Adventures In Audio

Don't make these mistakes in pan

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Pan. Left, centre, right. Sounds easy doesn't it? But it's also surprisingly easy to get it wrong, as these two commercial releases clearly demonstrate. In this video we'll hear piano notes dancing like pixies at the Midsummer Ball. And we'll hear a viola that is half as wide as the room it's recorded in.


Saint-Saens Sonata for Cello and Piano, Steven Isserlis and Connie Shih

Bach Cello Suite No. 5 Sarabande Hiyoli Togawa

Perfect Time For A Spring Cleaning Hiyoli Togawa

James Tissot 'Hush! (The Concert)' 1875

Automated transcript

Pan left center right it sounds easy doesn't it but it's also surprisingly easy to get it wrong and today i have two examples from commercial releases that clearly demonstrate pan issues learn audio online with audio masterclass as you know classical music is written mostly for acoustic instruments and acoustic instruments are recorded through microphones ideally the positions of the instruments in a recording are the same as they were in the session so violins on the left cellos and bases on the right for instance this is easy to achieve use a coincident crossed pair of microphones one pointing left one pointing right that will capture a very accurate stereo image spot mics and instruments or groups of instruments can be panned so they match up so what can go wrong here's a clip from a recent recording by stephen isilis and connie she of the cello sonata number one by camille sansone i'll put links to the full videos down in the description

so i hear the cello a little to the left of center why isn't it dead center well this album is titled music from proust's salons a real life style on back in the day might look like this the soloist is on the left so that's okay but listen again and concentrate on the piano

what a real world listener would hear is the sound coming generally from the position of the piano with perhaps the low notes extending towards the right because of the length of the strings but here can you hear how the notes come from different directions not always linked to the pitch of the note i hear the notes dancing around the stereo image like pixies at their midsummer ball and sometimes a bunch of high notes will chime in from over on the right this is what happens if you put microphones inside the piano it's not right but the performances are excellent so i'll enjoy it as a bit of extra fun now another example this is viola player hiolitagawa from the album songs of solitude clearly inspired by the covet lockdown it isn't the best sound you've ever heard but i'm guessing it's a home recording made in a small room small rooms can be difficult to get a good sound in and often you have to place the microphone closer to the instrument than you normally would so that you can exclude some of the small room ambience that doesn't sound good bye what i hear in this as well as the rather intrusive breath noise at the start is that the viola seems to be at least half as wide as the room each note almost seems to have its own position in the stereo image not even the player would hear the instrument like this i have a viola that's how i know i have to say that the pan in this recording is completely wrong there's no way a viola would be heard like this in real life but there's another interesting example of pan in this album this is hioli tagawa playing perfect time for a spring cleaning by john powell a piece specially composed for her under


as you can hear it's multi-tracked and there are nine separate parts for music of this complexity panning is essential to make musical sense it isn't intended to sound like a concert performance although if nine violists get together to perform it i'll be at the front of the queue for tickets this is an example of panning done creatively and actually i might take a leap of imagination and wonder what the bark we heard earlier would sound like if it were multi-tracked one track for each string so there we have it clearly we have pans that are literally all over the place and technically that's bad audio but you know i see these recordings as fun and heaven knows until we get out of this damned kovid covid19 we need all the fun we can get i'm david miller course director of audio masterclass thank you for listening

Comments on this video

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Ean curtis:  Awesome

Sajtlik:  You are absolutely amazing! You are really helping to all of us who want to learn about the sound. Thank you for doing these videos.

Audio Masterclass replies to Sajtlik: You're welcome and thank you for your comment. DM

TiqueO6:  Do you have a video on panning or or micing for stereo imaging of pianos? Some aren’t aware of the difference in players' point of view vs audience and how and when to use them and achieve them.

Audio Masterclass replies to TiqueO6: Not specifically on pan but we do have demonstration recordings of piano made in Abbey Road studios available for Audio Masterclass students. DM

TiqueO6:  When panning material that involves significant leakage between multiple mics I always produce a stage-plot of mic/instrument placements, then I pan according to that plot matching it as closely as practical. The imaging immediately cleans up with a great improvement over ad-lib panning. I’m assuming the improvements are due to time (therefor phase) differences in mics placed more than a small distance from each other. For ex. if I pan a mic from the far right of the stage to the left it mixes with mics or DI instruments from the left side and the combined sounds seem to have the comb-filtering and other phase shift effects we'd expect in any out of phase combinations of sources with leakage (or multiple mics on a drum set for ex with some out of phase and needing phase flipping or adjustments).
Of course when everything goes to mono some of the advantages of this kind of stage-plot-mimicking panning would be lost, but would some be retained because of the relative volume levels of having introduced those panning decisions?

TiqueO6 replies to TiqueO6: @Audio Masterclass Absolutely. Unless extremely close-mic'ing which often yields a 'choked' sound there’s inevitably phase issues when on a large stage with loud enough sources. Dance music with horn sections, amplifiers for guitars and keyboards etc. provide challenges to mixing. I’ve definitely heard a vivid clearing up of especially high frequencies when panning as per the stage set up, quite psychoacoustic in nature because if summed to mono all the usual phase issues would be quite apparent.

(Then there’s the issue of monitors on stage “polluting“ the whole stage area with especially vocals in a very random manner. One could consider that, in a worst case scenario summing all the microphones together that would create a pretty big issue with the leakage from the monitors into the live microphones. So planning as per stage plot could also keep some of that “hidden“ as long as it's heard in stereo. I’ve definitely heard the monitors leakage in live performances as a very kind of ‘hollow'' sounding artifact that we perhaps have become used to and can identify live recordings almost on a instinctual level from that leakage. I suppose the in ear monitoring him so popular could clear up that issue handling for live recordings, however I think one needs attention to sound pressure levels in those because it can influence pitch-sense especially if the lows are too loud.)

Audio Masterclass replies to TiqueO6: Matching the positions of the instruments is definitely a good thing, unless for a special effect. There will still be phase and possible comb filtering issues when mics are at different distances from the sound source. But when you have more than one sound source and more than a very few mics it becomes impossible to get this to be perfectly right. My opinion would be to listen out for the worst problem, if there is one, and correct that. When you've corrected that and maybe the second-worst problem it is likely that there are more important things to think about. Just my opinion though. DM

James Maximilian Jason:  Great video ! Instructive and entertaining at the same time.

Audio Masterclass replies to James Maximilian Jason: Thank you. DM

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Thursday March 10, 2022

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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