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LPX: Image Focusing via Direction Mixer vs. Stereo Pan?
Old 4th May 2019
Here for the gear

LPX: Image Focusing via Direction Mixer vs. Stereo Pan?

Hey GS! I'm bbabb, first post here I've learned a lot over the years by digging through these forums, really appreciate many of you here for your insights.

An ITB matter I've been kind of confused on: so I spend a lot of time playing with the "spread" and "width" controls of plugins, as I think the best sounding mixes are the result of the engineer making extremely creative and extremely intentional choices in how they image their sound. And no matter how much I get into my Soundtoys, UAD, and Fabfilter plugs (warning: cliché ahead), I just always come back to the great plugs that are built-in to the DAW.

But for some reason, I'm having an issue understanding exactly what the Direction Mixer does to the stereo image -- particularly in LR mode, playing with everything between 1.00 and 0.00 Spread. That is, I'm not sure if the Spread slider necessarily focuses the stereo information in your image. I actually get more of that sensation in my ear when I toggle the track's Pan knob from Balance to Stereo Pan and focus my sound's image via Stereo Pan's "white handles." Moreover, I feel like Stereo Pan's focus controls retain the stereo "fullness" of the signal, whereas Direction Mixer's lose some of that fullness as you approach mono. My working theory here is that the Direction Mixer functions more like a wet-dry knob between the mid and side information of the signal, such that 0.00 is all/mostly mid, 1.00 is the signal as normal, and 2.00 is all/mostly side; conversely, the Stereo Pan actually does like a pan knob and interprets the LR information into -63 left / 0 center / +64 right and then pulls in that mapping proportionally such that at about 50% focus the max is about -32 left / 0 center / +32 right -- but still a full stereo image. Even more, when you collapse the Stereo Pan focus entirely to mono, it's actually a new kind of mono image with both the mid info (as with 0.00 Spread on the Direction Mixer) AND the reinterpreted side info. And I don't think this makes Direction Mixer's focus capabilities worse, but it's just a different kind of imaging tool than Stereo Pan. These are all just original theories, though -- my ears may totally be deceiving. (As y'all may know, when your brain wants to hear that Waves plugins sound like crap because some of the GUI's are crap, the prophecy will be self-fulfilling!)

Anyway, when I had the honor of meeting one of my heroes Derek "MixedByAli" Ali two or three years ago, he mentioned that his (audibly brilliant) mix philosophy revolves around creating "pockets" for different sounds. So for Logic users trying to achieve something similar, I think this Direction Mixer vs. Stereo Pan discussion is a super noteworthy one and some extra clarity could make a powerful difference. I don't run Ableton, but I hunted down a 2-second sliver of someone demoing Ableton's Utility plug and it actually sounds like its "Width" control functions more like that of Logic's Stereo Pan than the Direction Mixer -- focusing the Mid+Side information together in proportion as you approaches 0% mono, rather than just turning down the Side channel ad infinitum as you approach 0% mono. Which would mean that the unknowing mixer in Ableton may be having a fundamentally different experience imaging the sounds of their mix than the unknowing mixer in Logic. And seeing that I haven't found a discussion online yet comparing the differences between these two Logic features (and Logic's online article for the Direction Mixer unfortunately being pretty vague), I can't really blame them for not understanding these mysterious differences or chalk it up to them being an "amateur."

Either way, I actually love combining the Direction Mixer's "Direction" knob with some subtle Balance Knob panning to get very interesting LCR placement in my mixes, but I'd just like to know more about Logic's built-in capabilities for focusing images -- independently of LCR. Another personal note: I've started teaching 101's and 202's for mixing and it's the most frustrating thing to be basing those on my ITB experiences with Logic yet not entirely understanding what my tools do. Next to command of EQ, I truly believe command of image is one of those secret-sauce things that distinguishes professional from novice and intermediate mixes. And image focusing, all puns intended, seems at the center of that discussion. Any thoughts?

P.S. I know there are free third-party plug-ins like the free Ozone Imager or Plugin Alliance's bx_solo that have their own imaging features, from width focusing to mid-solo, side-solo. But, at least with the Ozone Imager, I haven't done null tests or anything to see if that strange "Stereoizer" feature is involved in the width focus processing as you move from 100% toward 0% mono. I have a hard time trusting bx_solo as well, just because the "mid-only" and "side-only" soloing features don't really seem to do what they claim to. If anyone has their own insights on these plugins or others like them, please sound off! Again, I'm working all off original theories =)

P.P.S. Was going to post demos, but if you're running Logic, just record a dummy bass line on a really wide VI (e.g. Retro Synth, ES2 hella detuned), duplicate into two, and do:
• one with the Direction Mixer plug collapsed to mono (0.00 Spread)
• one with Stereo Pan, focused fully to mono / white-handles completely collapsed to the middle
You will surely hear a difference.

Thank you!

Last edited by bbabb; 4th May 2019 at 02:46 PM.. Reason: obsessed with line-editing (style errors, better wording)
Old 5th June 2019
Gear Maniac

I’m reading on my phone so I glanced through some of this but I’m planning to come back and read in more detail as well as perform that test you suggest. I just did a project that relied a lot on Ozone’s mid-side eq and imaging as well as Logic’s direction mixer and found the direction mixer to be really powerful, especially when collapsing the low end to mono. I’m really curious how it sounds compared to the stereo width plug now.
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