Mix Panning & Placement Tricks using Delay and EQ

Panning doesn’t have to just be left, center or right. Start using panning as imaging and stereo placement controls within your 3D mix canvas, using the free “Real Panning” StudioRack chain preset.

By Craig Anderton

Get this chain preset in the StudioRack plugin chainer.

 

Mix Panning & Placement Tricks using Delay and EQ

 

Panning hasn’t changed much since the dawn of stereo—it simply moves a mono signal to a different place in the stereo field. But with StudioRack, we can do better than that. With the “Real Panning” preset, we can change ordinary panning to “gourmet” panning that involves not only stereo placement but interesting imaging possibilities. It will allow pan moves to feel less extreme where you need placements to feel natural, and more extreme when you want to create ear-candy inside headphones.

This application is a fine example of how StudioRack can transform a function we normally take for granted into something new and different—yet familiar. Traditionally, panning simply changes the proportion between the levels in the right and left channels. Although this StudioRack chain does have a parameter that changes the balance for stereo signals, it actually does most of its panning magic by using delay and EQ.

As you’ll hear with the audio examples, the mono/stereo Real Panning chain is particularly effective with a mono track because the chain creates both panning and stereo imaging effects. It allows a simple mono acoustic guitar to take up more space in the mix and feel less “isolated” and disconnected from the rest of the performance. The chain can additionally be used as a different kind of balance control with stereo tracks. Although it “weighs” the signal more toward the left or right, the other channel doesn’t disappear at extreme left or right settings.

Applying Real Panning

The preset name might lead you to think this is only about panning, but consider it as being more about placement and imaging in a 3D mix canvas. In a mix with many stereo tracks, a mono track may not sound quite “right,” so the tendency might be to make the mono aspect less severe with reverb, delay or some other mono in/stereo out effect. However, Example 1 shows how Real Panning can add an innovative kind of magic to a mono guitar.

Example 1: The guitar figure repeats three times. The first time is mono, the second is with Real Panning panned full left, and the third has Real Panning panned full right.

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Real Panning also provides a novel type of balance control for stereo tracks. Audio Example 2 has a mixed track. Listen to how panning left or right alters the balance.

Example 1: The guitar figure repeats three times. The first time is mono, the second is with Real Panning panned full left, and the third has Real Panning panned full right.

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The bottom line is that Real Panning could have been named Surreal Panning…but I’m not going to argue! It’s a cool and useful effect.

Under the Hood: The Plugins

The StudioRack “Real Panning” chain preset

The StudioRack “Real Panning” chain preset

Although you might not associate the following plugins with panning, they’re the secret to panning/imaging when used in the context of the Real Panning StudioRack chain.

H-Delay is my go-to Waves delay, so it’s not surprising that it plays a crucial role in creating the Real Panning effect. Most people know that delaying one channel slightly compared to the other gives a wider stereo image. However, the drawback is that if the signal is collapsed back into mono, you’ll usually hear cancellations due to phase issues. One of the main features of Real Panning is that you can take advantage of how it converts mono into stereo, but if you collapse the output back into mono, it sounds almost the same as if you had bypassed the chain.

H-Delay

H-Delay

R-EQ6 uses psycho-acoustics to enhance the imaging. Because high frequencies are more directional than low frequencies, if one channel has more high frequencies than the other, the signal will sound weighted more toward the channel with more highs. In the Real Panner chain, EQ isn’t used to increase highs in one channel but to decrease highs in the one you don’t want to emphasize. The avoids having your main signal sound brighter than it should.

H-Delay

R-EQ6

Using the Macro Controls

The StudioRack “Real Panning” macro controls

The StudioRack “Real Panning” macro controls

The L-R control is the primary control that alters all significant parameters at once. The most basic function is that in Parallel Split 1, L-R varies the Stereo Balance, but not over the parameter’s full range—only by plus or minus 22 degrees compared to the center. As a result, this contributes a little bit to the panning, but not as much as the other parameters.

L-R varies the H-Delay Delay time and Mix controls in an opposite manner. This creates the delay component that emphasizes the stereo image. However, the range only covers half of the control’s rotation and works in conjunction with the Dry/Wet control. For example, when panned full left, the left H-Delay stays at 1 ms delay with an all-dry signal, while the right H-Delay is set to 25 ms with an all-wet signal. Moving the control clockwise to the center retains the left delay’s settings, while the right delay changes from 25 ms to 1 ms. Continuing to move the clockwise flips the Dry/Wet settings so that the left delay is now all wet, the right delay is now all dry, and the left Delay time sweeps from 1 ms to 25 ms.

Note that the 1 ms setting switches the Mix control to Dry only. As soon as the delay increases past 1 ms, the Mix control flips to all wet and stays there. When the control is centered, slight variations with the delay time and Dry/Wet control settings can produce phase differences, but then again, if you called up a preset called Real Panning to keep the signal centered, that’s not really taking advantage of what the preset can do. Also note, that because the L-R control is varying the delay time parameter, it won’t sweep elegantly due to glitching while the plugin recalculates its delay time. The L-R control is best left set to the desired stereo position.

The Freq Depth control is responsible for the clever psycho-acoustic imaging effects. As the L-R control moves from the center toward one channel, the further you turn it, the more it reduces the high-frequency response in the other channel. The Freq Depth control sets the frequency at which this reduction occurs. When fully counter-clockwise, the filter frequency is at its highest, so the L-R control has a minimal (if any) effect. Turning clockwise sweeps the frequency downward, to a minimum of 4500 Hz. Dulling the highs on one channel makes the other channel seem more prominent and also emphasizes the imaging.

R-EQ6 settings on the right channel when L-R is panned 100% left, and Freq Depth is panned 100% right

R-EQ6 settings on the right channel when L-R is panned 100% left, and Freq Depth is panned 100% right

Plugin Substitutions

The R-EQ6 provides only one stage of EQ, so you could just as easily use the R-EQ2 or R-EQ4 instead. Note that it uses the resonant shelf response, which (somewhat like a Pultec EQ) cuts and boosts simultaneously to increase the cutoff point’s resonance. Altering the Q, or changing to a standard shelf response, produces subtle changes that are worth exploring. The H-EQ’s LP stage is another potential option; the US Vintage and UK Modern can add resonance to a lowpass response, while the Digital 2 gives a very sharp cutoff slope that’s almost like a notch, above which the frequency rises again. The Q-series EQs, like the Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. will also work, as will other EQs with a high-frequency shelf, but the resonance characteristics of the Renaissance equalizers make them the preferred choice for this application.

As for the delays, H-Delay is by far the best option because of its ability to sweep continuously from 1 ms to longer delays (for this chain, the maximum delay is 25 ms). The GTR Stomps don’t go below 10 ms, and although the Abbey Road Chambers STEED function can do very short delays, you can’t isolate that from the reverb. Any substitutions could be useful in their own right but might defeat the main purpose of the Real Panning effect.

Get this chain preset in the StudioRack plugin chainer.

 

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