The Beginner's Guide To Spatial Wideners

Push it to the limit. Push it beyond the limit. Find ways to morph your sounds and make room for everything imaginable in the mix.

Spatial wideners are a blessing for those of us that love high track counts, stacked guitars & stacked vocals. They make room between our speakers and beyond our speakers that frankly, should not be there.

A lot of engineers use spatial wideners in their day-to-day mixing, but what exactly is a spatial widener and how are you supposed to use them?

Do you know the biggest problems to watch out for? How about the easy solution for those problems?

What does a Spatial Widener do?

A spatial widener is a type of plugin that gives producers and engineers the flexibility of extending the perceived width of an audio signal beyond the bounds of your traditional pan knobs. But it doesn’t stop there…

Almost every session you work on will have some stereo tracks panned full width (100% left & 100% right). You can narrow that space when mixing, but in a dense mix there’s only so much you can do there.

Additionally, you likely have some mono tracks panned toward those outer limits as well. With the audio already building up from the stereo tracks, spatial wideners give you a way to spread things out even more.

How do a Spatial Wideners work?

Notice how I said they expand perceived width. A spatial widener can’t make your speakers throw out sound in different directions. Instead, it’s applying a fine-tuned algorithm that reduces the volume in some places while increasing in others. This is done on two levels – frequency-based like an EQ & volume-based like your pan knobs & faders.

Spatial wideners don’t come with too much of a learning curve for most people. You have a few controls over how much width you’d like to add, maybe a few different Modes for different applications, and if you’re lucky a goniometer to see what your widener is doing to the stereo image.

The Biggest Problem with Spatial Wideners

If you’re thinking critically, you may have already thought to ask the question: What are the drawbacks of using a spatial widener? Why wouldn’t I want all of my tracks to be as wide as possible?

The most common issue we run into when using wideners is losing our center.

When you’re pushing everything to the outside, it’s easy to lose center content. That might sound great at first, but think about all of the places people might listen to your music.

How embarrassing would it be if one of your clients tried listening to your “professional mix” on their phone and end up losing all of the guitars because you panned them too wide to fold down to mono properly?

This used to be why spatial wideners could only be used when needed, but not as a de-facto solution to making a mix wider. Until now…

The Other Solution

There’s a big piece of the market that most spatial wideners miss with mono content. Some wideners just don’t know what to do with it, while others make you convert your mono signal to stereo to “trick” the plugin into processing it.

JST built SideWidener as a solution to both of these issues. We wanted something that put mono first, and could spread out single sources as well as stereo ones.

The early benefits of a mono-compatible spatial widener have proven to be even more expansive than I originally thought:

When used on stereo tracks, the audio could spread wider with less issues of folding down correctly in different listening environments.

When used on mono tracks, presence could be added to center-channel audio without sacrificing cohesiveness. Other wideners would’ve made it sound like a doubled track.

What should I use my Spatial Widener on?

There are hundreds of applications for wideners, and they’re not just limited to music.

Film audio benefits from wideners during loud scenes with lots going on. The widener can take something like a mono explosion recording and stretch it out to sound bigger and more impactful.

In music, I tend to find myself using SideWidener on things like snares and vocals, especially when I’ve got a high track count in a session. If I’ve exhausted my options of EQ and compression to cut through a mix, sometimes adding a little more width to my track is just what I need to cut through.

What have you struggled with making wider in your mixes?

Do you struggle more with your overheads and room mics, or is it usually mono tracks giving you trouble? We’ve seen almost everything being sent through SideWidener at this point, but there’s always more.

Come join us in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum to share your experience and see how others are conquering obstacles in the mix.