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Stereo Imaging Mastering Techniques:
Continuing Beyond The Mid Side Zone


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The stereo imaging mastering techniques I discuss (and use) on this page are of a different nature than those I talk about here. How they affect your music will depend on - well - your music!

Let's go back to Nugen Audio's Stereoizer. One of it's techniques was to amplify the differences between the left and right channel levels.

Well...there is another way! Not better or worse, just different.

It’s the simple process of...

Stereo Imaging Mastering
Stereo Imaging Mastering

The stereo imaging mastering techniques I discuss (and use) on this page are of a different nature than those I talk about here. How they affect your music will depend on - well - your music!

Let's go back to Nugen Audio's Stereoizer. One of it's techniques was to amplify the differences between the left and right channel levels.

Well...there is another way! Not better or worse, just different.

It’s the simple process of...

De-correlating The Left and Right Channels

...of dynamic processes.

What do I mean by that?

Some background:

With compression or limiting, both sides of a stereo track are typically reduced by an identical amount once the signal passes the threshold. It doesn't matter if that threshold was crossed on both channels, or just the left or right channel only. However if we can un-link the left and right side, then each channel is reduced separately and individually.

Big deal! So what does this have to do with the stereo image?

If the reaction time is done quickly and transparently enough, this can have the perception of 'opening up' the soundstage.

Let’s look a bit more in depth at some of the tools I use to get to this bigger soundstage.

PSP's MasterComp and Xenon both offer this 'un-linking' control. Even more noteworthy is that the control is variable.



This variable ability is extremely important. Completely de-correlating the process could cause unwanted shifting (panning if you will) between the left and right ends of the stereo image. So being able to hone in on just the right setting is a good thing for maintaining the stereo imaging during mastering.

With UAD we have a different situation, and maybe why I don't use them as much. The Precision Limiter has locked left and right action. This means if the right side triggers 1 dB in reduction, both sides receive reduction. There is no option to unlink.


This can sometimes mean a narrowing or "congestion"
of the stereo soundstage. It does depend a lot on the type of music, and the amount and speed of the action. So an acoustic number may lose some of its open-ness, even with just some light reduction.

The Precision Maximizer is a different situation. Its left/right action is completely independent.


However, even with its Shape and Mix controls set to zero, it will introduce some analog style coloration into the mix. To be fair, this is the intention behind the design of this software.

So it's great for rock and roll, and hip-hop, but not so great for our acoustic number. Trust me!

A nice option comes from Voxengo through Soniformer. In the illustration below, I'm keeping the correlation intact on the lower frequencies (in this case, bass and kick most of the time), opening up the soundstage a bit with the vocal frequencies (and anything else that might be playing in that range), and letting everything go all out with the highs (cymbals and "air").


So, is this setting I show above, the magic formula for just the right stereo imaging?! That will always depend on the music and what it dictates sonically. This setting may work perfectly for one track, but completely ruin another. Plus, I may not always need that much control. Mastering is an Ear Art!

Saturation

...is another tool in my stereo imaging mastering options.

Tubes, tapes, and transformers, are some of the hardware components that introduce saturation effects if driven hard enough. But the saturation itself isn't the point here: it's the effect it can have on the stereo soundstage.

In the context of stereo imaging mastering, if one channel of a stereo track crosses the threshold into the saturation zone, only that channel receives the effect. So, much like de-linking the left and right channels of a compressor or limiter, we can get similar, though different, types of results with saturation.

Of course, there’s no variable control over the linking of the left and right channel. But we can get something like that with the ‘drive’ or ‘input’ level we push the signal through at the front end.

Companies like Slate Digital, iZotope and Waves have great emulations of tubes and tapes. An all-in-one processor comes from UAD's emulation of Dave Derr's Fatso unit. I like the Sr. version because of the extra control over drive levels. Pretty much everything is in here: tube, tape and transformer action as well as dynamics control (with an un-link option too)!!


Think of it like the Precision Maximizer on steroids. When I need that extra bit of control, this is it.

Finally...

I’d Like to Share My First Impressions

....of the WaveArts Tube Saturator.


Many friends and colleagues were really impressed with this when it first arrived. They also wanted to know my take on it from a mastering perspective. I finally gave the demo a try on a single I was working on. I was looking for a final sheen to put on this track, and I called up the Tube Saturator. I set it in bypass mode and decided to add just a little EQ: one notch down in the midrange, and a notch up on the low and high end. Then I switched it back on....

I couldn’t believe my ears!

The soundstage took on a dimensionality of its own! The vocals were lifted forward in the mix. AND it was to the benefit of the track. That’s the important thing!

Of course, that trick doesn’t work all the time. But it was certainly a great first impression!

So What's The Difference Between the Stereo Imaging Mastering Techniques...


...I discuss on this page, as opposed to my other discussion on this page? And how is it different from mid-side mastering?

It's this:

Any effect on the stereo image are a by-product of the processes I write about on this page, rather than a deliberate and intentionally controlled effect. And how well it works depends entirely on the music!

Mid-side mastering is a deliberate widening (or narrowing) of the soundstage, however subtly it’s used. The 'imaging' techniques here (on this page) can be thought of more as 'enhancement in place'. They add a certain 'vibrancy' - or something more euphonic (if it’s used correctly) - than mid-side mastering will.

Remember:

All my talk here about stereo image mastering falls into maybe just 5-10% of the time I would need to go out of my way to address a concern with the soundstage.

The Goal

...with these techniques for stereo imaging mastering is not to drastically change anything.

But to add a 'shine and gleam' that benefits the song.

It's a ‘feel-good’ excitement that brings 'an inner smile' to listeners!


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