How to Create a Wide Mix Without Affecting Phase

When mixing any style of music, it’s useful to think about working within a three-dimensional space. The correct use of depth, height and width can help a mix to sound clear, engaging and immersive. Having plenty of stereo information can help to make a mix sound fuller and more expansive, particularly as so much music is consumed on stereo headphones or earphones. But what is the best way to create a wide mix without affecting phase?

There are a multitude of techniques and tools out there that can help to increase an individual instrument or a mix’s stereo field, but they can often cause phase issues. In this article, we’re exploring some ways of creating a wide mix without affecting phase.

What is phase?

Within the context of music production and sound engineering, phase refers to the position of a sound wave in relation to time. When a signal is ‘in phase’, the position and timing of two or more waveforms correlate with one another.


Sometimes, two or more waveforms are slightly ‘out of phase’ with one another. This might be due to their timing, or due to being different frequencies. When those waveforms are combined, ‘phasing’ can occur, which results in the signal sounding inconsistent or losing impact.


In other cases, the phase of two or more waveforms can be completely reversed or inverted, causing a signal to disappear entirely when summed to mono. This is known as phase cancellation.


Phase issues can arise when recording with multiple microphones due to sound waves reaching them at different points. They can also arise when trying to add width to a very narrow or mono mix, as some of the tools and techniques commonly used to enhance stereo width can affect the final mix and its mono compatibility.

How to create a wide mix without affecting phase

Armed with a better understanding of phase and its importance in our mix, let’s look at some methods and approaches for creating a wide mix without affecting phase.

1. Multiband stereo widening with StageOne 2

An easy way to increase the stereo width of your mix is with the use of a dedicated stereo-widening plugin. The problem with applying this kind of processing to an instrument or mix bus, is that the stereo widening is then applied to all the instruments within that bus across all frequency ranges. This can increase the chances of running into phase issues, as lower frequencies are more susceptible to this problem due to their longer waves. Using an intelligent multiband stereo-widening plugin like StageOne 2 negates this issue, as you can apply stereo widening on a per-band basis.

We’re working with a drum bus that contains a kick drum which occupies the low frequencies, a snare in the mids and upper mids, and some hi-hats in the high frequencies. Using StageOne 2’s visualizer, we can see that the drum bus is extremely narrow, with all of the instruments occupying the center of the stereo field. We can also see that the widest part of the drum bus is in the low end, below 800Hz.


Because the hi-hats and snare occupy much of the same frequency range as well as the same stereo field, they are competing for space within the mix. We can give each of these elements some more of their own space by adding some stereo width to the hi-hats, leaving the snare and kick in the middle of the mix for maximum impact.

We’ve set the Mid/High band crossover to around 4000Hz, so that the High band is only affecting the hi-hats. We can now increase the Width amount of the High band to stretch the stereo field, and the Mono Spread amount to convert the mono-sounding hi-hats into a pseudo-stereo signal.


In addition to being able to make narrow signals wider, StageOne 2 can also make wide signals narrower. This is particularly useful in cases like our drum bus’ kick, where the lower frequencies are relatively wide in comparison to the rest of our signal. We can reduce the Width amount to bring the kick into the center of the stereo field, thus helping to give it more impact across all playback systems.


StageOne 2 also features a new Phase Recovery mode, which can be applied on a per-band basis too. The Phase Recovery mode identifies and rectifies parts of the signal that are out of phase with one another, so we’ve turned it on for the Low band to ensure that the kick and other low-frequency content are in phase and therefore mono compatible.


Aside from being able to control stereo width in a mono-compatible way, StageOne 2 is also capable of controlling a signal’s depth on a per-band basis. Start your fully functional 30-day trial now and find out how easy it is to control the width and depth of your mixes. 

2. Transparent left/center/right balancing with CenterOne

Unlike traditional mid/side-capable plugins, CenterOne uses spatial analysis to split the left and right portions of a signal from the center. The result is extremely accurate and transparent left/center/right signal splitting. This is extremely helpful in situations where we want to adjust the L/C/R balance of stereo audio without introducing phase shifting or panorama imbalances.

Here, we’re working with a relatively busy mix that contains plenty of melodic elements including a legato synth, synth arpeggio and piano recording. Due to this combination of melodic elements, there is a lot of frequency information across the entire stereo field. Together, these elements take up a lot of real estate in our mix, and are building up around the center of the mix, particularly in the lower-mids. This not only emphasizes the center of our mix, making it sound narrower, but also takes up valuable space for the lead vocal, kick and snare.

Using CenterOne, we can reduce the level of the center of the mix in a particular frequency range, thus creating more separation and transparency, and creating a mix that is perceived to be wider. Start by placing CenterOne on your instrument bus, and soloing the Center of the signal by muting the Left and Right channels.


You can now use the Center Bandpass EQ control to hone in on the area in which the frequencies are building up, which in our case, are the lower-mid frequencies. Frequencies within this Center Bandpass EQ’s range are sent to the Center channel.


Now reintroduce the Left and Right channels by unmuting them, and bring down the volume fader of the Center channel. You will notice that the instrument bus is starting to sound wider as the Center is de-emphasized. Because we have reduced the level of the Center channel, the overall level of the instrument bus has decreased. We can use the Level Trim control to compensate for this.


We’ve now created some room in the center of our mix for key elements such as the lead vocal, kick and snare. It has also emphasized the sides of our drum bus, thus helping to create separation and stereo width in the mix.

3. Use contrast

In addition to using specialist stereo enhancement tools like StageOne 2 and CenterOne, it’s important to understand how we perceive width, as this helps us to make appropriate mix decisions in a range of scenarios. Ultimately, when there is a contrast between a signal’s left and right channels, humans perceive it to have stereo width.

With that in mind, creating a contrast between the left and right channels is the key to creating a mix that gives the perception of width. This contrast could relate to performance or production factors such as timing, instrumentation or note velocity, or it could relate to aspects of the mix including panning, effects or level.
Be aware that some processing can cause phase issues and impair your mix’s mono compatibility. If you want to enhance your music’s stereo width without affecting phase, both StageOne 2 and CenterOne are available to add to your plugin folder now.


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