Widening your mix is an excellent way of getting something to sound bigger, better and more professional. Widening certain parts, sections and instruments, is a great method at making space for other parts – like, for example, widening the guitars and letting the vocals sit in the middle.
You may not always need widening – For guitars sometimes just having 2 takes of the same rhythmn guitar part with one panned left and one right will help to get that wider, fuller sound.
Certainly for newcomers to home studio setups I would always recommend a slight note of caution with using widening plugins. There can be an initial temptation to widen everything! This might give your mix a lack of punch through the middle. Oddly enough, it can also make you feel quite sea sick, as the listener can’t quick pick out where the sound is naturally coming from in the spectrum.
But widening plugins are still great tools to have in your arsenal and used sparingly, they can have incredible effects on your overall mix! Here are some of my go-to tools:
My favourite by a long shot and often my not-so-secret weapon. Soundtoys Microshift is a classic stereo widening tool with hints of chorus, excellent for both lead and background vocals as well as other instruments.
Most notably, I often use this subtly on lead vocals. I find it thickens, slightly softens the harsh jumps and also subtly enhances a dry vocal too. Particulary for pop music it’s excellent at making something sound incredibly professional immediately. I also subtly use it on bass sometimes, as it just adds a little bit of warmth to the signal. But I’ve used it before on gutiar tracks as it’s excellent at creating a true 70s thick glam rock overdriven goodness.
I enjoy simple plugins and a clean workspace. While this plugin from Waves might be overly simplistic, I actually really like that. This is great on final mixes and masters and adding more width and space to tracks instantly, as well as sparkle to drum kits and eprcussion.
Sometimes I may add this plugin just to see as a quick reference how a particular part might sound if it was wider and then use another plugin like Waves Vitamin (further below) to surgically enhance the width. Sometimes just a little push on the width channel on this on your master bus can just lift the overall mix a little more.
Waves Vitamin might initially seem quite complex – particularly with it’s description of “multiband sonic enhancer”. I personally ignored this plugin for years because of that very reason. But after a few goes of sticking with it and seeing what it can do, I now extensively use this on my own mixes.
This plugin is very powerful and somewhat over looked (it’s often one of the cheapest plugins available on their website). But this tone-shaping tool is great at enhancing final mixes and masters with being able to drive the bass to the center and widen echoes and reverbs to the sides easily. Because you can narrow and widen certain frequencies so easily, this makes this plugin so useful on an everyday basis. It’s EQ in particular can add so much warmth and crispness that it’s almost unrivalled.
The Wider VST plugin by Polyverse takes width to a whole new level! The expanded stereo effects it can generate are quite extreme and highly useful for when you have a busy mix with loft of parts and you need to shift certain instruments to the extreme sides. And best of all, it’s free!