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Left or Right? Panning in the Mix

Updated: Jun 2, 2020


When mixing, there are 4 dimensions of sound to consider.

1. Time, width (panning and some effects units)

2. Space (effects, panning, gain, fader)

3. Height (Gain, Fader, EQ, Compression)

4. Depth (Gain, Fader, EQ, Compression)

To create a sense of space and width, and help us to be able to hear each part in a mix, we have various tools at our disposal.

The typical tools used to change the perceived placement and space of sound are level and of course reverb. All too often we neglect the humble pan pot/knob.

Placing sounds in the stereo field (panning) can create textures and colours that help the listener remain focused on the song. You need to be cautious though, consider the final format for delivery and make sure that your mix isn’t too wide or too narrow. The Goniometer and Correlation meters will help you gauge what’s happening in your mix in the stereo field.

The Pan knob (or pot) is what you use to move your sound in the stereo field. This knob determines how much of the signal is sent to the left and right busses. This distribution is called a taper or law.

There are three main positions of the pan knob.

Left. Centre. Right.

When in the centre position, (12o’clock), the audio signal is at an equal signal in both busses and may sound louder than signals that have been panned hard (all the way) left or right.

The Pan Law values determine the amount of volume reduction on signals that are panned centre. There are common laws:-3dB; -4,5dB and -6dB.

-3dB: has a level of -3dB when panned to the centre position, -4, 5 dB has a level of -4,5dB when panned centre, and -6dB has a level of -6dB when panned to the centre.or -6dB equally to each bus. When you are going to recombine the two output busses to a mono signal, then use the -6dB pan law. If you are going to keep the two output busses at stereo, then use -3dB pan law. The pan law of -4.5dB at the centre is a compromise between -3 and -6dB.

When you push your pan knob all the way to the left or the right, it means that your audio is being sent at full strength (+0dB) to one bus, and zero strength to the other bus.

Sounds that are panned to the centre position (12o’clock) are perceived as coming from in between the left and right speakers, or if you are listening on headphones, they seem to come from the actual centre; due to Head Related Transfer Function.

Pan can be used to create a sense of movement, the impression that a sound is moving from one side to another. As you use other tools like filters and effects, you can create a more complex and complete ‘picture’ of moving sound.

Pan is also used to reduce the width of a stereo mix. If you set the pan knobs of a stereo source straight up to 12 o’clock’; a dual mono signal is created, where the signal is sent equally to both the left and right output bus.

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