to go to PT 10 and it was $399. Now it looks like the crossgrade price from PT9 to PT11 might be $399 as well. Any opinions? I’ve been on the fence about hanging with PT or jumping ship to something like Reaper. I really don’t want to learn another DAW though. PT11 is suppose to be more efficient being “thoroughly coded from the ground up” as stated by AVID.

    Thoughts appreciated. Link to Pro Sound News article below.

  12. GSAA,

    I imagine that the widening techniques are mostly for individual tracks. Would you ever apply these techniques to say a mix down?

    I went and checked out the little microshift… come to find out despite my assumptions to the contrary im kinda clueless about what ilock actually is, so im off on another great adventure in newb land with that one.

    Wide the chicken

  13. Hi Guys. Thanks for putting me onto the Little Microshift, that is one hell of a powerful plugin. I’ve been very happy with the soundtoys plugins for a long time now, and this fits right into my toolbox.

    I visited my mom recently and found a Yamaha SY-1 synth in her attic(
    She said i could have it if i wanted it, and that it had been there since the early 80’ies. I was in an outrageously good mood, only to come home and find out that the internal pitch of the instrument is rather odd. Every key is out of tune with each other. I’ve managed to fit it into an acid rock production, but mostly it sounds horrible.

    Do you have any ideas how to fix this? Is it possible to fix it with a screwdriver and a soldering iron, or do i have to find some professionals for this task?

    Best regards


  14. Awesome show, packed with enough info to feed my next 10 mixes at least. Thanks for all the examples, Jon!

    UNRELATED, BUT AWESOME: I just recently discovered this singer on YouTube, who breaks down complex vocal harmonies in classic rock songs (i.e. Bohemian Rhapsody, Nowhere Man, etc) records the song himself line for line, and shows you his multitrack project, track by track. He even gives some vocal-coaching on how it was originally performed. A lot of quality learning here. This is the Bohemian Rhapsody video:

    Just thought I’d share!

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