I’ve been using the Haas delay effect to add some nice width to my guitar parts. It sounds great, but I’ve noticed that when I listen in mono my guitars pretty much disappear from the mix. I’d read that this approach can cause problems, but is there any way at all to make this sort of thing more mono-friendly?
Ben Laming, via email.
SOS Reviews Editor Matt Houghton replies: The short answer is ‘no’: although Haas delays often sound very impressive when heard in stereo, the parts on which they’re used will disappear or, at best, change in tone and level when mixed to mono, due to phase cancellation. And while increasing the delay time outside the 5-35 ms Haas region can remedy the cancellation problems, it will negate the effect that you found pleasing in the first place: you’ll hear a discrete echo, not a single sound. The longer answer is more encouraging because there are alternative, mono-compatible ways to add width to mono or stereo material and, despite their inherent limitations, Haas delays can still be useful on occasion.
A common rookie mistake is to use the Haas effect on critical elements of the mix. While this can yield an instant ‘wow factor’, you must remember than many modern DAB radios are mono, and FM car radios revert to mono when they receive a weak signal. Given that the sound is critical to your mix balance, you’ll have a mix that sounds very strange to a lot of people!
If you want to enhance the sense of width for elements that are important to the success of your mix, you’re much better off experimenting with one or more of the following techniques: an LCR approach to panning in your mix; reverb; stereo modulation effects, such as chorus; real or artificial double-tracking; and Mid/Sides-based stereo-width enhancement (M/S). M/S works very well for stereo material and it’s inherently mono-compatible. It doesn’t work on mono parts, but can be used in conjunction with another technique to widen the mono part. There are ‘stereoising’ plug-ins that use comb filtering to create two parts, panning these left and right, and these would be an option. Personally, I’ve enjoyed better results with double tracking or early-reflections reverb patches.
So where can you use the Haas effect without fear of calamity? Mono compatibility may be important but the whole point of making stereo mixes is that you can make them sound better! If you limit your Haas-delay experiments to elements that aren’t so critical to the overall balance and success of your mix, then, your mix shouldn’t suffer unduly when heard in mono. Think not in terms of what you risk losing in mono, but what you stand to gain in stereo: desirable but not essential ‘fairy dust’ that helps you make the most of the extra mix real-estate offered by stereo.
You might apply it to, for example, some extra backing-vocal layers, or electric guitar doubles, so that they sound wider in stereo. You won’t miss these in the more crowded mono mix, in which you can still hear the original parts. Or you might try using the trick on an dedicated reverb or delay return that you’re similarly happy to junk for the mono version. In any individual case, you’ll find that the effect might or might not work well — just use your ears and avoid critical parts, and your mix shouldn’t suffer.