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Mixing Beyond Stereo: Delving Deeper Into Aspects Of Sound & Perception

While on the surface it may seem that stereo offers just a version of dual mono, there is a lot more to it than just two simple channels...

Patterns
Pairing a cardioid mic with a figure-8 or omnidirectional mic when dual mic’ing a sound source is yet another way to create disparities between the signals sent to the left and right PA stacks.

Room ambiance variations between the mics, as well as the non-linearities introduced by proximity effect, can nicely enhance the “stereo-ness” of the sound.

Smooshing
Compressors can be used to create the illusion of motion.

Busing a guitar, backing vocal, or other instrument into a stereo pair of compressors – with the thresholds and ratios at unmatched settings – will cause a volume dependant shift of the sound to one side or the other.

The compressor reaching threshold first will hold back the volume of that side, causing a perceptual swing towards the opposite side.

However, if a higher ratio is used on the compressor that hits threshold later, the sound will swing back the other way as volume is further increased.

Splitting
It’s very common that both a bass mic and bass DI are utilized, yet there is no rule that both of those inputs need to be panned dead center. If you have subwoofers on an aux, send the bass DI to the subs and then try panning the DI and mic outward to free up more of the overcrowded perceptual middle ground.

The same splitting can also be applied to dual kick mics or snare top and bottom as well.

Combining

Pushing things further, several of these techniques can be combined to create multidimensional mixes. Each instrument has a panned placement in the horizontal field, a left to right relative delay distance, an ambience level, a left to right push or pull, placements that can shift with volume or tone, and numerous other possibilities.

A mix can be set up such that a guitar leans to one side or the other, and when the lead pedal is stepped on, a pair of compressors forces it to the center. Instruments can drift or shimmer between left and right while each side of the PA can sound great independently. By clearing out the typically overcrowded center sonic position, there is now a wide open space to lay in the perfectly clear lead vocal.

The Point
All of the concepts discussed here involve methods of altering the perceptual placement of instruments and vocals in the stereo field. I’ve purposely avoided discussing EQ and effects as the purpose of these techniques is neither to alter the tonal qualities of your mix nor to add effects that distract from the music.

Rather, the goal is to set up a mix that offers a wide stereo image, minimizes comb-filtering, and offers a quality mix regardless of listening position. Just simple, clean, clear natural sounds grabbed with finesse from the stage and presented to the audience in a multidimensional manner.

Dave Rat (www.daverat.com) heads up Rat Sound Systems Inc., based in Southern California, and has also been a mix engineer for more than 25 years.

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