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Stereo width "per track"

Postby manwilde » Fri Jan 22, 2021 1:11 pm

Hi everyone. Lately I´ve started toying around with the stereo narrowing of some tracks, mostly bass, kick drum, and sometimes snare and lead vocals. I seem to like it better in almost all cases; the low end feels more "solid" and the overall stereo imaging for the whole song "opens up", for lack of better words.
Of course, if it sounds good it´s good, but I was just curious about how you deal with this. I´m not talking about dedicated plugins, just setting the "stereo width" control on the track from 100% to 0%.
I´m also trying that out on EZDrummer´s Overheads, adjusting the track´s width to 50%, but in that case the high frequencies start sounding a bit "phasey" depending on the preset I´m using, which is a shame, as I´ve never liked super wide drums...

Thanks in advance for your comments and ideas.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby desmond » Fri Jan 22, 2021 1:27 pm

I'm a bit confused - you're narrowing the stereo width on bass, kick drums and vocals...
So you're recording those things in stereo?
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby The Elf » Fri Jan 22, 2021 1:42 pm

+1 ^

Those sources mentioned would be resolutely mono for me. :?
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby manwilde » Fri Jan 22, 2021 2:08 pm

Sorry, I didn't explain things properly. Of course not, I record vocals and bass mono. Kick, snare and OHs are EZDrummer normally. Whether those come out of the VSTi as true mono or stereo, I don't know. But anyway they all sound a bit different when narrowing the stereo.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby CS70 » Fri Jan 22, 2021 2:17 pm

What I often do is to place a mono-izer on the master bus (I use TP Basslane), starting with a cutoff from around 90Hz and going up and down and see what it does.

If I'm not certain, I tell the mastering engineer and he will do it.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jan 22, 2021 2:26 pm

manwilde wrote:I record vocals and bass mono. ... But anyway they all sound a bit different when narrowing the stereo.

If these sources sound different when you adjust a stereo width control you have something very odd going on in your signal routing! A small level change would be tolerable. Anything else indicates a fault.

The EZD tracks could well change character, depending on how the samples were recorded. If there's are stereo room mics involved anything could happen, and obviously the overheads will change significantly, probably exhibiting phasiness if based on spaced mics.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby desmond » Fri Jan 22, 2021 2:30 pm

manwilde wrote:Sorry, I didn't explain things properly. Of course not, I record vocals and bass mono. Kick, snare and OHs are EZDrummer normally. Whether those come out of the VSTi as true mono or stereo, I don't know. But anyway they all sound a bit different when narrowing the stereo.

Ok. Firstly, if it's a mono channel, you cannot of course adjust the stereo width (unless you bus it through a stereo aux or something along the way).

If you *do* do that and route the mono track through a stereo bus, so it's now a mono signal centrally panned in a stereo channel. If you reduce the stereo width of that channel, you're basically just making that mono signal louder (because of pan laws, the exact behaviour of which will depend on pan law setting).

With true stereo channels, it's different of course. One nice trick with a recent plugin I bought and am using is that it has a couple of tools for this - it has a control which will mono the frequencies below a certain frequency, so you can "mono-ize" the bass end for more stability, and and at the same time, it has an overal stereo width so you can widen (or narrow) the stereo part of the signal, and I'm finding those tools quite useful for particular purposes.

I will often narrow a stereo track and then shift it to one side - so you can have elements that have some width, placed somewhere in the mix, without having to extend across the whole width. And there are some wide synth sounds for example that can also benefit from making a bit "smaller".

So the stereo width for sure is a useful tool to use and to get to know.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby MOF » Fri Jan 22, 2021 2:36 pm

It might be worth putting a vectorscope plugin on each track to see if it’s a straight line (mono) or more complex than that (stereo). I see there are free versions available on-line if you don’t own one and cost is an issue.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby manwilde » Fri Jan 22, 2021 2:36 pm

When it's recorded sources the difference is subtle, but it's there. I don't percieve a change in volume, just a more rounded sound, slightly. I wonder if this has something to do with the way Reaper handles the audio internally. By default any track has two channels in and two out, but they're not labeled L and R, but 1 and 2...
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jan 22, 2021 2:42 pm

Just a word on drum overheads. I'm not sure how EZD works but the overall drum sound is probably a combo of the overheads, room and close mics. Ignoring the room, if you narrow the overheads (which I do quite frequently), it's important to also check the panning of the close mics and bring those in too so that when you toggle between overhead and close you're not getting a shift in the stereo image.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby manwilde » Fri Jan 22, 2021 2:45 pm

I should also point that all this happens in the context of a full mix, with plugins inserted, folders and busses. I rarely bus the bass track though, it's normally just a single track. Never tested this on a track by itself in a blank project...
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jan 22, 2021 3:26 pm

manwilde wrote:When it's recorded sources the difference is subtle, but it's there. I don't percieve a change in volume, just a more rounded sound, slightly. I wonder if this has something to do with the way Reaper handles the audio internally. By default any track has two channels in and two out, but they're not labeled L and R, but 1 and 2...

If you have exactly the same signal on both sides of a stereo or dual channel, you have a signal that appears as a central phantom image -- typical of lead vocals, bass guitar, kick drum, etc.

In that situation, where the signal is exactly the same on both sides, a stereo width processor won't make any difference at all (other than possible altering the overall level slightly).

The reason is that a stereo width processor simply reduces the level of the Sides signal (L-R) relative to the mid signal (L+R). But if left and right are exactly the same, there is no difference and thus no Side signal to have its level varied. Turning the width knob can do nothing whatsoever, by definition.

So... if you have a mono recording, panned central, and you are hearing a difference when altering the stereo width, something somewhere is either broken, or not set as it should be -- most likely the latter. Or you could just be hallucinating -- we've all convinced ourselves that something subtle is happening as we tweak a control, only to find out later that it was bypassed or affecting a different channel! :lol:

All that being said, if you are processing a mix involving other sources, or processing a source plus its associated reverb or room mics, etc, then the stereo width of other elements that do have Side components will be reduced, potentially making the sound appear more solid and stable, and securely rooted to the centre of the image.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby CS70 » Fri Jan 22, 2021 3:38 pm

manwilde wrote:When it's recorded sources the difference is subtle, but it's there. I don't percieve a change in volume, just a more rounded sound, slightly. I wonder if this has something to do with the way Reaper handles the audio internally. By default any track has two channels in and two out, but they're not labeled L and R, but 1 and 2...

If you are sending the bass and drum buses to a glue reverb or delay, and that effect is stereo (like most reverbs) and there's no hipass on the return, the whole-mix low end can acquire a little stereo information.. the amount of information will depend on the level of the mono sources, and as by narrowing them you're increasing the level, it could bring subtle changes to the stereo mix.
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby merlyn » Fri Jan 22, 2021 4:20 pm

I had a look at Reaper and on a mono signal and I can hear no difference no matter where the stereo width is -- from -100% to 100%.

I don't think Reaper is using M/S to manipulate stereo width -- it certainly doesn't need to.

To understand what the stereo width control is doing on Reaper ...

Stereo tracks have balance and mono tracks have pan. Any positioning of a stereo track can be achieved by bringing the stereo track out onto two mono channels. So imagine L is going to A and R is going to B.

100% stereo width -- A panned hard L, B panned hard R
0% stereo width -- A panned centrally, B panned centrally
-100% stereo width -- A panned hard R, B panned hard L
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Re: Stereo width "per track"

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jan 22, 2021 4:32 pm

merlyn wrote:I don't think Reaper is using M/S to manipulate stereo width -- it certainly doesn't need to.

Whichever way the stereo width is manipulated -- direct MS conversion, mirrored pan-pots, inter-channel crosstalk, etc etc... -- they all boil down at a mathematical level to varying the level of the Side signal relative to the Mid signal. The physics makes that a certainty!
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