How To Use Spatial Widening To Stand Out

A 3-dimensional mix is necessary to remain competitive in the music industry. With track counts soaring higher all the time, engineers need more than the traditional LCR approach to combat particularly dense mixes.

Spatial wideners like SideWidener give you control over the stereo image of your tracks and time-based effects to maximize the space around your speakers. But how do you use these tools effectively, without risking ruining your mix’s integrity by overdoing it?

Use Your Ears

We’re really lucky that spatial wideners are one of the easiest things to hear when making adjustments. While many dynamic processors require critical listening, you can actually hear wideners doing their job throughout your mix environment regardless of experience level.

As you increase the width on a spatial widener, you should hear a definitive “edge” to the sound; essentially you should be able to pinpoint where your audio stops on the left and right.

While pushing things further and further to the outside of your mix, it’s important that you consider what your widener is doing to your center image. Some wideners that are built with mono in mind, but others will completely disregard it in favor of width. The last thing you want is to have someone listen to your final mix on a single speaker and not hear the guitars at all since they’re “outside” of the mix.

Use Your Eyes

Spatial wideners that include a goniometer (the graphical element found in the center of most large-format recording consoles) take your safety net to another level. By seeing a real-time chart of how your sound is changing in the stereo field, you can avoid many pitfalls without having to flip to mono constantly.

Goniometers are an easy to quickly reference and general do a good job representing the width and center present on any given track. They shouldn’t be used as a replacement for what your ears are telling you though, which is why they’re second on our list.

Not All Spatial Wideners Are Created Equal

Wideners come in all shapes and sizes, and their basic function is relatively simple (which is probably why brands like Waves make half a dozen of them).  The problem with that approach is that they all specialize in one type of widening, which in turn causes you to spend hundreds on plugins to treat one issue at a time.

This is one of the biggest reasons we put out SideWidener with Computer Music & Boz Digital Labs.

Instead of treating stereo widening in one plugin, mono widening in another, and the center of a mix in a third plugin – we wanted to make a single, easy-to-use widener for it all.

(Not tooting our horn too much, but it looks a hell of a lot better too!)

Don’t Underestimate Mono

There is a common misconception surrounding wideners that only stereo sources benefit from spatial widening. The problem with this approach is twofold: sometimes you’re not going to have more than a mono source to work with and you’re limiting yourself from the start if you don’t even try it out.

The biggest concern for many is losing that by widening a mono instrument, you’re going to lose the center. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

By widening a mono source, you’re giving that instrument more ground to stand on in the mix. In a dense mix, this can give your instrument the extra room it needs to cut through. In a sparse mix, you’re able to fill more of your space without drowning your source out with reverb, delay, or other effects.

As long as you remain focused on maintaining your audio’s center image (or use a plugin that does it for you), there’s no reason your mono sources can’t benefit from the use of a spatial widener.

Expand Your Mixes

By using spatial wideners as the integral part of your tool kit that they should be, you’re giving yourself the competitive edge needed to stay relevant among today’s top mixes.

Experiment with how far you can push these wideners. See how they interact with compressors that can “glue” your mix together.

It’s all about give and take in mixing, but as always, creativity can thrive as long as you’re willing to expand your skill set. Whether you’re growing into the tools you’ve got or just starting out with a new plugin that makes the job easier, you can take a mix from good to great by applying these techniques.

Go ahead and try a widener the next time you find yourself dealing with an underwhelming mono source and let us know how it sounds. I’ve got a feeling you’ll be glad you did!